Start Up No.1630: Apple delays CSAM rollout, the flaws in the collapsed Florida condo, Banksy was warned of NFT hack, and more

Polluters in the US have been able to count on a six-day cycle when their emissions won’t be monitored – because the regulators tell them when they’ll be off. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Zero primes this week. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple delays CSAM scanning rollout • The Washington Post

Reed Albergotti:


While catching people who traffic images of exploited children is a noble cause, the idea of giving Apple customers no choice but to have software on their phones that would look for illegal activity was a step too far for many privacy advocates and security experts.

“It’s encouraging that the backlash has forced Apple to delay this reckless and dangerous surveillance plan, but the reality is that there is no safe way to do what they are proposing,” said Evan Greer, director of Internet advocacy group Fight for the Future, in a statement. “Apple’s current proposal will make vulnerable children less safe, not more safe. They should shelve it permanently,” she wrote.

John Tanagho, executive director of the International Justice Mission’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, disagreed with Apple’s decision to delay the software rollout.
“Apple’s changes are a positive step forward and must not be delayed,” he wrote in a statement. “The world should not elevate the hypothetical and unlikely corruption of child safety solutions over the known and rampant misuse of existing technology to harm children.” [Emphasis in original – CA]

Apple has similarly stepped back or delayed on other privacy changes following an outcry. For instance, after a backlash from the advertising industry, Apple delayed changes to the rollout of its new software that forces app developers to ask users if they want to be tracked. It also delayed and ultimately changed rules that would have prohibited kids apps from using analytics software after the owners of many kids apps said the move would put them out of business.


Notably only the Washington Post and The Guardian had quotes from organisations which thought Apple should press ahead. And the WaPo made the good point about the long delay before the ad-tracking introduction. It’s been quite the mess for Apple PR – though the number of people who don’t understand the principles has been amazing.

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Why the industry should heed China’s crackdown on video game players • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


I know some western parents found themselves looking at the new [Chinese] rules wistfully. Imposing limits on surly children is hard and being able to – truthfully – tell a kid to stop playing video games on a weekday night because it’s against the law can sometimes feel like it would be a parenting superpower versus simply cajoling, pleading or threatening.

Ultimately, the Chinese state and British parents are tackling the same beast: a gaming industry that has, over the past 40 years, honed its product to such fine ends that it is sometimes plausible to talk about the output using the language of addiction and compulsion. I’m a huge gaming fan, but even I get uncomfortable when I look at the business models – and revenue – of some of the industry’s largest players.

From collectible card game Hearthstone to Zelda-esque hit Genshin Impact, a Chinese-made blockbuster on both sides of the Great Firewall, it’s all too common for games to be free to play, attracting huge audiences, and then funded by what is effectively a casino. Even games without that fundamentally exploitative underpinning can be all too manipulative. Daily and weekly use-it-or-lose-it quests, login rewards for continuous streaks of play, season passes that ask a player to grind out enough playtime over a couple of months to unlock everything: all are habit-forming practices that are explicitly designed to override a player’s sense of what a normal amount of play actually is.


It’s always an open question when we’ll get a generation in charge who grew up with videogames and who will thus treat them appropriately. David Cameron, after all, loved playing stupid iPad games. But he didn’t understand the role they played in people’s lives. Possibly nobody who really gets into politics does because their respective time demands make them mutually exclusive. Result, mutual lack of understanding.
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Miami’s Surfside condo was flawed and failing. here’s a look inside • The New York Times

Anjali Singhvi, Mike Baker, Weiyi Cai, Mika Gröndahl and Karthik Patanjali:


The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo left 98 people dead and triggered investigations that could last years. Such a catastrophic failure would almost certainly have many contributing factors, engineers said.

The New York Times created a 3-D model of the tower based on the original design drawings. That model, combined with a review of documents and interviews with structural experts, reveals how design errors, last-minute changes, dubious construction practices and years of worsening deterioration could have all contributed to the collapse.


