Start Up No.1594: MPs call for streaming ‘reset’, where’s the real climate change action?, tension inside the W3C, all about ∂, and more


Soon Facebook Messenger will let you hear what these sound like. Positive, right? CC-licensed photo by Chris Blakeley 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


MPs call for ‘complete reset’ of music streaming to protect artists • The Guardian

Lanre Bakare and Alex Hern:

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Record labels and the streaming sites are criticised in the report, which says that although streaming undoubtedly helped save the music industry after two decades of digital piracy, the companies have “leveraged structural advantages to achieve seemingly unassailable positions” in their markets.

The report refers to estimates that streaming services take 30-34% of revenues from a stream, with the label recouping 55% and the rest shared out between the recording artist, publisher and songwriter.

The MPs say they have “deep concerns about the position of the major music companies” and call on the government to ask the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether competition in the recorded music market is being distorted. They say the major labels: Sony, Universal and Warner Music, benefit at the expense of independent labels and self-releasing artists when it comes to playlisting.

“The issues ostensibly created by streaming simply reflect more fundamental, structural problems within the recorded music industry,” the report says. “Streaming needs a complete reset.”

The committee recommends “a broad yet comprehensive range” of legislative reforms to protect the rights of musicians and songwriters, who it says are getting poor returns from streaming – an industry that generates £600m in revenues a year.

The 121-page report backs calls for artists to have equitable remuneration from streams, which would mean their work is classified as a “rental” when it is played on platforms such as Spotify, which has a 44% market share compared with 25% each for Amazon Music and Apple Music.

The measure would mean streams are treated in a similar way to radio plays, with a collecting society recouping royalties on an artist’s behalf.

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It seems odd that we would just let the world burn • The New York Times

Ezra Klein:

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I spent the weekend reading a book I wasn’t entirely comfortable being seen with in public. Andreas Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is only slightly inaptly named. You won’t find, anywhere inside, instructions on sabotaging energy infrastructure. A truer title would be “Why to Blow Up a Pipeline.” On this, Malm’s case is straightforward: Because nothing else has worked.

Decades of climate activism have gotten millions of people into the streets but they haven’t turned the tide on emissions, or even investments. Citing a 2019 study in the journal Nature, Malm observes that, measuring by capacity, 49% of the fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure now in operation was installed after 2004. Add in the expected emissions from projects in some stage of the planning process and we are most of the way toward warming the world by 2º Celsius — a prospect scientists consider terrifying and most world governments have repeatedly pledged to avoid. Some hoped that the pandemic would alter the world’s course, but it hasn’t. Oil consumption is hurtling back to precrisis levels, and demand for coal, the dirtiest of the fuels, is rising.

“Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start,” Malm writes. “Announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed.”

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That scenario reminds me strongly of the opening of John Brunner’s SF book The Sheep Look Up, where people are wrecking cars that run on petrol (or diesel). That doesn’t end well. But with the news recording “once in a generation” deadly floods in Germany, record temperatures in the US northwest, a drought in the western US.. what does it take exactly?
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A privacy war is raging inside the W3C • Protocol

Issie Lapowsky:

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On the other side [from the browser companies such as Apple, Mozilla and Google] are companies that use cross-site tracking for things like website optimization and advertising, and are fighting for their industry’s very survival. That includes small firms like [James] Rosewell’s, but also giants of the industry, like Facebook.

Rosewell has become one of this side’s most committed foot soldiers since he joined the W3C last April. Where Facebook’s developers can only offer cautious edits to Apple and Google’s privacy proposals, knowing full well that every exchange within the W3C is part of the public record, Rosewell is decidedly less constrained. On any given day, you can find him in groups dedicated to privacy or web advertising, diving into conversations about new standards browsers are considering.

Rather than asking technical questions about how to make browsers’ privacy specifications work better, he often asks philosophical ones, like whether anyone really wants their browser making certain privacy decisions for them at all. He’s filled the W3C’s forums with concerns about its underlying procedures, sometimes a dozen at a time, and has called upon the W3C’s leadership to more clearly articulate the values for which the organization stands.

His exchanges with other members of the group tend to have the flavor of Hamilton and Burr’s last letters — overly polite, but pulsing with contempt. “I prioritize clarity over social harmony,” Rosewell said.

To Rosewell, these questions may be the only thing stopping the web from being fully designed and controlled by Apple, Google and Microsoft, three companies that he said already have enough power as it is. “I’m deeply concerned about the future in a world where these companies are just unrestrained,” Rosewell said. “If there isn’t someone presenting a counter argument, then you get group-think and bubble behavior.”

But the engineers and privacy advocates who have long held W3C territory aren’t convinced. They say the W3C is under siege by an insurgency that’s thwarting browsers from developing new and important privacy protections for all web users. “They use cynical terms like: ‘We’re here to protect user choice’ or ‘We’re here to protect the open web’ or, frankly, horseshit like this,” said Pete Snyder, director of privacy at Brave, which makes an anti-tracking browser. “They’re there to slow down privacy protections that the browsers are creating.”

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Facebook advertisers impacted by Apple privacy iOS 14 changes • Bloomberg

Kurt Wagner:

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The new prompt from Apple Inc., which arrived in an iOS software update to iPhones in early June, explicitly asks users of each app whether they are willing to be tracked across their internet activity.  Most are saying no, according to Branch, which analyzes mobile app growth. People are giving apps permission to track their behavior just 25% of the time, Branch found, severing a data pipeline that has powered the targeted advertising industry for years.

“It’s been pretty devastating for I would say the majority of advertisers,” said Eric Seufert, a mobile analyst who writes the Mobile Dev Memo trade blog. “The big question is: Are we seeing just short-term volatility where we can expect a move back to the mean, or is this a new normal?”

Facebook advertisers, in particular, have noticed an impact in the last month. Media buyers who run Facebook ad campaigns on behalf of clients said Facebook is no longer able to reliably see how many sales its clients are making, so it’s harder to figure out which Facebook ads are working. Losing this data also impacts Facebook’s ability to show a business’s products to potential new customers. It also makes it more difficult to “re-target” people with ads that show users items they have looked at online, but may not have purchased.

A Facebook spokesman declined to share what percentage of its users have accepted the company’s tracking prompt, but roughly 75% of the world’s iPhone users have downloaded the newest operating system, according to Branch. Seufert estimated that in the first full quarter users see the prompt, the iOS changes could cut Facebook’s revenue by 7% if roughly 20% of users agree to be tracked. If just 10% of users grant Facebook tracking permission, revenue could be down as much as 13.6%, according to his models. The first full quarter with the prompt is the third quarter. Facebook reports second quarter earnings at the end of July.

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Well, we know what to look for now, don’t we?
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Microsoft reveals $31 per user per month price tag of one of the coming Windows 365 SKUs • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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Windows 365 will be available in Business and Enterprise flavors, Microsoft officials said this week. Derek Gabriel (@dsghi on Twitter) shared a screen capture of one of the Windows 365 Business SKUs that showed it would cost $31 per user per month. This is for the 2vCPU, 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage version for customers with up to 300 users. This particular SKU supports the desktop versions of Office apps, Outlook and OneDrive; the desktop version of Microsoft Teams; Visual Studio, Power BI and Dynamics 365; and to access and manage Cloud PC virtually.

I asked Microsoft to confirm that this $31 per user per month Windows 365 SKU is in its line-up. No word back so far. 

Update: Yep, the pricing is correct. “This is pricing for just one SKU. We have many more options, both in terms of configurations and price points, to share when the product becomes generally available on August 2,” a company spokesperson confirmed.

Microsoft officials haven’t yet said how many Windows 365 SKUs they plan to offer. They did publish yesterday a chart showing how they plan to target the coming SKUs, which will range from 1vCPU/2GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage for users with simple needs like frontline workers, call center users, education/training and CRM access — to 8 vCPU, 32 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage for software developers, engineers, content creators and designers.

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So that’s not going to be cheap. Certainly fulfils Microsoft’s long-held dream of turning Windows into a subscription product, though.
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Emojis finally have a voice: introducing Soundmojis on Facebook Messenger • Messenger News

Loredana Crisan is VP of messaging products at FB Messenger (which Facebook just calls “Messenger”):

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Every day, people send more than 2.4 billion messages with emojis on Messenger. Emojis add color and vibrancy to Messenger chats all over the world, and we rely on them to say what words can’t. Now imagine if your emojis could talk, what sound would they make? Introducing Messenger’s latest expression tool: Soundmojis. Your chats just got a whole lot louder, just in time for World Emoji Day on July 17!

So, what is a Soundmoji? It’s a next-level emoji that lets you send short sound clips in a Messenger chat, ranging from clapping , crickets ,drumroll , and evil laughter , to audio clips from your favorite artists like Rebecca Black and your favorite TV shows and movies like Universal Pictures’ F9, NBC and Universal Television’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Netflix and Shondaland’s Bridgerton. “Ah, the drama of it all.”

To check out Soundmojis, head to your Messenger app, start a chat, tap the smiley face to open the expressions menu and select the loudspeaker icon. From there, you can preview and send your favorite Soundmojis again and again. 

We’re launching an entire Soundmoji library for you to choose from, which we’ll update regularly with new sound effects and famous sound bites. Each sound is represented by an emoji, keeping the visual emojis we all love in play, while bringing sound into the mix. Best of both worlds! 

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OK, so you have to turn it on. It would have been awful if it were the default. But like this, it could be a useful assistive technology for those with visual problems.
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Delta variant: everything you need to know • Uncharted Territories

Tomas Pueyo:

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The original Coronavirus variant has an R0 of ~2.71. Alpha—the “English variant” that caused a spike around the world around Christmas—is about 60% more infectious. Now it appears that Delta is about 60% more transmissible yet again. Depending on which figure you use, it would put Delta’s R0 between 4 and 9, which could make it more contagious than smallpox. Just to give you a sense of the dramatic consequence of such an increase in R, this is what two months of growth get you with the previous transmission rate of 2.7 vs. with an R of 6:

This is why so many graphs of cases look like rockets these days. Delta is very contagious.

Apparently, somebody in Australia was infected by the Delta variant just by walking past an infected person, in a 5- to 10- second encounter. Although this is probably an outlier, and we shouldn’t be scared of walking past other people as a rule of thumb, it illustrates how much more transmissible Delta is.

So that’s about transmission rates. What about fatality rates? It looks like the risk of death is 2x higher for Delta than for the original variant:

(Source)

To put this in context, catching the original COVID approximately doubled your likelihood of death at any age. That means catching Delta approximately triples it.

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Pueyo wrote the original viral (ha) article about how exponential growth meant that everyone in power was underestimating how quickly Covid was going to overwhelm nations. And he explains why the idea that more infectious would mean less deadly was misinformed.
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“Roadrunner” review: the haunting afterlife of Anthony Bourdain in a new documentary • The New Yorker

Helen Rosner:

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There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.”

In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

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Don’t worry, Twitter started the ethics panel as soon as the piece came out. The general sentiment seems to be that they don’t like it, or at least the undeclared nature of it.
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Worldwide foldable phone forecast, 2021–2025 • IDC

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The worldwide foldable phone market will reach a total of 4.0m foldable phones in 2021, up 106.6% from the 1.9m units shipped in 2020. Total foldable shipments worldwide will reach 13.9m units by 2025, resulting in a CAGR of 48.1% for 2020–2025.

“The overall adoption of foldable devices continues to slowly grow despite the initial setback we witnessed with the first batch of foldables unveiled back in 2019, said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

“Foldable models continue to improve in terms of design, durability, and functionality. Although high ASPs will be a deterrent in the near term, the gradual decline in prices as more models come to market will be a key driver of growth for the entire category. Moreover, if Apple does join the foldable game, which we have currently not included in our forecast, it will undoubtedly bring increased excitement and mass awareness to the category in a way that only Apple can.”

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Maybe it’s just me, but 4m in more than a billion feels like the tiniest drop in the biggest ocean.
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• 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?

Order Social Warming, my new book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the Philip K Dick short story that I forgot to mention yesterday is War Game.

Start Up No.1593: Facebook’s data mess, avoiding verification scams, Windows in the cloud, TikTok hits 3bn downloads, and more


Photos show that Apple’s AirTags are quite small – but you really shouldn’t swallow them, as one YouTuber did (on purpose). CC-licensed photo by John Biehler 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside Facebook’s data wars • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

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The question of what to do about CrowdTangle has vexed some of Facebook’s top executives for months, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former Facebook employees, as well as internal emails and posts.

These people, most of whom would speak only anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss internal conversations, said Facebook’s executives were more worried about fixing the perception that Facebook was amplifying harmful content than figuring out whether it actually was amplifying harmful content. Transparency, they said, ultimately took a back seat to image management.

…With only about 25,000 users, CrowdTangle is one of Facebook’s smallest products, but it has become a valuable resource for power users including global health organizations, election officials and digital marketers, and it has made Facebook look transparent compared with rival platforms like YouTube and TikTok, which don’t release nearly as much data.

But the mood shifted last year when I started a Twitter account called @FacebooksTop10, on which I posted a daily leaderboard showing the sources of the most-engaged link posts by U.S. pages, based on CrowdTangle data.

Last fall, the leaderboard was full of posts by Mr. Trump and pro-Trump media personalities. Since Mr. Trump was barred from Facebook in January, it has been dominated by a handful of right-wing polemicists like Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Bongino and Sean Hannity, with the occasional mainstream news article, cute animal story or K-pop fan blog sprinkled in.

…several executives — including John Hegeman, the head of Facebook’s news feed — were dispatched to argue with me on Twitter. These executives argued that my Top 10 lists were misleading. They said CrowdTangle measured only “engagement,” while the true measure of Facebook popularity would be based on “reach,” or the number of people who actually see a given post. (With the exception of video views, reach data isn’t public, and only Facebook employees and page owners have access to it.)

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Classic Facebook: worried about the perception, not the problem; insisting that actually public analysis is wrong, but refusing to release the data that would let people check its claims. We’re always asked to take Facebook on trust. But that has long since worn down to a nub. Plus: fantastic journalism by Roose.
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‘Red flags going off’: beware verification scams on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter • CNET

Queenie Wong:

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Almost every major platform offers verification in some form. Originally intended to authenticate accounts deemed to be of public interest, the badges have morphed into status symbols that give social media users bragging rights. That’s provided ample opportunity for scammers, who manipulate the emotions of aspiring but unsuspecting users pursuing careers as influencers or creators. 

Directing social media users to fake verification forms, as [fake TikTok verifier] Ceylan appears to have tried, is a tactic used to dupe people out of personal information and take over their accounts. Scammers will also slide into direct messages on Instagram and entice users with promises of verification. Variations of this scam have existed for years, but cybersecurity experts say they expect this scam to grow as people spend more time building their brand on social media.

Likewise, people who are verified typically have a large following, which can make them prime targets for scammers or hackers trying to reach a lot of people. In 2020, hackers hijacked the accounts of high-profile Twitter users such as celebrity Kim Kardashian and Joe Biden, who was running for US president at the time, and tempted gullible users with a phony promise to double any bitcoin sent to a specific cryptocurrency wallet.

Announcing that you just got verified on social media can also make you a target if you’re looking to get the blue badge on other social networks or if a hacker is trying to find an account with a large following.

Jon Clay, vice president of threat intelligence at Trend Micro, said the IT security company has seen verification scams in roughly 70 countries. “It’s just a lure that gives the criminals an opportunity to target these victims,” Clay said. 

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There are plenty of scams going on. Verification; and, as I wrote for Which? magazine, people who claim they can get your hacked account back. A little questioning demonstrated they had no idea at all.
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A new tool shows how Google results vary around the world • WIRED

Tom Simonite:

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Search Atlas makes it easy to see how Google offers different responses to the same query on versions of its search engine offered in different parts of the world. The research project reveals how Google’s service can reflect or amplify cultural differences or government preferences—such as whether Beijing’s Tiananmen Square should be seen first as a sunny tourist attraction or the site of a lethal military crackdown on protesters.

Divergent results like that show how the idea of search engines as neutral is a myth, says Rodrigo Ochigame, a PhD student in science, technology, and society at MIT and cocreator of Search Atlas. “Any attempt to quantify relevance necessarily encodes moral and political priorities,” Ochigame says.

Ochigame built Search Atlas with Katherine Ye, a computer science PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University and a research fellow at the nonprofit Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research.

Just like Google’s homepage, the main feature of Search Atlas is a blank box. But instead of returning a single column of results, the site displays three lists of links, from different geographic versions of Google Search selected from the more than 100 the company offers. Search Atlas automatically translates a query to the default languages of each localized edition using Google Translate.

