Start Up No.1663: what’s really watched on Netflix, peak oil coming in 2025, Facebook’s coming name change, and more


The ingredients for blue paint – and for the cans to hold it – are the latest supply chain victims. CC-licensed photo by Nineta on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Using precious blue. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


From Friends to Squid Game – why Netflix viewing figures matter • The Guardian

Jim Waterson, the Guardian’s media editor, wrote this week’s edition of its Techscape newsletter, so of course he wrote about something that intersects media and technology:

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if you believe Netflix, who occasionally drip-feed out positive ratings stories when it suits them, by last night Squid Game had been watched by 142 million households, making it one of the biggest hits ever.

But we’ve only got Netflix’s word to go on for that figure. And even then, Netflix currently defines a viewer as someone who watched the first two minutes of a show’s opening episode. Did you put Squid Game on for a few minutes to check out the hype then get bored? Well, you might be surprised to find you’re counted to be just as much a “fan” of the show as someone who watched all nine episodes back-to-back.

…What are the truly unifying television moments that bind a society together? It’s hard to be sure. Because we can’t get the data out of Netflix.

Except … one small family business based in Bristol has worked out how to do just that. The staff at Digital i, an analytics firm, realised that while Netflix won’t release viewing figures, it does release data to members of the public about their personal viewing history.

It’s true, you can see an overview of your recent Netflix viewing history, or you can download every bit of data that Netflix holds on you by visiting this link. In my case, it reveals that I was really binge-watching an awful lot of episodes of The Good Wife in 2015.

Digital i realised that if they could convince thousands individuals to willingly hand over this personal viewing history in return for a small payment, the company can effectively create a statistically rigorous survey panel, then use this to create audience “ratings” for Netflix shows and sell this data to rivals. At the moment they have users signed up in five major European countries but they hope to expand globally.

“We’re trying to level the playing field for Netflix competitors,” said Sophia Vahdati from the company, who says their customers include the likes of BBC and ITV.

Her company has shone a light on one of Netflix’s biggest secret: how much of their audience is viewing endless repeats of old shows, because people binge high-profile original series in such a short period of time.

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The revelations are amazing. Except: predictably, nobody watches credits, and The Irishman did badly.
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Paintmakers are running out of the colour blue • Bloomberg Quint

Tara Patel:

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Dutch paint maker Akzo Nobel NV is running out of ingredients to make some shades of blue, the latest fallout from the global supply-chain disruptions that are spreading across manufacturers.

“There is one basic color tint that is extremely difficult to get,” chief executive officer Thierry Vanlancker said in an interview Wednesday after publishing third-quarter earnings. “It’s creating complete chaos.”

In addition to the bluish hue, Akzo Nobel is having trouble sourcing the tinplate used to make metal cans, forcing the Amsterdam-based company to ship empty pots from one country to another for filling. It also called a force majeure on deliveries of some exterior wall paints because an additive needed to make them waterproof is unavailable.

The supply-chain snarls that have sown disarray across industries are raising prices and creating shortages of some basic household products. Paint makers, which typically rely on hundreds of additives and chemicals, have warned for months of higher costs and logistical issues.

Akzo Nobel earlier Wednesday said the spiraling costs and materials shortages will last through the middle of next year.

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Yet another one that you might not have had one your supply chain bingo card.
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Oil demand set to peak by 2025. Renewables are vastly underfunded • Fortune

Sophie Mellor:

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Oil demand will peak in 2025, years earlier than previously expected, the International Energy Agency said in its World Energy Outlook on Tuesday.

But while the transition away from oil is arriving sooner than expected, IEA executive director Fatih Birol warned that this year will see the second-largest annual increase in CO2 emissions in history, leading to an “unsustainable economic recovery” from COVID-19.

The IEA’s call of peak oil comes as fossil fuel prices spike across the globe. A surge in demand caused by economies leaving COVID-19 lockdowns has coincided with sluggish supply resulting from kinked supply chains and low investment in oil and gas production—the effects of nations’ green pledges and a price crash in recent years. At more than $80 a barrel, oil is near a seven-year high, and gas prices in the U.S. have tripled in the past 18 months.

Looking forward, the issue will be matching rising demand without turning back to fossil fuels, the IEA said. While international pledges to lower investment in oil and gas are aligned with plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the IEA said that investment in renewable energy must be tripled to close the gap between expected supply and demand.

