Start Up No.1705: TikTok fuels viral shooting fears, Omicron v LFTs, brainstorm the Beatles way!, BMJ roasts Facebook, and more

The Echo Show from Amazon is a sort of iPad for making video calls. Should Apple follow suit? CC-licensed photo by Rosenfeld Media on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Hello, I’m not on the train. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Charity time! It’s nearly Christmas, which is a good time for giving. I’d suggest all or any of:
Shelter (or equivalent in your country)
National Deaf Children’s Society (or equivalent in your country)
Wikipedia (it’s an invaluable, unique resource)
• the Internet Archive (ditto)
• any dog rescue centre (dogs are a source of joy and inspiration: watch a different video of Lollipop and then try to deny that). Here’s Lollipop’s home.

How panic over rumored school shooting threats went viral • The Verge

Mia Sato:


On Thursday, officials across the country were responding to viral posts on social media saying schools would be the target of shootings on December 17th. Some canceled classes or allowed kids to stay home. Others said they would increase police presence on campus. And some simply said they were monitoring the situation. But just about everyone was united in one message: the threats officials were hearing about were deemed to be not credible.

TikTok, meanwhile, was awash in videos: “POV your parents are making you stay home because of the December 17th trend,” reads one post. “Guys stay safe; I’m staying home,” says another. “Hope everybody is okay.”

Now into Friday afternoon, there thankfully haven’t been reports of widespread violence at schools, and TikTok has begun to remove some of the more alarming warnings on its platform about the potential for violence. But it’s still unknown where the warnings started — or if threats of violence even existed in the first place.

It’s easy to see how the concern spread, though, since people who saw warnings of school violence on TikTok were likely primed to react. The rumors were spreading just weeks after a deadly school attack. And viral threats have a history of taking hold when they prey on what people worry about the most, especially when the source is thought to be a new technology.

“We can think about media panics going back several centuries, potentially, but at least over the past 100 years,” James Walsh, associate professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, who has written about social media and societal panic, tells The Verge. “Adult society has always been concerned about how new media content or new media technologies are going to corrupt young, impressionable minds.”


In a hyperconnected world, these panics can wash across a nation in no time at all. And TikTok is supremely tuned for it. Paying attention to it?
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Omicron puts spotlight on UK’s use of rapid tests to stem Covid spread • Financial Times

Hannah Kuchler:


Lateral flow tests return results faster than PCRs and are far cheaper — but less accurate. The rapid tests contain a strip of antibodies that turns red if it reacts with the plentiful protein that makes up the virus’ shell. PCR tests detect the presence of virus earlier and in smaller quantities because they amplify the sample and pick out genetic signatures. In the UK, people are advised to have a PCR test to confirm a positive result.

The sheer number of cases of Covid-19 in the UK — up 44% to 534,415 in the past seven days means that LFTs will pick up more cases, but they will also miss more people who could spread the disease.

Tom Lewis, a medical microbiologist at North Devon district hospital, said the tests were most useful if you understand how likely it is that you are infected — and the probability someone is carrying the virus has changed “overnight”. 

If you assume 1 in 100 people is now infected, he said, there will be an average of four people at risk of spreading the virus at a 400-person event. Based on experience, lateral flow tests will pick up only two.

“That doesn’t sound much, but two people are now moving around in that room with Covid and infectious . . . they have about a 50% chance of transmitting, probably higher now with the Omicron variant. It’s definitely a transmission event,” he said.

But he said the tests make people feel safe. “The lateral flows are a massive confidence trick,” he added.


Basically the diagram says it:
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Apple should sell bigger iPad for smart home; Amazon Echo Show 15 review • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman with his weekly opinion column (though Bloomberg affects a neutrality that would make the BBC whistle):


It has iMacs on desks, iPads and MacBooks in backpacks, Apple Watches on wrists, iPhones in pockets, Apple TVs in living rooms and AirPods in ears. In the future, it may have headsets on faces and self-driving cars on roads.