Ochigame and Ye say the design reveals “information borders” created by the way Google’s search technology ranks web pages, presenting different slices of reality to people in different locations or using different languages.

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Google has been offering different results to individuals since at least 2011. But across whole countries? Fascinating.
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Microsoft is bringing Windows to a web browser, and it will work on iPad and the Mac • 9to5Mac

Parker Ortolani:

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Today, Microsoft unveiled a new service called Windows 365, and it makes it possible for users to run a full version of Windows in a web browser on any device. The new service is only available for businesses at first, but given Microsoft’s emphasis on cloud platforms, it is highly likely that it will become available for consumers at some point in the future. Microsoft is offering Windows 365 for businesses of all sizes, whether you are a one-person show or a giant organization. The best part? You can run Windows 365 on an iPad in addition to a Mac.

Like how Microsoft’s streaming Xbox service creates a virtual Xbox in the cloud, Windows 365 creates a virtual cloud PC. The cloud PCs you set up with Windows 365 can be completely personalized, just like a physical PC. You get to choose how much RAM and storage go into a virtual PC, as well. According to Microsoft’s website, you can configure a cloud PC with as much as 512GB and 16GB of RAM.

Windows 365 can stream an “instant-on boot experience” with full Windows applications on any device.

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Here’s the official Microsoft release. But hey, does it have Minesweeper? You need Windows 3.1 for that.

But everything’s going virtual, isn’t it? Games in the cloud, PCs in the cloud. And licences to pay for, of course.
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Surely we can do better than Elon Musk • Current Affairs

Nathan Robinson has really had it with Musk:

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one of the biggest Musk Myths is that he is a self-made entrepreneur, whose work shows what “private enterprise” can accomplish. Despite Musk’s contempt for regulations, Niedermeyer shows that Tesla was unable to survive in the free market, and only exists today thanks to a $350m Department of Energy loan that came at a crucial time.

A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2015 revealed that Musk’s empire was built on $4.9bn in government support. People were able to buy expensive Teslas, for instance, partly because the government paid them to buy electric cars in the form of tax credits. Travis County, Texas, “has offered a $14.7m (at minimum) tax break for the building of a Tesla factory” and “[a] Nevada factory was built on the promise of up to $1.3bn in tax benefits over two decades.” Now, with Joe Biden’s giant infrastructure bill set to give out $174bn more in electric vehicle investments, Musk is sure to receive a new windfall.

It’s good that the government stepped in to make electric cars more attractive. Supporting innovations that the market doesn’t find profitable is part of what the state is for. But the fact that Musk takes public money while presenting himself as the heroic libertarian opponent of stodgy government bureaucracy is maddening. So, too, is the fact that he, rather than the public, is the one who ends up getting rich. (Ah, but he told Bernie Sanders he is only “accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars.”)

…It is natural to desire a “fantastic future.” Personally, I’m sad that we no longer have World’s Fairs showcasing what we think humankind might accomplish in the next decades. Musk fandom arises in part because he is offering something resembling a path to clean energy and space exploration, both of which are appealing and important. But it’s a mirage, and following it will take us further in the direction of dystopia.

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Note that going over Musk’s faults does require a lot of words. (Via Benedict Evans)
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Twitter is shutting down Fleets, its expiring tweets feature • The Verge

Alex Heath:

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Say goodbye to Fleets, the row of fullscreen tweets at the top of the Twitter timeline that expire after 24 hours. The ephemeral tweet format is shutting down due to low usage after launching widely just eight months ago.

Starting on August 3rd, users will instead just see active Spaces — Twitter’s live audio chat rooms — at the top of their timelines. And the composer for traditional tweets will be updated with more camera editing features from Fleets, like text-formatting and GIF stickers over photos.

Twitter’s decision to axe Fleets is not just an admission that the feature didn’t work but that the company still hasn’t figured out how to get people tweeting more. For years, Twitter has struggled to get new users to post regularly and not just consume other people’s tweets. Fleets was its shot at using Stories, the popular social media format invented by Snapchat and further popularized by Instagram, to lower the pressure around tweeting.

“We hoped Fleets would help more people feel comfortable joining the conversation on Twitter,” Ilya Brown, Twitter’s vice president of product, said in a statement. “But, in the time since we introduced Fleets to everyone, we haven’t seen an increase in the number of new people joining the conversation with Fleets like we hoped.”

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On the plus side, at least they have the awareness, and internal measurement and targets, to kill something that isn’t working. On the negative side, how did they ever think Snapchat-as-Twitter would work?
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Why TV is so bad at covering climate change • Gizmodo

Molly Halt used to work as a PR trying to get scientists booked on US cable news to talk about climate change:

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Media Matters, which tracks how often TV networks cover climate change, reported earlier this year that nightly news and Sunday morning shows on ABC, CNN, NBC, and Fox covered climate change-related topics for just 112 total minutes in 2020. A lot of the absolutely shameful lack of coverage can, of course, be attributed to the intensity of last year, where we faced a global pandemic and a national reckoning over racial justice, not to mention the whole election and Republican attempt to undermine it thing. But even before 2020, TV networks weren’t doing so hot on climate: Media Matters reported that 2019 was one of the biggest years of coverage, when evening and Sunday morning shows covered climate 68% more than they had the year before, increasing their coverage to… a whopping 238 minutes for the entire year.

I wanted to better understand both my own experience and how the sausage is made when it comes to climate segments on big cable shows. I reached out to a producer at a big cable TV show for some insights. (They asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely with us.)

The producer explained that daily segments on their show are usually pitched at the beginning of the workday or the night before by producers; the executive producers will usually sign off on a topic and ask the booking producers to reach out to possible guests. But, they explained, there’s always room for “breaking news” to take precedent over a carefully planned climate segment.

“When breaking news happens, that often leads to at least one originally-planned segment getting killed — which can happen a lot to climate segments that aren’t the most pressing topic of the day,” the producer told me over text message.

The producer said that TV journalists, in their estimation, “are far more concerned with climate change today than they were a few years ago,” but there’s still a limit to how much that interest manifests on air.

“I’d say way more stories are pitched than make it on the air,” they wrote. “That applies to every topic, since there’s only so much that can go in a show. But I do think there are far more climate stories that are pitched and then never make air, compared to something more pressing like gun violence or police reform — which are just as important to cover — or the latest outrage segment over something happening in the White House or Congress.”

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More pressing than the continuing existence of the species. Has evolution just given up on us?
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TikTok becomes the first non-Facebook mobile app to reach 3 billion downloads globally • Sensor Tower

Stephanie Chan:

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In Q2 2021, TikTok saw its greatest quarter-over-quarter growth in consumer spending since Q2 2020, climbing 39% to $534.6m from $384.7m in the previous quarter. TikTok’s adoption has also accelerated in 2021, as first-time downloads climbed 2% Q/Q to 177.5 million in Q1 2021, and surged 16% Q/Q to 205.4 million Q2 2021, the most growth the app has seen since its record-breaking Q1 2020 when it accumulated more than 315 million installs, the most any app has seen in a single quarter.

With the 3 billion install milestone, TikTok is the fifth non-game app to join a tier that’s historically been the exclusive domain of Facebook. The four other apps that have accrued more than 3 billion installs since January 2014 include WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram.

Consumer spending in TikTok has now surpassed $2.5bn globally. Only 16 non-game apps have seen more than $1bn in gross revenue since January 2014—five of which, now including TikTok, have reached more than $2.5bn. The other apps that have generated more than $2.5bn in consumer spending include Tinder, Netflix, YouTube, and Tencent Video.

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Impressive. And don’t forget it’s a Chinese-owned app with an algorithm that we don’t understand. (Not unlike Facebook and YouTube, but I’m always mindful of the Philip K Dick short story.) Anyway, I’m sure Clubhouse is going to take over the 3bn mantle very soon.
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Idiot YouTuber swallows AirTag wrapped in condom • Macworld

Simon Lohmann:

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Just like toxic detergent capsules, swallowing an AirTag brings not only a risk of suffocation, because the quite large piece of plastic can clog the trachea, but is dangerous due to the button battery. Battery acid in the stomach is unpleasant, which is why Apple has subsequently attached corresponding warnings to the AirTag packaging after complaints from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that AirTags should be kept out of the reach of children.

Despite this a group of German YouTubers, who at the time of writing had just 127 subscribers, decided to film one of their number – a young man – swallowing an AirTag. This is described by them as “high-quality” entertainment, provided you like to watch someone swallow a condom soaked in an olive oil and containing an AirTag. But hey, at least in 4K resolution, the quality standard has been met.

As far as entertainment claim is concerned, the first six minutes before swallowing are more entertaining than the AirTag swallow challenge itself. One of the YOuTubers describes how durable the condom is, claiming that he: “Recently saw a video on Instagram where they cut a cucumber inside a condom, and the condom remained intact”. Anyone who has watched the Netflix series “Narcos” knows: If even Pablo Escobar could smuggle a little cocaine to Miami with the same method, then an AirTag will probably not do much damage.

The individual who swallowed the AirTag do so without suffocating, and was congratulated by his colleagues.

So what happens when you swallow an AirTag? Does it still work? Unless the video is a fake, the AirTag does not seem to work inside a person, a signal could not be located after swallowing. This suggests that water can interfere with WLAN and Bluetooth signals.

When our colleagues on Macwelt wrote this story the video had 252 views.

Because we don’t want anyone to imitate this video we aren’t posting it here.

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Sensible. I guess it’s better to test it on humans than animals.
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On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’ • Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings, writing in January 2017 to explain why Vote Leave won the Brexit referendum:

»

Most of the MPs we dealt with were not highly motivated to win and lacked extreme focus, even those who had been boring everybody about this for decades. They sort of wanted to win but they had other priorities. They were very happy having dinner parties and gossiping. They were very happy coming to meetings with people they thought were important. This wasted enormous amounts of time as we had to create a string of Potemkin committees for people to attend while the core team actually did the campaign, then reinvent them as people became convinced that there were other secret meetings that they were being excluded from. They were very happy to be on the Today Programme. But they didn’t want to win that much. Not enough to work weekends. Not enough to stop having all their usual skiing holidays and winter beach holidays. Not enough to get out on the streets day after day.  Not enough to miss a great shooting weekend. Not enough, most of them, to risk annoying a Prime Minister who they thought would still control their next job after 23 June.

This lack of motivation is connected to another important psychology – the willingness to fail conventionally. Most people in politics are, whether they know it or not, much more comfortable with failing conventionally than risking the social stigma of behaving unconventionally. They did not mind losing so much as being embarrassed, as standing out from the crowd. (The same phenomenon explains why the vast majority of active fund management destroys wealth and nobody learns from this fact repeated every year.)

…Pundits who wrongly hailed Cameron as a genius after the 2015 election now wrongly describe him as a bumbling oaf. He was neither – he was the best of a bad bunch picked pseudo-randomly in a broken system and out of his depth. 600,000 votes either way does not make one set of people geniuses and another set of people morons. Geniuses in politics are rarer than in maths and physics and nobody involved in the referendum on either side is remotely close to one. Some of those who worked on the IN side were much more able than many on the winning side. It does not make sense to label people on the IN side idiots because of errors made by Cameron, Osborne, Llewellyn, and Oliver.

«

This is novella-length, but fascinating (as much for the many, many personal scores settled). His argument about tiny changes making big differences is worth considering in depth.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified


At a loose end? You could buy Social Warming, my latest book, about why social networks are driving us all a little mad.


Start Up No.1592: the trouble with hygiene theatre, tracking ransomware demands, how gas generators gouged Texas, and more


The film of Starship Troopers typified the modern celebration of honed bodies – with absolutely zero sex. What happened to the lust of previous years? CC-licensed photo by Chris 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. Sorry, we can’t get OS/2 to run on your iPad. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Still advertising
Social Warming, my latest book. Outrage, amplification and indifference: the dangerous loop of social warming on social media.


Hygiene theatre: how excessive cleaning gives us a false sense of Covid security • The Guardian

Sirin Kale:

»

Even at the government press conference announcing the relaxation of restrictions on 5 July, the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, talked about handwashing, but not ventilation. “One of the problems we had from the beginning, that was critical at the time and actually still is critical, is senior people did not understand well enough the problem of … it being airborne,” said the former government aide Dominic Cummings in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it excerpt from his marathon select committee appearance in May.

How to explain this continued misapprehension? “Shakespeare puts it well,” says Dr Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers. “What is done cannot be undone. There was a great preoccupation with fomite [surface] transmission at the beginning of the pandemic. And that stuck.” Goldman was a leading voice challenging hygiene theatre throughout the pandemic. In July 2020, he wrote a sharp commentary for the Lancet Infectious Diseases, calling into question the then-received wisdom that Covid-19 could be transmitted by infected surfaces. “When the pandemic started,” he says, “my mother-in-law, who lives with us, was saying that we needed to wash the groceries and disinfect the mail. As a scientist, it seemed extreme, so I decided to look at the literature. And when I did, I was horrified to see that the basis for those interventions was very weak.”

Since then, Goldman has campaigned for an end to hygiene theatre, publishing in medical journals and reviewing the academic literature on fomite transmission. “The battle continues,” he says, telling me that the WHO continues to overemphasise the risk of Covid-19 transmission from contaminated surfaces. In the UK, a similar role has been played by the “fresh air” campaign, run by a group of frontline NHS workers arguing for greater recognition of the dangers of airborne Covid transmission in hospital settings, and better masks for NHS staff.

Many would argue that hygiene theatre is benign. Public toilets are cleaner than they have ever been. “One legacy of the pandemic is that general hygiene levels will increase,” says Dr Eilir Hughes of the NHS fresh air campaign. “I don’t like security theatre when it’s expensive,” says Schneier, “and the government is making the taxpayer pay for it. But if it’s someone wiping down their groceries because it makes them feel better, go to town.”

«

Trouble is, as Kale makes clear, everyone obsesses over “clean” and doesn’t thing about “aired”.
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Gas sellers reaped $11bn windfall during Texas freeze • Bloomberg

Kevin Crowley, Naureen S Malik, and Mark Chediak:

»

The US has the most interconnected gas network in the world. Interstate pipelines are federally regulated, have transparent pricing and customers can view physical flows at multiple points. By contrast, intrastate pipelines have long been a black box to customers in Texas. They have no public price disclosures, and are only lightly regulated by Craddick’s Railroad Commission.

Usually, given how cheap gas is, this isn’t a problem. But during the Texas freeze, the market went haywire. One power executive described finding gas at a major hub trading at about $50 per million British thermal units. But once marketers charged delivery costs through the intrastate pipeline, the total price ended up six times higher. Another executive described how gas put into storage at $2 to $3 per million British thermal units was being offered for sale in the $200 to $300 range.

Furthermore, intrastate pipeline operators are not required to publish physical flows, putting customers at a massive disadvantage when it came to setting prices.

“If you’re producing half as much gas as normal but selling at 70 to 100 times the price, then that math is working for you,” said one executive who declined to be named. “You just had the greatest week in the history of the gas market.”

CPS Energy, the biggest utility in San Antonio, was blunt in its assessment.

“Egregious natural price gouging,” CEO Paula Gold-Williams said of Energy Transfer, the biggest winner to date. CPS claims the pipeline operator generated two years’ worth of profits in the first quarter of 2021 and is suing to reclaim some of the $1bn it lost during the storm.

«

They pulled the gas supplies offline ahead of the storm – then began making them available at hugely inflated prices, reaping $11bn. Yet the Texas governor Greg Abbott still thinks the people who need incentives are the gas generators (and nuclear generators – at least there’s some sense). We’re now at the stage where the US’s rickety structures are starting to create havoc again and again.
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Digital Inception: here’s how to run Android, Chrome OS, and Windows on your Mac • 9to5Mac

Parker Ortolani:

»

Lots of folks like to think of the Mac as just another product in Apple’s precious walled garden, but many don’t know that you can actually run virtually any operating system on a Mac with a little bit of work. It’s fairly easy to get the three biggest platforms that aren’t made by Apple up and running on a Mac, even at the same time. Here’s how to do it.

«

Provided as a followup for all those who have put Windows 3.1 on their iPads. (And, if you’re stymied doing that by lack of floppy disks, David Gerard points out that you can get the files from the Internet Archive. Of course!)
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Ransomwhere

Jack Cable:

»

Why track ransomware payments?
Transparency is crucially needed in assessing the spread of ransomware and the efficacy of mitigations. Fortunately, due to the transparent nature of Bitcoin, it’s easy to track payments with knowledge of receipt addresses. By crowdsourcing ransomware payment addresses, we hope to provide an open resource for the security community and the public.