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Notable because the IEA has, for years (decades?) been utterly pessimistic about renewables, optimistic about fossil fuels, for no reason anyone can figure out. (It might be the sponsorship from countries with fossil fuel interests?)
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Facebook plans to change company name to focus on the metaverse • The Verge

Alex Heath:

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Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Facebook already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones. In July, he told The Verge that, over the next several years, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

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Hell of a scoop. Sounds like it’s going to do an Alphabet, same as Google did – create an umbrella company and perhaps give clues to what’s happening inside the various companies. Or perhaps not. Means the metaverse stuff can happen separately from Facebook, and stand or fall. One suggestion, mentioned in the story (and used to tag the story – by people who know?) is “Horizon”.
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November 2003: Facemash creator survives ad board • The Harvard Crimson

Katharine Kaplan, in November 2003:

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The creator of the short-lived but popular Harvard version of the Am I Hot or Not? website said he will not have to leave school after being called before the Administrative Board yesterday afternoon.

Mark E. Zuckerberg [due to graduage in] ’06 said he was accused of breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy by creating the website, http://www.facemash.com, about two weeks ago.

The charges were based on a complaint from the computer services department over his unauthorized use of on-line facebook photographs, he said.

Zuckerberg said he will not be forced to withdraw or leave school for any amount of time, but declined to elaborate on whether the board took some lesser action.

He said he was notified on Nov. 3 that his case would appear before the Ad Board, the day after he decided to take the site down, partly due to sharp criticism of the site’s use of ID photos and ranking students according to attractiveness.

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Kaplan, who wrote the piece, has gone on to greater things – a PhD and research in sleep studies. That Zuckerberg guy, on the other hand, never graduated.
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For more about how Facebook started, and the effect it and other social networks have had on all of us for more than a decade, read Social Warming, my latest book.


Pixel 6 and 6 Pro: a first look at Google’s shot at a premium Android phone • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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The other big thing to note [besides a low price] with the Pixels is their new processor, a custom-designed ARM SoC (System on a Chip) that Google is calling Tensor. Google says it’s competitive with the Snapdragon 888 from Qualcomm, which is what you find in basically every other high-end Android phone available right now.

There’s a lot going on with this processor. The most important piece is that there’s a custom TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) for AI built right into the chip and many main processing pipelines. In addition, there are two high-power application cores, two mid-range cores, four low-power cores, a dedicated coprocessor for security, a private compute core, and an image processing core. The Pixel 6 pairs the new chip with 8GB of RAM, while the 6 Pro has 12GB.

…By the way, Google’s rules for reviewers and influencers dictate that today, we can write about hardware impressions and specs but not provide any details on software, performance, or image quality. It’s meant to provide a sort of hands-on experience — rest assured, we will have much more to say in the full review.

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Let’s wait for the full review to hear about its on-device language processing.
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The Myspace Top 8 is destroying society • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick:

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at Myspace’s height, the British press launched a massive campaign against the risks of being emo. The Daily Mail declared that, “no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo.”

None of this is to downplay the very real issues young Myspace users had — predators, revenge pornography, cyberbullying, and being convinced that wearing a children’s extra-large T-shirt with a white belt and purple skinny jeans was a good look. But I want to put this new explosion of TikTok panics in perspective. None of these issues, or even the more outlandish nonsense about Satanic viral trends or compulsive tics, are new.

And what’s even more frustrating is that a lot of this stuff eclipses the new real problems TikTok users are grappling with, like being bombarded nonstop by conspiracy theories, cults actively recruiting on the app, content that promotes body dysmorphia, and that weird increasingly popular fad where some very young users are seemingly pretending to have dissociative identity disorder.

In many ways, these technopanics are the best indication that TikTok is dethroning apps like Facebook or Instagram as America’s main social platform. First, the cool new thing is discovered by teenage girls. Then it’s considered a punchline. Then, when it’s no longer a punchline, it’s a crisis. It happened with Myspace and it’s happening with TikTok and it will happen with whatever comes next. And every time we do this dance, complete with endless hysterical Good Morning America segments about what kids are secretly doing online, it just means we’ve missed another opportunity to actually make the internet better for teenagers. Which, I know, sounds like a revolutionary idea, doesn’t it?

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Insightful, as ever, about the circularity and repetitiveness of these technopanics.
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‘We are losing a national treasure’: desperate Lebanese cut ancient trees for heating • The National News

Sunniva Rose:

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Last month, policeman Abdelhakim Assayed was shocked to discover that a large, centuries-old fir tree on a high plateau near his home in north Lebanon had been cut down and carried away overnight.

