Start Up No.1626: Apple’s internal culture conflict, China’s three-hour game-kid mandate, study says trolls always trolls, and more

Very soon, Instagram will demand to know when your birthday falls – but don’t expect it to buy you a cake. CC-licensed photo by Dark Dwarf 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. Also not a prime number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How workers at Apple are building a movement • Protocol

Anna Kramer:


When Apple security engineer Cher Scarlett opened the anonymous worker forum Blind on Friday afternoon, she saw that one of the most popular posts accused her of ruining the company. When we chatted just a few minutes later, I asked her how she was doing and she could only respond with a long sigh.

Scarlett has become the de-facto face of the new #AppleToo movement, a group of workers who have gathered together to ask their peers and former Apple employees to share their stories of issues in the workplace, ranging from harassment and discrimination to bullying and feeling unheard by management. #AppleToo first shared its callout for stories just over a week ago, and the group has already received nearly 500 varying reports from people all across the company. The most common theme from the stories? Workers who feel as if they’ve been ignored by human resources.

“There’s this culture within Apple that is very rewarding of secrecy and loyalty, and when I have read some of these posts about me, it’s very much seeping through, people are feeling that I’m leaking confidential data.” But Scarlett doesn’t see it that way — she works in corporate security and legal, and she said that she would never leak product information (and that her direct team supports her, and condemns the abuse she’s receiving). Talking publicly about issues within the workplace is, to her, an entirely different question.

While #AppleToo is not a union per se, the group’s website says that it wants to use the power of a collective movement to bring attention to the hundreds of Apple workers who have long felt invalidated by the company. Scarlett, who had a well-known online presence in the software world even before she became an Apple worker, is the group organizer who has spoken the most publicly, and who publicly led the effort to create the informal pay equity survey against Apple’s wishes.


This is indicative of a big cultural shift – but an external one, in society, which has happened among those who have grown up in the past 20 years or so. They’re not prepared to stay quiet about conditions in the way that those who worked there in the 70s, 80s, 90s were. Quite how Apple, the company with its particular, peculiar structure adapts (or doesn’t?) is going to be quite the question for the next few years.
unique link to this extract

China limits videogames to three hours a week for young people • WSJ

Keith Zhai:


China on Monday issued strict new measures aimed at curbing what authorities describe as youth videogame addiction, which they blame for a host of societal ills, including distracting young people from school and family responsibilities.

The new regulation, announced by the National Press and Publication Administration, will ban minors from playing videogames entirely between Monday and Thursday. On the other three days of the week, and on public holidays, they will be only permitted to play between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The announcement didn’t offer a specific age for minors, but previous regulations targeting younger videogamers have drawn the line at 18 years old.

Enforcement measures weren’t detailed, but in response to previous moves by the government to limit videogame playing by young people, Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the world’s largest videogame company by revenue, has used a combination of technologies, automatically booting off players after a certain period of time and using real-name registration and facial-recognition technology to limit game play for minors.


South Korea tried something similar a few years back, banning “children” from playing games after midnight, with age verification done by credit card details. Led to a lot of children learning their parents’ credit card numbers; had no effect on time spent playing games. China might be a bit different, of course, in its enforcement.

The US right wing is going to go nuts about this. On the one hand, it’s exactly what they think should be done. On the other, they’ll hate the idea of copying something China does. (The authoritarian nature of it will be neither here nor there to them, of course.)
unique link to this extract

Disgraced Theranos founder will blame ‘abusive’ ex-boyfriend in fraud trial • The Guardian

Richard Luscombe:


The disgraced founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos plans to blame emotional and sexual abuse by her former boyfriend, also a senior executive at the company, at her federal fraud trial beginning next week, according to legal papers published on Saturday.

Elizabeth Holmes, 37, says she is not responsible for decisions she made as head of the company because her mind was impaired by “manipulation” from Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, 56, the chief operating officer of Theranos who faces a separate fraud trial next year.

Holmes and Balwani, who was also the company’s president, have both pleaded not guilty to charges they defrauded investors, doctors and patients.

The filing in US district court in San Jose, California, by Holmes’s lawyers was published on Saturday by NPR. It outlines for the first time her strategy to defend herself against claims she ripped off patients and investors for hundreds of millions of dollars. It says Holmes is likely to take the stand.

The trial, delayed earlier this year by Holmes’s pregnancy, is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and last several months.

Jurors will hear allegations that Holmes raised more than $700m from investors on claims Theranos invented a revolutionary machine that could conduct hundreds of laboratory tests from a single finger-prick of blood, but was actually using other companies’ technology for the tests. The company folded in 2018.


They’re being tried separately – Holmes, then Balwani. Which gives Holmes, ever the slippery customer, the chance to blame the empty seat. And presumably will do the same for Balwani.
unique link to this extract

Why doesn’t the United States have test abundance?! • Marginal REVOLUTION

Alex Tabarrok:


We have vaccine abundance in the United States but not test abundance. Germany has test abundance. Tests are easily available at the supermarket or the corner store and they are cheap, five tests for 3.75 euro or less than a dollar each. Billiger! In Great Britain you can get a 14 pack for free. The Canadians are also distributing packs of tests to small businesses for free to test their employees.

In the United States, the FDA has approved less than a handful of true at-home tests and, partially as a result, they are expensive at $10 to $20 per test, i.e. more than ten times as expensive as in Germany. Germany has approved over 50 of these tests including tests from American firms not approved in the United States. The rapid tests are excellent for identifying infectiousness and they are an important weapon, alongside vaccines, for controlling viral spread and making gatherings safe but you can’t expect people to use them more than a handful of times at $10 per use.


The contrast in test availability between the US and UK is pretty dramatic. Then again, the comments on the post show that it probably wouldn’t help much. They don’t believe all this “science” malarkey.
unique link to this extract

Online trolls also jerks in real life, says Aarhus University study • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:


The internet doesn’t turn people into assholes so much as it acts as a massive megaphone for existing ones, according to work by researchers at Aarhus University.

In a study published in the American Political Science Review, the researchers used representative surveys and behavioral studies from the U.S. and Denmark to establish the reason why people broadly perceive the online environment as more hostile than offline interaction. A pre-print version of the article is available.

The team considered the mismatch hypothesis, which in the context of online behavior refers to the theory that there is a conflict between human adaptation for face-to-face interpersonal interaction and the newer, impersonal online environment. That hypothesis more or less amounts to the idea that humans who would be nicer to each other in person might feel more inclined to get nasty when interacting with other pseudonymous internet users. The researchers found little evidence for that.

Instead, their data pointed to online interactions largely mirroring offline behavior, with people predisposed to aggressive, status-seeking behavior just as unpleasant in person as behind a veil of online anonymity, and choosing to be jerks as part of a deliberate strategy rather than as a consequence of the format involved. They also found some evidence that less hostile people simply aren’t as interested in talking about politics on the internet. These results were similar in both the U.S. and Denmark, even though the two countries have very different political cultures with differing levels of polarization. (For example, a hostile far-right mob organized on social media didn’t recently storm the Danish Parliament.)


unique link to this extract

Surely by now you’ve bought Social Warming, my latest book, on how social networks drive us all a little bit mad – even if we don’t use them.

ARM China reportedly seizes IP, relaunches as an ‘independent’ company • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


The onetime CEO of ARM China, Allen Wu, has reportedly seized control of ARM’s Chinese business venture, ARM China. Mr. Wu is accused of attempting to launch his own company, Alphatecture, by leveraging his position at ARM China to do so. Companies were reportedly offered discounts on ARM China products if they would invest in Alphatecture. Investors and ARM agreed to oust Wu for this behavior in a board vote, 7-1, but Wu still possessed the seal of the company, which makes him its legal representative as far as Chinese law is concerned.

Wu hired security to keep ARM employees from entering ARM China, fired employees who did not wish him to take over the company, and has sued ARM China to declare his own dismissal as CEO illegal. This means Allen Wu (person) is suing Allen Wu (ARM China). As Devin Patel reports, ARM has responded by refusing to transfer any IP from its new products. The newest CPU core ARM China has access to is the Cortex-A77.

Wu has responded in turn by holding an event declaring that 安谋科技 (this appears to mean ARM Limited) is an enormous success, and that it would soon ship a new “XPU” line of products consisting of AI accelerators and processing units, image signal processors, security processors, and video processors. Most of this equipment is targeting the IoT market.

Patel claims that Softbank’s “short-sighted profit-driven behavior” is at the root of this problem. In 2018, Softbank agreed to cede control of ARM’s Chinese operations to the ARM China joint venture. ARM/Softbank owns 49% of the company while the Chinese own 51 percent. The Chinese government’s goal for the merger, according to Nikkei Asia, was “[T]o secure sources of technology, especially for some sensitive chips that later go into government or other security uses,” an anonymous chip executive stated.


I used to ask ARM how it would protect its IP from people in China who would want it. I guess now it’s finding out.
unique link to this extract

Asking people for their birthdays • Instagram Blog

Pavni Diwanji is VP of Youth Products:


We’ve been clear that we want to do more to create safer, more private experiences for young people. To do that we need to know how old everybody is on Instagram, so we’ve started asking people to share their birthday with us if they haven’t shared it previously.

This information allows us to create new safety features for young people, and helps ensure we provide the right experiences to the right age group. Recent examples include changes we made in March to prevent adults from sending messages to people under 18 who don’t follow them, and last month we started to default new accounts belonging to people under the age of 16 into a private setting.

…First, we’ll start to ask you for your birthday when you open Instagram. We’ll show you a notification a handful of times and if you haven’t provided us with your birthday by a certain point, you’ll need to share it to continue using Instagram. This information is necessary for new features we’re developing to protect young people.


Interesting: other services tend to demand your age in order to give you access to adult content (ie check you’re over 18). But this is demanding your age for the benefit of those under 16.
unique link to this extract

Scepticism grows in El Salvador over pioneering Bitcoin gamble • The Guardian

Mat Youkee:


The ratings agency Moody’s downgraded El Salvadoran debt over fears of “weakened governance” evidenced by the new law, and the IMF – with which the government is negotiating a $1bn loan – published a blogpost highlighting the risks of adopting crypto as national currency.

“The shift from euphoria to scepticism has been very fast,” says Castañeda.

The potential benefits identified by the Bank of America are probably overstated. A paper by Johns Hopkins University says the cost of remittances via Bitcoin will be higher than traditional methods, and a July survey found that nearly two-thirds of El Salvadorans would not be open to accepting payment in Bitcoin.

Eric Grill, CEO of Chainbytes, which produces Bitcoin ATMs, told the Guardian that his plan to relocate manufacturing to El Salvador had faced serious challenges in sourcing parts. Local geothermal energy experts say Bukele’s plan to power energy-intensive Bitcoin mining activities from the country’s volcanoes are wildly optimistic.

The government insists that El Salvadorans will be free to exchange their Bitcoin for US dollars, which the country adopted as national currency in 2001, and has proposed a $150m fund to ensure convertibility. Given popular scepticism, however, critics say this is unlikely to be sufficient. It would also open the door for illegal actors to convert Bitcoin – which rose to prominence on Silk Road, an online black market, and prides itself on the anonymity of transactions – to dollars via a national bank and thereby launder their gains.

Perhaps the biggest concern, however, is that it exposes a population with little financial education – for the most part, without an economic safety net – to the fate of the highly volatile cryptocurrency markets.


Goes legal tender on September 7. Questions: how long will it take to be clear whether it has “worked” or not? And how precisely do we judge whether it has worked?
unique link to this extract

People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:


Like many students, Liri has had several part-time jobs. A 23-year-old in Israel, she does waitressing and bartending gigs in Tel Aviv, where she goes to university.

She also sells cars, works in retail, and conducts job interviews and onboarding sessions for new employees as a corporate HR rep. In Germany.

In 2020, AI-synthetic media started moving away from the darker corners of the internet.
Liri can juggle so many jobs, in multiple countries, because she has hired out her face to Hour One, a startup that uses people’s likenesses to create AI-voiced characters that then appear in marketing and educational videos for organizations around the world. It is part of a wave of companies overhauling the way digital content is produced. And it has big implications for the human workforce.

Liri does her waitressing and bar work in person, but she has little idea what her digital clones are up to. “It is definitely a bit strange to think that my face can appear in videos or ads for different companies,” she says.

Hour One is not the only company taking deepfake tech mainstream, using it to produce mash-ups of real footage and AI-generated video. Some have used professional actors to add life to deepfaked personas. But Hour One doesn’t ask for any particular skills. You just need to be willing to hand over the rights to your face.

Hour One is building up a pool of what it calls “characters.” It says it has around 100 on its books so far, with more being added each week. “We’ve got a queue of people that are dying to become these characters,” says Natalie Monbiot, the company’s head of strategy.

Anyone can apply to become a character. Like a modeling agency, Hour One filters through applicants, selecting those it wants on its books. The company is aiming for a broad sample of characters that reflect the ages, genders, and racial backgrounds of people in the real world, says Monbiot. (Currently, around 80% of its characters are under 50 years old, 70% are female, and 25% are white.)

To create a character, Hour One uses a high-resolution 4K camera to film a person talking and making different facial expressions in front of a green screen. And that’s it for the human part of the performance. Plugging the resulting data into AI software that works in a similar way to deepfake tech, Hour One can generate an endless amount of footage of that person saying whatever it wants, in any language.


unique link to this extract

Two GPT-3 AIs talking to each other • Reddit

It’s two AI-generated deepfaked human faces talking to each other. Someone said that “it’s like every room in Clubhouse” (remember Clubhouse? Anyway), which if true makes me very happy that I never joined Clubhouse.
unique link to this extract

Climate target too low and progress too slow: top scientist •

Marlowe Hood:


The world must sharply draw down greenhouse gas emissions and suck billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air if today’s youth are to be spared climate cataclysm, a top scientist has warned.

“This reality is being ignored by governments around the world,” said James Hansen, who famously announced to the US Congress 30 years ago that global warming was underway.

“To say that we are ‘moving in the right direction’ just isn’t good enough anymore,” he said in an interview.

Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies until 2013, Hansen and his 18-year-old granddaughter—who is suing the US government for contributing to the problem—delivered that message this week at UN climate negotiations in Bonn.

Thousands of diplomats at the 12-day, 196-nation talks are haggling over the fine print of a “user’s manual” for a treaty that will go into effect in 2020.

Inked in the French capital in 2015, the Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit).

With the planet out of kilter after only one degree of warming—enough to amplify deadly heatwaves, superstorms and droughts—the treaty also vows to explore the feasibility of holding the line at 1.5ºC.

“That is a good impulse, because if we go to 2ºC, it is guaranteed that we will lose our shorelines and coastal cities,” said Hansen. “The only question is how fast.”


unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1625: web media’s uniqueness problem, Google’s $15bn gift to Apple, Covid oxygen need hits rocket launches, and more

Why is it everyone but road planners knows that adding lanes won’t reduce traffic jams? CC-licensed photo by formulanone 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 12 links for you. Not a prime number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Making algorithmic dog food for the content factory • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick’s often-daily email had this take on Vice, which has laid off a number of senior staff because it is *checks notes* pivoting to TikTok and YouTube, despite having no real presence there:


when it comes to digital video, the majority of it is captioned anyways, making the average viral video closer to a blog post full of animated GIFs than a feature film.

The problem is not words, the problem is that digital media, as a business, is broken. The companies that dominate online publishing right now grew from blogs and those blogs became popular because they offered something that people couldn’t get in newspapers or magazines: takes, baby. People, Americans, specifically, have a national compulsion for consuming and dissecting each other’s opinions and blogs filled a void left by the rise of the 1990s Objective Journalism fad.

These blogs, that became websites, that then became digital media companies, though, quickly decided that takes were bad. Around 2012, in a moment of tremendous self-destruction, online publishers, fat with VC [venture capital] money, all started saying “no hot takes.” It’s like that Stephen King story where a whole fishing village goes insane in a snowstorm and walks into the ocean to kill themselves. A whole industry of self-serious bloggers-turned-editors decided that they would no longer do literally the only they were good at and the only thing that their readers actually liked. And now, every 16 months, one of these sites will contort itself into a ridiculous reorg because it has let investors or online platforms or advertisers convince it that it needs to produce every single kind of internet content that exists. In all honesty, why does your website need a Snapchat? Because that’s where people are? OK, well, if you can’t get enough people to visit you from Snapchat, then why does your Snapchat need a website? See how circular and crazy this all this?

But there is also one other piece to all this that I think is actually the real secret to the completely dysfunctional state of online media. Many of these companies like VICE started out with devoted readerships. These websites published distinct content for specific kinds of people to not just share, but also, just, you know, read. But, due to the same forces that pressured these companies into launching Live Facebook studios or whatever in 2017, now most of these outlets no longer actually do anything particularly unique.


The whole thing is an Alien-blood-cutting take on what’s gone wrong with modern web news media. Except his newsletter and mine, obviously.
unique link to this extract

Bernstein says Google’s FY21 payments to Apple might reach nearly $15bn • PED30

Philip Elmer-DeWitt:


From a note to [analyst] Bernstein clients that landed on my desktop Wednesday:

“We now estimate that Google’s payments to AAPL to be the default search engine on iOS were ~$10B in FY 20, higher than our prior published model estimate of $8B. Recent disclosures in Apple’s public filings as well as a bottom-up analysis of Google’s TAC (traffic acquisition costs) payments each point us to this figure…

“We now forecast that Google’s payments to Apple might be nearly $15B in FY 21, contribute an amazing ~850 bps to Services growth YoY, and amount to ~9% of company gross profits.

“We see two potential risks to GOOG’s payments to AAPL: (1) regulatory risk, which we believe is real, but likely years away; we see a potential 4-5% impact to Apple’s gross profits from an adverse ruling; & (2) that Google chooses to stop paying Apple to be the default search engine altogether, or looks to renegotiate terms and pay less.”


I have to admit it’s a mystery to me why Google continues to pay this. I can’t think that Microsoft would really pony up anything like that to get Bing made the default. Would Apple change the default to something else? Meantime, this is free money for Apple.
unique link to this extract

Mojo Vision crams its contact lens with AR display, processor and wireless tech • CNET

Stephen Shankland:


A sci-fi vision is coming into focus. [Last week], startup Mojo Vision detailed its progress on a tiny AR display it embeds in contact lenses, providing a digital layer of information superimposed on what you see in the real world.

The Mojo Lens centerpiece is a hexagonal display less than half a millimeter wide, with each greenish pixel just a quarter of the width of a red blood cell. A “femtoprojector” – a tiny magnification system – expands the imagery optically and beams it to a central patch of the retina.

The lenses are ringed with electronics, including a camera that captures the outside world. A computer chip processes the imagery, controls the display and communicates wirelessly to external devices like a phone. A motion tracker that compensates for your eye’s movement. The device is powered by a battery that’s charged wirelessly overnight, like a smartwatch.

“We have got this almost working. It’s very, very close,” said Chief Technology Officer Mike Wiemer, detailing the design at the Hot Chips processor conference. Prototypes have passed toxicology tests, and Mojo expects a fully featured prototype this year.

Mojo’s plan is to leapfrog clunky headwear, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, that have begun incorporating AR. If it succeeds, Mojo Lens could help people with vision problems, for example by outlining letters in text or making curb edges more apparent. The product also could help athletes see how far they’ve biked or how fast their heart is beating without checking other devices.


“We have got this almost working” has to be one of the all-time technology startup quotes. Theranos: “we have got this pinprick blood test almost working.” Believe it when I see it in the shops. AR contact lenses have been tried a few times before – you can’t have forgotten Microsoft’s, then Google’s, diabetes-monitoring contact lens which came to nothing.

