Start Up No.1631: Biden laptop repairman gets Twitter court bill, the supply chain lashes its tail, where crypto is really catching on, and more

Millions of people aren’t getting even as far as job interviews because automated software is wrongly rejecting them for consideration. CC-licensed photo by Andy Dayton on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Honestly, it’s not prime. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Automated hiring software is mistakenly rejecting millions of viable job candidates • The Verge

James Vincent:


Automated resume-scanning software is contributing to a “broken” hiring system in the US, says a new report from Harvard Business School. Such software is used by employers to filter job applicants, but is mistakenly rejecting millions of viable candidates, say the study’s authors. It’s contributing to the problem of “hidden workers” — individuals who are able and willing to work, but remain locked out of jobs by structural problems in the labor market.

The study’s authors identify a number of factors blocking people from employment, but say automated hiring software is one of the biggest. These programs are used by 75% of US employers (rising to 99% of Fortune 500 companies), and were adopted in response to a rise in digital job applications from the ‘90s onwards. Technology has made it easier for people to apply for jobs, but also easier for companies to reject them.

The exact mechanics of how automated software mistakenly reject candidates are varied, but generally stem from the use of overly-simplistic criteria to divide “good” and “bad” applicants.

For example, some systems automatically reject candidates with gaps of longer than six months in their employment history, without ever asking the cause of this absence. It might be due to a pregnancy, because they were caring for an ill family member, or simply because of difficulty finding a job in a recession. More specific examples cited by one of the study’s author, Joseph Miller, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal include hospitals who only accepted candidates with experience in “computer programming” on their CV, when all they needed were workers to enter patient data into a computer. Or, a company that rejected applicants for a retail clerk position if they didn’t list “floor-buffing” as one of their skills, even when candidates’ resumes matched every other desired criteria.


Does it scale? Yes, badly.
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Hunter Biden laptop guy owes Twitter money after failed lawsuit • Vice

Matthew Gault:


The guy who gave Hunter Biden’s laptop to Rudy Giuliani owes Twitter money thanks to a failed lawsuit. 

John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of the Delaware repair store where Biden allegedly left a MacBook Pro, attempted to sue Twitter for defamation in federal court. The judge tossed out the case with prejudice, meaning Mac Isaac can’t sue again, and ordered Mac Isaac to pay Twitter’s attorney’s fees.

According to copies of the lawsuit obtained by Law & Crime, Mac Isaac claimed Twitter defamed him when it locked The New York Post’s account following its publication of a story about Hunter Biden’s laptop. The reason Twitter gave for locking the account was that The New York Post had acquired the material published in the story via hacking. According to Mac Isaac, calling The New York Post a hacker implied that he was also a hacker. The New York Post never mentioned Mac Isaac’s name in its initial story.

“Defendant Twitter’s actions and statements had the specific intent to communicate to its users….that Plaintiff is a hacker and/ or hacked the published materials,” the lawsuit said. “According to Merriam-Webster, a ‘hacker’ is a ‘person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system.’ The term ‘hacker’ is not only widely disparaging, particularly when said about someone who owns a computer repair business but is also a criminal act. Plaintiff is not a hacker.”

The court said Mac Isaac’s theory was “flawed for several reasons.”

The biggest was that Mac Isaac’s lawsuit conceded that The New York Post never identified him or his store by name and that this information came to light only after journalists at other outlets had figured it out.


Not having been named in the alleged acts does indeed seem to my not-a-lawyer mind like a bit of an obstacle in a defamation lawsuit.
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Chip shortage curtails heavy-duty truck production • WSJ

Jennifer Smith:


The semiconductor shortage is short-circuiting heavy-duty truck production as supply-chain disruptions hamper efforts to meet robust demand for new big rigs.

North American production of Class 8 trucks, the big vehicles that haul most domestic freight, sank this summer to its lowest level since May 2020, when the coronavirus had shut down much of the U.S. economy. Equipment makers built 14,920 units in July, the most recent month for which figures were available, while the backlog of trucks ordered but not built nearly tripled from the same month a year ago, to 262,100, according to transportation data provider ACT Research.

