Start Up No.1682: the reality the ‘Constitution’ bid, the bad methane news, Russia admits satellite destruction, and more


The government of Greenland is suspending oil exploration because it would contribute to climate change. CC-licensed photo by NASA on The Commons on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Still not in orbit. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


ConstitutionDAO: a $20m stupid Ethereum trick • Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard:

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“DAO” stands for Decentralised Autonomous Organization. You get a pile of cryptocurrency, and holders with the right tokens to vote decide what to do with the crypto.

DAOs have a less than illustrious history of crashing and burning in fraud and hacks — it turns out that “code is law” is not very smart. So ConstitutionDAO is doing things more simply and elegantly — they’ve set up a multi-signature address with thirteen signers, where all the ETH gets deposited. It’s just a crowdfunding. The “DAO” bit’s connection to the money is more of an idea, you understand.

The completely and utterly centralised control of the project in all practical terms has led to some disappointment amongst those who bought the “DAO” pitch — but hey, it’s not like they can do anything about it.

The ConstitutionDAO founders say they’re setting up a Delaware LLC to front for this unincorporated bunch o’ guys who just got sent $5m of ETH. Everything is a gentleman’s agreement so far, worth only the paper it’s not written on. If ConstitutionDAO doesn’t win the auction, the funds will be returned via Juicebox, the platform they’re collecting the money on.

If ConstitutionDAO does win, what happens then? From the FAQ:

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Will the core team receive any of the raised funds for themselves or get compensated in any way from this?

The core team has not received or pre-minted any tokens. Following the purchase of the Constitution, we intend to submit a proposal to be voted on by the community. While this is unusual, we believe that it establishes a precedence of mutual trust between the core team and the backers of the ConstitutionDAO.

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Notice how this doesn’t answer the question.

On the ConstitutionDAO Discord chat, Will Papper, one of the multisig signers, says

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Delaware LLC. Minimal operating agreement for now while we finalize details. The LLC allows us to bid on the Sotheby’s auction. Sotheby’s does not allow DAOs themselves to bid. “ConstitutionDAO LLC” but it’s still being set up. Need to consult more with securities lawyers we work with on this (since fractionalized ownership could be a security).

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There’s a lot of misreporting around this. Essentially the LLC gets the money. Whether it gives it back or does anything trustworthy is up to them.
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Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions • Space

Tereza Pultarova:

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Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal. 

Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories. 

“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. “These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”

Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.

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So, after the recent report that emissions have been lower than we thought for a few years, we’re now discovering that emissions (and especially methane) have probably been higher than we thought. Which would explain the rapid warming. Right?
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Russia acknowledges anti-satellite test, but says it’s no big deal • Ars Technica

Eric Berger:

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it remains difficult to fully explain the country’s decision to destroy a satellite and create a cloud of debris that could very well threaten the International Space Station, as independent observations suggest.

Various theories have emerged to explain Russia’s actions, but as of Monday evening senior US officials were still scrambling to comprehend Russian motivations. Certainly, the selection of this satellite, in this orbit, was not made by chance. However, the decision to hit the Tselina-D satellite, also known as Cosmos 1408, may have been taken by Russia’s defense ministers without consulting the civil space operators of the space station.

One dark theory is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now concluded that Russia’s space industry has fallen hopelessly behind the United States and China, and the gap will only further widen in future years. Because of this strategic and economic disadvantage, Putin has calculated that the best option for Russia is to deny certain orbits to these competitors. With Monday’s test, then, he sent his counterparts a message that he still retains some control in space—what you can destroy, Putin believes, you can control.

In the near term it seems likely that the US government, in concert with other spacefaring partners, will offer some sort of response. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called the test unacceptable and said Russia must be held accountable for its actions. In the long term, this only heightens existing concerns about debris and the sustainability of high-trafficked orbits near Earth.

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Inside Reality Labs Research: meet the team that’s working to bring touch to the digital world • Facebook Research

Andrew Bosworth, in charge of Meta’s metaverse effort:

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Imagine working on a virtual 3D puzzle with a friend’s ultra-realistic 3D avatar. As you pick up a virtual puzzle piece from the table, your fingers automatically stop moving as you feel it within your grasp. You feel the sharpness of the cardboard’s edges and the smoothness of its surface as you hold it up for closer inspection, followed by a satisfying snap as you fit it into place.

Now imagine sitting down to work at a café and having a virtual screen and keyboard appear in front of you. The virtual keyboard conforms to the size of your hands and the space you have available, and it’s easily personalized to suit your preferences. You can feel the click of each keystroke, as well as the edges of the virtual keys on your fingertips, making it as easy as typing on a perfectly-sized physical keyboard.

How would these experiences enhance your connection to the virtual world? What would they do for your ability to be productive or perform any action in the metaverse?