Meanwhile, smartwatches are here, now, and available on a wrist near you if desired.
unique link to this extract

Facebook used facial recognition without consent 200,000 times, says South Korea’s data watchdog • The Register

Laura Dobberstein:


Facebook, Netflix and Google have all received reprimands or fines, and an order to make corrective action, from South Korea’s government data protection watchdog, the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC).

The PIPC announced a privacy audit last year and has revealed that three companies – Facebook, Netflix and Google – were in violations of laws and had insufficient privacy protection.

Facebook alone was ordered to pay 6.46bn won (US$5.5m) for creating and storing facial recognition templates of 200,000 local users without proper consent between April 2018 and September 2019.

Another 26m won (US$22,000) penalty was issued for illegally collecting social security numbers, not issuing notifications regarding personal information management changes, and other missteps.

Facebook has been ordered to destroy facial information collected without consent or obtain consent, and was prohibited from processing identity numbers without legal basis. It was also ordered to destroy collected data and disclose contents related to foreign migration of personal information.


unique link to this extract

Please stop adding more lanes to busy highways—it doesn’t help • Ars Technica

Jonathan Gitlin:


[Texas] wants to build more lanes [on interstate 35], which it thinks will ease congestion. At some points, this could leave I-35 as much as 20 lanes wide; this will require bulldozing dozens of businesses along the way. An alternative that would have buried 12 lanes of the highway in two levels of underground tunnels was apparently considered too costly.

But it would be wrong to single out this 8-mile proposal as an outlier. In Houston, the state plans to widen I-45 despite plenty of opposition, including from the Federal Highway Administration. And you don’t have to look far to see other state governments wanting to build new roads to reduce congestion.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan wants to add four more lanes to I-270 and I-495 to funnel commuters into the District of Columbia and its surrounding office parks more quickly. In the Chicago suburbs, an eight-year project to add more lanes to a 22-mile stretch of I-294 began in 2018. And Atlanta might soon be entirely paved over, such is the rate that Georgia plans to add new highway lanes. And these are just three examples of state governments blindly following the trend.

The infuriating bit is that the evidence is pretty clear: these are deeply misguided policies. While it seems intuitive that the solution to three lanes of gridlock is to spread the same number of cars over four lanes, it fails because of a phenomenon called induced demand.

Reducing traffic might make sense if the only variable were the number of road lanes. But it isn’t—as Ray Kinsella was told in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Except this time, “they” refers to more cars. When people know a particular route is congested, some of them will choose not to drive. But once you tell everyone that you’ve added more lanes to that road, that latent demand has an outlet—at which point the traffic jams return, but now with even more cars in them.


Is there some sort of Laffer curve for motorway lanes? The trouble is that unlike tax rates, traffic conditions are a future condition, liable to chaotic derangement by accidents and so on. You go in the hope the roads will be open and empty, while frequently being disappointed. Having more lanes feels like rolling more dice in the hope of getting sixes.
unique link to this extract

Apple promises tiny App Store changes to drop class action case • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:


While the Epic case is still ongoing, Apple has worked out a settlement on a class action filed by developers, pledging to make some changes to the App Store model. They are very minor changes, though, which serves as a reminder of how little power developers have in the relationship. 

The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed in 219 by two developers who accused Apple of abusing its monopoly over iOS software. Rather than take the case before a judge while also fighting Epic on another front, Apple and the plaintiffs have reached a proposed settlement, which the court can choose to accept or reject. 

According to the filing, Apple has pledged to set up a fund that will make payments to small and medium developers. The total payout will be $100 million, and roughly 67,000 devs will be eligible. Payments could go as high as $30,000 for devs that made over $1 million in calendar years 2015 through 2021. Almost all members of the class would get between $250 and $2,000, though. 

More interestingly, Apple promises it will amend its rules to clarify that developers can offer subscriptions outside the App Store. There have been several instances where Apple suspended or rejected an app based on the developer pushing subscriptions outside of the App Store, which circumvents Apple’s 30% cut. This was never technically against the rules, but Apple will now codify this right in its developer agreement. Apple also says it will ensure that its App Store search will rely on objective signals like downloads, star ratings, text relevance, and user behavior. However, it won’t have to change anything about search for the next three years. 

At the end of the day, these are pretty minor changes. The Coalition for App Fairness, a group backed by Epic, Basecamp, and others, calls the settlement a sham.


It’s no concession at all, though Mark Gurman at Bloomberg insists that Apple must have settled because it knew it was in the wrong. Allowing developers to mention in email that you can sign up by non-App Store methods is pretty daft. How is that helpful?
unique link to this extract

There had to be a link to my book Social Warming, didn’t there?

Microsoft won’t stop you installing Windows 11 on older PCs • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft is announcing today that it won’t block people from installing Windows 11 on most older PCs. While the software maker has recommended hardware requirements for Windows 11 — which it’s largely sticking to — a restriction to install the OS will only be enforced when you try to upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11 through Windows Update. This means anyone with a PC with an older CPU that doesn’t officially pass the upgrade test can still go ahead and download an ISO file of Windows 11 and install the OS manually.

Microsoft announced its Windows 11 minimum hardware requirements in June, and made it clear that only Intel 8th Gen and beyond CPUs were officially supported. Microsoft now tells us that this install workaround is designed primarily for businesses to evaluate Windows 11, and that people can upgrade at their own risk as the company can’t guarantee driver compatibility and overall system reliability. Microsoft won’t be recommending or advertising this method of installing Windows 11 to consumers. In fact, after we published this post, Microsoft reached out to tell us about one potentially gigantic catch it didn’t mention during our briefing: systems that are upgraded this way may not be entitled to get Windows Updates, even security ones. We’re asking Microsoft for clarification.

Overall, it’s a big change that means millions of PCs may not be left behind, technically. Consumers will still need to go to the effort of downloading an ISO file and manually installing Windows 11, which the vast majority probably won’t do.


So you can upgrade manually, but might not even get security updates? That’s pretty rough. Can’t see that as a policy with any legs.
unique link to this extract

Man robbed of 16.4 bitcoin in 2018 sues young thieves’ parents • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


One of the defendants —Hazel D. Wells — just filed a motion with the court to represent herself and her son in lieu of hiring an attorney. In a filing on Aug. 9, Wells …volunteered that her son had been questioned by U.K. authorities in connection with the bitcoin theft.

Neither of the defendants’ families are disputing the basic claim that their kids stole from Mr. Schober. Rather, they’re asserting that time has run out on Schober’s legal ability to claim a cause of action against them.

“Plaintiff alleges two common law causes of action (conversion and trespass to chattel), for which a three-year statute of limitations applies,” an attorney for the defendants argued in a filing on Aug. 6 (PDF). “Plaintiff further alleges a federal statutory cause of action, for which a two-year statute of limitations applies. Because plaintiff did not file his lawsuit until May 21, 2021, three years and five months after his injury, his claims should be dismissed.”

Schober’s attorneys argue (PDF) that “the statute of limitations begins to run when the Plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury which is the base of his action,” and that inherent in this concept is the discovery rule, namely: That the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of both the existence and cause of his injury.

The plaintiffs point out that Schober’s investigators didn’t pinpoint one of the young men’s involvement until more than a year after they’d identified his co-conspirator, saying Schober notified the second boy’s parents in December 2019.


In 2018, the 16.4 bitcoin were worth £145,800. Presently, £587,400 or so.
unique link to this extract

EU set to launch formal probe into Nvidia’s $54bn takeover of Arm • Ars Technica

Javier Espinoza and Kate Beioley:


Brussels is set to launch a formal competition probe early next month into Nvidia’s planned $54bn takeover of British chip designer Arm, after months of informal discussions between regulators and the US chip company.

The investigation is likely to begin after Nvidia officially notifies the European Commission of its plan to acquire Arm, with the US chipmaker planning to make its submission in the week starting September 6, according to two people with direct knowledge of the process. They added that the date might yet change, however.

Brussels’ investigation would come after the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority said its initial assessment of the deal suggested there were “serious competition concerns” and that a set of remedies suggested by Nvidia would not be sufficient to address them.

The UK watchdog said it feared the deal could “stifle innovation across a number of markets” including by giving Nvidia the power to hurt its rivals by limiting their access to Arm’s technology.

Nvidia announced a plan in September last year to buy the UK chip designer from SoftBank, the Japanese investment conglomerate.

But rival chip companies have raised objections to the deal, noting that Arm’s chip designs were widely licensed through the chip industry and that Nvidia would have the power to restrict rivals from using Arm technology, something the US company has denied it would do.

The CMA recommended an in-depth investigation into the deal, but the UK may also decide to block the takeover on national security grounds.


Once the UK and EC get onto this, it’s hard not to think that the US will join in too.
unique link to this extract

SpaceX says liquid oxygen shortage due to COVID-19 delaying rocket launch • Science Times

Aubrey Clarke:


SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell warned earlier this week that liquid oxygen issues were making it even challenging to launch rockets and that anybody with extra should email her.

Most launch providers, heavy industries, and municipal water systems rely on liquid oxygen (LOX), Click Orlando said. Rockets like United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 combine supercooled oxygen with rocket-grade fuel to create the power required for liftoff.

LOX is also needed in hospitals to treat COVID-19-infected patients and for water purification, and supplies are running limited. Space News said the city of Orlando requested people to reduce their water consumption on Friday so that more liquid oxygen might be diverted to hospitals.

In a video uploaded to YouTube by ExpovistaTV (which was later deleted), Shotwell stated at a Space Symposium panel that SpaceX’s launches would be hampered this year due to a scarcity of liquid oxygen. Without going into detail, she said that SpaceX would ensure hospitals get the liquid oxygen they require.

…Shotwell, who also serves as SpaceX’s chief operations officer, reportedly stated that a worldwide microprocessor shortage had caused new workstations for the company’s Starlink satellite internet project to be delayed.


SpaceX uses liquid oxygen to create thrust in its Merlin engines fuelled by kerosene. Perhaps not a bad thing that it’s delayed? By a pandemic?
unique link to this extract

Confirming the pedigree of uranium cubes from Nazi Germany’s failed nuclear program • American Chemical Society


In the early 1940s, several German scientists were competing to exploit nuclear fission to produce plutonium from uranium for the war. The teams included Werner Heisenberg’s group in Berlin (later moved to Haigerloch to try to avoid Allied troops) and Kurt Diebner’s team at Gottow. Uranium cubes were produced to fuel nuclear reactors at these sites. Measuring about 2 inches on each side, hundreds of the cubes were hung on cables submerged in “heavy” water, in which deuterium replaces lighter hydrogen. The scientists hoped radioactive decay of the uranium in the assemblies would unleash a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction—but the design failed.

U.S. and British forces seized some of the Heisenberg uranium cubes at Haigerloch in 1945, and more than 600 of these cubes were shipped to the U.S. Some may have been used in the U.S. nuclear weapons effort—which was launched in part due to fears that Germany was developing nuclear weapons—and a few belong to collectors and sites including PNNL. The whereabouts of the others, including hundreds of Diebner cubes, are unknown.

PNNL uses its sample to help train international border guards and nuclear forensics researchers to detect nuclear material. It’s labeled as a Heisenberg cube, but support for that assertion is anecdotal, says Brittany Robertson, who is presenting the work at ACS Fall 2021. “We didn’t have any actual measurements to back up that claim,” says Robertson, a doctoral student who works at the lab. To prove the cube’s origins, she began modifying some analytical techniques to combine with Schwantes’ established forensic methods. Robertson turned to radiochronometry, the nuclear field’s version of a technique that geologists use to determine the age of samples based on radioactive isotope content.

…While the scientists are intrigued about working with material from the dawn of the nuclear age, these objects are undeniably linked to a horrific time in history. “I’m glad the Nazi program wasn’t as advanced as they wanted it to be by the end of the war,” Robertson says, “because otherwise, the world would be a very different place.”


Well, yes.
unique link to this extract

11-year-old drummer Nandi Bushell got to jam on stage with Foo Fighters • Boing Boing

Rusty Blazenhoff:


Here’s a feel-good story for you. Dave Grohl’s “arch nemesis,” 11-year-old Nandi Bushell, finally got her chance to jam live with the Foo Fighters. Grohl and the musical prodigy have been going back and forth online in drum battles but it’s been her dream to play on stage with the band. At their sold-out show Thursday night at The Forum in Los Angeles, Grohl announced her surprise appearance and the crowd went wild. And she started the set like every pro drummer does—by spinning a drumstick in the air. She and the band then brought the house down with “Everlong.”


Last week we lost Charlie Watts. This week, see someone who could be part of the future. (Bear in mind that professional musicians do not under any circumstances let rank amateurs onstage to play with them. If you’re up there, you’re really, really good.)
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1624: a call for geoengineering, OS hackathon for car charging, Facebook considering Election Commission, and more

Standard landline phones are going the way of the rotary dial from 2026, to be replaced by internet-connected ones. CC-licensed photo by Curtis Gregory Perry 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. The weekend starts later. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

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

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

What if it’s too late to save our planet without geoengineering? • The Guardian

Mollie Donegan:


The vaccine was a technological intervention, injected into the arms of billions of people. Could we (should we?) look to technological solutions to our climate crisis, too?

This is the question posed by Holly Jean Buck in her 2019 book After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair, and Restoration. Zooming with me from Buffalo, New York, where she’s a professor of environment at the University of Buffalo, Buck is blunt in her assessment. The pace of climate change, and the insufficiency of humanity’s current response, have effectively already made the choice for us: mankind will have to engage in some kind of “geoengineering” – an umbrella term for various methods of intentional, planetary-scale climate intervention – whether we like it or not.

Geoengineering refers to any number of ways that humans can change our climate through interventions. The two main types of geoengineering are carbon engineering, which aims to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, and solar engineering, which aims to reflect solar energy away from Earth.

“We’re in a climate crisis,” she tells me. “Mitigation isn’t going fast enough. Adaptation needs far more support than it’s getting. It’s clear that we need to remove some amount of carbon from the atmosphere.”

How much? “Hundreds of billions of gigatons,” Buck says. “We have emitted so much, and now we have so much legacy carbon. The challenge isn’t just cutting emissions.” The second challenge is “removing the carbon that’s up there. It’s this massive cleanup operation that we need to undertake this century.”

The idea of deliberately altering the climate can be frightening and distasteful, including to many environmentalists. But Buck argues that climate engineering is coming whether we like it or not. “If people on the environmental left – people who care about climate change – just reject all of these approaches out of hand, then we lose the ability to shape them, which would be a grave mistake,” she says.


Got to be honest, I think we’re past “what if” and well into “just start doing anything, for pity’s sake.”
unique link to this extract

Think you can solve the UK’s electric vehicle charging point puzzle? The Ordnance Survey wants to hear about it • The Register

Richard Speed:


The UK’s venerable Ordnance Survey is to fling open its electronic doors in an effort to tackle infrastructure challenges faced by the UK’s rollout of electric vehicles (EVs).

Blighty does not have the best of records when it comes to access to charging points for EVs and, with a 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars looming, the question is where to put the plug-in posts.

Enter the Ordnance Survey (OS) and its detailed database of Brit geography. And, as seems to be de rigueur nowadays, a “hackathon” to come up with ways of using the normally premium data to come up with solutions.

The virtual hackathon is set to run from 6 to 7 October and participants have been set challenges including how EV infrastructure planning for local government in remote communities might be “levelled up”, identifying the charge points for EV fleets and where to develop them using geospatial data to nudge the internal combustion engine owner into a change of behaviour.

A more nebulous “Open innovation” challenge is also on the cards, asking participants to come up with other “sustainable concepts.”

While the latter challenge might make some think of UK property shows where somebody puts grass on the roof and forgets to order the windows (yes, we’re looking at you Grand Designs), using the data to identify where charge points are needed makes quite a bit of sense. The OS is providing participants access to all its premium data as well as its team of geographic information system specialists.

API Product Manager Charley Glynn said: “If Britain is to meet its carbon net zero targets in the next nine years, then difficult puzzles have to be solved in the EV and transportation market.

“For instance, how are we going to be able to manage the needs of potential EV owners who need to charge their car at home but live on the top floor of a block of flats, or planning car charging points in a terraced street where parking spaces are already in short supply?”


Great to see OS getting involved in this.
unique link to this extract

Electric car tax holding back Australia’s net zero ambitions, say experts • Australia New Daily

James Ried:


an Australian Institute survey in South Australia revealed a user tax would make 70% of people there less likely to purchase an electric car, despite otherwise healthy demand.

More than 40% considered going electric with their next vehicle purchase while 72% supported the introduction of incentives.

“It shows there’s a lot of appetite for Australians to do more on climate action – certainly more than what’s on offer at the national level,” Australia Institute climate and energy program director Richie Merzian told The New Daily.

“What we’ve seen is strong support. Australians see a role for government in actually bringing down that sticker price.

“Seven out of 10 people want it, and seven out of 10 said it would disincentivize them to buy one if there was a tax rushed in.”

[The state of] Victoria’s new tax came into effect on July 1 and imposes a 2.5-cent charge for each kilometre travelled, putting the annual cost at $500 for a vehicle travelling 20,000 kilometres, while South Australia is slated to implement a similar tax next year.

The tax narrowly passed the Victorian parliament despite Hyundai, Volkswagen, Uber and the Electric Vehicle Council writing to MPs and urging them to vote against the plan.

When a user charge was first proposed in SA, Treasurer Rob Lucas said it would be based on a similar distance-travelled scheme, with motorists providing odometer readings to ensure all road users contributed fairly to the state’s road maintenance investment.

“The reality is, if you’re driving an electric vehicle then you’re not paying fuel excise at the pump and you’re contributing significantly less to the vital upkeep of our vast road network,” the Treasurer said.

But those opposed to the measure say the tax will only slow progress towards more environmentally-friendly motoring and are calling for incentives, such as subsidies or stamp duty waivers, to help reduce upfront EV costs.


Road charging is inevitable once EVs become dominant, but it’s terrible to do it too early or not exempt EVs. As ever, Australia is showing how not to deal with the climate crisis. (Thanks Lloyd W for the link.)
unique link to this extract

Facebook said to consider forming an Election Commission • The New York Times

Ryan Mac, Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel:


Facebook has approached academics and policy experts about forming a commission to advise it on global election-related matters, said five people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would allow the social network to shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory body.

The proposed commission could decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, though the effort is preliminary and could still fall apart.

Outsourcing election matters to a panel of experts could help Facebook sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two of the people said. The company has been blasted in recent years by conservatives, who have accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats for allowing political misinformation to fester and spread online. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, does not want to be seen as the sole decision maker on political content, two of the people said.

Facebook declined to comment.

If an election commission is formed, it would emulate the step Facebook took in 2018 when it created what it calls the Oversight Board, a collection of journalism, legal and policy experts who adjudicate whether the company was correct to remove certain posts from its platforms. Facebook has pushed some content decisions to the Oversight Board for review, allowing it to show that it does not make determinations on its own.


In principle, not a bad idea? But this will only be useful if they can determine it well before any elections.

However, as I point out in Social Warming, there are elections happening all over the world, all the time. Why have an Election Commission that only looks at US elections? But if it isn’t looking at that, then it needs to make decisions for each country, or for all countries. This is not good.
unique link to this extract

Why are hyperlinks blue? • Mozilla Blog

Elise Blanchard:


When a co-worker casually asked me why links are blue, I was stumped. As a user experience designer who has created websites since 2001, I’ve always made my links blue. I have advocated for the specific shade of blue, and for the consistent application of blue, yes, but I’ve never stopped and wondered, why are links blue? It was just a fact of life. Grass is green and hyperlinks are blue. Culturally, we associate links with the color blue so much that in 2016, when Google changed its links to black, it created quite a disruption. 

But now, I find myself all consumed by the question, WHY are links blue? WHO decided to make them blue? WHEN was this decision made, and HOW has this decision made such a lasting impact? 