But Apple has been a laggard in one key area: the home. It’s way behind rivals such as Amazon and Alphabet Inc.’s Google in smart speakers and related devices—and not by design. Apple knows the importance of the home market.

That’s why it launched HomeKit in 2014, letting customers control appliances from iPhones and iPads, and debuted the HomePod smart speaker in 2017. The initial HomePod was a flop, but a newer $99 version has sold better. HomeKit also has picked up some steam by gaining support for more types of accessories.

Still, Apple has just 5% of the smart speaker market, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Amazon, with its Alexa voice assistant, accounts for 69% of sales, with Google coming in second at 25%. 

And Apple lacks a do-it-all home hub—a device with a screen—making it all the harder to catch up.

Apple could learn a thing or two from its rivals. After testing out Amazon’s new Echo Show 15 and the Facebook Portal—from the company now calling itself Meta Platforms Inc.—I think I know the path forward: a giant iPad.

I have found the Echo Show 15—with its large display—to be a compelling device for checking the weather, controlling smart home appliances, watching security footage, and reading notes and lists each morning. While widgets are currently limited on the device, I do think the big touch screen is a compelling platform if Amazon and developers choose to take advantage of it.


A classic of the genre, where the genre is “deciding things Apple should make” (see also: netbook, gaming laptop, etc etc) and “spending Tim Cook’s money”.
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Ten lessons in productivity and brainstorming from The Beatles • Fluxx Studio Notes

Tom Whitwell:


The first part of Peter Jackson’s epic Beatles documentary Get Back is a masterclass in facilitation and creative management. Paul McCartney tries a stoned, grumpy band through writing, arranging, recording and performing dozens of songs within a short deadline.

He’s using the Design Thinking playbook, 20 years before it was written…


The ten lessons that Whitwell draws out are excellent, and make really good points. One thing you’re probably not aware of (I wasn’t; haven’t watch the documentary) is this:


The deadlines on the project are absurd. They have to write, record and perform an album of songs in 12 days. As Paul says “we’ve got to do it methodically this one… we’ve got to get some system to get through 20–30 songs.”


Astonishing productivity.
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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 Developer GSC Game World U-turns on NFTs • Kotaku

Luke Plunkett:


STALKER 2 developers GSC Game World announced yesterday that they’d be adding NFTs to the game. Public reception was, as you’d imagine, not kind.

NFTs (and the blockchain itself) are an environmental disaster, a pump-and-dump scam, and a pointless assault on existing technologies and systems that don’t need fixing. So whichever approach you want to come at them from—or all three if you like, I’m not here to stop you—they suck.

I think fan reaction was best summed up by this top-voted comment on Reddit, which simply said:

They literally had to do nothing to keep me hyped for that game and still fucked it up.

You would think that a video game studio connected to the internet in any way in 2021 would have seen this coming, but then [there’s a tweet pointing out that the game doesn’t have any female characters, and then they got into NFTs].

Anyway, 24 hours after making the announcement, and having taken flak for all of those 24 hours, the studio decided it was time to tweet out an “apology” letter. Of course it didn’t actually apologise for anything, aside from a perceived “miscommunication”…

… Not long after publishing the tweet (and being called out all over again) GSC went and deleted it.

An hour later they instead, announced the decision to “cancel anything NFT-related in STALKER 2,” with an incredible statement. After outlining in their earlier tweet how NFTs were going to help fund development, this time they essentially blame fans for depriving GSC Game World of a scammy source of revenue:


Game folk really, really don’t like NFTs.
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Notes on Web3 • Robin Sloan

Where “Web3” is the platform of cryptocurrency systems being built on top of everything else:


Here are my notes on Web3:

• It’s for kids. I mean that in a good way! I think Web3 has res onated pow er fully with young peo ple because it feels like some thing gen uinely new, and it feels like it can be theirs. Who could argue with those feelings? Not me.