This is one of the NYT’s amazing graphic depictions of what happened in the collapse of the condo. A lot seems to rest on one particular pile in the car park – but equally, if it hadn’t been that one, it would have been another, in time. The other question is : how many more.
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PM’s former aide blames Whitehall for Covid ‘mixed messages’ • The Guardian

Heather Stewart:


Boris Johnson’s former director of communications has blamed a lack of expertise in Whitehall for the government’s struggle to get its message across in the early days of the Covid crisis.

Lee Cain was a key adviser to Johnson, who boasted about shaking hands on a hospital visit, claimed the government could “turn the tide” within 12 weeks, and said it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas, days before ordering millions of people to spend the festive season at home.

But in a paper for the Institute for Government (IfG), the former Vote Leave staffer pointed to shortcomings in the government machine that he said led to “mixed messages”. He called for an overhaul, including a drastic reduction in staff numbers.

Cain claimed data visualisation skills were so lacking that there was “nobody with the ability” to create the slides for the daily Covid press conferences, fronted by the prime minister and watched by millions of people.

“Even when a system was designed, people struggled with the skills required and slides were often sent only moments before press conferences were due to begin,” he said.

Despite more than 4,000 communications staff being employed across the government, many departmental press offices are “unable to conduct the most basic functions”, Cain said.


Cain’s paper is here, and there’s also a response to it which says “Cain overlooks the damage of a lack of honesty and transparency, especially by letting ministers off the hook, and gives too little time to underlying problems with the way policy is made.” (Emphasis added.) The quote about the lack of ability to make slides is quite scary for what it says about the skills – and age? – of the staff.
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Minus • Ben Grosser

Grosser has a fascinating take on social networks:


what if social media wasn’t engineered to serve capitalism’s need for growth? How might online collective communication be different if our time and attention were treated as the limited and precious resources that they are? Minus is an experiment to ask these questions, a finite social network where users get only 100 posts—for life.

Rather than the algorithmic feeds, visible “like” counts, noisy notifications, and infinite scrolls employed by the platforms to induce endless user engagement, Minus limits how much one posts to the feed, and foregrounds—as its only visible and dwindling metric—how few opportunities they have left. Instead of preying on our needs for communication and connection in order to transform them into desires for speed and accumulation, Minus offers an opportunity to reimagine what it means to be connected in the contemporary age.

The work facilitates conversation within a subtractive frame that eschews the noise and frenzy for a quieter and slower setting that foregrounds human voices, words, and temporalities. Though it may be disorienting at first to navigate an online social space devoid of the signals and patterns Silicon Valley uses to always push for more, Minus invites us to see what digital interaction feels like when a social media platform is designed for less.


If you only had 100 posts, would you use them interacting with other people? What is a social network if you don’t want to be social? (I spoke to Grosser and quoted him in Social Warming: his pointers to how social networks manipulate us to spend more time on them are very illuminating.)
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Banksy was warned about website flaw before NFT hack scam • BBC News

Joe Tidy:


Artist Banksy’s team was warned his website had a security weakness seven days before a hacker scammed a fan out of $336,000 (£242,000).

On Tuesday a piece of art was advertised on Banksy’s official website as the world-renowned graffiti artist’s first NFT (non-fungible token).

A British collector won the auction to buy it, before realising it was a fake.

A cyber-security expert warned Banksy that the website could be hacked, but was ignored.

With NFTs, artwork can be “tokenised” to create a digital certificate of ownership that can be bought and sold. They do not generally give the buyer the actual artwork or its copyright.

Sam Curry, a professional ethical hacker from the US and founder of security consultancy Palisade, said he first heard that the site could have a weakness on the social network Discord, last month. “I was in a security forum and multiple people were posting links to the site. I’d clicked one and immediately saw it was vulnerable, so I reached out to Banksy’s team via email as I wasn’t sure if anyone else had.

“They didn’t respond over email, so I tried a few other ways to contact them including their Instagram, but never received a response.”


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Doctor says gunshot victims wait, ivermectin patients overwhelm hospitals • Rolling Stone

Peter Wade wrote a story and then there was a teensy bit of an update to his story about a doctor telling him that gunshot victims had been forced to wait while ivermectin idiots stuffed the ICU:


UPDATE: Northeastern Hospital System Sequoyah issued a statement: Although Dr. Jason McElyea is not an employee of NHS Sequoyah, he is affiliated with a medical staffing group that provides coverage for our emergency room.