I turned to my co-workers to help me research, and we started to find the answer. Mosaic, an early browser released by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina on January 23, 1993, had blue hyperlinks. To truly understand the origin and evolution of hyperlinks though, I took a journey through technology history and interfaces to explore how links were handled before color monitors, and how interfaces and hyperlinks rapidly evolved once color became an option.


Quite a trip down memory lane, this one.
unique link to this extract

How immunity generated from COVID-19 vaccines differs from an infection • NIH Director’s Blog

Dr Francis Collins:


a new NIH-supported study shows that the answer to this question will vary based on how an individual’s antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were generated: over the course of a naturally acquired infection or from a COVID-19 vaccine.

The new evidence shows that protective antibodies generated in response to an mRNA vaccine will target a broader range of SARS-CoV-2 variants carrying “single letter” changes in a key portion of their spike protein compared to antibodies acquired from an infection.

These results add to evidence that people with acquired immunity may have differing levels of protection to emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. More importantly, the data provide further documentation that those who’ve had and recovered from a COVID-19 infection still stand to benefit from getting vaccinated.

These latest findings come from Jesse Bloom, Allison Greaney, and their team at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle. In an earlier study, this same team focused on the receptor binding domain (RBD), a key region of the spike protein that studs SARS-CoV-2’s outer surface. This RBD is especially important because the virus uses this part of its spike protein to anchor to another protein called ACE2 on human cells before infecting them. That makes RBD a prime target for both naturally acquired antibodies and those generated by vaccines. Using a method called deep mutational scanning, the Seattle group’s previous study mapped out all possible mutations in the RBD that would change the ability of the virus to bind ACE2 and/or for RBD-directed antibodies to strike their targets.


The methodology is impressive; the result, important. Vaccination is the way out, then, not “herd immunity” through infection.
unique link to this extract

More and more humans are growing an extra artery, showing we’re still evolving • Science Alert

Mike McRae:


An artery that temporarily runs down the center of our forearms while we’re still in the womb isn’t vanishing as often as it used to, according to researchers from Flinders University and the University of Adelaide in Australia.

That means there are more adults than ever with what amounts to be an extra channel of vascular tissue flowing under their wrist.

“Since the 18th century, anatomists have been studying the prevalence of this artery in adults and our study shows it’s clearly increasing,” Flinders University anatomist Teghan Lucas said in 2020.

“The prevalence was around 10% in people born in the mid-1880s compared to 30% in those born in the late 20th century, so that’s a significant increase in a fairly short period of time, when it comes to evolution.”

The median artery forms fairly early in development in all humans, transporting blood down the center of our arms to feed our growing hands. At around eight weeks, it usually regresses, leaving the task to two other vessels – the radial (which we can feel when we take a person’s pulse) and the ulnar arteries.

Anatomists have known for some time that this withering away of the median artery isn’t a guarantee. In some cases, it hangs around for another month or so.

…We might imagine having a persistent median artery could give dexterous fingers or strong forearms a dependable boost of blood long after we’re born. Yet having one also puts us at a greater risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, an uncomfortable condition that makes us less able to use our hands.

Nailing down the kinds of factors that play a major role in the processes selecting for a persistent median artery will require a lot more sleuthing.


unique link to this extract

World’s largest chip maker to raise prices, threatening costlier electronics • WSJ

Yang Jie, Stephanie Yang and Yoko Kubota:


The world’s largest contract chip maker is raising prices by as much as 20%, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could result in consumers paying more for electronics.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) plans to increase the prices of its most advanced chips by roughly 10%, while less advanced chips used by customers like auto makers will cost about 20% more, these people said. The higher prices will generally take effect late this year or next year, the people said.

Apple is one of TSMC’s largest customers and its iPhones use advanced microprocessors made in TSMC foundries. It couldn’t be determined how much more Apple would pay.

A TSMC spokeswoman declined to comment on prices but said the company works closely with customers. An Apple spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The price increases come in the wake of a global semiconductor shortage that has affected Apple and most car makers, including General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp. In August, GM said it had to idle three factories in North America that make large pickup trucks, the company’s biggest moneymaker. Last week, Toyota said it would curb production by 40% in September.

The price increases have a twofold purpose for TSMC as it addresses the shortage. In the short term, higher prices push down demand and preserve supply for customers who have no other choice. Over the longer term, the higher income will help TSMC invest aggressively in new capacity, according to analysts.

The company has said it plans to spend a total of $100bn over the next three years on new factories and equipment as well as research and development.


unique link to this extract

Landline phones to be axed by 2025: digital switchover leads to fears elderly will struggle to cope • Daily Mail Online

Victoria Bischoff:


The death knell has been sounded for the traditional landline telephone.

From 2025, all households and businesses will need the internet to make calls under a major digital shake-up. It means millions of customers will be pushed online for the first time or forced to rely on a mobile phone instead. Those without internet may need an engineer to visit their home to get them set up and those with older phones could need to buy a new handset.

Industry insiders compared the move to the switch to digital TV in 2012, when broadcasters stopped transmitting traditional analogue signals to household rooftop or indoor aerials. But while that change was led by the Government, the switch to ‘digital’ calls is being driven by the telecoms industry.

The upgrade will also impact other services that rely on the existing telephone network such as alarm systems, phones in lifts, payment terminals and red telephone boxes. Telecoms giants are aiming for the switchover to be complete in 2025.

But experts have raised concerns that millions of older and vulnerable households which are not online, do not use a mobile phone or live in a rural area with poor connectivity are at risk of being left behind.

Around 6% of households – roughly 1.5 million homes – do not have access to the internet, according to watchdog Ofcom. Many may only use the internet on their mobile phone via wireless services, while around half a million households do not own a mobile.

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: ‘Given that about half of older people over the age of 75 are not online, this could be a particular problem for our oldest citizens.”


The phones in lifts etc will all get sorted – there’s money (and maintenance contracts) in sorting them out. Pretty certain there will be cheap contracts, and you only need 1Mbps to do VoIP. But it does mean that if your power goes out, you can’t make a phone call (or you’ll rely on a mobile signal). That’s going to be tricky.
unique link to this extract

Google confirms it’s pulling the plug on Streams, its UK clinician support app • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


Google is infamous for spinning up products and killing them off, often in very short order. It’s an annoying enough habit when it’s stuff like messaging apps and games. But the tech giant’s ambitions stretch into many domains that touch human lives these days. Including, most directly, healthcare. And — it turns out — so does Google’s tendency to kill off products that its PR has previously touted as “life saving”.

To wit: following a recent reconfiguration of Google’s health efforts — reported earlier by Business Insider — the tech giant confirmed to TechCrunch that it is decommissioning its clinician support app, Streams.

The app, which Google Health PR bills as a “mobile medical device”, was developed back in 2015 by DeepMind, an AI division of Google — and has been used by the U.K.’s National Health Service in the years since, with a number of NHS Trusts inking deals with DeepMind Health to roll out Streams to their clinicians.

At the time of writing, one NHS Trust — London’s Royal Free — is still using the app in its hospitals.

But, presumably, not for too much longer, since Google is in the process of taking Streams out back to be shot and tossed into its deadpool


As the Google messaging app story (below) also demonstrates, Google really has a problem focusing on products with a strategy that lasts. Search? Yes. YouTube? Yes. Maps? Yes. Android? Yes. Chrome? Yes. Pretty much everything else? The most mixed of bags. The common thread of the listed products is that they create strategic benefits to bolster its ad business. Everything else, well, see how it goes. But that’s a problem for users of those products, because it’s never entirely clear if they’re strategy-adjacent enough to survive. (Google Reader: no. Streams: no.) (Thanks Wendy G for the link)
unique link to this extract

A decade and a half of instability: the history of Google messaging apps • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Google’s 16 years of messenger wheel-spinning has allowed products from more focused companies to pass it by. Embarrassingly, nearly all of these products are much younger than Google’s messaging efforts. Consider competitors like WhatsApp (12 years old), Facebook Messenger (nine years old), iMessage (nine years old), and Slack (eight years old)—Google Talk even had video chat four years before Zoom was a thing.

Currently, you would probably rank Google’s offerings behind every other big-tech competitor. A lack of any kind of top-down messaging leadership at Google has led to a decade and a half of messaging purgatory, with Google both unable to leave the space altogether and unable to commit to a single product. While companies like Facebook and Salesforce invest tens of billions of dollars into a lone messaging app, Google seems content only to spin up an innumerable number of under-funded, unstable side projects led by job-hopping project managers. There have been periods when Google briefly produced a good messaging solution, but the constant shutdowns, focus-shifting, and sabotage of established products have stopped Google from carrying much of these user bases—or user goodwill—forward into the present day.

Because no single company has ever failed at something this badly, for this long, with this many different products (and because it has barely been a month since the rollout of Google Chat), the time has come to outline the history of Google messaging. Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for a non-stop rollercoaster of new product launches, neglected established products, unexpected shut-downs, and legions of confused, frustrated, and exiled users.


This is, to some extent, the shooting of fish in a barrel, but it’s August, and why not get it down in one place.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1623: quantifying your carbon costs, Bosch says chip supply broken, illustrating AI, Samsung’s vanishing cloud, and more

Persuading dogs to have vaccines isn’t too hard, but how do you change humans’ minds? A Facebook group is showing it can be done. CC-licensed photo by Army Medicine 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. In order. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook moms’ Vaccine Talk group is fighting misinfo and persuading skeptics • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Will Oremus and Gerrit De Vynck:


“The most important rule was ‘civility,’ ” [Kate] Bilowitz, [co-founder of Vaccine Talk] said. “There are some groups online where people just yell at each other. We wanted to just be able to talk to one another without it getting that way.”

Vaccine Talk now has nearly 70,000 members, each of whom must gain administrators’ approval to join and commit to a code of conduct. Strict rules prohibit users from misrepresenting themselves, offering medical advice and harassing or bullying people. Another key rule: Be ready to provide citations within 24 hours for any claim you make. Twenty-five moderators and administrators in six countries monitor the posts, and those who flout the rules are kicked out.

“Usually, the hardcore anti-vaxxers cannot follow the rules,” Bilowitz said. “They are usually spamming people with their commentary. I think it’s hard for them: They are basically coming out of an echo chamber.”

Vaccine Talk represents exactly the type of conversations Facebook says it wants to cultivate. But Bilowitz said the social network’s often clumsy and heavy-handed enforcement of covid misinformation policies has made their work more difficult. In June, Facebook temporarily shut down the group because someone posted an article deemed to be misinformation. But the poster had been seeking advice on how to rebut the article.

“We were just caught up in the algorithm,” Bilowitz said, “and felt there wasn’t a human in charge of the process.”

To combat covid misinformation, Facebook has created both a banner across its site and a tab on covid-related posts that link people to authoritative information from public health organizations. The company’s head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, said surveys suggest vaccine acceptance on the part of American Facebook users has increased since January, from about 70% to upward of 80%. But he has also acknowledged the challenge in drawing a line between posts that evince earnest skepticism and those that are ideologically motivated.

Monica Buescher, a 32-year-old teacher in Vacaville, Calif., said she went “deep down the rabbit hole” of anti-vaccine misinformation when she had her second child in 2019. Convinced that shots were dangerous, she nonetheless wanted to hear the pro-vaccine side. She found her way to Vaccine Talk, which she said had a reputation among anti-vaccine groups as being “mean” for banning those who made claims without scientific evidence.


This is the dirty little secret about effective moderation: it’s hard work, and you can’t do it with machines.
unique link to this extract

Bosch says semiconductor supply chains in car industry no longer work • CNBC

Sam Shead:


In February, a winter storm in Texas caused blackouts at NXP Semiconductors, which is a major provider of automotive and mobile phone chips. In March, there was a fire at a semiconductor plant in Japan operated by Renesas, one of the car industry’s biggest chip suppliers. In August, factories in Malaysia have been abandoned as national lockdowns were introduced to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Volkswagen and BMW cut their production as they struggled to get the chips they needed to build their cars. These companies and semiconductor suppliers should now be looking to figure out how the chip supply chain can be improved, [Bosch management board member Harald] Kroeger said.

“As a team, we need to sit together and ask, for the future operating system is there a better way to have longer lead times,” he said. “I think what we need is more stock on some parts [of the supply chain] because some of those semiconductors need six months to be produced. You cannot run on a system [where] every two weeks you get an order. That doesn’t work.”

Semiconductor supply chain issues have been quietly managed by the automotive in the past but now is a time for change, according to Kroeger, who believes demand is only going to increase with the rise of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.

“Every car that gets smarter needs more semiconductors,” Kroeger said.

Electric cars need very powerful and efficient semiconductors in order to to get more range out of each kilowatt hour of battery, he added.

UBS analyst Francois-Xavier Bouvignies told CNBC last week that cars with internal combustion engines typically use around $80 worth of semiconductors in the powertrain, but electric vehicles use around $550 worth.


unique link to this extract

Carbon costs quantified • Astral Codex Ten

Scott Alexander:


This post tries to quantify how much carbon is produced by various activities, lifestyle changes, and actors.

I can’t stress enough how approximate and unreliable these numbers are. The reason I made this chart and other people didn’t isn’t because I’m smarter or harder-working than they are. It’s because I’m less responsible, and more willing to use numbers that are kind of grounded in wild guesses, and technically shouldn’t be compared to each other.

…This table can’t tell you what your ethical duties are. I’m concerned it will make some people feel like whatever they do is just a drop in the bucket – all you have to do is spend 11,000 hours without air conditioning, and you’ll have saved the same amount of carbon an F-35 burns on one airstrike! But I think the most important thing it could convince you of is that if you were previously planning on letting yourself be miserable to save carbon, you should buy carbon offsets instead. Instead of boiling yourself alive all summer, spend between $0.04 and $2.50 an hour to offset your air conditioning use.

But you may not want to literally offset your carbon. I use “offset” here to mean a donation that removes a linear and quantifiable amount of carbon from the atmosphere per dollar. But this is probably a less effective use of money than donating the same amount to a generic anti-climate-change charity.


An eye-opening post; there’s so much that’s boggling as you move down it. (Buying a Tesla – or any EV – seems like one of the big things you can do. That, and not flying.) As long as Elon Musk doesn’t then use Tesla’s money to buy Bitcoi…. argh.
unique link to this extract

Offsetting carbon emissions with forests • Prudhvi’s Newsletter



To put the numbers in perspective, human activities cause 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year. Forest plantations all over the world can store anywhere from 40-100Gt of C. However, it takes 100 years to reach that potential. Why? It takes time to grow a plant into a large tree that embeds a lot of carbon in its trunk and branches.

Assuming the best case scenario – meaning humans solving land acquisition, water constraints, and neglecting the impact of climate change itself on the growth of trees – gives a best-case estimate of 1 billion tons of C per year that can be embedded in trees. This is an impressive 2%. Yes, it is impressive, because that’s the only solution we’ve today which can scale even to this number.

Seems simple: let’s just plant trees everywhere.

If only the reality was so simple. The more I read on ecology and ecosystems, the more it confirms the notion that natural ecosystems are much more complex than we think. They also tend to be more interconnected with each other in ways yet to be figured out by science, even for seemingly obvious things.

Case in point: consider China and its plans to increase forest cover from 23.04% in 2020 to 26% in 2035, it is on track to plant 35 million hectares of trees (an area the size of Germany) in its northern arid areas by 2050 to make a so-called Great Green Wall. There are even incentives from corporations like Alipay rewarding low-carbon acts such as renting a bike to “water” virtual trees and the organizers will plant a real tree in deserts in China when virtual trees grow up. It is amazing to see such climate action from so many people for climate change.

Unfortunately, all of this has led to an unintended consequence – water scarcity.


The best things to do: preserve existing forests; replant deforested areas; replace building using concrete with wood products where at all possible.
unique link to this extract

UK truck driver shortage signals a broken labour market • Financial Times

Sarah O’Connor:


In spite of the tough hours and the fact they often pay for their own qualifications ([39-year-old Dominic] Harris paid £1,500), drivers have been slipping down the wage ladder. In 2010, the median HGV driver in the UK earned 51% more per hour than the median supermarket cashier. By 2020, the premium was only 27%. They have faced a particular pay squeeze in the past five years: median hourly pay for truck drivers has risen 10% since 2015 to £11.80, compared with 16% for all UK employees. “Why would I want to be a truck driver, with all the responsibility, the long, unpredictable hours, if I can go to Aldi and earn £11.30 an hour stacking shelves?” says Tomasz Oryński, a truck driver and journalist based in Scotland, who is planning to move to Finland.

Kieran Smith, chief executive of Driver Require, a recruitment agency, says employers have pushed labour costs down to compete for powerful customers such as supermarkets. “Customers have enormous purchasing leverage [and] they have nailed down the haulage companies to the tiniest margins.” He says lots of drivers leave in their 30s because the hours make it almost impossible to participate in bringing up children, yet the wage isn’t high enough to support the other partner staying at home.

As a result, the workforce is ageing. In 2000, there was an even split between over-45s and under-45s. Now the over-45s account for 62%. Between 20,000 and 40,000 people pass their tests to become truck drivers in a non-pandemic year, but many appear to leave the sector. Harris left this summer to start a business tending graves. It’s peaceful and he likes the connections he makes. He doesn’t want to go back.

…In the UK, the extent of the problem was masked before Brexit by a supply of EU drivers who helped to fill vacancies. In addition, a loophole in the UK’s badly-regulated labour market allowed drivers to set up as limited companies. This upped their take-home pay by cutting their tax (at the cost of their workers’ rights). This year the government closed the loophole, which prompted some drivers to leave. Meanwhile, Covid led to cancelled tests for new drivers and prompted many Europeans to go home.


Perfect storm. And the real kicker is that this is the first year of full Brexit, meaning slowdowns at the border; the Ever Given debacle is still unwinding (shipping prices – the Baltic Dry Index – are at their highest level since 2010), and supermarkets and retailers start building up stock 12 weeks ahead of Christmas, ie now.

Going to be a fun holiday.
unique link to this extract

How I Experience The Web Today


I searched something…


Yes, yes, yes, this is totally the modern web experience – although the first page, with a search result, should have been festooned with ads too.
unique link to this extract

Explaining Artificial Intelligence: part 3 – what does AI look like? • BBC R&D

Tristan Ferne, Henry Cooke and David Man:


As Artificial Intelligence(AI) is used in more BBC products and everything else online, we think it’s important to deliver AI-powered systems that are responsibly and ethically designed. We also want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand more about how this influential technology works in the world. This is part of a series of posts on this topic.

We have noticed that news stories or press releases about AI are often illustrated with stock photos of shiny gendered robots, glowing blue brains or the Terminator. We don’t think that these images actually represent the technologies of AI and ML that are in use and being developed. Indeed, we think these are unhelpful stereotypes; they set unrealistic expectations, hinder wider understanding of the technology and potentially sow fear. Ultimately this affects public understanding and critical discourse around this increasingly influential technology. We are working towards better, less clichéd, more accurate and more representative images and media for AI.

Try going to your search engine of choice and search for images of AI. What do you get?


Fascinating writeup of a BBC internal workshop trying to figure out how it should illustrate stories about AI.
unique link to this extract

Samsung phone owners warned: save your photos now • Forbes

Barry Collins:


Samsung smartphone owners are facing a looming deadline to rescue their photos from Samsung Cloud or risk losing backed up images.

Samsung is removing the option to back up your photo gallery to Samsung Cloud, presumably in a bid to cut storage costs. Samsung Cloud will still continue to back up data such as contacts, calendar entries and notes, but photos and videos are no longer part of the package.

Samsung has instead been encouraging customers to back up their photos using Microsoft’s OneDrive service, but the deadline is looming for the Samsung Cloud service to be cut off, with customers warned they could lose photos if they don’t have copies of them stored locally.