How complete is the data?
As Ransomwhere is new, we are still working on building out our dataset. Reports have placed total ransomware revenue in 2020 at up to $350 million.

Can’t someone fake a report?
While it’s impossible to verify with complete certainty that a report is accurate, we aim to utilize the wisdom of the crowds to prevent abuse. All reports are required to include a screenshot of the ransomware payment demand, and will be reviewed before being displayed. Addresses with more than one report from different sources will be given priority, and all elements of all reports will be publicly available. We will remove reports if we believe they are untruthful.

«

The data feels like it’s probably not comprehensive; for the past week, the amount demanded is miniscule. The idea of at least gathering the addresses of the bitcoin wallets in one place is a good one, though.
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Everyone is beautiful and no one is horny • Blood Knife

Raquel Benedict:

»

When Paul Verhoeven adapted Starship Troopers in the late 1990s, did he know he was predicting the future? The endless desert war, the ubiquity of military propaganda, a cheerful face shouting victory as more and more bodies pile up?

But the scene that left perhaps the greatest impact on the minds of Nineties kids—and the scene that anticipated our current cinematic age the best—does not feature bugs or guns. It is, of course, the shower scene, in which our heroic servicemen and -women enjoy a communal grooming ritual.

On the surface, it is idyllic: racial harmony, gender equality, unity behind a common goal—and firm, perky asses and tits.

And then the characters speak. The topic of conversation? Military service, of course. One joined for the sake of her political career. Another joined in the hopes of receiving her breeding license. Another talks about how badly he wants to kill the enemy. No one looks at each other. No one flirts.

A room full of beautiful, bare bodies, and everyone is only horny for war.

«

This is an amazing essay. Nothing to do with technology at all. Unless we include the steroids that actors bulking up for, um, superhero films use.
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What to know about the drought in California and the western half of US • The New York Times

Henry Fountain:

»

How bad is the current drought in the West?

It’s very bad, both in terms of the size of the affected area and the severity. The latest map from the drought monitor shows that 90% of what it considers the West — California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana — is in drought. Conditions are “severe” or “exceptional” in about half of the region. Colorado, Wyoming, Southwestern Texas and North and South Dakota are also affected.

But maps tell only part of the story. The drought is having enormous effects throughout the West, where the demand for water has increased greatly over decades as the population has grown.

In New Mexico, farmers along the Rio Grande were urged not to plant this year. Crop failures have been reported in Colorado and other farming areas. The level of Lake Mead, the huge reservoir on the Colorado River, is so low that Arizona, Nevada and other states will likely face cutbacks in supplies. In North Dakota, ranchers are trucking water and supplemental feed for their livestock because the rangelands are so dry and the vegetation is stunted.

Conditions are especially dire in California. Reservoirs in the state hold about half as much water as usual for this time of year. The federal government has cut water allocations from its huge Central Valley Project to California cities and farmers by 75%. And on the Oregon border, there is not enough water for both endangered fish and farmers.

Wildfires of a size normally seen in summers have already occurred in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Experts are concerned that this summer’s wildfires will be severe and widespread.

«

Yes, the writer on this topic of drastic drought really is called Henry Fountain. He’s a specialist in climate change and its impacts.
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A single sign-on and digital identity solution for government • Government Digital Service

Martyn Taylor is director of digital identity at the UK Government Digital Service:

»

There is now a clear consensus – with strong Ministerial support across government – that it’s time services are offered a better solution, and people enjoy an easier, more joined-up experience. In March, Minister Lopez set out a vision for “one login for government” and a key action from the recent ‘Declaration on Government Reform’ policy paper was to “launch a single sign-on for online government services”. Meanwhile, the GDS strategy sets out our intention to “create a single sign-on” and “a simple digital identity solution that works for everyone”.

We’re now working with colleagues across government to develop one simple, secure way for people to sign in and prove who they are. We are focused on reusing the deep expertise we have in government today, not on re-inventing the wheel. We’re also working with colleagues across government on a roadmap for migrating existing systems to the new solutions.

Building a solution flexible enough to meet the needs of different services and their users requires a cross-government effort. So, we have adopted a collaborative approach and are already working with and learning from experts from more than 30 service teams within central departments – but we’d like to work with more.

«

The GDS did try a single sign-on (SSO) back in 2014, with its Verify project, so this really is reinventing the wheel. Or perhaps giving it a better axle, or spokes, or whatever. Verify was very clunky, requiring credit reference agency support, and didn’t feel like it would scale. Better luck this time, perhaps.
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PC market growth slows amid global chip shortages • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

The PC market is showing early signs of its growth slowing down, after an impressive run of shipments throughout 2020. Both IDC and Gartner conclude that growth in the second quarter of PC shipments has slowed this year. Demand for new PCs is still above what we saw before the pandemic hit, but a mixture of softer demand and the effects of the global chip shortage mean it’s not growing as quickly.

“The market faces mixed signals as far as demand is concerned,” says Neha Mahajan, a senior research analyst at IDC. “With businesses opening back up, demand potential in the commercial segment appears promising. However, there are also early indicators of consumer demand slowing down as people shift spending priorities after nearly a year of aggressive PC buying.”

IDC says more than 83 million PCs were shipped in the second quarter of 2021, while Gartner’s own figure is more than 71 million. Gartner does not include Chromebook shipments in its results, but the research firm says “Chromebook shipments were once again strong in the second quarter of 2021.” Either way, both firms agree that year-over-year growth in this latest quarter wasn’t as strong as 2020’s sudden growth.

That doesn’t mean PC sales are about to suddenly plummet, but the first big growth we saw in a decade could be starting to wane.

«

Then again, Windows 11 is on the way later this year, and tons of machines can’t run it. (They can still run Windows 10, of course, so you might wonder about the necessity of upgrading.)
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Humanoid robot keeps getting fired from his jobs • WSJ

Miho Inada:

»

Having a robot read scripture to mourners seemed like a cost-effective idea to the people at Nissei Eco Co., a plastics manufacturer with a sideline in the funeral business.

The company hired child-sized robot Pepper, clothed it in the vestments of Buddhist clergy and programmed it to chant several sutras, or Buddhist scriptures, depending on the sect of the deceased.

Alas, the robot, made by SoftBank Group Corp., kept breaking down during practice runs. “What if it refused to operate in the middle of a ceremony?” said funeral-business manager Osamu Funaki. “It would be such a disaster.”

Pepper was fired. The company ended its lease of the robot and sent it back to the manufacturer. After a rash of similar mishaps across Japan, in which Pepper botched its job at a nursing home and gave baseball fans a creepy feeling, some people are saying the humanoid itself will need a funeral soon.

“Because it has the shape of a person, people expect the intelligence of a human,” said Takayuki Furuta, head of the Future Robotics Technology Center at Chiba Institute of Technology, which wasn’t involved in Pepper’s development. “The level of the technology completely falls short of that. It’s like the difference between a toy car and an actual car.”

…In 2016, a Tokyo-area nursing-home operator called Ittokai introduced three units of Pepper, each at a cost of around $900 a month, to lead singing and exercises for elderly people at the home.

“Users got excited to have it early on because of its novelty,” said Masataka Iida, an executive at the company. “But they lost interest sooner than expected.” Mr. Iida said Pepper’s repertoire of exercise moves was limited and, owing to mechanical errors, it sometimes took unplanned breaks in the middle of its shift. After three years, the company pulled the plug.

«

Some vague hope for humans, then?
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Social media restricted in Cuba amid widening anti-government protests • NetBlocks

»

Network data from NetBlocks confirm partial disruption to social media and messaging platforms in Cuba from 12 July 2021. The targeted restrictions are likely to limit the flow of information from Cuba following widespread protests on Sunday as thousands rallied against the socialist government and rising protests. The restrictions are ongoing as of Tuesday the 13th midmorning local time.

NetBlocks metrics show that communications platforms WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and as well as some Telegram servers are disrupted on government-owned ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. / AS27725) including Cubacel, the cellular network operated by Cuba’s sole telecommunications company. Findings corroborate user reports of disruptions to the services.

NetBlocks internet performance metrics from 50 observation points from 12 July 2021 confirm that the listed online platform backend and frontend servers have become partially or fully unavailable on fixed and cellular lines in Cuba, corroborating widespread user reports.

VPN services, which can work around internet censorship, remain effective for many users at the time of writing.

Work is ongoing to to review the nature of legal frameworks relating to the targeted restriction of service during the time in question. NetBlocks identified a similar pattern of social media restrictions during the San Isidro protests for artistic freedom in Havana in November 2020.

«

We saw this before in the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, and that didn’t end well for those in charge. But Cuba may be different.
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Apple’s digital car key feature will soon work with your iPhone in your pocket • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

The Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that its Digital Key 3.0 specification with support for Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth LE connectivity is finalized and now available to members, including Apple.

In 2020, Apple introduced a digital car key feature that allows users to unlock and start a compatible vehicle by holding an iPhone or Apple Watch near the driver-side door. The feature is powered by the NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specification, and once Apple moves to Digital Key 3.0, users will be able to unlock and start a compatible vehicle without needing to take their iPhone out of their pocket or bag.

The improved Ultra Wideband version of Apple’s car key feature would require devices with the U1 chip like iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models.

Digital Key 3.0 also improves security, as Ultra Wideband’s precise location awareness is said to prevent relay attacks, where the radio signal between the iPhone and vehicle is jammed or intercepted by another party. NFC support is maintained to ensure backward compatibility and, in Apple’s case, the ability to use the car key feature to unlock a vehicle for up to five hours after an iPhone has run out of battery power.

Similar to credit cards and boarding passes, digital car keys are stored in the Wallet app on an iPhone or Apple Watch running iOS 13.6 or watchOS 6.2.8 or newer. So far, the feature is only compatible with select BMW models manufactured since July 2020, but a Korean report claimed that Hyundai plans to start offering the feature later this year.

«

I did see a criticism of this which said: “Now all you need to do is mug someone for their iPhone and you can steal their car!” But of course if you mug them and steal their car keys, same difference.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: if you don’t have access to Windows 3.1 disks, see the item above about installing Android on your Mac.

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.

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. 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:

»

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.”

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

Start Up No.1590: the world of hyperobjects, the joy of Twitter, the risky carbon capture hype, the coming card shortage, and more


A number of Chinese brands including Aukey have been banned from Amazon, apparently for soliciting good reviews. But do consumers then benefit? CC-licensed photo by Ilcatta86 dotcom on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Contains no football. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Introducing the idea of ‘hyperobjects’ • High Country News

Timothy Morton:

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I’m an environmental philosopher. In 2008, I invented a word to describe all kinds of things that you can study and think about and compute, but that are not so easy to see directly: hyperobjects. Things like: not just a Styrofoam cup or two, but all the Styrofoam on Earth, ever. All that Styrofoam is going to last an awfully long time: 500 years, maybe. It’s going to outlive me by a great extent. Will my family’s descendants even be related to me in any kind of meaningful way by 2514? There is so much more Styrofoam on Earth right now than there is Timothy Morton.

…Many people have told me, “Oh, now I have a term for this thing I’ve been trying to grasp!” We can see, for instance, that global warming has the properties of a hyperobject. It is “viscous” — whatever I do, wherever I am, it sort of “sticks” to me. It is “nonlocal” — its effects are globally distributed through a huge tract of time. It forces me to experience time in an unusual way. It is “phased” — I only experience pieces of it at any one time. And it is “inter-objective” — it consists of all kinds of other entities but it isn’t reducible to them.

If you can understand global warming, you have to do something about it. Forget about needing proof or needing to convince more people. Just stick to what’s really super obvious. Can you understand hyperobjects? Then you are obliged to care about them.

So hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space and we are obliged to care about them, even if we didn’t manufacture them. Take the biosphere. I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. But I know it exists, and I know I’m part of it. I should care about it.

Or global warming. I can’t see or touch it. What I can see and touch are these raindrops, this snow, that sunburn patch on the back of my neck. I can touch the weather. But I can’t touch climate. So someone can declare: “See! It snowed in Boise, Idaho, this week. That means there’s no global warming!” We can’t directly see global warming, because it’s not only really widespread and really really long-lasting (100,000 years); it’s also super high-dimensional. It’s not just 3-D. It’s an incredibly complex entity that you have to map in what they call a high-dimensional- phase space: a space that plots all the states of a system.

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This article was linked to by Charlie Warzel, which appeared in Friday’s edition, but this article (from 2015!) is worth considering in its own right. I hadn’t heard this concept, so maybe it needs a bit more publicity. Especially with all the hyperobjects we’re trying to deal with.
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Who wins when Amazon pulls brands from its store? • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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instead of examining why these companies [such as Choetech, Aukey, Mpow, RavPower, Vava and TaoTronics] are attempting to manipulate its system and making adjustments to its platform to discourage this activity, Amazon has taken a heavy-handed whack-a-mole approach to just banning those that get caught breaking its rules.

Amazon doesn’t seem to be interested in changing the incentives on its platform, preferring to just remove sellers it deems to be bad actors. In its June blog post, the company pointed blame at social media companies for not better policing groups that collaborate to game the Amazon reviews system, and boasted that it reported over 1,000 groups in just the first three months of 2021. The company’s position is that this is how it protects shoppers from getting scammed or having a bad experience.

But as long as sellers on Amazon are incentivized and rewarded for high star ratings and positive customer reviews on their products, there are going to be those that use tactics that Amazon doesn’t like, and come off as less than scrupulous to those buying the products. Those companies are more likely going to be smaller outfits that don’t have other retail channels or brand recognition to fall back on — even if their product is good enough to stand on its own. That is the reality of the system that Amazon has built.

An even more cynical take on this is that Amazon is just going to supplant these retailers’ products with more of its own AmazonBasics-branded gear. The company has been caught in the past using data from what’s popular on its store to inform its AmazonBasics product roadmap. Amazon could be in the process of rolling out lower-priced versions of what Anker and Belkin are selling with its name on it, taking the place of the RavPowers and Choetechs that used to be there. I’m not convinced that this is what’s happening here, but in the service of teasing out all possibilities, there it is.

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If it depends on reviews, and if actual buyers can be incentivised to subsequently give exaggerated reviews, then there’s no obvious way to prevent it. An internet hyperobject, perhaps.
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I’m a Twitter addict and I don’t care • Financial Times

Henry Mance:

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Nearly every journalist is on Twitter, and nearly every journalist feels bad about it. We scroll in meetings and at social gatherings. We read other people’s tweets even when we’re right in front of them. All future films about journalism will need a newsroom scene with the line: “Have you seen this video — oh wait, you posted it.”

…Occasionally there is a diatribe against Twitter, which resonates deep in the guilty hearts of addicts. This week it was an excellent article in The Atlantic magazine entitled: “You Really Need to Quit Twitter”. I knew it was excellent, because it was recommended by several people I follow. Lucky I was on Twitter or I might have missed it.

Even so I took the article to heart and gave up the social network for a day. I read a book without thinking which excerpt I would photograph and share later. For 24 hours, my purpose in life was not to entertain users named Owllookout and The Levitate Guy with my offhand opinions. 

But I also missed Twitter because a lot of the stuff on there is . . . quite good. A lot of the people I have met there are now . . . my friends. Of all the delusions of Twitter addiction, the biggest one is that we would be better off without it.

Was life really better when you heard dire football commentary on TV and couldn’t laugh about it in unison? When you couldn’t ask for film recommendations and DIY tips and receive good ones almost immediately?

Sometimes it’s claimed that classic literature would never have been created had Twitter existed. Well, I have waded through Moby Dick, and I’m OK with an alternate universe where Herman Melville is accustomed to a 280-character limit. Our culture would be fine with slightly less detail about whale blubber.

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Worth saying that Mance (@henrymance) is an excellent follow on Twitter.
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Do app store rules matter? • Benedict Evans

Evans reckons the EU, at a minimum, will force Apple to allow sideloading, but what about the 30% tax on digital goods?:

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games companies have been able to build a $50bn industry even while giving Apple 30%, though some of them would like the extra cash. Here the issue is not so much Apple’s commission as the business model rules – Stadia is not allowed on the app store at any price, though Roblox is, for reasons no-one understands. Again, this is why a narrow focus on the 30% or side-loading misses the point – regulators are looking at the whole system.