The production problems began earlier this year and have persisted for months, driving up the cost of used heavy-duty trucks and straining supply lines ahead of the fall, when fleets typically place big orders for new equipment.

North American trucking companies, pushing to expand capacity to meet strong freight demand, ordered 36,900 heavy-duty trucks in August, the highest level in five months and up 90% from the prior-year period, according to preliminary figures from ACT.

“Everything you want to see for Class 8 demand is there in spades,” said ACT President and Senior Analyst Kenny Vieth. “What’s missing are parts.”


The chip shortage harms the delivery vehicles harms the chip supply harms the…
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One stuck box of fertilizer shows the global supply chain crisis • SupplyChainBrain

Ann Koh:


While the fertilizer has been stranded there since May, the port is just one stop on the long journey from central China to the US Midwest. Delays have stretched a delivery that ordinarily would take weeks to more than half a year. And that time frame will keep expanding, as the goods have barely started the roughly 15,000 kilometer (9,300 mile) trek.

This is the tale of one humble shipment and its arduous journey across the world. While some of the barriers keeping it from its final destination may be specific to this particular case, the journey is emblematic of the inertia that has gripped global trade during the pandemic.

From the US to Sudan to China, container boxes have been lying at ports, railyards and in warehouses as the pandemic rages on. In an industry with 25 million containers and some 6,000 ships hauling them, it’s easy to see disruptions as one big headache confined to the shipping world. But each container that’s delayed is economic activity that’s restrained, heaping costs one box at a time on consumers and making it more challenging to put corn on consumers’ tables or deliver presents for the holidays.

It’s also a lesson in the ripple effects across global supply chains, showing the limits of diversification as all networks are still closely connected with China. 

“All roads lead back to China, and that has a major effect across the entire supply chain,” said Dawn Tiura, head of US-based Sourcing Industry Group. “Congestion at one port or factory has far-reaching implications for neighboring facilities, which trickles out across the world.”


There’s an SF book called Infinite Detail by the British writer Tim Maughan set in a world where the internet is destroyed (he’s got an explanation), and with it every supply chain. He got the idea from riding on a container ship. Our supply chains are under a lot of strain at present. The SupplyChainBrain (and what looks like a sibling, Haulage News) give a peek into the scary problems there.
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Why many scientists say it’s unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a ‘lab leak’ • Science

Jon Cohen, with a thorough examination of everything we know (and don’t):


on 23 May, The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of an “undisclosed U.S. Intelligence report” that said three WIV researchers “sought hospital care” in November 2019. The story had no details about their illnesses, and some have noted that Chinese hospitals provide care for all ailments, including minor ones.

Virologist Robert Garry of Tulane University finds it improbable that a Wuhan lab worker picked up SARS-CoV-2 from a bat and then brought it back to the city, sparking the pandemic. As the WIV study of people living near bat caves shows, transmission of related bat coronaviruses occurs routinely. “Why would the virus first have infected a few dozen lab researchers?” he asks. The virus may also have moved from bats into other species before jumping to humans, as happened with SARS. But again, why would it have infected a lab worker first? “There are hundreds of millions of people who come in contact with wildlife.”

Another data point argues against infected researchers playing a role, Garry says. As the WHO joint mission report spells out, clusters of early COVID-19 cases had links to multiple Wuhan markets around the same time, which Garry says supports the idea of infected animals or animal traders bringing the virus to the city. A lab worker with COVID-19 would have had to make “a beeline not just to one market, but to several different markets,” he says. “You can’t rule it out, but then why the markets? Why not a soccer game or a concert or 100 other different scenarios?”

But David Relman, a Stanford University microbiome researcher who also co-signed the Science letter, questions the “hopelessly impoverished” data on the earliest COVID-19 cases. “I just don’t think we have enough right now to say anything with great confidence,” Relman says.