Confusingly, Samsung has split customers into two groups, each with different cut-off deadlines. It’s not easy to work out which group you’re in, so it’s probably safest to assume you’re in Group 1, which has the earliest set of cut-off deadlines.

The company says customers in Group 1 must download any photos backed up in Samsung Cloud by September 30, with Group 2 customers given until November 30 to complete the download.

Samsung is warning customers not to leave the download to the last minute because “when it gets close to the final deprecation date, you might not be able to download your data smoothly due to the increased number of users”.

Photos will be permanently deleted from Samsung Cloud 60 days after you elect to download the data, or when the deadline arrives, whichever comes sooner.


Totally weird. Apparently a strategic decision by Samsung back in late 2019, when it decided to let Microsoft have the space (in every sense). Bet a lot of people will be caught out by this, though, given the size of Samsung’s customer base.
unique link to this extract

OnlyFans scraps plans to ban sexually explicit material • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


on Tuesday, OnlyFans’ chief executive and co-founder, Tim Stokely, instead laid the blame for the porn ban at the feet of the company’s financial backers. “The change in policy, we had no choice – the short answer is banks,” Stokely told the Financial Times in an interview.

“We pay over one million creators over $300m every month, and making sure that these funds get to creators involves using the banking sector.”

Stokely singled out one bank in particular, BNY Mellon, as having flagged and rejected transfers, while another, UK-based Metro Bank, closed the company’s accounts in 2019. BNY Mellon and Metro Bank declined to comment when asked about Stokely’s claims on Tuesday.

OnlyFans is also affected by new rules from payment processors such as Mastercard, which are intended to crack down on abuses such as the non-consensual sharing of sexual imagery and child sexual abuse material. Requirements for providers of adult content, announced by Mastercard in April, demand “documented age and identity verification for all people depicted and those uploading the content” and pre-publication review by platform holders.

“You might ask: ‘Why now?’”, Mastercard said at the time. “In the past few years, the ability to upload content to the internet has become easier than ever. All someone needs is a smartphone and a wifi connection.”


Alex had One Of Those News Days. His weekly email went out at about 12 noon BST on Wednesday, looking at OnlyFans’s decision to stop the pr0n. At 12:56, OnlyFans tweeted that the pr0n could continue.

What’s unclear is how that’s going to be achieved. Will there be age verification? Or were the credit card companies worried about losing revenue (to who?). Worth hearing in the whole saga was Evan Davis on Radio 4’s PM programme, who asked one porn creator how much she makes. “I make 60,000 dollars a month,” she said calmly. Davis’s reply: “WHAAAT. WHAAAAAAAT!” (49:00 here.)
unique link to this extract

PragmatIC Semiconductor reinvents the iconic processor that changed the world • PragmatIC Semiconductor


PragmatIC Semiconductor, a world leader in flexible electronics, is proud to announce that it has manufactured a flexible version of the 6502 processor, the iconic design that kick-started the personal computer revolution.

…PragmatIC’s flexible 6502 was laid out and manufactured in less than two weeks, demonstrating the game-changing ability of our FlexIC Foundry to support rapid realisation of semiconductor hardware. A second iteration has already been taped out to optimise pinout, footprint and speed, leveraging an agile design approach that would never be possible with the high cost and long lead times of silicon fabrication.

“We are delighted to have made a flexible 6502, the processor that is credited with creating the personal computer revolution,” said Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC Semiconductor. “The design symbolises one of our key beliefs that a new paradigm for semiconductors is required to enable innovators to build extraordinary electronics solutions that improve everyday life.”


Looks like a Pringle, but don’t hold that against it.
unique link to this extract

• 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 latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1622: the hard thing about writing videogames, AR for the ears, a bitcoin mortgage?, Cook’s first CEO decade, and more

The UK government’s forecasts about hydrogen use seem strangely biased towards fossil fuels, a new study has shown. CC-licensed photo by Martin Abegglen 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. Sold by weight. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Turns out the hardest part of making a game is…everything • IGN

Rebekah Valentine:


Earlier this year, game developers across the industry weighed in on Twitter on a seemingly innocuous question: What’s the problem with doors in video games?

It turns out, a lot. A seemingly boring feature such as usable doors can be absolute hell for developers to put in their games for numerous reasons. Everything from physics to functionality, from AI to sound, comes into play while making a single door in a single video game work. And not just work, but work in such a way where the player never has to think about it. Building a working, forgettable door is an incredible game development undertaking.

But it will probably not surprise you to learn that doors are far from the only seemingly simple feature that prove to be unexpectedly challenging in the development process.

A few months ago, I asked developers across the industry the question, “What is a thing in video games that seems simple but is actually extremely hard for game developers to make?” I received nearly 100 responses representing a wide breadth of industry experience, ranging from solo developers to those who had tackled issues within teams of hundreds.

The pool of responses similarly included a number of varied problems, but also a number of similar issues popping up among many projects. Those I spoke to described challenges in making games look and sound good, storytelling, movement and interaction with objects, menus, save systems, multiplayer, and all sorts of intricacies of design that are so rarely discussed outside of studios themselves. Many noted that they’ve received angry player feedback about the topics they mentioned, with their audiences asking, “Why don’t you just do X?” The answer is, almost always: because it’s really, really hard.

So if you’ve ever wondered why the maker of your favorite game didn’t simply fix one of the myriad issues developers mentioned below, here’s why those seemingly simple problems are hardly simple at all.


Lovely feature, also revealing some wonderful turn-a-bug-into-a-feature thinking by developers. (What if two people are trying to get through a door?)
unique link to this extract

Augmented reality is coming for your ears, too • WIRED

Lauren Goode:


[Jonathan Wegener] watched two friends in Greece, a couple, split a pair of AirPods so they could listen to music together.

So he started building his next thing: PairPlay, a clever if obvious play on Apple’s “AirPlay.” It’s an iOS app that guides partners, friends, or kids through imagined scenarios within their own homes. It’s part of a larger trend in which audio-focused entrepreneurs are taking advantage of a perfect storm of technology—from increasingly sophisticated processors to sensors that track people’s movements to personal devices that can deliver remarkably good sound.

In PairPlay, a voice oozing Andy Puddicombe–grade calmness tells people to face their AirPod partner, and then delivers two different versions of a scenario, one to each earpiece. There are a series of episodes, more akin to scenes than downloadable podcasts. In one episode, one of the participants is turned into a robot. In another series of episodes, both become secret agents. Another simulates a zombie apocalypse, urging players to race around the house, close the windows, and find hiding spots, all the while not knowing if the other person has been “infected.” (Hits a little close in Covid times.)

I tested a beta version of PairPay with a WIRED colleague, then asked him and his partner, who had just moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, to give it a try together. (Welcome to Silicon Valley! Now try this app.) It was nearly as amusing to watch others participate as it was to try the app myself. They faced each other, with eyes closed, then opened again. Then they tore around the place, grabbing throw pillows and placing them in different rooms, awkwardly laughing, attempting what I think was dancing. After a few minutes they removed the AirPods. One of my pals admitted it was fun, but her partner thought it lacked a fully unspooled narrative. It felt silly to use the app, he said, although he acknowledged that was the point.

PairPlay is free to download and all the content is free. For now. It’s easy to see how the company might offer subscription content down the line. (It’s less “free” if you don’t already have an iPhone and AirPods, as you need both items to use the app.)


Think the headline could have been “augmented reality is coming for your ears first”. Audio is a simpler yet equally effective method of creating imagined spaces. Better in stereo, of course.
unique link to this extract

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dead at 80 • Boing Boing

Rob Beschizza:


RIP Charlie Watts, drummer with the Rolling Stones. My favorite Watts anecdote, from Victor Bockris’s 1992 biography of bandmate Keith Richards…


…is a screenshot, and I won’t spoil it. Click through for an idea of the dynamics in the band. A different anecdote is of Keith Richards’s father, in the green room of the Voodoo Lounge tour, starting to get “refreshed” with the champagne on offer.

“Careful,” said Watts, “or you’ll end up looking like your son.”
unique link to this extract

Carbon from UK’s blue hydrogen bid still to equal 1m petrol cars • The Guardian

Jillian Ambrose:


If the government used zero-carbon “green” hydrogen to meet a third of the UK’s forecast hydrogen demand, “blue” hydrogen would create the same emissions as around 1m cars running on the UK’s roads each year.

The analysis, undertaken on behalf of the Guardian by Friends of the Earth Scotland, was based on government data published last week in a long-awaited report on the future of the UK’s hydrogen economy.

The strategy sets out a “twin track” approach to supporting hydrogen production, but it failed to suggest a balance between blue and green hydrogen. This has raised concerns among climate groups that an over-reliance on blue hydrogen could lock the UK into decades of North Sea gas production, fossil-fuel imports and millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.

Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the government’s support for the major oil companies behind plans for blue hydrogen projects, including BP and the Norwegian state oil giant Equinor, would allow them to “prolong fossil-fuel production indefinitely”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which reviewed the analysis, said investing in both green and blue hydrogen would “allow us to kickstart an entire industry from scratch that creates tens of thousands of jobs and unlocks billions of pounds worth of private investment”.


Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water, ideally using renewable energy; blue hydrogen from fossil fuels. Guess which one has tons of sunk costs and profits that are used to fund the party in power.
unique link to this extract

United Wholesale Mortgage will accept bitcoin, other cryptocurrency • CNBC

MacKenzie Sigalos:


United Wholesale Mortgage, which made its public debut in January via a special purpose acquisition (SPAC) merger, announced plans this week to accept cryptocurrency for home loans, in what is being billed as a first for the national mortgage industry.

“We’ve evaluated the feasibility, and we’re looking forward to being the first mortgage company in America to accept cryptocurrency to satisfy mortgage payments,” CEO Mat Ishbia said in the company’s second quarter earnings call on Monday.

“That’s something that we’ve been working on, and we’re excited that hopefully, in Q3, we can actually execute on that before anyone in the country because we are a leader in technology and innovation.”

The Michigan-based mortgage company confirmed to CNBC that it’s aiming to start by accepting bitcoin, though UWM is in the process of evaluating ether and other cryptocurrencies as well.

“We are evaluating the feasibility and requirements in order to accept cryptocurrency to satisfy mortgage payments,” said Ishbia in a tweet via the company’s account.

UWM – the nation’s second-biggest mortgage lender after Quicken, the Detroit-based lending giant owned by Rocket Companies – works solely through wholesale channels, meaning that the company employs a fleet of brokers who then connect clients to home loans.


OK, so this allows the intersection of property (old people’s asset) with crypto (young people’s asset). Somehow though the element of the brokers in there makes me ever so slightly apprehensive. Random thought: has anyone seen The Big Short?
unique link to this extract

Idle speculation on Apple cars • Digits to Dollars

Jonathan Greenberg:


The car will need a fairly advanced processor to handle all the software features of the car, as well as the infotainment system, and it will likely need some sort of advanced sensor/signaling hub. We would guess that Apple will design this processor itself, which means there are some lucky souls inside Apple Silicon toiling away on the design right now. The car will need a lot of memory and an ocean of microcontrollers, actuators and sensors. The latter are not glamorous or particularly strategic parts, so Apple will likely source them from some third party with the ability to meet price targets to tight specs.

And who will put all these parts together, who will manufacture it? A few years ago, Apple clearly made the rounds talking to many leading car makers. Comments from executives at Hyundai, Kia and VW alluded to something going on, but those efforts seem to have stalled out, falling out of view. Our sense (i.e. a guess) is that Apple did not like what it heard in these meetings, and especially did not like the public comment leaking out. Or maybe they just wanted to learn as much as they could and see if they could find the automotive equivalent of the Motorola ROKR.

Apple does not appear to be planning to build a car manufacturing plant, and we doubt they want to do that part of the work themselves. So Apple needs a partner with the ability to handle scale, quality manufacturing, with a good understanding of electronics and not least the ability to keep their mouths shut about it.

On a completely unrelated note… Has anyone else noticed that Foxconn seems to be investing heavily in automotive, especially automotive electronics? In the past two years, they have made so many investments in and around autos that it is hard to keep track of them all. The industry is actually fairly confused about all this. We frequently have conversations about which entity is the best one to approach. There is so much going on that we imagine many people inside Foxconn/Hon Hai are themselves a bit confused about it all.


The Apple Car is the white whale for so many electronics Ishmaels.
unique link to this extract

Apple has had a successful decade. The next one looks tougher • The Economist

The Economist looks at Tim Cook’s first decade in charge, noting his success but pointing to the challenges ahead, of which China seems the most relevant to me:


Judging by Apple’s latest supplier list, the firm has even increased its reliance on Chinese companies. Of the top 200 suppliers, 51 were based in China, up from 42 in 2018. At the height of the trade war then-president Donald Trump waged with China in 2019, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, estimated that in the worst-case scenario Chinese retaliation could reduce Apple’s profits by nearly 30%.

The fallout could be worse if Apple’s products and services were banned in China. As the Communist Party turns increasingly authoritarian and the West increasingly suspicious of China, Apple may become a target of Beijing’s wrath or the sort of nationalist-tinged boycotts that have hurt Western brands from the NBA to Zara.

And if Apple’s importance to China’s economy continues to offer a protective shield, this may anger governments and consumers in the West. According to human-rights groups, some of Apple’s suppliers are linked to forced-labour camps for Uyghurs, an oppressed Muslim minority, in Xinjiang. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s boss, has called out Apple for hypocrisy for touting privacy protection at home while allowing the government in Beijing to access personal data in China. “At some point something will happen that becomes a loyalty test,” thinks Willy Shih of Harvard Business School.

Apple says it has found no evidence of any forced labour in its supply chain. Mr Zuckerberg himself could also be accused of being hypocritical, since Facebook is making billions from Chinese advertisers on its social networks.


I would really like to know what Apple’s worst-case scenario planning is for complete disruption in China. If it took in Taiwan too.. but in that situation, *all* global trade would be screwed. We’d have worse problems than the next iPhone.
unique link to this extract

Oh yes, you missed the plug yesterday for my book Social Warming, about how our human biases interact with attention-driven algorithms to make everyone a bit mad. That’s because I didn’t include it.

Jeremy Keith resigns from AMP Advisory Committee: “It has become clear to me that AMP remains a Google product” • WP Tavern

Sarah Gooding:


When AMP joined the OpenJS Foundation in 2019, skeptics hailed the transfer as “mostly meaningless window-dressing.” What Keith witnessed during his time with the advisory committee lends credit to these early doubts about AMP being able to gain independence from Google:


Whenever a representative from Google showed up at an advisory committee meeting, it was clear that they viewed AMP as a Google product. I never got the impression that they planned to hand over control of the project to the OpenJS Foundation. Instead, they wanted to hear what people thought of their project. I’m not comfortable doing that kind of unpaid labour for a large profitable organisation.

Even worse, Google representatives reminded us that AMP was being used as a foundational technology for other Google products: stories, email, ads, and even some weird payment thing in native Android apps. That’s extremely worrying.


Keith’s experience echoes some of the claims in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against Google, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other state attorneys general. The complaint states that the transfer of the AMP project to the OpenJS Foundation was superficial.

…Keith was originally inspired by fellow dissenter Terence Eden to join the committee in hopes of making a difference. Eden eventually resigned from the committee in December 2020, after concluding that Google has limited interest in making AMP a better web citizen.

“I do not think AMP, in its current implementation, helps make the web better,” Eden said. “I remain convinced that AMP is poorly implemented, hostile to the interests of both users and publishers, and a proprietary and unnecessary incursion into the open web.”


Interesting how Google has gone from being a very insistent proponent of the open web to a very insistent proponent of what suits it now. AMP could be good, but needs to be independent.
unique link to this extract

Microsoft delivers calm system sounds in Windows 11 • CNBC

Jordan Novet:


Personal computers with Windows have made sounds to indicate errors since the 1980s. With Windows 11, Microsoft has revamped those sounds to make them less stressful.

…The designers of Windows 11 took inspiration from an approach called calm technology, which was described by two employees of the Xerox PARC research lab more than two decades ago. “Calmness is much needed in today’s world, and it tends to hinge on our ability to feel in control, at ease, and trustful,” Microsoft’s Christian Koehn and Diego Baca wrote in a blog post. “Windows 11 facilitates this through foundational experiences that feel familiar, soften formerly intimidating UI, and increase emotional connection.”

Calm technology also informed the development of the sounds of Windows 11, said Matthew Bennett, who crafted the sounds, following contributions to Windows 8 and Windows 10.

Windows 11 stands out from its predecessors and its competitors by allowing people to use one group of sounds to match with light visual themes, and a different group that goes along with dark themes. The sounds are similar, which means people can recognize them as they switch between modes, but slightly different. Applying a dark theme generally makes the sounds softer. They seem to echo, as if in a large room.

“The new sounds have a much rounder wavelength, making them softer so that they can still alert/notify you, but without being overwhelming,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC in an email. Just like we rounded UI [user interface] visually, we rounded our soundscape as well to soften the overall feel of the experience.”


A much rounder wavelength? Are they saying earlier versions used sawtooth waves? I’m not sure that the alert/error sounds are stressful so much as too plentiful. And let’s remember that it was Robert Fripp who designed the sounds for Windows Vista. Error sounds could have been so different.
unique link to this extract

Phones of nine Bahraini activists found to have been hacked with NSO spyware • The Guardian

Stephanie Kirchgaessner:


The mobile phones of nine Bahraini activists, including two who were granted asylum protection and are now living in London, were hacked between June 2020 and February 2021 using NSO Group spyware, according to new findings by researchers at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

A report due to be released on Tuesday will reveal that the hacked activists, some of whose phones were being monitored by Citizen Lab researchers at the time they were hacked, include three members of Waad, a secular leftwing political group that was suspended in 2017 amid a crackdown on peaceful dissent in Bahrain.

Of the nine activists who were “successfully hacked”, four were believed with a “high degree of confidence” by Citizen Lab to have been targeted by the government of Bahrain, which is believed to have acquired access to NSO spyware, called Pegasus, in 2017.

…An NSO spokesperson said in a statement to the Guardian that it had not received any data from Citizen Lab and could therefore not respond to “rumours” of the group’s findings.

“As always, if NSO receives reliable information related to misuse of the system, the company will vigorously investigate the claims and act accordingly based on the findings,” the spokesperson said.


Would always like to know precisely what “act accordingly” means when NSO says it. Puts up the price to those clients? Sends them an admonishing email? Does NSO actually control which phones Pegasus is put on, which seems to be the implication of the existence of these phone lists?
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1621: fusion joy redux, GM recalls its Bolt EVs, Razer hacks Windows, EMF for profit, unbeaten text scammers, and more

Samsung is taking an electronic revenge of looters of its TV sets in South Africa by blocking them. CC-licensed photo by TaylorHerring 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 test card? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Samsung South Africa activates TV Block function to render all TV sets useless that were looted and stolen in July • Teeveetee

Thinus Ferreira:


Samsung South Africa has announced that it has activated a TV Block Function on all Samsung TV sets stolen during the looting, violence and unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng during July that saw TV sets stolen from Samsung warehouses.

Samsung has activated TV Block on all Samsung television sets looted from its Cato Ridge distribution centre in KwaZulu-Natal since 11 July.

Samsung’s television block technology is already pre-loaded on all Samsung TV products and the company says that all sets taken unlawfully and stolen from Samsung warehouses are being blocked, rendering them useless.

TV Block is a remote, security solution that detects if Samsung TV units have been unduly activated, and ensures that the television sets can only be used by the rightful owners with a valid proof of purchase.

Samsung SA says that the aim of the technology is to mitigate against the creation of secondary markets linked to the sale of illegal goods, both in South Africa and beyond its borders.

“In keeping with our values to leverage the power of technology to resolve societal challenges, we will continuously develop and expand strategic products in our consumer electronics division with defence-grade security, purpose-built, with innovative and intuitive business tools designed for a new world,” says Mike Van Lier, director of consumer electronics at Samsung South Africa.