So, are there significant, valuable, mainstream consumer things that can’t happen because of Apple’s rules – not just on that 30%, but on the store and the sandbox? Are there lots of potential Stadias out there being blocked by Apple, or is this just a wealth transfer from Apple to Tencent? Is there an explosion of activity waiting to expand the model far beyond games once the rules are changed?

It’s hard to know in advance. One could argue that the reason all the money is in games is that Apple’s rules have effectively blocked anything other than games and a few other smaller industries (such as online dating) from building a big directly paid software or content model on iOS. For example, people making productivity apps have complained since the beginning about the lack of basic business tools like free trials or upgrade prices. On the other hand, there are very few mainstream consumer successes to point to where Android’s looser rules did enable something that doesn’t exist on iOS. And, of course, companies from Uber to Amazon to Snap or Instagram have built big businesses on the iPhone entirely outside Apple’s rules.

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The Android counterexample seems to suggest that there isn’t the same potential for solid digital goods businesses on mobile that there is on the desktop. (The Kindle is a special case, if it’s even profitable.)
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Carbon removal hype is becoming a dangerous distraction • MIT Technology Review

James Temple:

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Since carbon dioxide persists for hundreds to thousands of years in the atmosphere, there’s little scientific dispute that massive amounts of it will have to be removed to prevent really dangerous levels of warming—or to bring the planet back to a safer climate.

The question is how much. A variety of scientific models have put it at anywhere from 1.3 billion tons per year to 29 billion tons by midcentury to hold global warming at 1.5˚C. A 2017 UN report estimated that keeping the planet from heating past 2˚C will require removing 10 billion tons annually by 2050 and 20 billion by 2100.

(A paper published in Nature Climate Change in June further complicated the matter by noting that removing tons of carbon dioxide  from the atmosphere might not be as effective at easing warming as hoped, because the shifting atmospheric chemistry could, in turn, affect how readily land and oceans release their CO2.)

Ten billion tons is a giant number, nearly double the US’s current annual carbon emissions. And there are limited options for large-scale carbon removal. These include direct air capture, the use of various minerals that bind with CO2, reforestation efforts, and what’s known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (using crops as fuel but capturing any emissions released when they’re combusted).

None of these options can be easily scaled up. Direct air capture is still prohibitively expensive and energy intensive. Using crops for fuel means snatching land from other uses, such as growing food for a swelling population.

Yet suddenly, nations and corporations are increasingly relying, openly or implicitly, on large amounts of carbon removal in their net-zero plans, including those from oil and gas companies like Eni and Shell as well as businesses such as Amazon, Apple, Unilever, and United.

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Just planting loads of trees sounds great – but as scientists point out, “people live where those trees would go.”
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Great work, useful idiots of the media: most Americans buy the unsubstantiated “lab leak” theory • Salon.com

Amanda Marcotte:

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we now have a Politico-Harvard poll released Friday morning that shows Americans are “almost twice as likely to say the virus was the result of a lab leak in China than human contact with an infected animal.” And while the lab-leak theory has been hyped by Trump apologists looking to distract from the ex-president’s massive mishandling of the pandemic, the buy-in for this unlikely theory is not particularly partisan. Politico reports that “59% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats” believe the lab-leak narrative, while only 28% said the virus came “from an infected animal.” This is a dramatic change from March 2020, when only 29% of Americans — basically far-right authoritarians — endorsed the lab-leak theory. 

So what happened to change people’s minds? Well, it wasn’t persuasive evidence. On that front, nothing has changed. No one has produced any biological evidence to dispute last year’s findings from the Tulane University School of Medicine, which “determined that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes by comparing the genetic sequences and protein structures of other coronaviruses to those of new virus.” There have been no whistleblowers, unless you count the Australian scientist who worked until November 2019 at the virology lab in Wuhan, and who says “it was a regular lab that worked in the same way as any other high-containment lab,” which is to say she saw nothing sinister or careless. 

The scientific evidence points in the same direction that it did a year ago, as Lindsay Beyerstein argues in a science-heavy, deeply technical piece for the New Republic: “20 years of post-SARS research into the origins and spread of bat coronaviruses point to a natural origin for Covid-19,” and the supposed lab-leak evidence “is neither new nor compelling.”

It wasn’t evidence that changed people’s minds. It was irresponsible media hype of the “lab leak” theory, brought on by a major push from right-wing conspiracy theorists, and also some gullible pundits and journalists who let themselves be used by the right.

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It’s conveniently forgotten (or not known) by some of the “lab leak” proponents that pretty much every time a new zoonosis (animal-to-human) disease emerges, conspiracy theorists say it was made in a lab. But no novel zoonosis has ever emerged first from a lab. And we have a desire to have a simple story to explain new things. But rather as we struggle with exponentials in disease spread, we struggle with the idea of evolution hitting the jackpot.
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Films made for Netflix look more like TV shows. Here’s the technical reason why • The Conversation

Ari Mattes:

»

An old black and white film, shot on celluloid, has a grainy texture that draws the eye into and around the image. This is partly the result of the degradation of the film print, which occurs over time, but primarily because of the physical processing of the film itself.

All celluloid film has a grainy look. This “grain” is an optical effect related to the small particles of metallic silver that emerge through the film’s chemical processing. This is not the case with digital cameras. Thus video images captured by high resolution sensors look different to those shot on celluloid. The images in [the Netflix production] Mank look flat, depthless, they are too clean and clear.

This is not as much of a problem on a big screen, when the images are huge, but the high resolution is really noticeable when the images are compressed on the kind of domestic TV or computer screens most people use to stream Netflix. The edges look too sharp, the shades too clearly delineated — compared to what we have been used to as cinemagoers.

The absurd thing is companies like CineGrain now sell digital overlays of film stock that can endow video with the grainy film look. (Their company motto is “make digital more cinematic using CineGrain.”) The natural result of the physical process has been superseded by video, but digital cinema makers reintroduce this as one component in achieving a “film look”.

Netflix does allow limited exceptions to its rule, with use of non-approved cameras requiring its explicit approval and a “more flexible” approach to non-fiction productions. According to Y.M. Cinema magazine, 30% of Netflix’s “best movies of 2020” were made on non-approved cameras.

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I’ll be honest: I don’t notice the difference. Maybe if we saw Netflix films in the cinema we would.
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Apple AirPod battery life problem shows need for right-to-repair laws • CNBC

Kif Leswing:

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Apple provides “battery service” for AirPods, at the cost of $49 per earbud. But functionally, Apple simply gives you a replacement pair, and the old earbuds are recycled. It’s not a repair, it’s a replacement. And it’s expensive. AirPods originally cost $159, so opting for battery service costs more than half of the price of a new pair.

Apple sold about 72.8 million AirPods units in 2020, according to a CounterPoint research estimate, so tens of millions of consumers will face the same lack of choice in the coming years.

PodSwap is a Miami company founded by Emma Stritzinger and Emily Alpert which aims to keep AirPods “out of the landfill.” They’re not associated with Apple.

They believe they’re the only company performing AirPod battery replacements, although other companies “refurbish” old AirPods, the founders told CNBC. The company was formed after the founders experienced dying AirPods themselves and thought that upgrading or replacing them would be wasteful and impractical.

I recently replaced a pair of AirPods that were only holding a charge for 45 minutes – too short to complete a phone call. I paid $59 on PodSwap’s Shopify site and a few days later received a replacement pair of AirPods with new batteries. They weren’t my old AirPods, they were another set that had their batteries replaced.

Along with those new pods, PodSwap includes a box and a return label. It wants your old AirPods back. It then cleans and sanitizes the old pair, puts in new batteries and sends them out to the next person who wants to change the battery in their old AirPods.

But PodSwap faces many challenges that show why repair advocates want new rules. Alpert said the design of the AirPod makes it challenging for repair shops or companies like theirs to do a lot of battery replacements. PodSwap’s process uses both robotics and manual labor, the founders said.

“The process was developed through trial and error and a large number of units were ‘sacrificed’ and ultimately recycled. One major challenge we faced was overcoming the uniqueness of this product. Each AirPod is assembled with slight differences, which creates complexity in the disassembly,” Alpert said.

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How effective are coronavirus vaccines against the Delta variant? • Financial Times

Donato Paolo Mancini and John Burn-Murdoch:

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So called “real-world” analysis of 14,019 cases of the Delta variant in the UK, released by Public Health England in June, found the BioNTech/Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines were, respectively, 96% and 92% effective against hospitalisation after two doses.

Late on Thursday, Pfizer reiterated it believed its shot worked against Delta, especially after a potential third booster dose. But it also added it planned to study a variant-targeted inoculation, with trials slated to start as early as next month.

The high efficacy of the shots in the UK, where the Delta variant is dominant and more than the half the population has been fully vaccinated, is reflected in the current mortality rate for Covid-19 patients, which at 0.085% is 20 times lower than at its peak, according to Meaghan Kall, an epidemiologist at PHE.

But the question of whether the vaccines remain as effective at preventing infection, and therefore transmission and spread, is more fraught.

Early figures from the real-world studies in the UK in May found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infection with the Delta variant. A month later, that number was revised down to 79% by Scottish researchers.

Canadian scientists on Saturday, using a combination of methods, estimated that the Pfizer jab was 87% effective at preventing infection with the Delta variant. That was “comparable”, the researchers said, to the 89% protection the shot provided against the Alpha variant, first identified in Britain.

A fourth study, compiled by Israel’s health ministry, details of which were reported this week, suggested the Pfizer vaccine was much less effective against symptomatic infection with Delta, providing only 64% protection. Pfizer and Israeli health officials, however, were quick to caution that the study was based on preliminary and highly localised infection numbers, and had other methodological weaknesses.

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Of course, it’s so hard to remember what the numbers mean. (Especially “20 times lower”, which one understands, but could also be said “5%” or “one-twentieth”.) It’s that if you previously would have had 100 people falling ill, then with 95% protection only 5 will, and the proportion of serious illness will be down too. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Card shortage coming, manufacturers warn • ThePaypers

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Card manufacturers have warned about millions of cards going missing as early as the second half of 2021 due to semiconductor supply difficulties, according to Le Figaro.
The Smart Payment Association (SPA), an organisation that represents large payment card manufacturers, such as Thales or Idemia declared that ‘without any improvement in the situation, millions of cards will be missing’. In a press release, the structure points to the urgency of taking action to protect these companies from the shortage of semiconductors, a supply problem that affects the whole world. The consequences of stopping the production of bank cards would be substantial as customers around world won’t be able to recover a card or to renew it.

For several months, semiconductor production plants, mainly located in Asia, have not been able to meet growing demand. As a result, several sectors have already found themselves in complicated situations, in particular the automotive industry. Smart cards use this technology to identify themselves and ensure network security. 

The problem is urgent. According to the SPA, the first problems could be felt as early as the second half of 2021, but they would become much more noticeable in 2022. In order to limit the breakage, the Smart Payment Association hopes that the sector will be considered a priority in the supply of chips.

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My first reaction to this (and probably yours too) was “haha, I’ll be fine thanks, I’ll keep paying on my watch/phone.” But cards are set to expire and new ones have to be sent out as a sort of verification. Maybe if this bites hard there will be some sort of move to send cards without chips but which update your on-device card identity?
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You mean you haven’t
ordered Social Warming, my latest book?


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1589: Zuckerberg and Sandberg v Pelosi, the Miami condo metaphor, EU fines car maker cartel €875m, and more


Indications are that Apple’s Touch Bar is not long for this world. It probably won’t be much missed. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster 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. Another greenhouse edition. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s partnership did not survive Trump • The New York Times

Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, in an extract from their forthcoming book about Facebook, look at what happened inside the company around the “slurring” (in fact, simply slowed down) Nancy Pelosi video in 2019:

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Inside Facebook, executives were ignoring the Pelosi staff’s calls because they were trying to formulate a response. The fact checkers and the A.I. hadn’t flagged the video for false content or prevented its spread. It was easy to fool Facebook’s filters and detection tools with simple workarounds, it turned out.

But the doctored video of Ms. Pelosi revealed more than the failings of Facebook’s technology to stop the spread of misleading viral videos. It exposed the internal confusion and disagreement over the issue of highly partisan political content.

Executives, lobbyists, and communications staff spent the next day in a slow-motion debate. Ms. Sandberg said she thought there was a good argument to take the video down under rules against disinformation, but she left it at that. Mr. Kaplan and members of the policy team said it was important to appear neutral to politics and to be consistent with the company’s promise of free speech.

…The conversations became tortured exercises in “what-if” arguments. Mr. Zuckerberg and other members of the policy team pondered if the video could be defined as parody. If so, it could be an important contribution to political debate. Some communications employees noted that the same kind of spoof of Ms. Pelosi could have appeared on the television show “Saturday Night Live.” Others on the security team pushed back and said viewers clearly knew that “S.N.L.” was a comedy show and that the video of Ms. Pelosi was not watermarked as a parody.

Employees involved in the discussions were frustrated, but they emphasized that a policy for just one video would also affect billions of others, so the decision could not be rushed.

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Zuckerberg then made the call: leave it up. At which point you realise that he’s lived an incredibly sheltered life, never truly vulnerable to what other people might capriciously decide to do.
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Google faces new antitrust lawsuit over Google Play Store fees • The Verge

Makena Kelly and Russell Brandom:

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The lawsuit, filed by 36 states and Washington, DC, in California federal court, challenges Google’s policy forcing Google Play app developers to pay a 30% commission fee on sales made through the app. Google recently expanded the fees to cover more digital goods purchased on the Play Store, taking particular aim at a number of prominent apps that had previously been able to sidestep the tax. The full complaint, which you can view here or at the bottom of this article, lists the defendants as Google, Alphabet, and subsidiaries in Ireland and Asia.

“It’s strange that a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others,” Google wrote in a blog post responding to the lawsuit. “This complaint mimics a similarly meritless lawsuit filed by the large app developer Epic Games, which has benefitted from Android’s openness by distributing its Fortnite app outside of Google Play.”

«

Yes, had a link about this yesterday, but this one has Google’s response (puzzlement, mostly) and a link to the actual lawsuit. To me, the lawsuit looks like a complete failure (though of course Google did block Fortnite from Google Play when it put in an update that installed Epic’s app store).
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Poll: Do you think Apple should kill the MacBook’s Touch Bar? • 9to5Mac

José Adorno:

»

Apple’s controversial Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro is reportedly in its final days, according to some recent rumors. What do you think about the OLED bar on the Macs?

Introduced with the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016, the Touch Bar was one of several very controversial Apple decisions on its MacBook line. For example, Apple removed all the ports, leaving only USB-C and Thunderbolt ones available, introduced a flawed butterfly keyboard, and removed all the Function keys and the ESC button for this OLED panel.

As for 2020, when Apple introduced its first silicon on the Mac, the M1, the company has already been reversing some of its controversial decisions. For example, a year before, in 2019, with the , the company already brought back the scissor keyboard and the ESC button as well.

At the same time, Apple has always sold a more underpowered MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar. With the 2020 introduction of the M1 MacBook Pro, however, the company never gave an option of a MacBook Pro without this OLED panel.

«

Only about 40% of respondents love the Touch Bar; I’d say it’s highly likely to be the next thing to go extinct. Even Apple doesn’t particularly love it, as the lack of attention to it down the years shows. It’s expensive, doesn’t actually add functionality, and people don’t like it. Same sort of thing as 3D Touch on the phone, really.
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Why the Miami condo collapse is a crisis for all of Florida • Slate

Mary Harris spoke to Danny Rivero, a reporter who has been on the scene of the Miami condo collapse since it happened and says that his initial shock is now turning to “grief – and anger”:

»

Danny Rivero: There were structural deficiencies identified that probably went back all the way to the construction of this building. And a lot of it has to do just with the fact that the pool deck was built flat, which is a huge no-no. I mean, even me, as a non-construction person, knows you don’t build flat.

MH: Why?

DR: You don’t build flat because water accumulates on flat, and then it will seep down and cause structural damage. At least in Florida, you don’t build a flat roof. You build a sloped roof so that if it rains, it doesn’t pool on your roof and cause leaking. But what this engineer report found is that going back to the very beginning of this building basically, they built a concrete slab that was flat for the pool deck. And what that meant over years and decades is that water, as it accumulated from rain or from storm surges, which happen every once in a while, it was seeping down into that and causing changes at the geologic level. This was accumulating under there and causing issues on the pillars that the building stands on, that the whole property stands on.

MH: Do we know if residents in the building fought the repairs, said, “Maybe this isn’t necessary”?