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First US Covid deaths earlier – and in different places – than previously thought • Mercury News

Harriet Blair Rowan:


In a significant twist that could reshape our understanding of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, death records now indicate the first COVID-related deaths in California and across the country occurred in January 2020, weeks earlier than originally thought and before officials knew the virus was circulating here.

A half dozen death certificates from that month in six different states — California, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — have been quietly amended to list COVID-19 as a contributing factor, suggesting the virus’s deadly path quickly reached far beyond coastal regions that were the country’s early known hotspots.

Up until now, the Feb. 6, 2020, death of San Jose’s Patricia Dowd had been considered the country’s first coronavirus fatality, although where and how she was infected remains unknown.

Even less is known about what are now believed to be the country’s earliest victims of the pandemic. The Bay Area News Group discovered evidence of them in provisional coronavirus death counts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) — widely considered the definitive source for death data in the United States — and confirmed the information through interviews with state and federal public health officials.


Dowd’s death would be odd enough (though someone has to be first). But the revision puts the first death between Jan 4 and 11 of 2020, which given the typical three-week delay between infection and death suggests first infection in mid-December. Someone who visited China? Wuhan? Somewhere else? The earlier the first US death is confirmed to be (and this pulls it back from the 6 February, nearly a whole month) the earlier the original cases in China must have been.
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It’s called Social Warming because it’s all around us, the effects are tough to reverse, and we almost all contribute to it. But it’s an effect on society.

Pumpers, dumpers, and shills: the Skycoin saga • The New Yorker

Morgan Peck:


In the spring of 2018, Skycoin climbed into the list of the top hundred coins, and appeared on a Nasdaq Web cast. That May, Binance announced that it would list Skycoin on its trading platform. Around the time of the listing, the price jumped thirty-eight%. Then, suddenly, it came crashing down. According to several people involved, Skycoin privately sold to investors at a steep discount—in at least one case, coins worth millions of dollars—inadvertently giving them an incentive to dump it on the market as soon as they could. (Smietana denied being involved in such sales.) Smietana had claimed on Telegram that the investors were restricted from selling. But, as soon as Binance listed Skycoin, the market flooded with sell orders. Freeman, from the C2CX exchange, had been acting as the project’s primary “market maker,” using a pool of reserves to provide market liquidity and stabilize prices. “I tried to hold at about twenty,” he told me. But the sell-off was too much to contain. Coinholders shared their misery on Telegram. “Its been fun guys, i’m gonns hang myself in 2 hours,” a user named Willy Jr. wrote. “Bought 20K at 20 dollars.” A user named Dante wrote, “synth told me this shit would moon,” adding, “i took a mortage on my house.”

A few weeks into the sell-off, a voice message from Smietana emerged on Telegram that seemed to imply that the biggest Skycoin investors were coördinating their moves in a secret chat room. Smietana said in the message, of the investors, “Everyone was basically doing the exact opposite of whatever the public was doing.” (Smietana acknowledged being in the chat room at one point but claimed that he was barely involved.) Rumor spread that the S.E.C. would investigate Skycoin as a result, and that Binance was considering delisting it. In the public chat, coinholders prepared for a death spiral. A user called Opaque wrote, “I want to say calm down guys, but its really doesnt look good.”


That’s the western version. To set against that…
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Cryptocurrencies: developing countries provide fertile ground • Financial Times

Jonathan Wheatley and Adrienne Klasa:


In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, a software coder bills her client in London and is paid in bitcoin, sidestepping a costly banking system and the naira currency’s miserly official exchange rate. In São Paulo, Brazil, a dentist puts his monthly savings into an exchange traded fund investing in a basket of cryptocurrencies that is the second most popular ETF on the local bourse. Individuals and businesses in Vietnam invest, trade and transact so much in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that the south-east Asian nation has the world’s highest rate of crypto adoption.

In advanced economies, cryptocurrencies are viewed by many in the financial world with suspicion — the domain of zealous “crypto bros” and a speculative and highly volatile fad that can only end badly. Regulators in Europe and the US have issued stark warnings about the dangers of trading crypto.