“This technology can have a positive impact at this time, and will also be of use to both the industry and customers in the future.”

The blocking comes into effect when the user of a stolen television connects to the internet in order to operate the television. Once connected, the serial number of the television is identified on the Samsung server and the blocking system is implemented, disabling all the television functions.


Pretty simple to circumvent, then: don’t go online. I’m waiting for a cryptography professor to tell us that this means the government could prevent individuals from watching TV, or could spy on individuals.
unique link to this extract

How a laser fusion experiment unleashed an energetic burst of optimism • The New York Times

Kenneth Chang:


Scientists have come tantalizingly close to reproducing the power of the sun — albeit only in a speck of hydrogen for a fraction of a second.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported on Tuesday that by using 192 gigantic lasers to annihilate a pellet of hydrogen, they were able to ignite a burst of more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power — energy released when hydrogen atoms are fused into helium, the same process that occurs within stars.

Indeed, Mark Herrmann, Livermore’s deputy program director for fundamental weapons physics, compared the fusion reaction to the 170 quadrillion watts of sunshine that bathe Earth’s surface.

“This is about 10% of that,” Dr. Herrmann said. And all of the fusion energy emanated from a hot spot about as wide as a human hair, he said.

But the burst — essentially a miniature hydrogen bomb — lasted only 100 trillionths of a second.

Still, that spurred a burst of optimism for fusion scientists who have long hoped that fusion could someday provide a boundless, clean energy source for humanity.

“I’m very excited about this,” said Siegfried Glenzer, a scientist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., and who had led the initial fusion experiments at the Livermore facility years ago but is not currently involved in the research.


I love the principle of fusion, and I’ve written about it a few times (and stood inside the torus at JET in Oxfordshire – not while it was running), and I’m just as excited – possibly more – as the next person about it, but stories like this are absolute classics of the genre. Incredibly short duration? Check. Incredibly complex array required? Check. Didn’t achieve “ignition” (self-sustaining output)? Check. Excited scientists? Check. It might as well be a story in The Onion; you could, if you wanted, read it as emanating from that august publication, and they wouldn’t have to change a word.
unique link to this extract

GM recalls every Chevy Bolt ever made, blames LG for faulty batteries • Ars Technica

Tim de Chant:


GM has announced that it is recalling every Chevrolet Bolt made to date, including new electric utility vehicle models, over concerns that a manufacturing defect in the cars’ LG-made batteries could cause a fire.

The Bolt was first recalled in November after five cars that hadn’t been in crashes caught fire. After investigating the problem further, Chevy recalled a second batch in July. The problem was traced to two manufacturing defects that could occur simultaneously. The defects—a torn anode tab and folded separator—created conditions that could lead to a short in affected cells. So far, the company has identified 10 fires that involve faulty batteries, according to an AP report. 

This third and latest recall includes 73,000 Bolts made from 2019–2022, the current model year and brings the total recall to nearly 142,000 cars, with over 100,000 having been sold in the US. GM estimates that the initial recalls will cost $800m, and it expects the new one to add $1bn to the total. GM said it will be seeking reimbursement from LG.

To fix the problem, the automaker will replace the vehicles’ batteries, a costly and laborious procedure that will take some time.


For comparison, Tesla (which only makes EVs) has sold a total of 1.4m units since it started selling them in 2012. GM has been making EVs in one way or another since 1996.
unique link to this extract

You can gain admin privileges to any Windows machine by plugging in a Razer mouse • Lifehacker

Jake Peterson:


Usually, different “user rights” are a good thing for Windows. It protects your system from people who would abuse those privileges, either nefariously or not. When you have admin—or SYSTEM—privileges, you are in total control over Windows, so it can be dangerous to give that power to just anyone.

The idea that plugging in the right mouse could give you total control over a computer sounds more unrealistic than a TV hacker, but it’s true. When you plug in one of these Razer peripherals, Windows will automatically download Razer Synapse, the software that controls certain settings for your mouse or keyboard. Said Razer software has SYSTEM privileges, since it launches from a Windows process with SYSTEM privileges.

But that’s not where the vulnerability comes into play. Once you install the software, Windows’ setup wizard asks which folder you’d like to save it to. When you choose a new location for the folder, you’ll see a “Choose a Folder” prompt. Press Shift and right-click on that, and you can choose “Open PowerShell window here,” which will open a new PowerShell window.

Because this PowerShell window was launched from a process with SYSTEM privileges, the PowerShell window itself now has SYSTEM privileges. In effect, you’ve turned yourself into an admin on the machine, able to perform any command you can think of in the PowerShell window.

This vulnerability was first brought to light on Twitter by user jonhat, who tried contacting Razer about it first, to no avail. Razer did eventually follow up, confirming a patch is in the works. Until that patch is available, however, the company is inadvertently selling tools that make it easy to hack millions of computers.


unique link to this extract

Electromagnetic interference for fun and profit • Hackaday

Jenny List:


There was an urban legend back in the days of mechanical electricity meters, that there were “lucky” appliances that once plugged in would make the meter go backwards. It probably has its origin in the interaction between a strongly capacitive load and the inductance of the coils in the meter but remains largely apocryphal for the average home user. That’s not to say that a meter can’t be fooled into doing strange things though, as a team at the University of Twente have demonstrated by sending some more modern meters running backwards. How have they performed this miracle? Electromagnetic interference from a dimmer switch.

Reading the paper (PDF link) it becomes apparent that this behavior is the result of the dimmer switch having the ability to move the phase of the current pulse with respect to the voltage cycle. AC dimmers are old hat in 2021, but for those unfamiliar with their operation they work by switching themselves on only for a portion of the mains cycle. The cycle time is varied by the dimming control. Thus the time between the mains zero-crossing point and their turn-on point is equivalent to a phase shift of the current waveform. Since electricity meters depend heavily upon this phase relationship, their performance can be tuned. Perhaps European stores will now brace themselves for a run on dimmer switches.


The paper has the much better title of “How to Earn Money with an EMI Problem: Static Energy Meters Running Backwards”. It’s tricky to make happen, though they seem to prove it with digital meters.
unique link to this extract

Invisible Universe is building the Pixar of the internet • Fast Company

Nicole Laporte:


Last week, Realqaiqai, the Instagram handle for Qai Qai (pronounced “kway kway”), the doll turned social media star belonging to Olympia Ohanian, the 3-year-old daughter of tennis star Serena Williams and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, posted two, side-by-side images summarizing the doll’s evolution. “How it started” was the headline over a photo a brown-skinned baby doll wearing a purple tutu. Next to it was another line, “How it’s going,” above an animated Qai Qai with a decidedly sassy look on her face, striking a pose and flashing the peace sign. The post received nearly 20,000 likes. 


Wait a moment. Rewind. A nonexistent “doll” that exists only on social media… OK, continue.


…Now the plan is to take the more fully rounded character and expand her into an animated franchise that doesn’t just exist online, but in TV shows, movies, books, and more.

This notion of birthing characters on social media alongside influencers like Williams—who have massive followings to plug into—and then moving those characters into more traditional lanes, is the core mission of Invisible, which is striving to become “the Pixar of the Internet,” says CEO Tricia Biggio. A former senior VP of unscripted television at MGM. “We want to launch indelible character IP in a world where people are actually spending more and more of their time.”


“Indelible character IP”. It’s a new generation’s Barbie, isn’t it.
unique link to this extract

The delusions of the UK hydrogen strategy • Carbon Commentary

Chris Goodall looks at the weird assumptions built into the UK’s forecasts for how much hydrogen will contribute to greening the future economy:


the UK strategy paper talks of ‘small projects expected to be ready to build in the early 2020s’ using renewable electricity but ‘large scale projects expected from mid 2020s’ for those employing natural gas and carbon capture. In other words, renewable electrolysis is still a toy. Even by 2050, the typical project seems to be expected to use a 10 MW electrolyser, when everybody else is talking of schemes today of one hundred times this scale.

Nowhere else in the world expects hydrogen to be cheaper to make using natural gas with carbon capture than electrolysis by mid-century. The UK government numbers are truly staggering.

 But, of course, there’s no reference that I could find in the UK strategy paper to any data or opinions from abroad.  That’s despite many major economies publishing their own policies over the last year. 

 All one can say is this: if green hydrogen made in the UK does cost £71/MWh in 2050, there’s absolutely no point in trying to build an industry here. It will be vastly cheaper to import the gas from Spain or Portugal by pipeline or Chile by liquid hydrogen carrier. The whole UK strategy will come to nothing, using a lot of taxpayers’ cash in the next four decades.


If you electrolyse water with renewable energy you effectively get free hydrogen. But the UK government seems to want to favour capturing it from fossil fuels – a far worse solution. (Yes yes capital costs for renewables. But you also get those from fracking.)
unique link to this extract

Apple already scans iCloud Mail for CSAM, but not iCloud Photos • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:


Apple confirmed to me that it has been scanning outgoing and incoming iCloud Mail for CSAM attachments since 2019. Email is not encrypted, so scanning attachments as mail passes through Apple servers would be a trivial task.

Apple also indicated that it was doing some limited scanning of other data, but would not tell me what that was, except to suggest that it was on a tiny scale. It did tell me that the “other data” does not include iCloud backups.

Although [Apple anti-fraud chief Eric] Friedman’s statement [that Apple has “the greatest platform for distributing child porn”] sounds definitive – like it’s based on hard data – it’s now looking likely that it wasn’t. It’s our understanding that the total number of reports Apple makes to CSAM each year is measured in the hundreds, meaning that email scanning would not provide any kind of evidence of a large-scale problem on Apple servers.

The explanation probably lays in the fact that other cloud services were scanning photos for CSAM, and Apple wasn’t. If other services were disabling accounts for uploading CSAM, and iCloud Photos wasn’t (because the company wasn’t scanning there), then the logical inference would be that more CSAM exists on Apple’s platform than anywhere else. Friedman was probably doing nothing more than reaching that conclusion.


That Apple has been increasingly concerned about this is evident from the emails. The CSAM scanning is its attempt to split the difference between necessary privacy and what it sees as necessary intrusion.
unique link to this extract

Why phone scams are so difficult to tackle • BBC News

Mary-Ann Russon:


Matthew Gribben, a cyber security expert, says that criminals are able to make it look like their phone call or text is coming from the real telephone number of a bank or delivery firm, due to continuing vulnerabilities in the UK (and other countries’) telephone network systems.

“There’s no way for the current UK phone network to guarantee 100% that the presentation number it is being told is the actual originating number – it has to take your word for it,” says Mr Gribben, who is a former consultant to GCHQ, the UK government intelligence agency.

The core of the problem is a telephone identification protocol called SS7, which dates back to 1975. It is a little complicated, but bear with us.

SS7 tells the telephone network what number a user is calling or texting from, known as the “presentation number”. This is crucial so that calls can be connected from one to another. The problem is that fraudsters can steal a presentation number, and then link it to their own number.
The issue affects both landlines and mobile phones, with SS7 still central to the 2G and 3G parts of mobile phone networks that continue to carry our voice calls and text messages – even if you have a 5G-enabled handset.

One theory is that the vulnerabilities of SS7 cannot be fixed because the telecoms firms need to give national security agencies access to their networks, but Mr Gribben says GCHQ (Britain’s intelligence agency) can monitor communications without using SS7 loopholes.

The problem, he says, is that SS7 is still used in telecoms networks globally. And it needs to be replaced rather than patched up.

“SS7 was developed assuming there would always be legitimate activity [and] goodwill around the use of it,” explains Katia Gonzalez, head of fraud prevention and security at BICS, a Brussels-based telecoms firm that connects and protects mobile phone networks.

“There’s too much legacy technology [reliant upon it] that we can’t move away from – we’re going to have these SS7 2G/3G networks for at least another 10 years.”


“We’ll stop smishing scams in 10 years” isn’t the greatest line, is it.
unique link to this extract

Don’t overthink it: Elon Musk’s Tesla Bot is a joke • The Verge

James Vincent:


Do you believe him? Should you believe him? I won’t answer that for you, but I want to restate the facts. Elon Musk got up on stage last night and promised that Tesla, a company whose driver assist software is unable to reliably avoid parked ambulances, would soon build a fully functioning humanoid robot. Musk said that the machine would be able to follow human instructions intuitively, responding correctly to commands like “please go to a store and get me the following groceries.” He outlined these scenarios and then said: “Yeah, I think we can do that.” This was minutes after he’d ushered away the best demo of the Tesla Bot available: a dancer in a spandex suit. If nothing else, you have to admire the chutzpah.

To put Musk’s claims in context, remember that Boston Dynamics, a company which makes Atlas, the most advanced bipedal robot in the world, has never described its machines as anything but R&D. Atlas, says Boston Dynamics, is simply a way to push the cutting edge of robotics: it’s not even close to commercial deployment. In recent videos of the machine, the company showed how difficult building a bipedal robot is and how often Atlas trips and falls. It’s also worth noting that Boston Dynamics has been working on Atlas and its bipedal predecessors for more than a decade. Musk thinks he can leapfrog their work in a year.

Carl Berry, a lecturer in robotics engineering at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire, put things to me in less uncertain terms: “[Calling it] horse shit sounds generous, frankly. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be doing research like this, but it’s the usual overblown hype.” Berry stressed that deploying robotics and AI in manufacturing usually required making the simplest machine possible: not the most complex.


Why does Musk feel compelled to do stuff like this? Is he just a narcissist who hates not having the spotlight? But in that case why has he fired his press office at Tesla, who could otherwise dream up all sorts of stuff?
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s article in the New Yorker “Have you already had a breathrough Covid infection?” was not written by Condé Nast, but by Dhruv Khullar. (Thanks Walt for the pointer.)

Start Up No.1620: Twitter’s broken verification, the $1bn chip machines, China’s “privacy” law, UK pauses NVidia-ARM, and more

Let battle commence: who has paid for the space into which the passenger in front will recline their seat – you, or them? Or might it be both of you?CC-licensed photo by Matthew Hurst 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. Back again! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Rethinking Twitter verification • Terence Eden’s Blog

Eden thinks:


I have my Twitter Tick™ because I’m a mediocre white man in the tech industry. No joke. During one of Twitter’s periodic bouts of opening up their verification programme, I applied and basically said “Don’t you know who I am??!” and got it. Sucks to be anyone other than me, I guess.

Twitter has paused the Verification process for now. In part, I suspect, due to overwhelming false positives and negatives.

The main problem, I think, is that no one knows what “Verified” means. Is the user a celebrity? A journalist? A spoof account? A friend of Twitter’s CEO? It’s all so unclear.

It seems to me that the answer is expanding Verification to take into account the different types of users of Twitter.

The Mastodon social network has the concept of “Bot” accounts. They are clearly marked as robots and that lets users know they’re interacting with a non-person.

Lots of journalists get verified by Twitter – because Twitter wants to integrate with newsrooms. Should a junior fashion reporter at the South Nowhere Bugle get the same sort of tick as the Chief Political Correspondent of the world’s biggest news show? It’s egalitarian, to be sure, but it doesn’t help a user determine if the Verified account Tweeting about Afghanistan is a credible source. Once the journo leaves the industry and becomes a pizza delivery driver, do they keep their tick?

…I think it’s time Twitter spoke to its users and understood what they want out of a Verification programme.


This is definitely the problem. As much as anything you want un-verification or anti-verification: to be told something is a bot, or not the real person. That would be just as valuable.
unique link to this extract

Reclining airline seat fights highlight an age-old legal battle over ownership • Slate

Dahlia Lithwick spoke to the law professor Michael Heller, whose new book “Mine! How the hidden rules of ownership control our lives” was inspired by his experiences on airplanes when people lean their seat back:


there’s a guy named James Beach who was flying from Boston to Denver, and he had actually a little plastic clamp called a Knee Defender, which you can buy online. It’s really very effective. You stick it on the seat in front of you, on the little tray table, and it keeps the seat in front of you from leaning back. On this particular flight, the woman in front of him tried to lean back. She couldn’t; she realized what was wrong. She asked him to take them off. He didn’t comply. She turned around and threw her water at him. The pilot did an emergency landing right away. They were taken off the flight. The plane went on to Denver an hour and 38 minutes late.

But those little Knee Defenders turn out to reveal a tremendous amount about the ownership conflicts that are all through our lives. The woman in front is saying, “That space behind my seat, it’s mine, because the little button reclines the seat.” And the guy behind, like the kids in the playground, he’s saying, “No, it was mine. I had it first, for my laptop,” or “I possessed it first with my knees.” So that wedge of space is an ownership battle, it turns out, between attachment and possession and first-in-time.

When I talk to audiences about that conflict, I always poll them, and it’s amazing to me that invariably half say the person in front is in the right, and half say the person in back is in the right. What’s most amazing is how each side is just amazed that anybody else could have a different view. It feels and looks and seems so obvious, what’s mine, the same way it is to toddlers on a playground. But that little conflict on the airplane seat is not just an accident, it turns out. It’s deliberately engineered by the airlines so they can sell that same space twice. Most of us are just polite; we try to work it out, and that’s true in all of the ownership conflicts we go through throughout our day, throughout our lives, in the Starbucks line, to line up at Disney World. Anywhere that we’re trying to make something mine, our experience is being engineered and designed by some owner to shape our behavior.


Selling the same space twice. Very neat explanation of why people get annoyed. (Via Ian Leslie’s weekly Substack.)
unique link to this extract

Facebook unveiled VR work meetings, which, no thanks • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopoulos in a cannot-miss followup on Friday’s story:


This raises two grim possibilities. The first is the sad realization that science fiction icon Neal Stephenson’s metaverse — a collision of the physical and virtual in a shared online space — is a sad little office veal-penned in by floating whiteboards. The metaverse is the officeverse, and office work is boring. Meetings are boring. A large corpus of popular art is devoted to this concept.

The second is that like so many innovations touted as magnificent, world-changing shifts, this “embodied internet” that Zuckerberg is peddling is more of a sad-trombone “neat” than a Jobsian “BOOM.” We were promised flying cars and a VR whale jumping out of a basketball court. What we got is just another way to attend the work meetings we’re already sick of attending.

It’s “cool,” it looks pretty fun, I bet it’s nice to use. Is it life-changing? Mind-blowing? I don’t know. “A different kind of productivity experience” is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of “metaverse.”

Earlier this spring Facebook revealed a wearable wrist device and glasses that could decipher neuron impulses from your brain to your hand. This was some very cool sci-fi stuff! We want the full experience! I want Facebook to steal my DNA and do something actually fucked up and weird and bad! Clone my ass, Zuck! Send my roboclones to fight in a space war against the Boston Dynamics dog robots while I bathe in a pod of goo! I want THAT. I don’t want more work meetings. No one wants more meetings. Please, sometimes just a phone call works.


“Veal-penned” is the most murderous phrase.
unique link to this extract

The company that makes the machines that makes the chips • Trung Phan


ASML is the most important company you’ve never heard of.

The $300+ bn Dutch firm makes the machines that make semiconductors. Each one costs $150m and access to them are a huge geopolitical flashpoint.


Fascinating thread (on one page, off Twitter) about this. Each machine also weighs 180 tonnes and shipping them requires three 747s and 20 trucks; or 40 shipping containers. To you for $1bn. Except, of course, if you’re Chinese – in which case the US will block the shipment.
unique link to this extract

Have you already had a breakthrough Covid infection? • The New Yorker

Condé Nast:


A new cohort study from Israel—conducted during the reign of Alpha, not Delta—provides perhaps the most rigorous evidence on the frequency and severity of breakthrough infections. Researchers examined what happened after Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, vaccinated more than 11,000 health-care workers between December, 2020, and April, 2021. During that period, around 1,500 workers experienced either a known coronavirus exposure or developed suspicious symptoms; of that number, 39—less than 3%—tested positive for the coronavirus. Those who got infected tended to have lower antibody levels. Most had mild symptoms; a third were asymptomatic; no one had to be hospitalized; and no one passed the virus on to others. At the same time, 19% of those who experienced a breakthrough infection—seven people—continued to have symptoms, such as cough, fatigue, or loss of smell, six weeks later. These findings were widely publicized, sometimes in ways that focussed on this final, alarming statistic. “Study: 20% of vaccinated health workers who test positive suffer from long covid,” one headline read. “One in five breakthrough cases among health care workers in Israel resulted in long covid,” announced another.