DR: We do know, actually. USA Today had a fantastic story out on Monday evening—heartbreaking story too, though, because it really documents, over the course of the last couple years, the condo board had been pushing for residents to get on board for these repairs. And they couldn’t get people on the same page. And the longer they pushed it back, the higher the costs got, because the repairs—it accelerates if you don’t address it. And because it needed to be this collectivized kind of decision, they couldn’t reach that kind of decision and they couldn’t make the repairs that needed to be done.

«

Siri, show me a metaphor for our inaction over things we know are happening. And note what he says: “This is going to force a wholesale reevaluation of the very places where millions of Floridians live.”
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We are not ready • Galaxy Brain

Charlie Warzel:

»

our 21st century existence is characterized by the repeated confrontation with sprawling, complex, even existential problems without straightforward or easily achievable solutions. Theorist Timothy Morton calls the larger issues undergirding these problems “hyperobjects,” a concept so all-encompassing that it resists specific description.

You could make a case that the current state of political polarization and our reality crisis falls into this category. Same for democratic backsliding and the concurrent rise of authoritarian regimes. We understand the contours of the problem, can even articulate and tweet frantically about them, yet we constantly underestimate the likelihood of their consequences. It feels unthinkable that, say, the American political system as we’ve known it will actually crumble.

Climate change is a perfect example of a hyperobject. The change in degrees of warming feels so small and yet the scale of the destruction is so massive that it’s difficult to comprehend in full. Cause and effect is simple and clear at the macro level: the planet is warming, and weather gets more unpredictable.

…Climate coverage offers the clearest picture of this ‘unthinkability’ dynamic. In a clip from June 7th, CBS meteorologist Jeff Berardelli describes a heat wave stifling the east coast and the exceptional levels of draught in the West. His tone is urgent and the maps he’s gesturing to on the screen are alarming. He doesn’t mince words. “This is a climate emergency,” he tells one of the morning show anchors. It’s the kind of grim statement that you might imagine would evoke a bit of stunned silence.

Instead, the anchor smiles broadly and shakes his head in faux disbelief. “It’s very hot! I feel parched just talking about it!” he says in perfect, playful news cadence. Berardelli and the others on set offer up a classic morning show chuckle. Isn’t that something else! Banter! Onto the next segment.

«

A must-read piece. First you start thinking about existential crisis, then you start doing something about it.
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WeChat deletes Chinese university LGBT accounts in fresh crackdown • Reuters

Pak Yiu:

»

Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeChat social media platform has deleted dozens of LGBT accounts run by university students, saying some had broken rules on information on the internet, sparking fear of a crackdown on gay content online.

Members of several LGBT groups told Reuters that access to their accounts was blocked late on Tuesday and they later discovered that all of their content had been deleted.

“Many of us suffered at the same time,” said the account manager of one group who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“They censored us without any warning. All of us have been wiped out.”

Attempts by Reuters to access some accounts were met with a notice from WeChat saying the groups “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet”.

Other accounts did not show up in search results.

WeChat did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in China until 2001, when it became legal. However, this year, a court upheld a university’s description of homosexuality as a “psychological disorder”.

The LGBT community has repeatedly found itself falling foul of censors. The Cyberspace Administration of China recently pledged to clean up the internet to protect minors and crack down on social media groups deemed a “bad influence”.

«

China’s crackdowns are getting more and more aggressive.
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‘Heat dome’ probably killed 1bn marine animals on Canada coast, experts say • Inkl

Leyland Cecco:

»

The “heat dome” that settled over western Canada and the north-western US for five days pushed temperatures in communities along the coast to 40C (104F) – shattering longstanding records and offering little respite for days.

The intense and unrelenting heat is believed to have killed as many as 500 people in the province of British Columbia and contributed to the hundreds of wildfires currently burning across the province.

But experts fear it also had a devastating impact on marine life.

Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, has calculated that more than a billion marine animals may have been killed by the unusual heat.

A walk along a Vancouver-area beach highlighted the magnitude of devastation brought on by the heatwave, he said.

“The shore doesn’t usually crunch when you walk on it. But there were so many empty mussel shells lying everywhere that you just couldn’t avoid stepping on dead animals while walking around,” he said.

Harley was struck by the smell of rotting mussels, many of which were in effect cooked by the abnormally warm water. Snails, sea stars and clams were decaying in the shallow water. “It was an overpowering, visceral experience,” he said.

While the air around Vancouver hovered around the high 30s (about 100F), Harley and a student used infrared cameras to record temperatures above 50C (122F) along the rocky shore.

“It was so hot when I was out with a student that we collected data for a little bit and then retreated to the shade and ate frozen grapes,” said Harley. “But of course, the mussels, sea stars and clams don’t have that option.”

«

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‘California is now in a new climate:’ Stanford scientist explains state’s heat wave, dry conditions • ABC7 Los Angeles

Luz Pena:

»

Wildfires are unpredictable, but as the drought worsens and heat waves intensify scientists view these as red flags.

“California is now in a new climate. We are in a climate now where essentially, all of our years are warm years. We are getting these very severe heat waves as a result. We are getting rapid snow melt that means that water supply that we have counted on in the past is much less reliable and the vegetation is much drier,” said Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford University Climate Scientist.

Dr. Diffenbaugh has been studying California’s climate for years and believes the wildfire risk is elevated. The heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest is proof of that.

“We found for example that the autumn wildfire season is becoming much more severe and about a doubling of the frequency of wildfire weather during the autumn season and that is primarily from the warming,” said Dr. Diffenbaugh.

«

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EU fines German car cartel €875M over clean emissions technology • POLITICO

Simon Van Dorpe and Joshua Posaner:

»

EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager on Thursday slapped German carmakers with an €875m ($1.03bn) fine for conspiring to limit the development of clean emissions technology.

Between 2009 and 2014, BMW, VW (Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche) and Daimler used so-called “circle of five” technical meetings to agree to hold back on technological innovations that could reduce harmful nitrogen oxide gases of diesel cars, Vestager said in a statement.

VW will need to pay the bulk of the penalty, €502m, despite being granted a 45% reduction for having cooperated with the investigators. BMW is fined the remaining €373m. Daimler got total immunity as it was the first participant in the cartel to denounce its existence.

“The five car manufacturers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions … but they avoided to compete on using this technology’s full potential to clean better than what is required by law,” Vestager said in a statement.

The decision comes just before the European Commission will announce an important batch of legislative proposals to advance the EU Green Deal.

While Vestager’s focus as a competition commissioner is to ensure fair competition between companies, the fine for Germany’s powerful car makers is a strong message to industry that she will not hesitate to use her powers to pursue green objectives.

«

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Millions of barrels of oil safely reach port in major environmental catastrophe • The Onion

»

In what may be the greatest environmental disaster in the nation’s history, the supertanker TI Oceania docked without incident at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Monday and successfully unloaded 3.1 million barrels of dangerous crude oil into the United States.

According to witnesses, the catastrophe began shortly after the tanker, which sailed unimpeded across the Gulf of Mexico, stopped safely at the harbor and made contact with oil company workers on the shore. Soon after, vast amounts of the black, toxic petroleum in the ship’s hold were unloaded at an alarming rate into special storage containers on the mainland.

«

A strange world where you need satire to remind you of what’s actually true. (This is from 2010, and like most Onion content, enduringly true.)
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Some locals say a bitcoin mining operation is ruining one of the Finger Lakes • NBC News

Gretchen Morgen:

»

Summer on Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, is usually a time of boating, fishing, swimming and wine tasting. But for many residents of this bucolic region, there’s a new activity this season — protesting a gas-fired power plant that they say is polluting the air and heating the lake.

“The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” said Abi Buddington of Dresden, whose house is near the plant.

The facility on the shores of Seneca Lake is owned by the private equity firm Atlas Holdings and operated by Greenidge Generation LLC. They have increased the electrical power output at the gas-fired plant in the past year and a half and use much of the fossil-fuel energy not to keep the lights on in surrounding towns but for the energy-intensive “mining” of bitcoins.

…As investor criticism prompts some public companies to dump fossil fuel assets, private equity firms are ready buyers. In 2019, for example, powerhouse Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts, or KKR, acquired a majority stake in the troubled Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, a 400-mile fracking gas pipeline in British Columbia that has drawn citations from a regulator and protests from First Nations people whose land it crosses.

In a report last fall, the Environmental Assessment Office, a provincial agency, said the project failed to comply on 16 of 17 items inspected. As a result, Coastal GasLink was ordered to hire an independent auditor to monitor its work to prevent site runoff that can pollute streams and harm fish.

«

unique link to this extract



A different sort of warming?
Social Warming, my new book.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1588: China harvests genetic data, US states to sue Google?, let’s go geothermal!, the Vivace mystery, and more


Staff in Japanese government offices are resisting moves to ban fax machines. CC-licensed photo by Mike Licht 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Friday! One of the best days in the week to
order Social Warming, my latest book.


Special report: China’s gene giant harvests data from millions of women • Reuters

Kirsty Needham and Clare Baldwin:

»

A Chinese gene company selling prenatal tests around the world developed them in collaboration with the country’s military and is using them to collect genetic data from millions of women for sweeping research on the traits of populations, a Reuters review of scientific papers and company statements found.

US government advisors warned in March that a vast bank of genomic data that the company, BGI Group, is amassing and analysing with artificial intelligence could give China a path to economic and military advantage. As science pinpoints new links between genes and human traits, access to the biggest, most diverse set of human genomes is a strategic edge. The technology could propel China to dominate global pharmaceuticals, and also potentially lead to genetically enhanced soldiers, or engineered pathogens to target the US population or food supply, the advisors said.

Reuters has found that BGI’s prenatal test, one of the most popular in the world, is a source of genetic data for the company, which has worked with the Chinese military to improve “population quality” and on genetic research to combat hearing loss and altitude sickness in soldiers.

BGI says it stores and re-analyses left-over blood samples and genetic data from the prenatal tests, sold in at least 52 countries to detect abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome in the foetus. The tests – branded NIFTY for “Non-Invasive Fetal TrisomY” – also capture genetic information about the mother, as well as personal details such as her country, height and weight, but not her name, BGI computer code viewed by Reuters shows.

«

I think the US government advisors are getting a bit overheated. You can’t engineer pathogens to target a population – nor even a “race”, because genes don’t recognise the idea. (There’s more genetic variation within what we call a race than between different races.) I’ve heard variations of this “genetically engineered weapons!” story for about 20 years. It’s a nope. But the gathering of all the data is still something to look at sidelong.
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Google set to be sued by states in Play Store antitrust case • Bloomberg

Naomi Nix, David McLaughlin, and Mark Bergen:

»

Dozens of states are poised to sue Google alleging that the company illegally abused its power over developers that distribute apps through the Google Play store on mobile devices, according to people familiar with the situation.

State attorneys general are preparing to file an antitrust lawsuit that targets the fees Google takes from developers for purchases and subscriptions inside apps, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the case. The lawsuit could be filed as soon as Wednesday in California, a second person said.

It would mark a new attack by government officials in the US against the search engine’s business practices. The Justice Department and a group of states filed separate complaints over Google’s search business last year, while another state coalition sued over Google’s digital advertising business.

Google and Apple Inc. are a duopoly dominating the app economy of the Western world. The companies have come under intense pressure from regulators and some developers who complain that high app store fees and complex rules raise costs for consumers. A total of $143bn was spent in mobile app stores in 2020, a 20% jump from the previous year, according to analytics firm App Annie.

«

This seems a weird one. Google lets companies essentially take payments outside the store, except for games. Is the complaint about that? Hard, too, to know whether this is just some sort of prelude to a federal case that these complaints will be wrapped up into. The suit was filed, but there wasn’t a copy of the complaint available last night.
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Google’s unfair performance advantage in Chrome • Ctrl blog

Daniel Aleksandersen:

»

I recently poked around in the Chromium project source code; the open-source foundation for Google’s Chrome web browser. The Chromium project is co-developed by Google, and other corporate and individual contributors. The project is managed and controlled by Google, however. I was looking for something else when I stumbled upon a feature called PreconnectToSearch. When enabled, the feature preemptively opens and maintains a connection to the default search engine.

The preconnection feature resolves the domain name, and negotiates and sets up a secure connection to the server. All these things take time and they must happen before the search engine can receive the users’ search queries. Preempting these steps can save a dozen seconds on a slow network connection or half a second on a fast connection.

This optimization can yield a nice performance boost for Google’s customers. Assuming the connection only requires a trivial amount of processing power and network bandwidth, of course. Setting up the connection early can be wasteful or slow down the loading of other pages if the user isn’t going to search the web.

There’s just one small catch: Chromium checks the default search engine setting, and only enables the feature when it’s set to Google Search. This preferential treatment means no other search engine can compete with Google Search on the time it takes to load search results. Every competitor must wait until the user has started to type a search query before Chrome will establish a connection.

The feature gives Google Search an 80% head start towards delivering its search results compared to a non-preconnected competitor.

«

Microsoft can fork Chromium, so it could do the same for Bing presumably? But it’s a subtlety in all this which you wouldn’t know about, yet might notice, even subconsciously.
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Bhima Koregaon case: forensics report finds that evidence was planted on lawyer Surendra Gadling’s computer • The Washington Post

Niha Masih and Joanna Slater:

»

A hacker planted evidence on the computers of two activists jailed in 2018 accused of plotting an insurgency against the Indian government, a new forensic report concludes.

The finding raises fresh doubts about a case that rights groups consider an effort to crack down on critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. More than a dozen activists have been imprisoned without trial under a stringent anti-terrorism law that rarely results in convictions.

Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, examined electronic copies of the computers, as well as email accounts belonging to two of the activists, Surendra Gadling and Rona Wilson, at the request of defense lawyers.

An unidentified attacker used malicious software to infiltrate the two computers and deposited dozens of files in hidden folders on the devices, Arsenal said. Investigators later cited the documents as incriminating evidence linking the activists to a banned Maoist militant group that aims to overthrow the government.

Tuesday’s report is the third that Arsenal has released in the case. The previous reports concluded that Wilson’s laptop was hacked, and that more than 30 files, including an explosive letter mentioning a plot to assassinate Modi, were deposited on the computer. The Washington Post was the first to report that a hacker had planted evidence in the case.

Experts say the information in the new report points to an extensive and coordinated malware campaign that targeted and probably compromised other computers beyond those belonging to the two activists.

«

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The state of next-generation geothermal energy • Eli Dourado

Dourado is “an economist and regulatory hacker”:

»

A benefit of climate change is that lots of smart people are rethinking energy, but I fear they aren’t going far enough. If we want not just to replace current energy consumption with low-carbon sources, but also to, say, increase global energy output by an order of magnitude, we need to look beyond wind and solar. Nuclear fission would be an excellent option if it were not so mired in regulatory obstacles. Fusion could do it, but it still needs a lot of work. Next-generation geothermal could have the right mix of policy support, technology readiness, and resource size to make a big contribution to abundant clean energy in the near future.

Let’s talk about resource size first. Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project estimates crustal thermal energy reserves at 15 million zetajoules. Coal + oil + gas + methane hydrates amount to 630 zetajoules. That means there is 23,800 times as much geothermal energy in Earth’s crust as there is chemical energy in fossil fuels everywhere on the planet. Combining the planet’s reserves of uranium, seawater uranium, lithium, thorium, and fossil fuels yields 365,030 zetajoules. There is 41 times as much crustal thermal energy than energy in all those sources combined. (Total heat content of the planet, including the mantle and the core, is about three orders of magnitude higher still.)

Although today’s geothermal energy is only harvested from spots where geothermal steam has made itself available at the surface, with some creative subsurface engineering it could be produced everywhere on the planet. Like nuclear energy, geothermal runs 24/7, so it helps solve the intermittency problem posed by wind and solar. Unlike nuclear energy, it is not highly regulated, which means it could be cheap in practice as well as in theory.

«

All the various methods seem pretty good, though you might have to drill 20km down to get to the stuff you want, though typical depths for these projects are more like 7.5km. The deepest drilled holes so far are about 12km max.
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Vivace: what’s this government-funded tech consortium got to hide? • Medium

Barry Collins:

»

A mysterious consortium of tech companies isn’t keen to talk about its work with the UK government.

Vivace describes itself as “a consortium of the best and brightest in the security industry”. Odd, then, that this publicly-funded brains squad seems remarkably reluctant to tell us who’s in it.

Vivace first came to my attention last week, when it was named as one of the expert technologists consulted as part of the NSPCC’s hugely unbalanced report into end-to-end encryption. I’d never heard of Vivace before, and so did a little digging to find out what this organisation actually does.