With that said, Dr. McElyea has not worked at our Sallisaw location in over 2 months. NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin. This includes not treating any patients for ivermectin overdose. All patients who have visited our emergency room have received medical attention as appropriate. Our hospital has not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.


The original version of the story pinged all over Twitter, with many people commenting “tell me a more American headline if you possibly can”. At least one agency picked the story up and repeated it, and it went around the world.

McElyea’s comment was, as journalists say in the trade, too good to check for details such as whether he actually worked there.
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Poorly devised regulation lets firms pollute with abandon • The Economist


Athletes don’t get advance warning of drug tests. Police don’t share schedules of planned raids. Yet America’s Environmental Protection Agency (epa) does not seem convinced of the value of surprise in deterring bad behaviour. Every year it publishes a list of dates, spaced at six-day intervals, on which it will require state and local agencies to provide data on concentrations of harmful fine particulate matter (pm2.5), such as soot or cement dust.

In theory, such a policy should enable polluters to spew as much filth into the air as they like 83% of the time, and clean up their act every sixth day. However, this ill-advised approach does offer one silver lining: it lets economists measure how much businesses change their behaviour when the proverbial parents are out of town.

A new paper by Eric Zou of the University of Oregon makes use of satellite images to spy on polluters at times when they think no one is watching. Nasa, America’s space agency, publishes data on the concentration of aerosol particles—ranging from natural dust to man-made toxins—all around the world, as seen from space. For every day in 2001-13, Mr Zou compiled these readings in the vicinity of each of America’s 1,200 air-monitoring sites.

Although some stations provided data continuously, 30-50% of them sent reports only once every six days. For these sites, Mr Zou studied how aerosol levels varied based on whether data would be reported.

Sure enough, the air was consistently cleaner in these areas on monitoring days than it was the rest of the time, by a margin of 1.6%. Reporting schedules were almost certainly the cause: in areas where stations were retired, average pollution levels on monitoring days promptly rose to match the readings on non-monitoring days.


Strange thing: this paper has been kicking around since 2017. But it’s just been formally published, so I guess now it shows us how to do regulation badly. Zou has some interesting work around the topic of environment.
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Order Social Warming, my book about how social media inflames and outrages, polarises and undermines our social relationships.

How to properly load a dishwasher: ‘If you pre-rinse it might actually come out dirtier’ • The Guardian

Aleksandra Bliszczyk:


A full dishwasher dries better than a half-full dishwasher. “The dishwasher dries by using the final rinse cycle to build up a heat load in your plates, and then it just sits there for a while and … the moisture will evaporate,” Iredale explains. Plastics have a much lower thermal mass than ceramics, so if you’re doing a load of plastic containers, you may want to crank the temperature to help them dry.

Without the force of mechanical scrubbing, or the abrasion of dish brushes, dishwashers need to be savage and inhospitable to get the job done. “It’s heat, water and chemicals,” Iredale says. “Dishwashing liquid’s pH is 10.5 to 12.5 [very alkaline] … water is pH7, and oven cleaner is pH12.5 to 13.5, so it’s pretty nasty stuff. You really don’t want to get it on your hands.”

Unlike dishwashing liquid for your sink, dishwasher detergents are abrasive – like toothpaste – to chip away at food particles. The cloudy film on your glassware is actually a lot of tiny, permanent scratches.

Many materials won’t withstand a high-pH hurricane every night. “A good rule of thumb is anything that predates the dishwasher shouldn’t go in one,” Iredale says.

Anything fragile, handmade or hand-painted should be left out. The same goes for wood, bone, copper, pewter, cast-iron, and non-stick coated pans and trays. Anything laminate can warp; anything glued can come unstuck; chefs’ knives will rust and dull; and lead can activate and leach out of lead crystal glasses.

Despite all the caveats, dishwashers are not only the convenient answer to our modernist woes, they’re actually more energy- and water-efficient than hand washing. A full dishwasher can clean 144 items with roughly 13 litres of water, or anything between eight and 20. According to a study by the University of Bonn, hand washing the same load uses, on average, 100 litres of water.