Such headlines, of course, fail to take account of the whole picture. In statistical terms, they neglect the “base rates” of infection. Take 19% of 3%, and you’ll find that the people tested in the study had about a one in 200 chance of developing long Covid. Even this number is too high: of the more than 11,000 vaccinated people in the hospital, the researchers tested only those who had symptoms or a known coronavirus exposure.

…The 19% figure itself may be higher than it should be. Farzad Mostashari, a former epidemic intelligence service officer at the C.D.C., has argued that a form of recall bias—a phenomenon in which people may attribute current symptoms to salient but unrelated prior events—could inflate the apparent prevalence of long covid. Suppose that you provide someone who’s been sick with a questionnaire, asking him to indicate which of a list of symptoms he has continued to suffer over the past few months. Faced with such a list, Mostashari wrote, on Twitter, “respondents often feel like they’re supposed to say ‘yes’ ” to some of the symptoms. In his view, this approach, which was taken in the Israeli study, could have led people to highlight symptoms needlessly.


In short: nobody knows anything. (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract

China just passed a major data privacy law—with a big, government-sized loophole • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:


Like most privacy laws, the full PIPL is wordy and dense. But in a nutshell, it mandates that those who operate apps, sites, or any other tech doing data collection—obtain consent from their users in order to collect that data, just like we’ve seen with the GDPR. In cases where that app or device handles “sensitive” data like a person’s fingerprint or financial details, it’s required to ask for consent again before collecting those specific details, even asking operators to get “written consent” from users if the law requires it.

On top of that, the law also requires that users are given different options for how their data is allowed to be handled. Users must be allowed to, say, tell an app it can track their data, but not use that data to target them with ads. And when they give that consent, the app is required to give those users an easy way to withdraw it at any time. If you’ve seen the way Apple rolled out app tracking choices in iOS 14, what the law’s asking for sounds pretty similar. Only in this case, it won’t be Apple taking your app down if you’re caught flouting these requirements—it’s China’s government.

The PIPL also has pretty strict guidelines for foreign companies doing business in the region—and that includes data-hoovering giants like Facebook that offer services to Chinese customers through obscure subsidiaries. The PIPL states that any of these outfits aren’t only required to abide by the new law but that they need to “pass a security assessment organized by the State cybersecurity and information department” before they get a pass to operate in the country.

When companies get caught flouting privacy laws in the US, companies like Facebook are slapped with the same sort of punishment they’d get if they were caught violating those rules in then EU: thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars worth of fines. As you’d probably expect, the consequences for companies in China is much more severe.


It’s OK, they don’t kill the executives (yet). The fines are a lot bigger than the US, but about in line with Europe.

Oh, and user privacy doesn’t extend to protection from state oversight. Obviously.
unique link to this extract

We built a system like Apple’s to flag child sexual abuse material — and concluded the tech was dangerous • The Washington Post

Jonathan Mayer and Anunay Kulshrestha:


Our research project began two years ago, as an experimental system to identify CSAM in end-to-end-encrypted online services. As security researchers, we know the value of end-to-end encryption, which protects data from third-party access. But we’re also horrified that CSAM is proliferating on encrypted platforms. And we worry online services are reluctant to use encryption without additional tools to combat CSAM.

We sought to explore a possible middle ground, where online services could identify harmful content while otherwise preserving end-to-end encryption. The concept was straightforward: If someone shared material that matched a database of known harmful content, the service would be alerted. If a person shared innocent content, the service would learn nothing. People couldn’t read the database or learn whether content matched, since that information could reveal law enforcement methods and help criminals evade detection.

Knowledgeable observers argued a system like ours was far from feasible. After many false starts, we built a working prototype. But we encountered a glaring problem.

Our system could be easily repurposed for surveillance and censorship. The design wasn’t restricted to a specific category of content; a service could simply swap in any content-matching database, and the person using that service would be none the wiser.

…China is Apple’s second-largest market, with probably hundreds of millions of devices. What stops the Chinese government from demanding Apple scan those devices for pro-democracy materials? Absolutely nothing, except Apple’s solemn promise. This is the same Apple that blocked Chinese citizens from apps that allow access to censored material, that acceded to China’s demand to store user data in state-owned data centers and whose chief executive infamously declared, “We follow the law wherever we do business.”


Feels like it predates the “two intersecting databases” requirement.
unique link to this extract

Obligatory boost for my book Social Warming: why social media is driving everyone (even those who don’t use it) a bit mad.

San Francisco doctor charged with possessing child pornography in iCloud • AppleInsider

Mike Peterson:


Amid controversy surrounding Apple’s CSAM detection system, a San Francisco Bay Area doctor has been charged with possessing child pornography in his Apple iCloud account, according to federal authorities.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that Andrew Mollick, 58, had at least 2,000 sexually exploitative images and videos of children stored in his iCloud account. Mollick is an oncology specialist affiliated with several Bay Area medical facilitates, as well as an associate professor at UCSF School of Medicine.

Additionally, he uploaded one of the images to social media app Kik, according to the recently unsealed federal complaint.


The distinguishing thing about these people is that they collect in large numbers. Every report I see suggests that they collect hundreds or, as in this case, thousands of pictures. (I’d imagine this was initially discovered through the postings to Kik, not Apple proactively scanning his iCloud account.)
unique link to this extract

Only small cuts in flying and driving needed to beat climate change, says Blair institute • The Times

Ben Webster:


Climate change can be tackled with small reductions in flying and driving and we can continue eating meat and dairy, according to a report by Tony Blair’s think tank.

It rebuts claims that meeting the UK’s legally binding target of net zero by 2050 will require a “total transformation” of people’s daily lives and says the number of behaviour changes needed over the next 15 years is “relatively limited”.

It adds that the emissions savings needed to hit the target would not require a reduction in living standards.

Average kilometres travelled per person by plane would need to fall by only about 6% between 2019 and 2035, the report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change says.

Kilometres travelled per driver would need to decline by about 4% over the same period, although 60% of cars by 2035 would need to be electric.

Meat and dairy consumption would have to be cut by 20% but “we do not all need to become vegetarian”, the report adds.


That all sounds feasible, but you’d need some hefty price signalling to make those things happen – all the trends are in the opposite direction.
unique link to this extract

Google shutting down health division as chief David Feinberg leaves • Business Insider

Hugh Langley and Blake Dodge:


Google is dismantling its health division, Insider has learned, as its chief, Dr. David Feinberg, departs the company.

Feinberg is joining Cerner, the electronic-medical-records behemoth, as its CEO and president, Cerner announced on Thursday. Meanwhile, the projects and teams that make up Google Health are being spread across different parts of Google, according to an internal memo obtained by Insider. Feinberg will leave on September 1.

Google Heath came together in 2018 as a way to organize the tech giant’s health efforts under one roof. The company poached Feinberg, a well-respected healthcare leader and the CEO of Geisinger Health, to lead it.

The group battled fallout and public distrust from a controversial deal with the health system Ascension, struggled to hammer out its roadmap, and let major deals fizzle out along the way.

Google’s healthcare challenges aren’t unusual for large companies with minimal healthcare experience trying to change the industry on a short timeline. In 2012, Google shuttered its first serious healthcare project, a service to let people store their medical records online. It was also named Google Health.

In a memo sent to employees on Thursday, Jeff Dean, the head of Google’s research division and Feinberg’s boss, said Google Health would no longer function as a unified organization.

Google’s chief medical officer, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who leads the team focused on regulatory and clinical matters, will now report to Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker, the memo said.


Always a great time when you learn that your health boss is going to be reporting to the head of legal. Sure sign of deep interest by the company in, ah, what is it you do again? (But why has Health failed so badly when Google has just picked up Fitbit?)

And the day before, also at Business Insider:


Apple is scaling back a key project in its health division, four people familiar with the matter told Insider.

It’s an app called HealthHabit that Apple employees can use to log fitness goals, manage hypertension , and talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness, the doctors’ group that Apple works with.

More than 50 employees were spending a significant amount of time working on the app. Some of them will be laid off with severance if they’re unable to find other roles inside Apple in the next few weeks, two of the people said.


unique link to this extract

CMA finds competition concerns with NVIDIA’s purchase of Arm • GOV.UK


The CMA [UK Competitions and Markets Authority] has determined that an in-depth investigation into the deal between NVIDIA and Arm is warranted on competition grounds.

Should the deal go ahead, the CMA is concerned that the merged business would have the ability and incentive to harm the competitiveness of NVIDIA’s rivals by restricting access to Arm’s intellectual property (IP). Arm’s IP is used by companies that produce semiconductor chips and related products, in competition with NVIDIA.

Ultimately, the CMA is concerned this loss of competition could stifle innovation across a number of markets, including data centres, gaming, the ‘internet of things’, and self-driving cars. This could result in more expensive or lower quality products for businesses and consumers.

NVIDIA offered a behavioural remedy – a measure which regulates the ongoing behaviour of a business – but the CMA found that this type of remedy would not alleviate its concerns. Therefore, the CMA found that the merger should be progressed to an in-depth Phase 2 investigation on competition grounds.


This is going to take quite a while, isn’t it. Can’t fault the CMA logic though. AMD for example would be worried about Nvidia getting early access to Arm improvements, or driving them in a direction that favours something about Nvidia rather than AMD.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1619: Facebook offers metaverse meetings, Kabul crisis app tries to stay safe, Apple defends its hash, and more

Chip foundries are eyeing Colorado for more factories – but will the water supply be sufficient to satisfy them? CC-licensed photo by Rico S 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. Got through another one. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook wants you to hold your next meeting in virtual reality • CNN

Rachel Metz:


Workrooms allows up to 16 VR headset users to meet in a virtual conference room, with each of them represented by a customizable cartoon-like avatar that appears as just an upper body floating slightly above a virtual chair at a table. The app supports up to 50 participants in a single meeting, with the rest able to join as video callers who appear in a grid-like flat screen inside the virtual meeting room.

Headset-wearing meeting participants can use their actual fingers and hands to gesticulate in VR, and their avatars’ mouths appear to move in lifelike ways while they speak. A virtual whiteboard lets people share pictures or make presentations.

“The pandemic in the last 18 months has only given us greater confidence in the importance of this as a technology,” Andrew Bosworth, VP of Facebook Reality Labs, said while addressing a (virtual) room of about a dozen people on Tuesday. He said Facebook has been using the app internally for about a year.

…Headset wearers can view their real-life computer screen in VR via an accompanying desktop app. And Workrooms uses a combination of hand tracking and spatial audio — which accounts for room acoustics and makes sounds appear to come from specific directions — to allow users to interact with each other in ways that mimic real life, except for a sound cancellation feature that eliminates background noise.

But it’s clear Facebook is still working out some kinks. While Bosworth, the Facebook executive, was in the middle of describing how he sees Workrooms as a more interactive way to gather virtually with coworkers than video chat, his avatar froze mid-sentence, the pixels of its digital skin turning from flesh-toned to gray. He had been disconnected.


It sounds a lot better than Zoom, except you have to wear the headsets. But the disconnection (or poor connection) problem, like the poor, will always be with us. Ben Thompson was quite keen on the fact that you can bring your (working avator of your) computer into the space, and make notes and browse on it. That’s pretty smart, assuming the screen is legible.

I expected to be very sceptical about this, but (if the headset comfort thing works out) it actually sounds like it could be rather useful. Show me to my seat in the metaverse!
unique link to this extract

FTC says Facebook ‘bought and buried’ rivals in renewed antitrust fight • Reuters

Diane Bartz and Nandita Bose:


The FTC’s high-profile case against Facebook represents one of the most significant challenges the agency has brought against a tech company in decades, and is being closely watched as Washington aims to tackle Big Tech’s extensive market power. read more

“Despite causing significant customer dissatisfaction, Facebook has enjoyed enormous profits for an extended period of time suggesting both that it has monopoly power and that its personal social networking rivals are not able to overcome entry barriers and challenge its dominance,” the amended complaint said.

In an effort to show Facebook’s dominance in personal social networking, the FTC’s complaint differentiated it from short video app TikTok and sites like Twitter, Reddit and Pinterest, which it said are not focused on connecting friends and family.

The amended complaint comes after Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in June that the FTC’s original complaint filed in December failed to provide evidence that Facebook had monopoly power in the social-networking market. read more

Beginning in 2007, Facebook invited apps to its platform to make it more attractive but realized that some could develop into competitors, and slammed the door in 2013 to any app that could become a rival but reversed itself in 2018 under pressure in Europe, the complaint said.


They’re really going to try to define a “social network” as one that connects friends and family? I’ve made more friends via Twitter than I ever have via Facebook. Hope the judge throws this one out too, not because Facebook hasn’t acted anticompetitively, but because the FTC needs to get a workable definition of “social network” that encompasses, well, social networks.
unique link to this extract

Facebook’s content report fails to deliver on the transparency it promises • Medium

Brian Boland is a former VP at Facebook:


the press release references CrowdTangle as a complement to this report. I found that striking since CrowdTangle enables other people to learn from the data and make their own reports while this doesn’t enable any additional external insight.

Except maybe Ethan Zuckerman’s article which I found interesting specifically his breakdown of what’s actually in the report is interesting to say the least.

After reading through the press release and the report itself I came away believing that this entire effort is a PR stunt — similar to their earlier press release which I will get to in the future.
There have already been a number of questions raised about the report and I expect some more over the next couple of days as people dig in more. Either way we should push harder for transparency from Facebook and the other digital platforms.

As I have said elsewhere, Facebook could commit to making this public data available publicly in a searchable tool like CrowdTangle. Without those commitments and no demonstrated effort to be more transparent the solution likely needs to be a regulatory or legislative one. If that is what is needed we should move in that direction and do so quickly.


The Zuckerman article definitely is interesting: he points out how generic much of it is, and also that Facebook seems to be including “Suggested Posts”, which people won’t actually engage with.
unique link to this extract

“We do not feel safe”: a Kabul-based crisis alert app struggles to protect its own employees • Rest of World

Hajira Maryam:


Ehtesab means “accountability” in Dari and Pashto, and the app, formally launched in March 2020, offers streamlined security-related information, including general security updates in Kabul to its users. With real-time, crowdsourced alerts, users across the city can track bomb blasts, roadblocks, electricity outages, or other problems in locations close to them. The app, which generates push notifications about nearby security risks, is supported by 20 employees working out of the company’s Kabul office, according to Wahedi. 

Despite the company’s single-minded focus on security, the Ehtesab team was caught off-guard by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government over the weekend. “It was inevitable that there would be a significant shift in governance … but we weren’t expecting the Taliban to come in within the first eight hours of the day,” Wahedi said.

Wahedi said her Kabul-based team is working around the clock monitoring and providing security updates across the city. But the nature of their service also makes it a target for any sort of crackdown. “We do not feel safe,” Wahedi told Rest of World. The service is currently avoiding any mention of the Taliban in its security notifications. In light of the security risks, the team is obscuring the identities of female staff members and the company’s entire staff is working remotely. Wahedi is currently out of the country.


The interview that follows is as concerning as you’d expect. Sample:


There are young Afghan women who are pursuing non-traditional roles such as in tech, and now, the right to safety and refuge for them is being disregarded. I have removed all evidence that there are women in my team. The morning we knew that the Taliban were near Kabul, we wiped their photos, videos, and digital information to mitigate any safety risks. The second measure we took was to make sure they were working remotely. We also limited their workload, so that they were not under added stress or being tracked.


Everyone seems to have been surprised by how quickly the Taliban reached Kabul. Which honestly I find surprising. They were rolling up cities like they were collecting Monopoly properties on the first time round the board. The only limit was how long it took to drive between successive locations.
unique link to this extract

Toyota succumbs to chip shortage and shuts factories • WSJ

Sean McLain:


Japan’s largest car maker said Thursday it was cutting production in the country by 40% in September because of a shortage of semiconductors. The company declined to say whether it would shut down plants outside of Japan.

The cuts affect most of Toyota’s plants in Japan and some of its bestselling vehicles. One of Toyota’s main plants near its headquarters in Toyota City, which produces both the RAV4 sport-utility vehicle and Corolla sedan, will close from Sept. 1 to Sept. 17. The nearby Tsutsumi plant that produces the Camry and Lexus ES sedans faces a similar period of closure.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to our customers and suppliers,” Toyota said.

The latest problem to hit Toyota and other car makers is a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, where semiconductors are assembled into small components that control everything from engines to headlights. The spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus and relatively low vaccination rates have caused sharp production cuts because governments forced plants to limit operations.


Five weeks ago Toyota beat General Motors for US sales in the second quarter, but was closemouthed on whether this was because it had beaten the chip shortage. Now we know why.

The bigger question: when and on which chips will this start affecting the consumer tech sector? Apple hinted it might affect iPhones and iPads, and if Apple is under pressure then the blast radius must be pretty big.
unique link to this extract

Water shortages loom over future semiconductor fabs in Arizona • The Verge

Justine Calma:


A factory or “fab” for making semiconductors needs a lot of water to operate. It’ll guzzle between 2 to 4 million gallons of water a day by some estimates, using the water to cool down equipment and clean silicon wafers. That’s about as much water as 13,698 to 27,397 Arizona residents might use in a day. Fabs are also pretty picky when it comes to water quality: they need to use “ultra-pure” water to prevent any impurities from damaging the chips.

Industries in the state used up 6% of Arizona’s water in 2019, but that could grow as chipmakers and other manufacturers move in. In March, Intel announced that it will spend $20bn to build two new semiconductor factories in Chandler, Arizona, an expansion of its existing campus there. [TSMC is also looking to build there.]

Last year, the company pledged that by 2030 it will restore and return more freshwater than it uses. It’s nearing that benchmark in Arizona, where Intel says it cleaned up and returned 95% of the freshwater it used in 2020. It has its own water treatment plant at its Ocotillo campus in Chandler that’s similar to a municipal plant. There’s also a “brine reduction facility,” a public-private partnership with the city of Chandler, that brings 2.5 million gallons of Intel’s wastewater a day back to drinking standard. Intel uses some of the treated water again, and the rest is sent to replenish groundwater sources or be used by surrounding communities.

While Intel recycles much of its water, more fabs will mean it will need to send even more water through its systems. The company says that Arizona has been “vital” to Intel’s operations for more than four decades. The state is already home to its first “mega-factory network” and its newest semiconductor fab. Intel used more than 5.2 billion gallons of water in Arizona in 2020 — roughly 20% of which was reclaimed water, according to its most recent corporate responsibility report.


The amount of recycling is definitely impressive, though note the contrast between that 95% “returned” and 20% “reclaimed”. The former will be a lot less pure. I guess the ideal is a quasi-closed system, where you’d constantly distil the outgoing water and return it – but losses are inevitable.
unique link to this extract

Ah, that’s where I left the plug for Social Warming, my new book about how social networks are fuelled by, and amplify, our love of outrage.

Introducing Riverside 2.0: a powerful content creation platform • Riverside


Since our debut in 2020—a year that surely created many stories to share—we’ve had the privilege of providing a platform for people to share their narratives, from media companies like Spotify and Marvel, to the vice president of the U.S., to everyday people like you and me. 

We continue to strive to create the ultimate content creation platform, and as such, we are thrilled to announce some new features!