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Here’s something I wrote in October 2002:

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The cube felt rubbery, although it didn’t strictly exist. As I moved the pencil-like mouse in my hand, a cursor moved too in the virtual room where the cube sat. A little manoeuvring and the cursor was beneath the cube. Move the pencil (called a “phantom”) upwards, and suddenly there was the sensation of weight, and the cube moved upwards on the screen. With a little practice, I could flip it upwards and catch it. The surface seemed to give, like rubber; the weight felt like a small ball, perhaps a golf ball.

A few minutes later another cursor appeared, and moved to the opposite side of the cube. Then we both pushed at the same time, and the cube rose. It was the first transmission of “touch” over the internet, demonstrated simultaneously in London and Massachusetts yesterday. The other cursor belonged to Jung Kim, a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Touch Lab” in Boston.

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Yes, that’s 19 years.
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The AGI hype train is running out of steam • The Next Web

Thomas Macaulay:

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The AGI hype train has hit some heavy traffic.

While futurists and fundraisers used to make bullish predictions about artificial general intelligence, they’ve become quieter lately. Peter Thiel — the tech billionaire and rumored vampire — says Silicon Valley big brains have lost enthusiasm for AGI.

“Elon’s not talking about it anymore and Larry [Page] is off to Fiji and doesn’t seem to be working on it quite as hard,” Thiel said at a recent event.

Thiel described Musk as “a weathervane for the zeitgeist,” who’s stopped talking about AGI because interest has declined.

Scientists are also increasingly skeptical. A recent study paper posited that AGI is “in principle impossible,” while other researchers have mocked the term’s proponents.

“I have yet to come across work on AGI that I can take seriously,” tweeted Abeba Birhane, a cognitive scientist based at University College Dublin.

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If like me you missed the “Larry Page is off to Fiji” bit, he’s hanging out a few miiles off Viti Levu.
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Qualcomm says it will have chips to take on Apple silicon in nine months • iMore

Stephen Warwick:

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Qualcomm says that it is going to release new chips next year that can keep up with M-series Apple chips like M1 Pro and M1 Max, and the M1 featured in devices like the MacBook Air with M1 and 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1.

Chief Technology Officer Dr. James Thompson spoke at Qualcomm’s 2021 investor event, where he revealed the plan.

Qualcomm supplies Apple with some hardware, providing modems for devices like the iPhone 13 and its other best iPhones.

Thompson said Qualcomm would release new “arm-compatible” SoC’s designed by Nuvia, which it bought for $1.4bn in 2021. The company boasts former Apple engineers who worked on Apple silicon, and in July Qualcomm chief executive Cristiano Amon said he thought Qualcomm could have the best chip on the market by next year. According to Thompson today, the new chips will be unveiled in about nine months, and be ready for devices in 2023.

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Ah, so what Thompson is really saying is that in 2023 Qualcomm will have chips that “can keep up” with chips Apple released in 2020 (since the M1 Pro/Max chips are just more-CPU-core-more-GPU-core versions of the M1). And of course Qualcomm has never produced a chip that can power a smartwatch as well as Apple’s. But maybe adding Nuvia will change that.
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Greenland suspends oil exploration because of climate change • Associated Press

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The left-leaning government of Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it is “a natural step” because the Arctic government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

No oil has been found yet around Greenland, but officials there had seen potentially vast reserves as a way to help Greenlanders realize their long-held dream of independence from Denmark by cutting the annual subsidy of 3.4bn kroner ($540m) the Danish territory receives.

Global warming means that retreating ice could uncover potential oil and mineral resources which, if successfully tapped, could dramatically change the fortunes of the semiautonomous territory of 57,000 people.

“The future does not lie in oil. The future belongs to renewable energy, and in that respect we have much more to gain,” the Greenland government said in a statement. The government said it “wants to take co-responsibility for combating the global climate crisis.”

The decision was made June 24 but made public Thursday.

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Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.
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What it’s like living in the coldest town on Earth • WIRED

Jenna Garrett:

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It gets down to well below zero in Oymyakon, Russia, long known as the coldest inhabited place on Earth. If that kind of climate is hard to wrap your brain around, such a temperature is so cold that people here regularly consume frozen meat, keep their cars running 24/7 and must warm the ground with a bonfire for several days before burying their dead.

It’s hard to know why anyone would want to live in such a place, and harder still to imagine why anyone would want to visit. But photographer Amos Chapple just couldn’t resist.

“I shoot travel photos aimed at the news sections of papers and need a headline to hang a story on,” the New Zealander said. “‘The coldest place on Earth’ is pretty irresistible.”

He traveled more than 10,000 miles to reach this village of 500 residents tucked away in a remote corner of Siberia. It’s so nasty that planes can’t land during the winter, and it takes two days to arrive by car from Yakutsk, the nearest major city (it’s 576 miles away). Chapple spent several weeks shooting in Oymyakon and Yakutsk during the long, dark month of January in 2013 and 2014. His remarkable photos capture the cold, bleak landscape and the hardy residents who brave unimaginable conditions.