• I think Web3 is pro pelled by exhaus tion as much as by excite ment. This isn’t appar ent on the surface, but I believe it’s there, lurk ing just below. If you are 22 years old, Twit ter has been around for about as long as you’ve known how to read. YouTube is fixed as firmly as the stars. I honestly don’t know how that feels, but I wonder if it’s claustrophobic?

• I have vivid mem o ries of the fer ment of the late 2000s, a new social net work flar ing up every week! I lived in San Francisco; they were build ing them in South Park. That fun froth hard ened into a com pact drama tis per sonae that has remained basi cally unchanged for years now. So, here comes Web3 — and the basic emo tional appeal of NEW OPTIONS can not be overstated.

• Many Web3 boost ers see them selves as disruptors, but “tokenize all the things” is noth ing if not an obe di ent con tin u a tion of “market-ize all the things”, the cam paign started in the 1970s, hugely suc cessful, ongoing. I think the World Wide Web was the real rupture — “Where … is the money?”—which Web 2.0 smoothed over and Web3 now attempts to seal totally.

• A large frac tion of Web3’s mag net ism comes from the value of the under ly ing cryptocurrencies. Therefore, a good diag nos tic ques tion to ask might be: would you still be curi ous about Web3 if those cur ren cies were worthless, in dol lar terms? For some peo ple, the answer is “yes, absolutely”, because they find the foun da tional puz zles so compelling. For others, if they’re honest, the answer is “nnnot reallyyy”.


There’s plenty more too. This seems a good outline of the desire that’s driving so many people to call it “Web3” (which also includes “people don’t seem to believe us when we say it’s like the early web, so maybe if we say it’s like Web 2.0 then they’ll be impressed”).
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Open letter from The BMJ to Mark Zuckerberg • The BMJ

Fiona Godlee and Kamran Abbas:


We are Fiona Godlee and Kamran Abbasi, editors of The BMJ, one of the world’s oldest and most influential general medical journals. We are writing to raise serious concerns about the “fact checking” being undertaken by third party providers on behalf of Facebook/Meta.

In September, a former employee of Ventavia, a contract research company helping carry out the main Pfizer covid-19 vaccine trial, began providing The BMJ with dozens of internal company documents, photos, audio recordings, and emails. These materials revealed a host of poor clinical trial research practices occurring at Ventavia that could impact data integrity and patient safety. We also discovered that, despite receiving a direct complaint about these problems over a year ago, the FDA did not inspect Ventavia’s trial sites.

The BMJ commissioned an investigative reporter to write up the story for our journal. The article was published on 2 November, following legal review, external peer review and subject to The BMJ’s usual high level editorial oversight and review.[1]

But from November 10, readers began reporting a variety of problems when trying to share our article. Some reported being unable to share it. Many others reported having their posts flagged with a warning about “Missing context … Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.” Those trying to post the article were informed by Facebook that people who repeatedly share “false information” might have their posts moved lower in Facebook’s News Feed. Group administrators where the article was shared received messages from Facebook informing them that such posts were “partly false.”

Readers were directed to a “fact check” performed by a Facebook contractor named Lead Stories.[2]

We find the “fact check” performed by Lead Stories to be inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible.

— It fails to provide any assertions of fact that The BMJ article got wrong

— It has a nonsensical title: “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials”

— The first paragraph inaccurately labels The BMJ a “news blog”

— It contains a screenshot of our article with a stamp over it stating “Flaws Reviewed,” despite the Lead Stories article not identifying anything false or untrue in The BMJ article

— It published the story on its website under a URL that contains the phrase “hoax-alert”


And that’s not the worst of it. The social networks haven’t covered themselves in glory at all in their fact checking in the past two years.
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Sidewalk Labs products will be folded into Google proper • Engadget

Kris Holt:


Alphabet’s smart city project is winding down and Google will take over its products. Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff announced the news in a letter, in which he noted he is stepping down for health-related reasons. A spokesperson confirmed to Engadget that Sidewalk Labs products will be folded into Google, though Alphabet plans to spin out Canopy Buildings as a separate company.