Ever wished you could find exact quotes from your interviewees without having to listen back to the whole recording? Or how about wanting to conduct an interview with someone who’s on-the-go with questionable wifi?

Well, we’ve heard you (through our HD recording quality of course) and are excited to make your wildest content creation dreams come true!


Essentially a video podcast system, but the transcription part will be interesting to journalists and others. ( I haven’t tried which is an audio transcription service, well regarded by many.) There’s a definite ramp in the number of automatic transcription services – and, in parallel, of text-to-speech services. Give it five years and human transcription just won’t be a thing.
unique link to this extract

Apple defends its anti-child abuse imagery tech after claims of ‘hash collisions’ • Motherboard

Joseph Cox, Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Samantha Cole:


[Following claims of discovery of hash collisions] Apple however told Motherboard in an email that that version analyzed by users on GitHub is a generic version, and not the one final version that will be used for iCloud Photos CSAM detection. Apple said that it also made the algorithm public.

“The NeuralHash algorithm [… is] included as part of the code of the signed operating system [and] security researchers can verify that it behaves as described,” one of Apple’s pieces of documentation reads. Apple also said that after a user passes the 30 match threshold, a second non-public algorithm that runs on Apple’s servers will check the results.

“This independent hash is chosen to reject the unlikely possibility that the match threshold was exceeded due to non-CSAM images that were adversarially perturbed to cause false NeuralHash matches against the on-device encrypted CSAM database,” the documentation reads.

“If collisions exist for this function I expect they’ll exist in the system Apple eventually activates,” Matthew Green, who teaches cryptography at Johns Hopkins University, told Motherboard in an online chat. “Of course it’s possible that they will re-spin the hash function before they deploy. But as a proof of concept this is definitely valid,” he added, referring to the research on GitHub.

Apple’s new system is not just a technical one, though. Humans will also review images once the system marks a device as suspicious after a certain threshold of offending pictures are identified. These people will verify that the images do actually contain CSAM.

“Apple actually designed this system so the hash function doesn’t need to remain secret, as the only thing you can do with ‘non-CSAM that hashes as CSAM’ is annoy Apple’s response team with some garbage images until they implement a filter to eliminate those garbage false positives in their analysis pipeline,” Nicholas Weaver, senior researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at UC Berkeley, told Motherboard in an online chat.


Greene strikes me as always taking the extreme position (he knows that any hashing function will have collisions; the important question is how often), while Weaver offers the pragmatic one. I think I know which world we live in. If the Taliban take control of the US, then we should worry, but by then we’ll have other stuff to worry about first.
unique link to this extract

Apple’s double agent • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


For more than a year, an active member of a community that traded in illicitly obtained internal Apple documents and devices was also acting as an informant for the company. 

On Twitter and in Discord channels for the loosely defined Apple “internal” community that trades leaked information and stolen prototypes, he advertised leaked apps, manuals, and stolen devices for sale. But unbeknownst to other members in the community, he shared with Apple personal information of people who sold stolen iPhone prototypes from China, Apple employees who leaked information online, journalists who had relationships with leakers and sellers, and anything that he thought the company would find interesting and worth investigating.

​​Andrey Shumeyko, also known as YRH04E and JVHResearch online, decided to share his story because he felt that Apple took advantage of him and should have compensated him for providing the company this information. 

“Me coming forward is mostly me finally realizing that that relationship never took into consideration my side and me as a person,” ​​Shumeyko told Motherboard. Shumeyko shared several pieces of evidence to back up his claims, including texts and an email thread between him and an Apple email address for the company’s Global Security team. Motherboard checked that the emails are legitimate by analyzing their headers, which show Shumeyko received a reply from servers owned by Apple, according to online records.

​​Shumeyko said he established a relationship with Apple’s anti-leak team—officially called Global Security—after he alerted them of a potential phishing campaign against some Apple Store employees in 2017. Then, in mid-2020, he tried to help Apple investigate one of its worst leaks in recent memory, and became a “mole,” as he put it. 


The problem with double agents is that they definitely have no loyalties to either side, and so will betray either for (usually financial) advantage. Here his complaint is that Apple didn’t pay him enough. So he’s clearly looking for someone who will – maybe NSO Group or similar who might want to get their hands on early releases? Sure isn’t journalists.
unique link to this extract

OnlyFans has tons of users, but can’t find investors • Axios

Dan Primack:


Any other company with growth like OnlyFans would be able to raise big money in a matter of minutes.

What follows is rounded data from a pitch-deck that was compiled at the end of March. The 2021 figures are based on run-rate through the end of Q1, while 2022 figures are OnlyFans projections:

Gross merchandise value (GMV): 2020: $2.2bn (fc 2021: $5.9bn, 2022: $12.5bn)

Net revenue: 2020: $375m (fc 2021: $1.2bn, 2022: $2.5bn)

Over 50% of OnlyFans revenue in March came from paid subscriptions, while more than 30% came via chats. The rest was a combination of tips/streams and paid posts for free accounts.

Free cash flow: 2020: $150 million (fc 2021: $620m, 2022: $1.2bn)

Total amount paid to creators since inception: $3.2bn. More than 300 creators earn at least $1m annually.
Around 16,000 creators earn at least $50,000 annually.

More than seven million “fans” spend on OnlyFans each month. It has even more users who only consume free content.

In short, OnlyFans has a porn problem, even though it never once mentions porn in its pitch-deck (something that multiple investors called “disingenuous.”).

Some VC funds are prohibited from investing in adult content, per limited partnership agreements. Several investors are concerned about minors creating subscription accounts, although the company says it has controls in place to prevent that.


With free cash flow like that, one could wonder why it needs venture capital investment. A British success story, except nobody quite wants to admit it.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1618: social media tries to tackle the Taliban, NVidia’s CEO deepfakes himself, the dishonest paper on dishonesty, and more

Lunchtime on the Masaai Mara is a lot quieter with solar-powered electric vehicles – a neat adaptation.CC-licensed photo by Ray in Manila 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. Syntactical. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are dealing with Taliban takeover • CNN

Diksha Madhok, CNN Business:


On Tuesday, Facebook (FB) reiterated its ban on accounts praising, supporting, or representing the Taliban from its platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram, and said that it would remove “accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban.”

“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies,” a company spokesperson said.

…other big social media platforms were less clear about their strategy to deal with content supporting the Taliban.

A Twitter spokesperson said that people in Afghanistan are using the platform to seek help, and the company promised to “remain vigilant” in enforcing its policies, including those that ban content that glorifies violence.

One of the Taliban’s spokesmen, Suhail Shaheen, has an active, unverified account on Twitter with 347,000 followers.

YouTube said Tuesday it will “terminate” accounts run by the Afghan Taliban, clarifying its earlier remarks that suggested the group is not banned from the video platform.

Following repeated questions by CNN, YouTube said in a statement that the company “complies with all applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws, including relevant U.S. sanctions. As such, if we find an account believed to be owned and operated by the Afghan Taliban, we terminate it. Further, our policies prohibit content that incites violence.”

YouTube told CNN that because the Afghan Taliban appears on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list, the platform will not allow accounts controlled by the group.


Hilariously, Parler – billing itself as “the nation’s premier free-speech social media platform” – demanded that Twitter ban the Taliban on the basis that it’s “uninterested in the free exchange of ideas”. Although there is a lot to ponder in the tweet by CNN correspondent Donie O’Sullivan: “The former President of the United States is banned from Twitter but the Taliban is not.” (To which a number of people replied: “the Taliban haven’t broken Twitter’s terms of service yet.”)
unique link to this extract

Facebook reveals top posts but still won’t share key data about disinformation • Ars Technica

Tim de Chant:


Facebook released its first report today detailing which content it says is widely viewed on the site and Instagram. The report comes as research and news stories have highlighted how misleading posts and outright disinformation can draw intense engagement on the company’s platforms.

Much of the scrutiny has focused on far-right accounts, which according to Facebook’s own tool, CrowdTangle, receive the most engagement—likes, shares, and comments. For example, Kevin Roose, a reporter at The New York Times, uses CrowdTangle to tweet out a list of the “10 top-performing link posts by US Facebook pages every day, ranked by total interactions.” What his experiment has revealed is that, day after day, far-right accounts and pages from the likes of Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, and Newsmax appeared on the list, sometimes occupying multiple spots. Critics have pointed to the list as evidence that the platform has become a right-wing media machine.

The Twitter account, Roose said, “drove executives crazy” at Facebook. They felt it was making Facebook look like it favored right-wing accounts. All of that brings us to today.

Facebook released the first of what will be a quarterly “Widely Viewed Content Report”. The report will appear alongside its Community Standards Enforcement Report, an existing release which includes data on hate speech and child endangerment. The newest report is Facebook’s attempt to provide more “transparency and context,” said Anna Stepanov, the company’s director of product management.


The top 20 viewed content links for the quarter are not at all right wing, and make an odd comparator with the top 10 engagement posts. One feels that something’s just not right about this. Interactions are surely where the real action (haha) is, and even if it’s a tiny fraction of total views in the country/continent/globe/galaxy, it still matters for how it drives American thinking, or just maintains it. “Widely viewed” content might leak across borders, but that’s not quite the same thing. (Roose thinks it’s odd too, unique link to this extract

A CGI replica of Nvidia’s CEO delivered his keynote and no one knew • Input Mag

Tom Maxwell:


Most people hate giving presentations, but thankfully someday you might be able to give one without actually delivering it yourself at all. Nvidia, the maker of popular graphics cards, revealed yesterday that parts of a keynote speech made by its CEO were actually computer-generated animation — an entire virtual replica of Jensen Huang and his kitchen in the background.

The speech happened in April, and only about 14 seconds of the nearly two-hour presentation were animated. But part of the presentation showed Huang magically disappear and his kitchen explode, which made viewers wonder what exactly was real or rendered. It’s hard to actually identify the fake portion, however, which is the most impressive part.

Granted, creating the rendered version of Huang involved a lot of work. Using a truck full of DSLR cameras, a full face and body scan was captured to create a 3D model, and then artificial intelligence was trained to mimic his gestures and expressions. Nvidia says it also applied some other “AI magic” to make his clone look realistic. Even still, it’s quite an impressive feat that one can watch the presentation and still not be sure what parts of actual, recorded video, and which are fake.


Impressive, though they must have known just how good it would look. It’s not a risk if you can prepare sufficiently.
unique link to this extract

Yes, yes, it’s the plug for
Social Warming, my latest book. Social media, outrage, amplification, and how they interact and make us behave worse and worse.

Leaps, bounds, and backflips • Boston Dynamics

Calvin Hennick on the latest video showing two humanoid Boston Dynamics robots doing kinda-sorta parkour:


Simulation is an essential development tool for the Atlas controls team, both for evaluating new behaviors prior to robot testing and for ensuring that new software changes don’t negatively impact existing capabilities. But there’s still no replacement for hardware testing, particularly in performance-limiting motions like vaulting.

About that vault: unlike high-flipping gymnastics vaults, a parkour vault is a slightly less flashy method designed to get a runner over a low wall or obstacle – in this case the balance beam, only a few feet high. Atlas places its arm on the beam and then hoists its body over the structure. For many humans, this sort of vault would be relatively easy (especially in comparison to a backflip), but for the Atlas team, it represented a formidable new challenge.

“If you or I were to vault over a barrier, we would take advantage of certain properties of our bodies that would not translate to the robot,” Kuindersma notes. “For example, the robot has no spine or shoulder blades, so it doesn’t have the same range of motion that you or I do. The robot also has a heavy torso and comparatively weak arm joints. Extending our tools to help us find solutions that worked within these constraints was what made the vault an interesting challenge.”


During filming, Atlas gets the vault right about half of the time. (A natural consequence of pushing robots to their limit is that, sometimes, those limits are met.) On the other runs, Atlas makes it over the barrier, but loses its balance and falls backward, and the engineers look to the logs to see if they can find opportunities for on-the-fly adjustments.

“There are a lot of pretty exciting behaviors here, and some of them are not totally reliable yet,” says Ben Stephens, the Atlas controls lead. “Every behavior here has a small chance of failure. It’s almost 90 seconds of continuous jumping, jogging, turning, vaulting, and flipping, so those probabilities add up.”

Stephens adds that this is the first time Boston Dynamics has filmed two robots performing parkour together. “We had never actually done the two robots together until two weeks ago,” he says on the day the routine is being filmed. “We’re in a place now where it should work. We think we’ve caught all of the major failures, and now it’s just down to those small probabilities.”


Doesn’t quite inspire the feeling that these are really autonomous robots, though.
unique link to this extract

DDoSecrets is the new WikiLeaks • The New Republic

Jacob Silverman:


Whereas WikiLeaks cultivated an anti-imperialist mystique centered on the cultish figure of Assange, DDoSecrets professes something more modest: an unvarnished commitment to providing information useful to journalists and concerned citizens. As the DDoSecrets website puts it, data must fulfill two criteria: “Is it in the public interest?” and “Can a prima facie case be made for the veracity of its contents?” If it passes that test—and the group, which now has approximately 10 members along with an advisory board and volunteer contributors, decides collectively that they can protect their sources—then they publish the archive, sometimes as an easily downloadable torrent, other times through its slightly more difficult to reach onion site, which requires using the Tor browser. While many archives are published for a wide audience, others are withheld and only offered to journalists upon request; and in some cases, the organization will write about data it receives without publishing its contents.

At its best, the work of DDoSecrets reveals the limits of official transparency, of authorized government leaks and incrementalist beat reporting and FOIA requests that yield pages of useless redactions. Nowhere is this more visible than with BlueLeaks. “Reading the unredacted, hacked documents gives a very different picture than the selections you get from an open records officer,” said Brendan McQuade, author of Pacifying the Homeland, a book about the modern surveillance state. Based on BlueLeaks information [269GB of data about US police lawbreaking and surveillance overreach], he wrote articles that exposed police malfeasance and brought attention to a federal whistleblower suit against the Maine Information and Analysis Center, or MIAC. Maine’s state house later voted to close the site (although the bill never cleared the Senate). To McQuade, and to the members of DDoSecrets, hacked data provides what official channels cannot: truth and the potential for accountability.


Twitter bans DDoSecrets, and you can’t post a URL to it on there without it being removed, because it uses hacked material. (How does that not apply to Wikileaks, exactly?) Lucky for the Taliban they didn’t take over Afghanistan by hacking anything, I guess.
unique link to this extract

Galaxy Watch 4 review: welcome to Samsung’s garden • The Verge

Dieter Bohn reviews the offspring of Google and Samsung’s semi-forced Wear OS marriage:


I really enjoyed using the Galaxy Watch 4. It has been a genuine pleasure to have a competent and capable smartwatch paired to my Android phone — one that doesn’t have any show-stopping problems.

But the reason I had that nice experience was because I was using the Galaxy Watch 4 with a Samsung phone. If you’re a Samsung user, the Galaxy Watch 4 is an excellent smartwatch. If you’re not, the Galaxy Watch 4 all but forces you into Samsung’s ecosystem. Samsung’s ecosystem is better than it often gets credit for, but it’s limiting. Just as the Apple Watch keeps people on the iPhone, Samsung’s watch will keep people on Samsung phones (or at least get them to install Samsung software and use Samsung services on their Android phones).

If you’d like to use a Wear OS 3 smartwatch that isn’t tied to Samsung, I wish I knew what to tell you. There are no Wear OS 3 smartwatches from other manufacturers on the horizon. After so many years of waiting for a good smartwatch for Android users, it’s finally here — but only for some of us.


Smartwatches are yet another illustration of how the modular approach (different companies making the chips, hardware, software, OS) is not always the path to dominance in technology. (See also: MP3 players, tablets.)
unique link to this extract

Eco-friendly vehicles offer quieter, cleaner safaris in Kenyan reserve • Reuters

Monicah Mwangi:


In Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Toyota 4×4 Landcruiser of tour guide and driver Sylvester Mukenye glides silently past a herd of grazing elephants, then past a pride of lions lying in the grass.

The animals are completely unperturbed by the proximity of the vehicle because its diesel engine has been replaced by an electric one that eliminates the rumbling noise and, just as importantly, reduces the emission of diesel fumes.

“If you drive here silently, you will of course get much closer to animals, especially the elephants that we are next to right now, because there are no vibrations on the ground and there are no fumes that they get the smell from like in other cars,” Mukenye said.

His vehicle was converted by Opibus, a Nairobi-based Kenyan-Swedish company founded in 2017. It is, for now, the only company in Kenya that converts off-road safari vehicles from diesel and petrol to electric power.

Off-road vehicles are a common sight in Maasai Mara, world-famous for the annual wildebeest migration but these are the first in the usually carbon-heavy business of safari tours to be entirely powered by electric batteries.

Wanjiru Kamau, an electrical engineer at Opibus, said the company had so far converted 10 vehicles used in Kenyan game parks, including three in the Maasai Mara. As well as being more environmentally friendly than diesel engines, the electric motors cut operating costs by half, she added.

“In Kenya our fuel prices are always rising… Why not save on that?” she told Reuters at the Opibus workshop, where assembled vehicles were in various stages of electrification.


And of course you’d use solar power in Kenya. The accompanying video is a great watch as well.
unique link to this extract

Evidence of fraud in an influential field experiment about dishonesty • Data Colada

An anonymous group of three researchers – “Uri, Joe and Leif”:


In 2012, Shu, Mazar, Gino, Ariely, and Bazerman published a three-study paper in PNAS reporting that dishonesty can be reduced by asking people to sign a statement of honest intent before providing information (i.e., at the top of a document) rather than after providing information (i.e., at the bottom of a document). In 2020, Kristal, Whillans, and the five original authors published a follow-up in PNAS entitled, “Signing at the beginning versus at the end does not decrease dishonesty”.  They reported six studies that failed to replicate the two original lab studies, including one attempt at a direct replication and five attempts at conceptual replications.

Our focus here is on Study 3 in the 2012 paper, a field experiment (N = 13,488) conducted by an auto insurance company in the southeastern United States under the supervision of the fourth author. Customers were asked to report the current odometer reading of up to four cars covered by their policy. They were randomly assigned to sign a statement indicating, “I promise that the information I am providing is true” either at the top or bottom of the form. Customers assigned to the ‘sign-at-the-top’ condition reported driving 2,400 more miles (10.3%) than those assigned to the ‘sign-at-the-bottom’ condition.

The authors of the 2020 paper did not attempt to replicate that field experiment, but they did discover an anomaly in the data: a large difference in baseline odometer readings across conditions, even though those readings were collected long before – many months if not years before – participants were assigned to condition. The condition difference before random assignment (~15,000 miles) was much larger than the analyzed difference after random assignment (~2,400 miles):

In trying to understand this, the authors of the 2020 paper speculated that perhaps “the randomization failed (or may have even failed to occur as instructed) in that study” (p. 7104).

On its own, that is an interesting and important observation. But our story really starts from here, thanks to the authors of the 2020 paper, who posted the data of their replication attempts and the data from the original 2012 paper (.htm). A team of anonymous researchers downloaded it, and discovered that this field experiment suffers from a much bigger problem than a randomization failure: there is very strong evidence that the data were fabricated.


Paper about dishonesty may be dishonest. No wonder it couldn’t be replicated.
unique link to this extract

[P] AppleNeuralHash2ONNX: Reverse-Engineered Apple NeuralHash, in ONNX and Python • Reddit MachineLearning

Asuhariet Ygvar:


As you may already know Apple is going to implement NeuralHash algorithm for on-device CSAM detection soon. Believe it or not, this algorithm already exists as early as iOS 14.3, hidden under obfuscated class names. After some digging and reverse engineering on the hidden APIs I managed to export its model (which is MobileNetV3) to ONNX and rebuild the whole NeuralHash algorithm in Python. You can now try NeuralHash even on Linux!