But in the developing world, there are signs that crypto is quietly building deeper roots. Especially in countries which have a history of financial instability or where the barriers to accessing traditional financial products such as bank accounts are high, cryptocurrency use is fast becoming a fact of daily life.

…Chainalysis ranks Vietnam first for crypto adoption worldwide — one of 19 emerging and frontier markets in its top 20, with only the US among advanced economies making an appearance at number eight in 2021. “It’s very striking this year, [adoption] is a story of emerging and frontier markets,” adds Grauer.

Separate data from, tracking bitcoin transactions on the world’s two biggest peer-to-peer crypto trading platforms, show that in the past few weeks, sub-Saharan Africa has overtaken North America to become the geographical region with the highest volume of this kind of crypto activity.


Rather like mobile banking (huge in Africa, completely mystifying to most Americans until recently) perhaps crypto is going to be big elsewhere, and more effectively. It will also be a struggle between the westerners wanting to use it for speculation – and so wanting its value to rise – and those using it as currency, who need stability.
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YouTube’s plan to showcase credible health information is flawed, experts warn • Scientific American

Grant Currin:


These changes [in which searches on topics like ‘Covid-19’ turn up a sidebar of sanctioned videos] mark a “massive development in how the company envisions itself,” Donovan says. They suggest YouTube is seeking to become “an important source of information” rather than the digital equivalent to “the free bin at a record store.” Some experts, however, worry that identifying and elevating health care organizations and government agencies will not have the intended effect of encouraging people to view more accurate information.

“I’m just not sure that people are tuning in to YouTube to see more scientists or people who have been determined to be credible or authoritative,” says Corey Basch, a public health researcher at William Paterson University. Her studies of YouTube and TikTok reveal that videos produced by official organizations tend to be viewed far less often than content from creators who have earned the trust of communities on the platform. The move also does little to address “not unfounded” mistrust in many of the institutions that have been elevated by the change, she says. Basch thinks the problems run far deeper than access to facts. “Sometimes we miss the point that human emotion and behavior is often rooted in social and emotional factors versus cognitive ones,” she says. Graham acknowledges that “people trust sources for different reasons” and that information that does not originate from a “culturally relevant” source is unlikely to lead to a change in behavior. He says YouTube has plans to work with independent creators who make medical content that is engaging and reliable, but he would not discuss the plan in any detail.


Basch has it exactly. People won’t trust “institutions”. If they could get Pewdiepie or Logan Paul to make a video telling them that ivermectin isn’t proven and that Covid is real, they’d be sorted.
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TrickBot gang member arrested after getting stuck in South Korea due to COVID-19 pandemic • The Record

Catalin Cimpanu:


A Russian man was arrested last week at the Seoul international airport on accusations of developing code for the TrickBot malware gang.

The man, identified in local media reports only as Mr. A, was arrested trying to leave South Korea for his native home in Russia after he’d been stuck in the Asian country for more than a year and a half.

The suspect, who arrived in February 2020, was initially prevented from leaving after Seoul officials canceled international travel at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When air travel restrictions were lifted, the suspect’s passport had expired, forcing Mr. A to live in a Seoul studio apartment until this summer while the local Russian embassy issued a replacement.

However, while the suspect was awaiting a passport replacement, US officials started an official investigation against TrickBot, a Russian-based malware gang that had used its botnet to facilitate ransomware attacks across the US throughout 2020.

While a takedown operation spearheaded by several security firms failed in October 2020, US officials had more success on a legal front, announcing the arrest of a 55-year-old Latvian woman named Alla Witte, who US prosecutors said worked as one of TrickBot’s programmers.

Similar to Witte’s indictment, a South Korean judge said Mr. A was charged for working with the TrickBot gang and developing a web browser-related component for the group after answering a job ad in 2016 — the same way Witte was recruited.


Right up there in “unluckiest criminals”.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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