Its sparse one-page website offers few clues, beyond the “best and brightest” claim made above. There’s no list of members, no named executives, no physical address, nothing but a bland set of mission statements.

A few days later, someone claiming to be Vivace’s media representative replied to the email I sent them asking for further information. It turns out Vivace is a consortium of private tech companies that is behind ACE — the Accelerated Capability Environment — which is described in press releases as “a Home Office capability within the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism that rapidly delivers solutions to challenges facing frontline security and public safety missions”.

Vivace is “a community of companies led by QinetiQ which won the contract to deliver ACE for the Home Office in 2017”. That contract was renewed for a further two years in 2020.

«

This article is from April. Since then Collins has put in an FOI request, and the Home Office has dithered and delayed. Something is going on here.
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Trump sues Twitter, Google and Facebook alleging ‘censorship’ • BBC News

»

Former US president Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit against tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook, claiming that he is the victim of censorship.

«

The lawsuit is a complete garbage fire, so don’t bother reading the linked story; read US lawyer Mike Dunford’s analysis of it. He calls it a “LOLsuit”, and his analyses of the absurd lawsuits in the wake of the US election were always correct. (Not a high bar, I agree.)

But Trump used the occasion of the lawsuit to text his supporters to scam raise money from them. Should cover the lawyers’ fees, if they ever get paid.
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From K-Pop stan to keyboard warrior: meet the activists battling Myanmar’s military junta • Rest of World

Nu Nu Lusan and Emily Fishbeing contacted a number of activists, who are using social media to try to push the message out to the world about what’s going on:

»

I copy a lot of my tweets and hashtags from Telegram channels, such as 2021 Revolution Tweets. I also retweet articles that I read, such as articles about how we can create a federal democratic union, which brings peace and harmony between our diverse ethnic people. I don’t share toxic posts.

To help identify misinformation, I use fact-checking pages on Facebook, and Telegram channels, which warn us if posts are fake. We can also check images on Google Lens to make sure they are what they say they are.  If I am not sure about a post, I don’t share it, because if I make a mistake, everyone who follows will copy the mistake. I only share from pages I trust, and if I find out a post is incorrect, I delete it immediately.

I only have one Facebook account, but I have three Twitter accounts, because accounts can be suspended when I tweet too much. I use my real name on Facebook, but I don’t use my real name or photo on Twitter. As a fangirl, I use nicknames. Currently, I use a Save Myanmar photo, so that when people see my profile, they may get awareness.

In February, I protested, but later on there were shootings, so I decided to become a keyboard fighter to raise awareness to the international community. There are many people resisting the coup, but the regime is trying to cover it up. To post about the protests and news in real time, keyboard fighters play a vital role. I want the international community to know that there is no peace in Myanmar, and people are still resisting and facing danger every day.

«

No doubt they’re all passionately doing it. But is anyone listening, and of those who are can anyone do anything about it?
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Japanese fax fans rally to defence of much-maligned machine • The Guardian

Justin McCurry:

»

A [government] cabinet body that promotes administrative reform said in June it had decided to abolish the use of fax machines “as a rule” by the end of the month and switch to emails at ministries and agencies in the Tokyo district of Kasumigaseki, Japan’s bureaucratic nerve centre.

The move would enable more people to work from home, it said, citing concerns that too many people were still going to the office during the coronavirus pandemic to send and receive faxes.

Exceptions would be made for disaster response and interactions with the public and businesses that had traditionally depended on faxes.

Instead of embracing the digital age, however, hundreds of government offices mounted a defence of the much-maligned machine, insisting that banishing them would be “impossible”, according to the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper.

The backlash has forced the government to abandon its mission to turn officialdom into a digital-only operation, the newspaper said on Wednesday.

Members of the resistance said there were concerns over the security of sensitive information and “anxiety over the communication environment” if, as the government had requested, they switched exclusively to email.

«

Why not switch to messaging apps? And how is a fax more secure than an email? I wonder if the opponents of the switch are older, and resistant to using keyboards.
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Audacity fork maintainer quits after alleged harassment by 4chan losers who took issue with ‘Tenacity’ name • The Register

Gareth Halfacree:

»

Since the introduction of telemetry, the Audacity project has been forked more than 50 times – including into the Tenacity project, created by pseudonymous programmer “cookiengineer.” It’s this fork which attracted the attention of notorious anonymous forum 4chan, resulting in what cookiengineer claims is real-world harassment – and his abandoning of the project.

“I really thought long about this, and I haven’t slept in two days due to ongoing harassments of 4chan,” cookiengineer claimed in a post to the Tenacity GitHub Issues page some 13 hours ago. “As the first people were literally arriving at my place of living, where they knocked on my doors and windows to scare us, I am hereby officially stepping down as a maintainer of this project.

“The safety of my family is worth more than an open source project. They found out my address via a YouTube video where someone was posting my nickname combined with my real legal name (which meanwhile got taken down due to my asking). The incident happened shortly 23:00 CEST [21:00 UTC], today; and the police took over this case.”

The cause of the alleged harassment? A disagreement over the project’s name. Being unable to use the Audacity trademark, now owned by Muse Group, cookiengineer ran a poll to find a new name for the fork. Those on 4chan who can never pass up an opportunity to influence the outcome of a poll took it into their hands to ensure Sneedacity, a reference to a throwaway Simpsons gag in which a store is signposted “Sneed’s Feed & Seed, formerly Chuck’s”, won.

When cookiengineer deleted the poll and picked Tenacity as the project’s name instead, it didn’t go over well.

«

Nothing more entitled than anonymous 4chan users; or more liable to produce at least one rando who will take things too far.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1587: Vestager warns Apple on app stores, boring news means fewer views, superforecasting China v Taiwan, and more


A video has surfaced showing a Larry David skit that was planned for Apple’s WWDC 2014. Seen today, it’s even more uncomfortable. CC-licensed photo by Keng Susumpow 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. No, not beloved uncle. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


On the other hand, you could
buy Social Warming, my latest book.


EU’s Vestager warns Apple against using privacy, security argument to limit competition • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

»

“I think privacy and security is of paramount importance to everyone,” Vestager told Reuters in an interview.

“The important thing here is, of course, that it’s not a shield against competition, because I think customers will not give up neither security nor privacy if they use another app store or if they sideload,” she said.

Vestager indicated that she was open to changes in her proposal, which needs input from EU countries and EU lawmakers before it can become law.

“I think that it is possible to find solutions to this,” she said.

Vestager also said Apple’s privacy changes, unlike Google’s plan to block a popular web tracking tool called “cookies” which formed part of her investigation into the Alphabet unit’s digital advertising business opened last month, were not in her crosshairs for now.

Apple rolled out an update of its iOS operating system in April with new privacy controls designed to limit digital advertisers from tracking iPhone users.

“As I have said, I think actually several times, that it is a good thing when providers give us the service that we can easily set our preferences if we want to be tracked outside the use of an app or not as long as it’s the same condition for everyone. So far, we have no reason to believe that this is not the case for Apple,” she said.

«

Vestager is making it pretty clear that Apple’s App Store is going to be obliged, as Google was, to be open to rival app stores if she can make the case that it has a dominant market position (which she probably will). Which means it will have to compete on its merits. The 30% slice is probably going a long way down in that case.
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Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media • Axios

Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer:

»

In the months since former President Donald Trump left office, media companies’ readership numbers are plunging — and publishers that rely on partisan, ideological warfare have taken an especially big hit.

Outlets most dependent on controversy to stir up resentments have struggled to find a foothold in the Biden era, according to an Axios analysis of publishers’ readership and engagement trends.

Web traffic, social media engagement and app user sessions suggest that while the entire news industry is experiencing a slump, right-wing outlets are seeing some of the biggest plunges.

A group of far-right outlets, including Newsmax and The Federalist, saw aggregate traffic drop 44% from February through May compared to the previous six months, according to Comscore data.

Lefty outlets including Mother Jones and Raw Story saw a 27% drop.

Mainstream publishers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters dropped 18%.

App visits tell a similar story. Both right-leaning (including Fox News, Daily Caller) and left-leaning (including Buzzfeed News, The Atlantic) saw considerable average drops in app user sessions over this time period at 31% and 26%, respectively, according to Apptopia data.

«

Be right back, got to search around for my microscopic violin.
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Will China invade Taiwan? • UnHerd

Tom Chivers asked an anonymous group of proven superforecasters about possible likelihoods, and outcomes:

»

a Chinese invasion of Taiwan has the potential to be really bad. The superforecasters put together some conditional forecasts as well – that is, predictions of the form “How likely is event X if event Y happens?” So, for instance, if there is a conflict between China and Taiwan, how likely is the US to come to Taiwan’s defence, and how likely would China be to preemptively attack US forces?

The median estimate for how likely the US is to come to Taiwan’s aid if there were an invasion is 83%. So we are talking about a very high probability that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would lead to armed conflict between the world’s two superpowers. They also think it’s about 75% likely that the US would try to sink Chinese invasion ships, and say it’s reasonably likely that China would preemptively attack the US forces in the region if they did attack.

What might the knock-on effects be, if the world’s largest economies end up in a shooting war? Well: the US imports about $470 billion’s worth of goods from China a year. The superforecasters’ median estimate is that that would drop by 20%, or, roughly speaking, $100 billion. That’s the equivalent of the entire economy of Ecuador or Kenya. It would mean a huge blow to the world economy and probably push millions of people back into poverty. Huge US firms such as Nike or Apple would most probably stop manufacturing goods in China, again undoing decades of economic growth that has driven the rise of the Chinese middle class.

And what’s more, it’s very far from obvious that the US would win. If a war were to break out over Taiwan before 2026, the median estimate is that there’s a 57% chance of Chinese victory; if the war were to break out between 2031 and 2035, when China has had another decade to build up its military relative to the US, the estimate is 66%.

«

Just putting this here so you know how much to worry.
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Intuit sabatages the US Child Tax Credit • Pluralistic

Cory Doctorow:

»

The Child Tax Credit is a seriously good piece of policy, in which America’s poorest families are eligible for $2-3k/year in subsidies, a move projected to cut American child poverty in half.

There’s one problem: the IRS has no idea how to reach America’s poorest families.

Many of the people eligible for CTC don’t file tax returns and even if they did, they’d have no contact with the IRS, because the tax-prep monopoly killed all attempts to create a “free file” system where the IRS sends you a prefilled return with the info they already have.

When I say “sabotaged,” I’m not speaking hyperbolically. The tax-prep industry, led by Intuit, led the fight for 20 years, with their cultlike leader Brad Smith at the forefront of a bribery and intimidation campaign.

Intuit worked with its co-monopolists to develop a private sector “free file” program that was supposed to offer free tax-prep services to the poorest Americans, but it was a con.

The company developed a sophisticated dark-patterns storefront to trick Americans into paying for the service they promised to provide for free. Free file was supposed to cover half of Americans, but only 3% figured out how to use it.

Free file predated upon poor people, but it especially targeted people with disabilities, students and retirees.

Eventually, thanks to Propublica’s dogged reporting, the IRS ended its noncompete agreement with Intuit.

But the IRS has been starved for decades by anti-tax extremists and is seemingly dependent on predatory monopolists – think of how, in the wake of the Equifax breach, the IRS awarded its $7.5m, no-bid antifraud contract…to Equifax.

«

That’s only the beginning: he then goes on to examine the software. When Doctorow is angry, he gets properly angry.
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Pandemic contradictions: a sign of false information • You Can Know Things

Kristen Panthagani PhD:

»

One of the reasons false information and pandemic rumors can be so confusing and exhausting is the high degree of self-contradiction. Granted, not everyone believes every rumor simultaneously, but overall self-contradiction is often a hallmark of inaccurate information, and exposure to many different self-contradicting narratives (often with lots of emotion attached to them) can be highly disorienting and confusing. Here are a few examples I’ve run into over the last year…

«

Includes such greatest hits as “Spike protein shedding from vaccination makes it dangerous to be around vaccinated people” vs “spike protein shedding from COVID infection is no big deal and there’s no need to social distance or wear a mask.” Also “SARS-CoV-2 is not that dangerous” and “SARS-COV-2 is so good at making humans sick that it was clearly engineered.”

The number of contradictory statements is amazing, really.
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More thoughts on Six Spaces and transgression • TEST

Matt Locke, in May 2010:

»

Matt Mckeown’s infographic showing Facebook’s shifting privacy policy is a great example of platform transgression – a technology shifting information from one register to another without clearly signposting this transgression to the user.

Likewise, user transgression is when someone shifts someone elses information from one register to in a way that wasn’t expected. A common illustration of this is newspapers taking photographs from Flickr without respecting the copyright limitations that users had put in place when uploading the photo. Loaded magazine was recently cleared of breach of privacy by the PCC following a complaint from a woman who uploaded a picture of herself to Bebo in 2006. Over the next few years her picture was circulated widely on forums, and she became an internet meme as the ‘Epic Boobs’ girl. When Loaded magazine called for their readers to help track her down, she claimed the article had caused her considerable upset. But the PCC claimed that as the picture was so widely distributed online already (appearing in the top 3 Google searches for ‘boobs’) the Loaded article could not be considered to infringe her privacy, although it would have been a different case if they had taken it directly from her Bebo profile in 2006. It was the gradual disemmination of her image between groups of users online that made it ‘public’ – not her original act, which she probably imagined to be for a group that she controlled, but groups who could access and share her image without her knowledge or control.

What is remarkable about the Epic Boobs and Facebook transgressions is that they are gradual and hard for the person involved to track. In an analogue media world, the transgression between registers is sharp and obvious – a newspaper would have had to contact you to get a copy of a photo for them to use, and your personal photographs couldn’t become a global property without you knowing about it. We now live in an age where transgression is insidious and invisible, where users can’t understand the potential risks of sharing until it’s caused them significant pain.

«

This is following on, of course, from Dany Green’s post from 2003 yesterday about public, private and secret registers in real life and online.
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Check out the scrapped Larry David skit filmed for WWDC 2014 • Cult of Mac

Luke Dormehl:

»

Larry David once played a verbose, neurotic app approval officer in a skit for Apple. But curb your enthusiasm (womp womp) … the video never aired. Clearly someone at Apple didn’t think it was pretty, pretty, pr-et-ty good enough to be shown to customers.

However, the video — apparently shot as a possible intro for 2014’s Worldwide Developers Conference — has been leaked online by Sam Henri-Gold of the dearly departed Unofficial Apple Archive, a former repository of Apple videos no longer around. While Henri-Gold only shared a snippet, the whole video was later posted to YouTube.

«

The article acts all surprised that this wasn’t used, but it’s absolutely evident: it makes app approval look completely arbitrary, and Larry David as an image of who’s doing the approval wouldn’t really benefit Apple. Plus some of the phrases he uses would send shivers down Apple PR’s spine.

Probably a million dollars there on the screen in front of you. (Script, salaries, full crew, locations, two or three-day shoot.)
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HIV vaccine trial starts at Oxford • University of Oxford

»

The goal of the trial, known as HIV-CORE 0052, is to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the HIVconsvX vaccine – a mosaic vaccine targeting a broad range of HIV-1 variants, making it potentially applicable for HIV strains in any geographical region.

Thirteen healthy, HIV-negative adults, aged 18-65 and who are considered not to be at high risk of infection, will initially receive one dose of the vaccine followed by a further booster dose at four weeks.

The trial is part of the European Aids Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020), an internationally collaborative research project funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 health programme for research and innovation.

Professor Tomáš Hanke, Professor of Vaccine Immunology at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, and lead researcher on the trial, said: ‘An effective HIV vaccine has been elusive for 40 years. This trial is the first in a series of evaluations of this novel vaccine strategy in both HIV-negative individuals for prevention and in people living with HIV for cure.’

While most HIV vaccine candidates work by inducing antibodies generated by B-cells, HIVconsvX induces the immune system’s potent, pathogen obliterating T cells, targeting them to highly conserved and therefore vulnerable regions of HIV – an “Achilles heel” common to most HIV variants.

«

Using the mRNA vaccine method.
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The end of EU migration will reshape the UK economy • Financial Times

Sarah O’Connor:

»

It is ironic that we are only learning just how big a deal European migration was for the UK at the moment we are confronted by life without it. For an insight into how the era of EU free movement transformed some corners of the economy, you could do worse than to study the factories that process our food.

This sector, heavily reliant on workers from the EU, was always going to face a reckoning, since the government’s new post-Brexit immigration regime has put a stop to most low-paid migration. But the pandemic has hastened the crunch by prompting many EU workers with settled status to go home (no one knows how many). In meat processing, where EU workers account for more than 60% of staff, employers are complaining of acute labour shortages.