Source code:

No pre-exported model file will be provided here for obvious reasons. But it’s very easy to export one yourself following the guide I included with the repo above. You don’t even need any Apple devices to do it.

Early tests show that it can tolerate image resizing and compression, but not cropping or rotations.
Hope this will help us understand NeuralHash algorithm better and know its potential issues before it’s enabled on all iOS devices.


To be clear, this is the system that detects CSAM in your photo library before upload. The writer does explain why s/he is confident the system as recreated is what’s there. Apparently there are 200 “layers” of neural network in the hashing system, though I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little (I suspect “a lot”).

The discovery opens up lots of possibilities, such as (one person suggested) training a generative adversarial network (GAN) to create images that trip it yet aren’t CSAM. (One collision of two non-CSAM photos has already been found.) But of course Apple will just check them manually, and if there are too many innocent collisions it will raise the threshold above 30 photos.
unique link to this extract

Brazilian stripe adventure • Dave Birch’s blog

Dave Birch on Mastercard’s announcement that it will stop issuing cards with magnetic stripes from 2024:


A few years ago, and already a few years after I had been enjoying the fact that Kazakhstan was migrating to chip and pin when Kansas wasn’t, I had to go to São Paulo for a few days to work with some of the Brazilian banks. I can’t remember why, exactly ,but I think it was something to do with mobile payments. Anyway, when it came time for me to leave I found a taxi and set off for the airport.

While pottering along the freeway I remembered that I didn’t have any cash with me, because I never do, and so I wanted to know if the taxi could take payment by card. I took out my wallet and gestured at a credit card and looked quizzically at the driver. The driver signalled and turned off of the freeway onto some side roads. After a few minutes of driving through a retail area, which is mainly shoe shops as I recall, we turned off again onto some smaller roads and went into a distinctly shady part of town.

At this point I began to panic slightly.

Cursing my stupidity for waving around a wallet full of cards and naturally assuming that I was about to be robbed, I began to calmly assemble my tactics. I figured that so long as I could retain my passport then things would be okay. After all, credit cards could be replaced by the banks (as indeed they often were at though at that time) and the computer belonged to the company not me, so whatever. I surreptitiously removed my passport from my jacket pocket and hoping that the driver would not notice, slid it down my leg and into one of my socks where I hoped it would remain throughout my impending ordeal.

The car pulled up at a shack that looked for all the world like a bandit headquarters from Mad Max and the driver shouted something to the unseen denizens. I thought for a moment about trying to make a run for it but realised I wouldn’t really get very far and would likely only inflame the situation, so I stayed put to await the inevitable. Sure enough, a young man dressed in jeans and some sort of football shirt came out from behind the shack and jogged towards the car with something metallic in his hand.

He reached the car and pulled open the door and thrust toward me, glinting in the sunlight… a chip and pin terminal.

I put the card in, punched in my pin, waited for my receipt and continued to the airport.


Americans have no idea how backward their financial systems are. He also had this post from 2014 asking why his cards have mag strips at all.
unique link to this extract

How extreme weather is hitting airlines • Financial Times

Claire Bushey and Philip Georgiadis:


This month, storms forced the cancellation of more than 300 flights at both Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Dallas/Fort Worth airport in Texas. In July, eight flights in Denver were cancelled and another 300 delayed due to smoke from forest fires burning in the US Pacific Northwest. Extreme heat affected take-offs in Las Vegas and Colorado earlier this summer.

The disruptions are in line with a trend: weather-related flight cancellations and delays have increased over the past two decades in the US and Europe, regulatory data shows. While it is difficult to link any individual storm or heatwave to climate change, scientific studies have found they will become more frequent or intense as Earth grows warmer.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN standard-setting body, found in a 2019 poll of member states that three-quarters of respondents said the airline industry already was experiencing some impact from climate change.

“It is something that is absolutely on our minds, as far as how we’re going to be able to continue to run the flight schedule, especially with the growth that we have planned for the future,” said David Kensick, managing director of global operations at United Airlines. “With climate change, we are seeing some of that weather that’s hard to predict, so we need to be better at dealing with it.”

Airlines contribute about 2% of global carbon-dioxide emissions globally, though counting other substances spewed from aircraft, some studies indicate their climate impact is bigger.

The potential impacts of climate change on the industry are far-reaching. In the short term, intense weather conditions present an operational headache. Forced flight diversions and cancellations add costs to an industry that haemorrhaged billions of dollars during the pandemic.

In the longer term, airlines believe changing wind patterns will alter flight routes and fuel consumption. It will probably take longer to fly from Europe to the US as the jet stream above the north Atlantic changes, for example.

“Aviation will be a victim of climate change as well as, in many people’s eyes, a villain,” said Paul Williams, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading in the UK.


Once again, the thing of not seeing the problem if your salary depends on not seeing it.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1617: have we hit ‘peak car’?, biometric threat to Afghans, shipping prices rocket, Twitter’s culture shock, and more

The inventor of the sudoku has died, leaving a legacy of satisfied commuters and logicians. CC-licensed photo by Pedro Vera 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We have hit “peak car” • Big Think

Tom Standage, arguing that we have hit “peak car”:


Peak-car theorists attribute it to several overlapping factors. Most people now live in cities, most vehicle miles are driven in cities rather than rural areas, and the decline in driving is chiefly a decline in urban driving. The cost and hassle of car ownership has increased as traffic congestion has increased and cities have introduced congestion charging zones and pedestrianized parts of city centers and made parking scarcer and more expensive. For many urbanites, but particularly the young, cars are no longer regarded as essential, as smartphones let them shop and socialize online. The steady shift toward e-commerce also means cars are needed for fewer shopping trips. And when a car is needed, for a weekend away or to help a friend move house, car-sharing and rental services are readily accessible.

In recent years restrictions on car use in cities have become more severe, with the closure of some roads, or some areas, to private cars altogether. This has even been the case in car-loving America, as shown by the closures to private cars of Market Street in San Francisco and Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, to make more room for public transport. Some cities have announced that they will ban nonelectric cars altogether in the 2030s or 2040s, to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. Such moves are sometimes decried as a “war on the car.”

But even many motorists now support them: a survey of ten thousand people carried out in 2017 in ten European capital cities, for example, found that 63% of residents owned a car, but 84% said they would like to see fewer cars on the roads in their city. And just as car ownership has become less convenient, alternatives to car use — ride-hailing, bike-sharing, and other mobility services — have proliferated. Travel-planning apps also make public transport a more attractive option, by showing when buses, trains, or trams will arrive, and how to combine them to complete a journey. But the arrival of those alternatives seems merely to have accelerated what was, in Western countries at least, an existing trend that had been going on for some years.

The coronavirus pandemic seems likely, on balance, to accelerate it further. Fear of contagion has discouraged use of public transport and prompted some people to commute by car instead. But this seems unlikely to herald a global boom in car sales.


Opposition to cars partly comes from the congestion but also the pollution. Ironic if it’s the tangible effect on the atmosphere at ground level that help lead to change that the rest of the atmosphere needs.
unique link to this extract

Afghans scramble to delete digital history, evade biometrics • News Trust

Rina Chandran:


Thousands of Afghans struggling to ensure the physical safety of their families after the Taliban took control of the country have an additional worry: that biometric databases and their own digital history can be used to track and target them.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of “chilling” curbs on human rights and violations against women and girls, and Amnesty International on Monday said thousands of Afghans – including academics, journalists and activists – were “at serious risk of Taliban reprisals”.

After years of a push to digitise databases in the country, and introduce digital identity cards and biometrics for voting, activists warn these technologies can be used to target and attack vulnerable groups.

“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan,” the Human Rights First group wrote on Twitter on Monday. “This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology,” the group added.

The US-based advocacy group quickly published a Farsi-language version of its guide on how to delete digital history – that it had produced last year for activists in Hong Kong – and also put together a manual on how to evade biometrics.

Tips to bypass facial recognition include looking down, wearing things to obscure facial features, or applying many layers of makeup, the guide said, although fingerprint and iris scans were difficult to bypass.


Why governments shouldn’t store biometrics. A lesson that we have to learn again and again.
unique link to this extract

WhatsApp shuts down Taliban helpline in Kabul • Financial Times

Madhumita Murgia:


WhatsApp has shut down a complaints helpline set up by the Taliban when it took control of Kabul, after the messaging app came under pressure to block the group from using its services.

The complaints number was supposed to act as an emergency hotline for civilians to report violence, looting or other problems. The Taliban advertised the helpline on Sunday when it captured the city, and has used similar WhatsApp hotlines in the past, for example when it took over the city of Kunduz in 2016.

After taking Kabul, the Taliban pledged to create a stable government and not to harm the “life, property and honour” of citizens.

Facebook, the owner of WhatsApp, said it had blocked the number on Tuesday, along with other “official Taliban channels”, and added that it was actively scanning group names, descriptions and profile pictures on the messaging app to try to prevent the Taliban from using it. It added that its team of native Dari and Pashto speakers were “helping to identify and alert us to emerging issues on the platform”.

Critics in the US have attacked WhatsApp, along with other social media platforms, for not taking more action to shut down Taliban communications.

But experts in the region said that shutting down the WhatsApp numbers was “absurd” and “unhelpful” at a time when the military group was in effect governing the country, and citizens in Kabul were facing looting, panic and chaos. 


That’s certainly a poser for Facebook. If the Taliban is proscribed in the US, can it use WhatsApp officially? (No, Facebook thinks.)
unique link to this extract

Shipping bottlenecks set to prolong supply chain turmoil • Financial Times

Harry Dempsey, Chris Giles and Primrose Riordan :


The closure of a terminal at the world’s third-busiest container port is only the latest sign that turmoil in ocean shipping could run into next year, posing a threat to global economic growth as chronic delays and soaring transport costs may leave demand unmet and push up consumer prices.

A coronavirus outbreak led to a partial shutdown at Ningbo-Zhoushan port last week and the resulting suspension of inbound and outbound container ships reduced the port’s capacity by a fifth. It follows another Chinese outbreak in May, which led to a three-week long closure of the Yantian terminal in Shenzhen and created knock-on effects in international shipping.

A relentless surge in shipping prices and persistent bottlenecks at ports around the world have added to the barrage of problems affecting supply chains. These include the semiconductor crunch and the rising price of raw materials, to truck driver shortages as retailers stock up ahead of the peak shopping season.

Importers and exporters are fighting to recoup costs caused by a rise in shipping costs, which have soared to about $15,800 to move a 40-foot container from China to the US west coast — a tenfold jump on pre-pandemic levels and up by half on last month, according to data provider Freightos.


This, probably more than the Taliban, is what’s going to really affect us in the coming year.
unique link to this extract

Culture change and conflict at Twitter • SF Gate

Kate Conger:


Soon after joining Twitter in 2019, Dantley Davis gathered his staff in a conference room at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. Twitter was too nice, he told the group, and he was there to change it.

Davis, the company’s new vice president of design, asked employees to go around the room, complimenting and critiquing one another. Tough criticism would help Twitter improve, he said. The barbs soon flew. Several attendees cried during the two-hour meeting, said three people who were there.

Davis, 43, has played a key role in a behind-the-scenes effort over the past two years to remake Twitter’s culture. The company had long been slow to build products, and under pressure from investors and users, executives landed on a diagnosis: Twitter’s collaborative environment had calcified, making workers reluctant to criticize one another. Davis, the company believed, was one of the answers to that problem.

The turmoil that followed revealed the trade-offs and conflicts that arise when companies attempt dramatic cultural shifts and put the onus on hard-nosed managers to make that change happen.

Davis repeatedly clashed with employees because of his blunt style. His treatment of workers was also the subject of several investigations by Twitter’s employee relations department, and of complaints to Jack Dorsey, the CEO, that too many people were leaving.

Company officials acknowledge that Davis may have gone too far at times, and he has promised to tone down the way he criticizes people. But they make no apologies and have even given him a more senior job title. Employee dissatisfaction, they said, is sometimes the cost of shaking things up.

“This is actually a Twitter culture change that we’ve been trying to drive,” said Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s head of human resources.


Since you’re wondering, Dantley has black and Korean heritage. Sounds like it has been quite the bracing experience at Twitter. Makes it sound more like the average newspaper office now.
unique link to this extract

Why is it so hard to be rational? • The New Yorker

Joshua Rothman met his friend Greg, the most rational person he’d ever known, at college:


When I was looking to buy a house, Greg walked me through the trade-offs of renting and owning (just rent); when I was contemplating switching careers, he stress-tested my scenarios (I switched). As an emotional and impulsive person by nature, I found myself working hard at rationality. Even Greg admitted that it was difficult work: he had to constantly inspect his thought processes for faults, like a science-fictional computer that had just become sentient.

Often, I asked myself, How would Greg think? I adopted his habit of tracking what I knew and how well I knew it, so that I could separate my well-founded opinions from my provisional views. Bad investors, Greg told me, often had flat, loosely drawn maps of their own knowledge, but good ones were careful cartographers, distinguishing between settled, surveyed, and unexplored territories. Through all this, our lives unfolded. Around the time I left my grad program to try out journalism, Greg swooned over his girlfriend’s rational mind, married her, and became a director at a hedge fund. His net worth is now several thousand times my own.

Meanwhile, half of Americans won’t get vaccinated; many believe in conspiracy theories or pseudoscience. It’s not that we don’t think—we are constantly reading, opining, debating—but that we seem to do it on the run, while squinting at trolls in our phones. This summer, on my phone, I read a blog post by the economist Arnold Kling, who noted that an unusually large number of books about rationality were being published this year, among them Steven Pinker’s “Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters” (Viking) and Julia Galef’s “The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t” (Portfolio). It makes sense, Kling suggested, for rationality to be having a breakout moment.


It really does, though it would be nice if it were even more widespread.
unique link to this extract

Alligator handler recovering after attack, daring rescue • Associated Press

Sophia Eppolito:


A Utah reptile center employee is recovering after an alligator yanked her into its enclosure during a presentation, thrashing her around before a fast-acting visitor leapt inside and helped free her from its jaws.

Video taken by a guest shows an unidentified handler at Scales & Tails Utah, in suburban Salt Lake City, talking to some adults and children about the alligator Saturday when it bit her hand and dragged her into the water.

Shane Richins, the company’s owner, said in an interview Monday that the handler was opening the enclosure to feed the alligator as usual, but this time the reptile “got a little extra spunky.”

He said the center normally has a strict policy for a second handler to be nearby when employees are working with the alligators. But that hasn’t been enforced in recent years if the worker isn’t planning to enter the enclosure, he said.


The video is quite the watch: the alligator is a bit nonplussed at first but then the visitor discovers he has a tiger by the tail, so to speak.
unique link to this extract

Sudoku creator Maki Kaji dies aged 69 in Japan • ITV News


Sudoku creator Maki Kaji has died aged 69 at his home in Japan.

Mr Kaji, who had been suffering from bile duct cancer, died on 10 August near Tokyo.

Known as the Godfather of Sudoku, Mr Kaji created the puzzle to be easy for children and for those who did not want to think too hard.

The puzzle became a huge hit in the UK after a fan from New Zealand pitched it and got it published in The Times in 2004.

It soon became a national obsession and a popular pastime on commutes.

The term ‘Sudoku’ is made up of the Japanese characters for “number” and “single”.


Died aged 69, going to be buried on 23/8 at 14:57.
unique link to this extract

T-Mobile confirms it was hacked • Vice

Joseph Cox:


The seller told Motherboard that 100 million people had their data compromised in the breach. In the forum post, they were offering data on 30 million people for 6 bitcoin, or around $270,000.

They told Motherboard at the time that T-Mobile had seemingly kicked them out of the company’s networks. T-Mobile’s announcement corroborates that somewhat, saying, “We are confident that the entry point used to gain access has been closed, and we are continuing our deep technical review of the situation across our systems to identify the nature of any data that was illegally accessed.”

Motherboard has seen samples of the data, and confirmed they contained accurate information on T-Mobile customers. The data includes social security numbers, phone numbers, names, physical addresses, unique IMEI numbers, and driver license information, the seller said.

“We have been working around the clock to investigate claims being made that T-Mobile data may have been illegally accessed. We take the protection of our customers very seriously and we are conducting an extensive analysis alongside digital forensic experts to understand the validity of these claims, and we are coordinating with law enforcement,” T-Mobile’s announcement added.


Every database gets hacked eventually. Enough people trying, in time they’ll find a hole. It’s like the infinite monkeys, but they only have to get one word right.
unique link to this extract

‘Bad News’: selling the story of disinformation • Harper’s Magazine

Joseph Bernstein:


When dezinformatsiya appeared as an entry in the 1952 Great Soviet Encyclopedia, its meaning was ruthlessly ideological: “Dissemination (in the press, on the radio, etc.) of false reports intended to mislead public opinion. The capitalist press and radio make wide use of dezinformatsiya.” Today, journalists, academics, and politicians still frame the disinformation issue in martial language, as a “war on truth” or “weaponized lies.” In the new context, however, bad information is a weapon wielded in an occasionally violent domestic political conflict rather than a cold war between superpowers.

Because the standards of the new field of study are so murky, the popular understanding of the persuasive effects of bad information has become overly dependent on anecdata about “rabbit holes” that privilege the role of novel technology over social, cultural, economic, and political context. (There are echoes of Cold War brainwashing fears here.) These stories of persuasion are, like the story of online advertising, plagued by the difficulty of disentangling correlation from causation. Is social media creating new types of people, or simply revealing long-obscured types of people to a segment of the public unaccustomed to seeing them? The latter possibility has embarrassing implications for the media and academia alike.

An even more vexing issue for the disinformation field, though, is the supposedly objective stance media researchers and journalists take toward the information ecosystem to which they themselves belong. Somewhat amazingly, this attempt has taken place alongside an agonizing and overdue questioning within the media of the harm done by unexamined professional standards of objectivity.

Like journalism, scholarship, and all other forms of knowledge creation, disinformation research reflects the culture, aspirations, and assumptions of its creators. A quick scan of the institutions that publish most frequently and influentially about disinformation: Harvard University, the New York Times, Stanford University, MIT, NBC, the Atlantic Council, the Council on Foreign Relations, etc. That the most prestigious liberal institutions of the pre-digital age are the most invested in fighting disinformation reveals a lot about what they stand to lose, or hope to regain.


He seems to be saying that people who worry about disinformation are fooling themselves and just want the old certitudes back. I’m not sure it’s that simple.
unique link to this extract

Technology may be wreaking havoc on our morality • Vox

Sigal Samuel:


It was on the day I read a Facebook post by my sick friend that I started to really question my relationship with technology.

An old friend had posted a status update saying he needed to rush to the hospital because he was having a health crisis. I half-choked on my tea and stared at my laptop. I recognized the post as a plea for support. I felt fear for him, and then … I did nothing about it, because I saw in another tab that I’d just gotten a new email and went to check that instead.

After a few minutes scrolling my Gmail, I realized something was messed up. The new email was obviously not as urgent as the sick friend, and yet I’d acted as if they had equal claims on my attention. What was wrong with me? Was I a terrible person? I dashed off a message to my friend, but continued to feel disturbed.

Gradually, though, I came to think this was less an indication that I was an immoral individual and more a reflection of a bigger societal problem. I began to notice that digital technology often seems to make it harder for us to respond in the right way when someone is suffering and needs our help.

Think of all the times a friend has called you to talk through something sad or stressful, and you could barely stop your twitchy fingers from checking your email or scrolling through Instagram as they talked. Think of all the times you’ve seen an article in your Facebook News Feed about anguished people desperate for help — starving children in Yemen, dying Covid-19 patients in India — only to get distracted by a funny meme that appears right above it.


One of the people I quoted in passing in Social Warming pointed this out: social networks make no distinction between the most and the least important. The world is flat – unlike, say, a newspaper where you get bigger and smaller stories.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Yes, saved it for later: the plug for
Social Warming, my newest book.