“If you had seen it, you would have cried,” he said, as he walked around the small branches scattered around what was left of the tree’s trunk. “It’s like killing your child.”

Mr Assayed, 40, suspects that like hundreds of other trees that have been illegally felled in recent weeks, the fir tree was chopped up and sold locally as firewood, which is openly sold in the streets as winter approaches. With the country’s crisis making heating unaffordable for many, concerns mount that the situation is getting worse.

When The National visited the forest, which lies nearly 2,000 metres above sea level in the region of Fneidek, a dozen freshly chopped tree trunks, as well as still standing trees missing most of their branches, were visible.

…“People are ignorant,” said Mr Assayed. “They don’t know the value of a tree, and they’ll do whatever they can to stay warm this winter.”

The municipality of the town of Fneidek, which owns the forest, is at a loss over how to deal with this new phenomenon, which threatens to deprive the region of its sense of identity and heritage, said Mr Assayed. “If the situation remains like this, the forest will be gone in three or four years. Lebanon without trees is not worth anything. We’re going to become a desert.”

Filing police reports has little impact because of delays in the local judiciary, said the mayor, Samih Abdelaziz Abdelhay. The 56-year-old school director blames the government, not local people.

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As electric car makers ante up billions, software is ace in the hole • IEEE Spectrum

Robert Charette:

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Not only are EV makers chasing the same limited number of customers, they are also pursuing an even more limited supply of software and systems engineers with smart mechatronics and robotics expertise. Software’s complexity in current ICE vehicles is staggering, with many vehicles having 150 million lines or more of code. However, future EVs will likely have triple or more the lines of code as advanced autonomous driving features become available.

Complicating the expertise issue further is that new EVs (and ICE vehicles) are increasingly “cyber-physical systems.” Simply put, cyber-physical systems unify the physical world with the world of information technology. Vehicles as cyber-physical systems are not mere self-contained and isolated entities but are ones that will evolve in capability over a decade or more often in response to other evolving systems such as transportation infrastructure, manufacturer monitoring or dealer management systems, the Internet, and other vehicles.

Today’s connected vehicles create up to 25 gigabytes of data per hour, a small portion of which is being shared outside the vehicle. However, by 2030, when vehicles could be interacting with scores or more external systems over a range of communication channels, that amount may reach four terabytes per hour, all of which will be captured, analyzed and monetized by multiple remote third-party systems.

“Much of that future data, perhaps up to 90%, will be unstructured,” observes Jeff Fochtman, Senior Vice President of Business and Marketing at data storage company Seagate Technology, given it will be originally generated by a vehicle’s camera, lidar, radar and or ultrasonic sensors. The amount, type and usefulness of the data poses unique challenges for automakers in deciding which data to store, how to store it, and where to store it.

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A new kind of driver shortage: software drivers. Brm-tish.
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Exile from Dongletown • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

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If Mac laptops come in eras, one just ended.

It started in 2016 with the release of MacBook Pro models featuring butterfly keyboards, the Touch Bar, and a minimal selection of USB-C ports. It ended on Monday with the announcement of new MacBook Pro models that roll back most of the major changes introduced in 2016, putting the MacBook Pro in a new state of grace that recalls the middle of the last decade.

If you can, cast your mind back to the 2015 MacBook Pro. It had all of these features, due to be deprecated in 2016:
• MagSafe charging port
• HDMI port
• SD card slot
• 2 Thunderbolt and 2 USB-A ports
• Physical function keys

Now consider the 2021 MacBook Pros, which have:
• MagSafe charging port
• HDMI port
• SD card slot
• Three Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports
• Physical function keys

Although Apple removed the dreadful “butterfly” keyboard in 2019-2020, the rest of the issues with this era of MacBook Pro remained. They’re largely gone now.

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There really were five years of Apple completely not listening to its customers on the Mac. Interesting that all the doomy predictions of Apple losing its way after Steve Jobs died didn’t really come to pass, except on the Mac, where the design team overrode the common sense that had previously prevailed. The iPhone was too big and important (and simple?) to screw with, but the Mac could be played with.

(Snell had a joke about the Dongletown Port Authority – because you needed dongle for all the ports on the machines because they were undifferentiated USB-C.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1663: what’s really watched on Netflix, peak oil coming in 2025, Facebook’s coming name change, and more

  1. Thinking about why Google and Facebook would create an umbrella company and a name change, it could be partly to create protection from legal liability, just like how the tobacco, drug, and chemical industry have protected their profits and chief executives over the years.

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