Employers often lament that Britons just don’t apply for these jobs. But a look at current job adverts offers an insight into why. Twelve-hour shifts in food factories are common, often in patterns of “four on, four off”, with workers expected to do a mixture of day and night shifts. One for a bakery worker states: “You will work days or nights including weekends for 12 hours [sic] shift as follows: 6am to 6pm; 6pm to 6am.” Another warns applicants for its 12-hour night shifts (paid £9.12 per hour) that “you will be working on your feet for the duration of the shift”. Many state: “You will be required to be flexible to meet the demands of the business.”

It is hard to see how you could manage a job with long and variable hours like this if you had to arrange childcare in advance, or indeed had any responsibilities outside work. Even if you could, there are less demanding jobs with steadier shifts that pay a similar wage. Yet the food factory jobs have been manageable for a certain group of migrant workers who came without dependants and lived in shared accommodation.

«

O’Connor also tweeted a graph showing that food prices in the UK are about 10% lower than the EU average – at least presently. But if those jobs can’t be filled at those prices, things seem likely to change.
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Audacity owner Muse Group responds to ‘spyware’ claims regarding the free and open-source audio editor • MusicRadar

Ben Rogerson:

»

Muse Group, the owner of the free and open-source audio editor Audacity, has sought to clarify the terms of its updated privacy policy, which has led to claims that the software is now possible ‘spyware’.

Audacity was acquired by Ultimate Guitar creator Muse Group earlier this year, with the new owner pledging to improve its feature set while retaining its free and open-source status.

However, eyebrows were quickly raised when the company updated its Contributor License Agreement (CLA), which some in the Audacity community felt ran contrary to the values of the open-source ecosystem. Contributors were told that they needed to sign this in order to remain part of the Audacity project.

The new privacy policy has caused similar anger, with new data collection mechanisms sparking calls for people to uninstall the software and support the campaign to ‘fork’ Audacity. This would basically mean a new version of the software, created under open-source rules, but without the data collection.

Muse Group has now responded to these concerns, stating that they’re “due largely to unclear phrasing in the Privacy Policy”. It says that no data will be shared with third parties (“full-stop”) and that only very basic data – IP address, system info (OS and CPU type) and error reports – will be collected.

Muse says that it does not collect any data beyond this for any purpose, including passing on to any government or law enforcement agency. What’s more, it says that data will only be shared if a court compels it, and that IP addresses are only held for 24 hours.

The privacy policy was updated, Muse says, because of new features being introduced in the next version of Audacity (3.03). These include automatic updating and error reporting, both of which require the aforementioned ‘personal data’ to work.

Furthermore, we’re assured that the current version (3.02) does not collect any data, and that the new privacy policy does not apply to offline use of Audacity.

«

The whole thing doe strike me as one of the classic storms in a teacup that the internet generates so handily and amplifies so effortlessly.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1586: talking about social warming, the internet’s missing register, breaking Twitter addiction, how Ever Given was freed, and more


In India, a number of people have been arrested on suspicion of dispensing fake vaccines consisting of saltwater. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Back to work? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Charles Arthur: ‘We have this tribalism built into us that is fuelled by outrage’ • Independent.ie

Mary McGill:

»

His thesis is straightforward and well-supported. Like global warming, social warming, an unintended consequence of the rapid transformation of our communications systems in the digital age, has the potential to upend delicate ecosystems that govern human life, from the media to politics to interpersonal relationships.

This ‘warming’ is driven by a number of factors. Chief among them is the rise of the smartphone combined with the proliferation of social media platforms designed to commandeer attention. These connect people but also divide them, enabling the circulation of information as never before but with little to no quality control. The results are destabilising, producing masses of the internet’s hallmark emotion: outrage.

“We have this tribalism built into us that is fuelled by outrage,” Arthur says. Online, this instinct is stoked by algorithms designed to promote what is attention-grabbing rather than what is true, exploiting the human weakness for rubbernecking. Of all the sentiments expressed on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook it is outrage, Arthur says, “that travels fastest”.

This is harmful, especially when it comes to phenomena such as fake news. But as it keeps eyeballs on screens, thus fulfilling the demands of the attention economy, companies are often slow to act. “The people who run the social networks don’t mind if people are a bit outraged,” says Arthur. “They don’t mind because that keeps them on the social networks.”

«

It was great speaking to Mary. Did you know this is now a book? OK, I may lay off at some point. (Mary has also written a book, coming out this month: “The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance and Social Media“.)
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the register • Oblomovka

Danny O’Brien, all the way back in October 2003, before there were social networks, and when the blogging platform LiveJournal was the Big Thing on the block:

»

Most people have, in the back of their mind, the belief that what they say to their friends, they would be happy to say in public, in the same words. It isn’t true, and if you don’t believe me, tape-record yourself talking to your friends one day, and then upload it to your website for the world to hear.

This is the trap that makes fly-on-the-wall documentaries and reality TV so entertaining. It’s why politicians are so weirdly mannered, and why everyone gets a bit freaked out when the videocamera looms at the wedding. It’s what makes a particular kind of gossip – the “I can’t believe he said that!” – so virulent. No matter how constant a person you are, no matter how unwavering your beliefs, something you say in the private register will sound horrific, dismissive, egotistical or trite when blazoned on the front page of the Daily Mirror. This is the context that we are quoted out of.

But in the real world, private conversations stay private. Not because everyone is sworn to secrecy, but because their expression is ephemeral and contained to an audience. There are few secrets in private conversations; but in transmitting the information contained in the conversation, the register is subtly changed. I say to a journalist, “Look, Dave, err, frankly the guy is a bit, you know. Sheesh. He’s just not the sort of person that we’d ever approve of hiring.”. The journalist, filtering, prints, “Sources are said to disapprove of the appointment.”.

Secrets have another register. They are serious (even when they are funny secrets). We are both implicated when we share a secret. We hide it from the world. Secrets don’t change register – when they are out, they preserve their damaging style.

On the net, you have public, or you have secrets. The private intermediate sphere, with its careful buffering. is shattered. E-mails are forwarded verbatim. IRC transcripts, with throwaway comments, are preserved forever. You talk to your friends online, you talk to the world.

«

(Many thanks to Lloyd for the pointer to this, which captures why when Facebook offers “privacy” controls it befuddles people.)
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Fake vaccines may have been given to thousands in India, police say • The New York Times

Hari Kumar:

»

As India intensifies its vaccination effort amid fears of another wave of the coronavirus, officials are investigating allegations that perhaps thousands of people were injected with fake vaccines in the financial capital, Mumbai.

The police have arrested 14 people on suspicion of involvement in a scheme that administered injections of salt water instead of vaccine doses at nearly a dozen private vaccination sites in Mumbai over the past two months. The organizers, including medical professionals, allegedly charged between $10 and $17 per dose, according to the authorities, who said they had confiscated more than $20,000 from the suspects.

“Those arrested are charged under criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery,” said Vishal Thakur, a police officer in Mumbai.

More than 2,600 people came to the camps to receive shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured and marketed in India as Covishield. Some said that they became suspicious when their shots did not show up in the Indian government’s online portal tracking vaccinations, and when the hospitals that the organizers had claimed to be affiliated with did not match the names on the vaccination certificates they received.

“There are doubts about whether we were actually given Covishield or was it just glucose or expired/waste vaccines,” Neha Alshi, who said she was a victim of the scam, wrote on Twitter.

«

India is rife with medical scams, the story notes, and they’ve really been running riot during the pandemic. Meanwhile it’s still reporting 5,000 cases per day and 1,000 deaths per day – probably still a significant undercount; the total death toll there is likely close to 1.6 million.
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A Twitter addict realizes she needs rehab • The Atlantic

Caitlin Flanagan got her husband to change her password so she couldn’t log in, as a means of going cold turkey:

»

We know on an intellectual level that social-media platforms are addictive. Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, admitted as much in 2017 when he confessed that the site had been designed to exploit human “vulnerability” and to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” We know this; we talk about it; we worry about children, or Cambridge Analytica, or Q, or any other damn thing except for ourselves. We don’t want to admit that each one of us has given a huge corporation untrammeled access to the delicate psychology that makes us who we are.

On the other hand … after about a week I wanted back in. I knew the place was still hopping, because friends would email me updates that drove me wild with the need to comment. The writer Naomi Wolf was permanently banned from Twitter for her imperious anti-vaxxing during my absence. It was as though Twitter had thrown a cloth over her parrot cage—the chattering suddenly stopped, and she was silent.

But I had thrown a cloth over my own parrot cage, so I couldn’t crow about it.

Someone sent me news that the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had written about “leprechaun economics” and the Irish ambassador to America had taken the bait and complained. It was a cultural moment that (in my opinion) screamed out for Caitlin Flanagan, but where was she? I texted the editor of this magazine: “Paul Krugman’s after me lucky charms!” The editor texted back, “I wish I knew what this meant.” I tried patching through to Old Media, sending the Times a letter to the editor in which I directed Krugman to W. B. Yeats’s Fairy and Folktales on the Irish Peasantry and its menacing description of leprechauns as “sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms,” suggesting that he should watch his back. Crickets from the Times. Did I even exist anymore?

«

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GETTR: Trump ally accounts hacked on July 4 launch day • Business Insider

Joshua Zitser and Dominick Reuter:

»

GETTR, the new social media platform set up by allies of former President Donald Trump, still has several unresolved security bugs a day after it was hacked on its July 4 launch.

The platform’s most popular verified users, mostly former Trump aides, had their accounts compromised on Sunday and GETTR’s official support page was also targeted.

Jason Miller, who founded the platform and was formerly a spokesperson to Trump, had his page taken over.

The accounts of Mike Pompeo, Steve Bannon, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Harlan Hill, Sean Parnell, and the pro-Trump broadcaster Newsmax were also hacked.

All of these account’s profiles were changed to show the same message: “@JubaBaghdad was here 🙂 ^^ free palestine ^^.”

The accounts were first hacked around 8:30 a.m. EST on Sunday, and the majority of the profiles returned to their previous state by 10 a.m. EST.

On Monday, @JubaBaghdad told Insider that although GETTR fixed the initial bug he said he used in the attack, he was still able to scrape user data from individual accounts, including email addresses and birth years. He confirmed this by sharing details of a test account that Insider set up.

«

I guess the next thing will be for them to get hit by ransomware – though that would imply that the hackers though they had some money, which feels unlikely if they couldn’t red-team their network before launching it.
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Chinese-owned firm acquires UK’s largest semiconductor manufacturer • The Guardian

Mark Sweney:

»

The UK’s largest producer of semiconductors has been acquired by the Chinese-owned manufacturer Nexperia, prompting a senior Tory MP to call for the government to review the sale to a foreign owner during an increasingly severe global shortage of computer chips.

Nexperia, a Dutch firm owned by China’s Wingtech, said on Monday that it had taken full control of Newport Wafer Fab (NWF), the UK’s largest producer of silicon chips, which are vital in products from TVs and mobile phones to cars and games consoles.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling and the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, told CNBC on Monday that he would be very surprised if the deal was not being reviewed under the National Security and Investment Act, new legislation brought in to protect key national assets from foreign takeover.

“The semiconductor industry sector falls under the scope of the legislation, the very purpose of which is to protect the nation’s technology companies from foreign takeovers when there is a material risk to economic and national security,” he said.

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has previously said that the government was monitoring the situation closely, “but does not consider it appropriate to intervene at the current time”.

«

The sale price isn’t believed to be big – around £60m ($85m) – but there’s a lot of significance in the UK’s (tiny) biggest semiconductor fab being sold. Not that most people would have known the UK had a semi fab.
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PSA: there’s another wacky Wi-Fi network that will nuke your iPhone • Macworld

Michael Simon:

»

After warning you a couple of weeks back about a weird Wi-Fi network that will permanently disable your iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection, there’s another one. Twitter user Carl Schou discovered that the network %secretclub%power will completely annihilate your iPhone’s ability to connect to Wi-Fi.

This new network is something of a variation on the original explosive Service Set Identifier (SSID). The original network was a seeming string of letters and the% symbol—%p%s%s%s%s%n—but as you can see in the new network, there’s a common denominator: %p and %s. It’s unclear if they both need to be used, but one or both of those couplets are seemingly the culprits and it doesn’t seem to matter where they are in the SSID. So stay away from them.

«

It feels like there’s a neverending array of network names and messages that will completely hose your iOS device in some way or another.
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How the billion-dollar Ever Given cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal • Bloomberg

Kit Chellel, Matthew Campbell, and K Oanh Ha:

»

The rest of the world swiftly lost interest in Suez once the Ever Given was freed. But for [Captain Mohamed] Elsayed [Hassanin] and his pilots [at the Suez Canal Authority, which controls traffic flow], the crisis was far from over. A significant proportion of international trade was riding on getting the backlogged vessels cleared. The SCA team worked day and night to move them through, transiting as many as 80 ships daily. Elsayed knew that having tired, overworked pilots on the job increased the risk of accidents, but felt he had little choice. A few days after the Ever Given was freed, an SCA boat sank and an employee died, illustrating the dangers of working in a marine chokepoint under severe strain.

Clearing the queue took six days. Afterward, Elsayed returned to his home in Alexandria to see his family, his first break in more than two weeks.

In The Hague, [Keith] Svendsen, the APM Terminals executive, had been preparing for a huge wave of cargo, trying to boost capacity any way he could. The company had agreed with unions to extend working hours, deferred maintenance that would take cranes out of action, and cleared storage space to accommodate thousands of extra containers. Rushing cargo through would reduce APMT’s already slim margin for error. “It’s like a Tetris game where there’s no blank space,” Svendsen said.

The biggest problem emerged in Valencia, in southern Spain. The port’s storage areas were already mostly full, piled with Spanish goods awaiting shipment. As containers came in, the volume of boxes became unmanageable. For a time, APMT had to activate a last-resort option, telling customers it could take in outgoing wares only just before they were scheduled to be loaded onto a ship. It would require a month of 24/7 shifts to bring the Valencia terminal back toward normal.

«

This is written very sequentially, and so hides the key point: if the blockage had gone on for two weeks, world trade would have been hugely screwed. The refloating was only possible because there was a full moon at close approach less than a week after the grounding: that raised tides exceptionally high. It could otherwise have taken up to four weeks – or longer.
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Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey opposed plans to cut new home emissions • The Guardian

Robert Booth:

»

Taylor Wimpey, one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders, opposed government plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions from new homes by at least three-quarters and argued against heat pumps, which are proposed as a replacement for gas boilers, one of the UK’s biggest causes of greenhouse gases.

The company, which typically builds about 15,000 new homes a year, told a consultation that a target of cutting CO2 emissions from new homes by 75% to 80% from 2025 was “too high” and argued that heat pumps would be too expensive and would disappoint customers with their performance.

Its position was revealed through a freedom of information request by Unearthed, the investigations arm of the environmental charity Greenpeace. Housing accounts for 15% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and that does not include electricity produced in power stations. Natural gas burned for heating and cooking is the main contributor.

It placed Taylor Wimpey in a small minority of only 2% of such responses to the government consultation into its future homes standard. The majority said the target was not ambitious enough.

Barratt, Berkeley and Thakeham homes all supported the target, as did the Home Builders Federation, which represents housebuilders, according to the response released under environmental transparency laws.

Greenpeace claimed it showed the housebuilder tried to derail an important climate policy, but Taylor Wimpey strongly denied this and said it was identifying challenges about the practical implementation of the cuts.

«

If you’re building a new house, then a heat pump makes perfect sense: you install underfloor heating and make an airtight design and it’s toasty in winter, cool in summer. But people would rather stick with what they’ve always done.
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Elon Musk just now realizing that self-driving cars are a ‘hard problem’ • The Verge

Andrew Hawkins:

»

I, for one, am all for [Elon] Musk taking as long as he wants with the release of [Tesla “Autopilot”] V9. Let the cake bake for as long as it needs, in my opinion, especially after viewing videos like the one to just come out of China of a Tesla Model 3 in Autopilot utterly failing to take a sharp turn and crashing into a ditch.

An anonymous Twitter user who uses the handle @greentheonly to post “hacks” of Tesla’s Autopilot, recreated the scenario to demonstrate how the company’s driver assist feature struggles with these sharp turns. With an overlay of Tesla’s Autopilot display running in the corner of the screen, greentheonly shows how the vehicle “actually outputs various alerts before the eventual ‘take over we are giving up.’” Other times, the car actually slows down enough and manages to take the turn safely.