Provided as a service for those who might still have discussions about it. (The article is from the day before Christmas 2020.) Also: do NOT rinse the plates. No guidance however on precisely how to stack, nor whether forks and knives should face up or down (or just be left out).
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Fossil fuels are dead (and here’s why) • Charlie’s Diary

Charlie Stross:


[Elon] Musk owns Tesla Energy. And I think he’s going to turn a profit on Starship by using it to launch space-based solar power satellites (SBSP). By my back of the envelope calculation, a Starship can put roughly 5-10MW of space-rate photovoltaic cells into orbit in one shot. ROSA — Roll Out Solar Arrays — now installed on the ISS are ridiculously light by historic standards, and flexible: they can be rolled up for launch, then unrolled on orbit. Current ROSA panels have a mass of 325kg, and three pairs provide 120kW of power to the ISS: 2 tonnes for 120KW suggests that a 100 tonne Starship payload could produce 6MW using current generation panels, and I suspect a lot of that weight is structural overhead.

The PV material used in ROSA reportedly weighs a mere 50g per square metre, comparable to lightweight laser printer paper, so a payload of pure PV material could have an area of up to 20 million square metres. At 100 watts of usable sunlight per square metre at Earth’s orbit, that translates to 2GW. So Starship is definitely getting into the payload ball-park we’d need to make orbital SBSP stations practical. 1970s proposals foundered on the costs of the Space Shuttle, which was billed as offering $300/lb launch costs (a sad and pathetic joke), but Musk is selling Starship as a $2m/launch system, which works out at $20/kg.

So: disruptive launch system meets disruptive power technology, and if Tesla Energy isn’t currently brainstorming how to build lightweight space-rated PV sheeting in gigawatt-up quantities I’ll eat my hat.

Musk isn’t the only person in this business. China is planning a 1 megawatt pilot orbital power station for 2030, increasing capacity to 1GW by 2049. Entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the giant Long March 9 heavy launcher is due for test flights in 2030: ostensibly to support a Chinese crewed Lunar expedition, but I’m sure if you’re going to build SBSP stations in bulk and the USA refuses to cooperate with you in space, having your own Starship clone would be handy.


Stross is a science fiction writer, but the future he describes here is a feasible technological solution for getting plentiful power from space (even at 70% loss). Over to you, Elon.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1630: Apple delays CSAM rollout, the flaws in the collapsed Florida condo, Banksy was warned of NFT hack, and more

  1. Wait, wait – this Ivermectin/OR story seems like a job for journalism, but that barely exists nowadays over the noise of battling “hot takes”. Doctor McElyea never names any particular hospital in the source article here.

    He doesn’t say every single hospital, without exception. Note the actual phrasing is the reporter’s paraphrase:

    “Dr. McElyea said patients are packing his eastern and southeastern Oklahoma hospitals after taking ivermectin doses meant for a full-sized horse …”

    Thus, a single hospital deny it happened there, while relevant, is hardly showing he made it up (as opposed to the reporter might have exaggerated what he said from a kernel of truth – we know that’s happened on occasion, right?).

    I suspect the reporter garbled “ivermectin” and “COVID” cases. I think *Ivermectin* overdoses are a lot less care-burdensome than *COVID*.

    This article goes into more detail in specific, and seems to be closer to the reality:

    Hospitals are trying to reserve beds for the “sickest of the sick” but are at capacity, with no apparent relief in sight as exhausted caregivers say the burden is untenable, according to Oklahoma Hospital Association President Patti Davis.

    She and other medical professionals described a troubled scene across the state during the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition’s weekly COVID-19 briefing with reporters Tuesday.

    Dr. Jason McElyea, a rural emergency room physician, had a gunshot victim in his facility whom for hours he was unable to transfer to a higher level of care because no one had space. One of McElyea’s colleagues had to send a severely ill COVID patient all the way to South Dakota.

    “They had sat in a small hospital needing to be in an ICU for several days and that was the closest ICU that was available,” McElyea said.

    Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Stillwater Medical Center has a patient with a cardiac issue that it can’t handle. The patient has been in its care for three days as health care workers keep her stable while trying to find a hospital in Oklahoma City where it can send her, Clarke said.

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