Oymyakon sits at a 63.4608° N, 142.7858° E latitude, just a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle. It’s dark – completely, utterly dark – for up to 21 hours a day during the winter, and the temperature averages -58. That’s balmy compared to one February in 1933, when Oymyakon earned its title as the coldest place on Earth when the mercury plunged to -90.

Here arctic chill is simply a fact of life, something to be endured. People develop a variety of tricks to survive. Most people use outhouses, because indoor plumbing tends to freeze. Cars are kept in heated garages or, if left outside, left running all the time. Crops don’t grow in the frozen ground, so people have a largely carnivorous diet—reindeer meat, raw flesh shaved from frozen fish, and ice cubes of horse blood with macaroni are a few local delicacies.

Chapple found it difficult to speak with the people he encountered, as many people were rushing as fast as possible from one oasis of warmth to another. Those willing to chat warned him about the rampant alcoholism, particularly during the holiday months.

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Remains a complete puzzle why you would live there. Or even take a job there. Other places exist, after all.
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The ‘psychology of regret’ helps explain why vaccine mandates work • The Washington Post

Adam Galinsky is a professor of ethics:

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To combat vaccine hesitancy, we need to grasp its psychological roots. Alongside skepticism of institutions and experts, exposure to misinformation, and other often-cited reasons for resisting vaccines sits a clear emotional explanation: Many people are afraid that they’ll make a bad decision. They’re influenced by the psychology of anticipated regret. Understanding this reaction can help us get more shots into arms, removing one of the final obstacles to controlling the virus.

It’s widely understood that when humans make decisions, they engage in a cost-benefit analysis. But psychologists have shown that people also conduct a less-rational calculation involving the regret they might experience. When deciding which of two roads to go down, they not only consider the statistical probabilities but also implicitly imagine their reactions to worst-case scenarios. In these analyses, potential bad outcomes weigh heavier on the mind than equally likely positive possibilities.

When do people anticipate feeling the most regret? When outcomes will derive from actions they take (as opposed to the consequences of declining to act), research shows. Psychologists — notably Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on decision-making — have demonstrated these tendencies in a series of experiments. For example, Kahneman found that people anticipate feeling more regret if they were to lose money by switching to a new stock vs. taking a loss on their current stock. And this regret is maximally intensified when we freely choose to take action — we are not ordered or coerced — and when it involves new or experimental activities. For example, Kahneman found that people anticipate more regret when imagining an accident that occurs while driving home along a new route compared with driving on one’s normal route. Anticipated regret is why people often prefer to stand still rather than move forward.

Anticipated regret sheds light on why vaccine-hesitant people seem more comfortable taking their chances with the virus rather than getting the shot, a decision that is not rational given the relative likelihood of experiencing severe effects of covid-19 vs. severe vaccine side effects.

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Awaiting with interest how many (or few) care home staff will choose not to be vaccinated, and hence fired, following the passage of their mandatory vaccination deadline in the UK. Early estimates suggested thousands would.
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Vizio’s profit on ads, subscriptions, and data is double the money it makes selling TVs • The Verge

Richard Lawler:

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It’s been less than a year since Vizio became a publicly traded company, and one consequence of that is we know more about its business than ever before. The TV maker released its latest earnings report on Tuesday and revealed that over the last three months, its Platform Plus segment that includes advertising and viewer data had a gross profit of $57.3m. That’s more than twice the amount of profit it made selling devices like TVs, which was $25.6m, despite those device sales pulling in considerably more revenue.

When Vizio filed to go public, it described the difference between the two divisions. While Devices is easy to understand — 4K TVs, soundbars, etc. — Platform Plus is a little more complicated. It counts money made from selling ad placements on its TV homescreens, deals for the buttons on remotes, ads that run on streaming channels, its cut from subscriptions, and viewer data that it tracks and sells as part of the InScape program.

The company says shipments of its TVs fell to 1.4m in 2021 compared to 2.1m in 2020, a drop of 36%. CEO William Wang told investors on the call that he sees “pretty healthy inventory” going into the holiday season, so anyone planning to pick up a value-priced TV or soundbar should have some decent options available.

That spike in Platform Plus revenue, which shot up 136% compared to last year, did a lot to help Vizio make up the difference as profits from TVs dipped compared to last year.

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Smart TVs in the sense that getting people to install them is a smart move.
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No examples of social networks putting people at loggerheads (thank goodness). But even so, why not buy my book Social Warming, to understand what they’re doing.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1682: the reality the ‘Constitution’ bid, the bad methane news, Russia admits satellite destruction, and more

  1. Wages in Oymyakon used to be 3-5 times higher than in the rest of Russia, along with longer paid vacations (at least 10-20 years ago), so that might be a factor, assuming it hasn’t changed much. And others can’t simply get out either due to family or financial considerations. It would be interesting to see if there has been a decrease or increase in the population.

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