A system that fails to take a sharp turn in “half the cases” should not inspire a great amount of confidence! Quite the opposite actually. The number of open investigations into vehicle crashes involving Tesla Autopilot seems to be growing in inverse relation to customer expectations about Musk’s ability to deliver on the promises he’s been making (and breaking) for years now.

Musk isn’t alone in coming to the realization that self-driving cars are hard. Nearly the entire industry was predicting that by now ours roads would be swarmed with self-driving cars, only to later admit they underestimated how complicated it was to get cars to drive themselves safely and reliably.

To which we can now say to Musk, “Welcome to the party, pal.”

«

The video is quite something. What’s weird is that the car doesn’t seem to take any input from the mapping software that would be able to tell it that there’s a huge turn coming up. Separate systems? The “Autopilot” seems incapable of doing properly sharp turns, which is a bit of a disadvantage in real life.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified


You can order Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.


Start Up No.1585: REvil’s ransomware attack intensifies, the reality of climate apocalypse, gamers v scientists in beating fraud, and more


Get used to it: climate change is showing up as real effects right now, with people dying from heat exhaustion in the continental US. CC-licensed photo by Felton Davis on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. A holiday, you say? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

REvil is increasing ransoms for Kaseya ransomware attack victims • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams on the (suspected) Russian group behind the attack on VSA, which provides remote login software for thousands of companies, via a zero-day exploit. Timed for Friday evening in the US, just as people headed off to the three-day weekend:

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When conducting an attack against a business, ransomware gangs, such as REvil, typically research a victim by analyzing stolen and public data for financial information, cybersecurity insurance policies, and other information.

Using this information, the number of encrypted devices, and the amount of stolen data, the threat actors will come up with a high-ball ransom demand that they believe, after negotiations, the victim can afford to pay.

However, with Friday’s attack on Kaseya VSA servers, REvil targeted the managed service providers and not their customers. Due to this, the threat actors could not determine how much of a ransom they should demand from the encrypted MSP customers.

As a solution, it seems the ransomware gang created a base ransom demand of $5 million for MSPs and a much smaller ransom of $44,999 for the MSP’s customers who were encrypted. [But] in numerous negotiation chats shared with and seen by BleepingComputer, the ransomware gang is not honouring these initial ransom demands.

…For victims of the Kaseya ransomware incident, REvil is doing things differently and demanding between $40,000 and $45,000 per individual encrypted file extension found on a victim’s network.

…Since the attacks on Friday, Kaseya has been working on releasing a patch for the zero-day vulnerability exploited in the REvil attack.

This zero-day was discovered by DIVD researchers who disclosed the t to Kaseya and helping test the patch.

Unfortunately, REvil found the vulnerability simultaneously and launched their attack on Friday before the patch was ready, just in time for the US Fourth of July holiday weekend.

It is believed that over 1,000 businesses have been affected by the attack, including attacks on the Swedish Coop supermarket chain, which had to close approximately 500 stores, a Swedish pharmacy chain, and the SJ transit system.

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There’s no obvious end to this, unless Russia starts getting hit by ransomware groups, perhaps based in the US. That would either means an arms race, or a truce. Given current conditions, the former feels more likely.
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May 2018: Explainer: six ideas to limit global warming with solar geoengineering • Carbon Brief

Daisy Dunne, writing in May 2018:

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Scientists agree that cutting global greenhouse emissions as soon as possible will be key to tackling global warming. But, with global emissions still on the rise, some researchers are now calling for more research into measures that could be taken alongside emissions cuts, including – controversially – the use of “solar geoengineering” technologies.

Solar geoengineering is a term used to describe a group of hypothetical technologies that could, in theory, counteract temperature rise by reflecting more sunlight away from the Earth’s surface.

From sending a giant mirror into space to spraying aerosols in the stratosphere, the range of proposed techniques all come with unique technical, ethical and political challenges.

Carbon Brief spoke to the scientists who are pioneering research into these techniques to find out more about their potential uses, shortfalls and overall feasibility.

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They’re ambitious. Three years on, none of them is being tried. Meanwhile millions of dollars of venture capital have been sunk into companies that at best don’t make things any better.
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Drought’s toll on US agriculture points to even-higher food prices • WSJ

Danny Dougherty and Peter Santilli:

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The Southwest is suffering through one of its worst droughts on record amid a critical reduction in the amount of water from snowpack runoff.

Roughly 9.8% of the US is currently in what climate experts refer to as exceptional drought, the most severe designation, which is characterized by widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages in reservoirs, streams and wells amounting to water emergencies. About 44% of the nation is experiencing some level of drought, with a further 13% currently affected by drier-than-normal conditions.

Reduced snowmelt is one of several factors that contribute to drought conditions, along with dry weather, warmer temperatures and population growth, which puts added strain on water resources.

The current drought is on pace to be one of the worst ever. One of the hardest-hit states is California, home to about 70,000 farms and ranches with a combined output of about $50bn a year. The dairy industry accounts for the largest chunk of the state’s agricultural revenue, followed by almonds and grapes.

The agricultural industry throughout the West has suffered in the past decade from a number of climate-related disasters, including a severe drought in 2014-15. US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said federal support and relief programs “need to be redesigned to meet the reality of longer-term weather incidents and climate-related incidents that create not just a month, or two- or six-month, problem, but create years of problems and potentially decades worth of problems.”

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Gamers are better than scientists at catching fraud • The Atlantic

Stuart Ritchie:

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Two weeks before Dream’s confession [to having used special software in order to complete a record-breaking speed run in Minecraft], and halfway around the world, another fraud scandal had just come to a conclusion. Following a long investigation, Japan’s Showa University released a report on one of its anesthesiology researchers, Hironobu Ueshima. Ueshima had turned out to be one of the most prolific scientific frauds in history, having partly or entirely fabricated records and data in at least 84 scientific papers, and altered data and misrepresented authorship on dozens more. Like Dream, Ueshima would eventually come clean and apologize—but only after a data sleuth had spotted strange anomalies in his publications. Many of his papers have already been expunged from the scientific literature.

If you haven’t heard about this historic low point for scientific publishing, I don’t blame you. Aside from the specialist website Retraction Watch, which exists to document these kinds of events, not one English-language media outlet covered it. (There were a few stories in the Japanese press.) The case garnered little social-media interest; there was no debate over the lessons learned for science.

Does it strike you as odd that so many people tuned in to hear about a doctored speedrun of a children’s video game, while barely a ripple was made—even among scientists—by the discovery of more than 80 fake scientific papers? These weren’t esoteric papers, either, slipped into obscure academic journals. They were prominent medical studies, the sort with immediate implications for real-life patients in the operating room. Consider two titles from Ueshima’s list of fraudulent or possibly fabricated findings: “Investigation of Force Received at the Upper Teeth by Video Laryngoscopy” and “Below-Knee Amputation Performed With Pericapsular Nerve Group and Sciatic Nerve Blocks.” You’d hope that the mechanisms for purging fake studies such as these from the literature—and thus, from your surgeon’s reading list—would be pretty strong.

Alas, that’s often not the case.

…Science has its own advanced fraud-detection methods; in theory, these could be used to clean out the Augean stables of research publishing. For example, one such tool was used to show that the classic paper on the psychological phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance” contained numbers that were mathematically impossible. Yet that paper remains in the literature, garnering citations, without so much as a note from the journal’s editor.

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Journal retracts study that claimed widespread Covid-19 vaccine deaths • Gizmodo

Ed Cara:

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It wasn’t long before scientists associated with the journal Vaccines began to protest the study’s publication. Within days, prominent scientists such as Katie Ewer, a member of the Oxford University team who helped create their now widely used covid-19 vaccine, resigned from the journal’s editorial board. A day after her resignation, the journal placed an expression of concern on the paper, meant to alert readers of the many criticisms it had received, and announced it would investigate the matter. The announcement didn’t seem to stop the bleeding, though; at last count, according to the publication Science, at least six scientists in total have resigned from positions as associate or section editors with the journal.

Finally, just today, Vaccines’ remaining editors came back with their verdict, announcing that the paper would be retracted. In their notice, they pointed to “several errors that fundamentally affect the interpretation of the findings,” including the misrepresentation of the Netherlands’ vaccine safety data. The editors also noted that the authors were asked to respond to the criticisms made of their paper, but “were not able to do so satisfactorily.” The paper was then retracted under their protest.

“The paper was deeply, fundamentally flawed, comparing two numbers that were poorly conceived and incorrect in numerous ways. It should not have been published, but at least it is now retracted,” Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong in Australia who earlier wrote a detailed criticism of the paper, told Gizmodo.

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The study claimed that anyone who died after being vaccinated died as a result of the vaccine. Amazing how people who have been claiming for months that the Covid death count isn’t correct because “it includes people who didn’t die actually OF Covid” should now sing hurrahs for a study using the opposite argument.

Also puts peer review in a very poor light. You’d have hoped that one of the readers could have done better than, well, half the internet.
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GM to source US-based lithium for next-generation EV batteries through closed-loop process with low carbon emissions • General Motors

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General Motors has agreed to form a strategic investment and commercial collaboration with Controlled Thermal Resources to secure local and low-cost lithium. This lithium will be produced through a closed-loop, direct extraction process that results in a smaller physical footprint, no production tailing and lower carbon dioxide emissions when compared to traditional processes like pit mining or evaporation ponds.

Lithium is a metal crucial to GM’s plans to make more affordable, higher mileage electric vehicles.

The relationship between GM and CTR is expected to accelerate the adoption of lithium extraction methods that cause less impact to the environment. A significant amount of GM’s future battery-grade lithium hydroxide and carbonate could come from CTR’s Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power development in the Salton Sea Geothermal Field, located in Imperial, California. With the help of GM’s investment, CTR’s closed-loop, direct extraction process will recover lithium from geothermal brine.

As an anticipated part of its $35bn global commitment to EVs and autonomous vehicles , GM will be the first company to make a multi-million dollar investment in CTR’s Hell’s Kitchen project.

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According to this article from last November, geothermal brine extraction is incredibly efficient compared to other methods, particularly above-ground mining.
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In video, Exxon lobbyist describes efforts to undercut climate action • The New York Times

Hiroko Tabuchi:

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The veteran oil-industry lobbyist was told he was meeting with a recruiter. But the video call, which was secretly recorded, was part of an elaborate sting operation by an individual working for the environmental group Greenpeace UK.

During the call, Keith McCoy, a senior director of federal relations for Exxon Mobil, described how the oil and gas giant targeted a number of influential United States senators in an effort to weaken climate action in President Biden’s flagship infrastructure plan. That plan now contains few of the ambitious ideas initially proposed by Mr. Biden to cut the burning of fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change.

Mr. McCoy also said on the recording that Exxon’s support for a tax on carbon dioxide was “a great talking point” for the oil company, but that he believes the tax will never happen. He also said that the company has in the past aggressively fought climate science through “shadow groups.”

On Wednesday, excerpts from the conversation were aired by the British broadcaster Channel 4. The affiliate of Greenpeace that recorded the video, Unearthed, also released excerpts.

In a statement, Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said the comments “in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues, including climate policy, and our firm commitment that carbon pricing is important to addressing climate change.”

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So, nothing about actually doing anything about it.
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How to cope with the climate apocalypse • Financial Times

Simon Kuper:

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More existentially, adopt the outlook that almost all humans had until about the 1950s: don’t make any presumptions about your future. Don’t structure your life around distant pay-offs. Which entity will be able to pay your pension in 2050?

Then there’s the moral question: do you want to be part of a climate-destroying system? It’s tempting to shove all the blame on the fossil-fuels industry, but almost everyone with a job in a developed country is complicit — shop assistants, hotel staff and journalists whose newspapers are funded by readers from carbon-intensive industries.

Anyone with gas heating, a car and the occasional plane ticket lives off climate destruction. Almost everything we call “progress” or “growth” makes things worse. Our children probably won’t admire our careers.

The stereotype of the apocalyptic survivalist is the lunatic in a tinfoil hat with an AK-47 on a mountaintop. (The upscale version is a mansion in New Zealand.) But there are more social ways of opting out. I witnessed one when I moved into the crumbling Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood in East Berlin in 1990, just after the fall of communism.

Many of my new neighbours were young East Germans who had rejected what they considered the evil communist system. They had no official employment, or worked in low-status jobs as librarians or nurses or, like the young Angela Merkel, in non-communist professions such as physics. Some lived off grid, without telephones, perhaps with stolen electricity. Their little community was riddled with informers, yet people helped each other, expecting nothing of the future. Oddly, they may have been our future.

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Climate change has turned deadly. It will get worse • The Washington Post

Sarah Kaplan:

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If we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, studies suggest, the Earth could be 3 to 4 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. The Arctic will be free of ice in summertime. Hundreds of millions of people will suffer from food shortages and extreme drought. Huge numbers of species will be driven to extinction. Some regions will become so hot and disaster-prone they are uninhabitable.

“It’s a very different planet at those levels,” Wehner said. “This is really serious. As a society, as a species, we’re going to have to learn to adapt to this. And some things are not going to be adaptable.”
Extreme heat is likely to be one of those things. Studies of heat waves suggest that a half a degree Celsius increase in summertime temperatures can lead to a 150% increase in the number of heat waves that kill 100 people or more. Research published last year in the journal Science found that the human body can’t tolerate temperatures higher than 95 degrees when combined with 100% humidity.

The scene in emergency departments across the Northwest this week underscores that science. Wait times at the OHSU emergency department were 5 to 7 hours, Tanski said. At Swedish Health Services — Cherry Hill in Seattle, doctors were seeing patients in hallways because all the rooms were full.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said David Markel, an emergency physician at the Seattle hospital. During an overnight shift on Monday, he treated 12 patients for heat illness. Some were so sick their kidneys and livers were failing, their muscles starting to break down.

“I don’t claim to be an expert in climate change or environmental science,” Markel said. “But I definitely care for people who are impacted by the extremes of climate. … And it’s like, the more crises we face the more clear it is.”

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‘They said I don’t exist. But I am here’ – one woman’s battle to prove she isn’t dead • The Guardian

Kim Willsher:

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The trouble began in 2016. When Jeanne Pouchain’s passport application was declined, she was annoyed – but assumed she must have forgotten an important piece of paperwork.

Several weeks later, at a doctor’s appointment in her town of Saint-Joseph, outside Lyon in south-east France, both Pouchain, then 53, and her GP were perplexed when his computer spat out her carte vitale, the green card that gives access to the French public health system. Pouchain put it down to a technical blip. She assumed that was also the reason her pharmacy suggested she would have to pay in full for her diabetes drugs.

It seemed like a series of annoying coincidences; the kind of red tape many in France find themselves tangled up in at one time or another in a country notorious for bureaucracy. It was irritating but would, she assumed, eventually be resolved.

But when the former cleaning company boss received her bank statement and discovered her business account had been plunged into the red, even though she had paid in dozens of cheques, she started to become seriously concerned. “I knew money should have been going into my account, but there was nothing in it. So I went to the bank. It’s only a small branch; I’ve been with them for 27 or so years and they all know me,” she says. “The director came out and told me, ‘I’m sorry, you don’t exist.’ I said: ‘But I am here, you know me.’ He told me: ‘I don’t have an explanation for this. But what can I do?’ He said there was no record of a Jeanne Pouchain and no accounts in that name.

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An amazing story.
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How they shot the wrong-way car chase in ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ • Film School Rejects

Meg Shields:

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William Friedkin‘s take no prisoners attitude is the stuff of legend. This is the man who shoots blank guns on set and films without permits while speeding through New York City at ninety miles per hour. The New Hollywood shenanigans bracket is competitive. But Friedkin is outrageous, passionate, and willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants.

It’s not a huge stretch to compare the director to Richard Chance, the hot-blooded cop played by William Petersen in Friedkin’s cat and mouse neo-noir To Live and Die in L.A. In the film, a fearless federal agent obsessively purses the counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe) who killed his partner, endangering himself and others in the process.

In many ways, To Live and Die in L.A. epitomizes Friedkin’s interest in the thin line between the cop and the criminal. Chance’s drive to seek and destroy leads him to commit reckless acts. Acts that rival those of the very man he’s hunting. You know, like speeding the wrong way down a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour.

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I had always had a suspicion about how they did this, because “they’re driving into oncoming traffic!” has become a trope of car chases; that suspicion is confirmed in this piece. It’s worth reading though to find out how the chase in French Connection was done (hint: don’t do it like that).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified


It’s a good day to
order Social Warming, my new book.