“Starting next year, Sidewalk products Pebble, Mesa, Delve, and Affordable Electrification will join Google, becoming core to Google’s urban sustainability product efforts,” Doctoroff wrote. “These products will continue to be led by Sidewalk Labs President of Urban Products Prem Ramaswami and Chief Technology Officer Craig Nevill-Manning, both Google alumni, and the teams will continue to execute on their vision and serve customers.”

Pebble is a vehicle sensor system designed to manage curb and parking space, and Delve is centered around bolstering real estate development with the help of AI. Mesa sensors are designed to help save energy, while Affordable Electrification is about managing home energy use. Canopy Buildings, meanwhile, focuses on “factory-automated mass timber construction.”


Hard to tell whether this means that Sidewalk is a success or not. It isn’t successful enough after six years to stand on its own, but then nothing that gets big enough within the Alphabet umbrella is going to be let to carry on. (The exception could have been Waymo, the self-driving car bit.) I’d guess this means that it’s mostly going to languish – never getting anything like the attention that it did as a stand-alone division.
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John Henry HyperCard Sampler • They Might Be Giants

Jon Uleis takes us back to 1994:


They Might Be Giants has just completed a new album, John Henry, which will be in the stores this August, but you don’t have to wait until then to experience the twenty new songs (interpretive snippets in extremely crappy lo-fidelity) presented here for your listening enjoyment!


The original was a Hypercard product (well, it was 1994) but Uleis has rewritten it in HTML5. Neat! (It’s not the real music, of course, but this is to some extent a dog-walking-on-its-hind-legs thing.
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Find out if 5G is worth the upgrade: a multi-country analysis • Speedtest


The holidays are nearly here and with them the desire to treat yourself or a loved one to an upgraded phone, just because. The first question you’re likely to ask yourself as you browse new models is “To 5G or not to 5G?” Once you check the Ookla 5G Map™ to see if your operator has deployed 5G in your area, you’ll probably want to know if the 5G speeds are worth the extra cost. We’ve analyzed Speedtest Intelligence® data from the most popular Android and iPhone devices around the world during Q3 2021 to help you see if it’s worth the upgrade. Click a country from the list to jump down to the related analysis.

• Australia
• Bahrain
• Canada
• China
• France
• Japan
• Saudi Arabia
• South Africa
• South Korea
• United Arab Emirates
• United Kingdom
• United States

Our analysis includes data on the five 4G Android devices in each country with the largest number of results during Q3 2021 as well as the five most popular 5G-capable Android devices. We have also compared the iPhone 13 to the iPhone 11. Even the fastest device can only perform at the level of the network it’s on. For that reason, speeds for the same device vary widely from country to country in the data below.


Generally, it’s faster. Quite a bit faster. But hardly worth the trouble of buying a new phone (or moving country) specifically. Speaking of 5G…
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Anti-5G necklaces found to be radioactive • BBC News


Mobile networks use non-ionising radio waves that do not damage DNA.
Despite this, there have been attacks on transmitters by people who believe they are harmful.

The products identified included an “Energy Armor” sleeping mask, bracelet and necklace. A bracelet for children, branded Magnetix Wellness, was also found to be emitting radiation.

“Don’t wear it any more, put it away safely and wait for the return instructions,” the [Dutch authority fo nuclear safety and radiation protection] ANVS said in a statement.

“The sellers in the Netherlands known to the ANVS have been told that the sale is prohibited and must be stopped immediately, and that they must inform their customers about this.”

Conspiracy theories have fuelled a market of “anti-5G” devices that are typically found to have no effect.

In May 2020, the UK’s Trading Standards sought to halt sales of a £339 USB stick that claimed to offer “protection” from 5G.


Classic. It could only be better if you had to paint a sign on (being sure to lick the paintbrush tip first).
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If you’re still looking for a Christmas book, either as a gift or for yourself, how about Social Warming, my latest book, on how social networks are affecting our society just as global warming is affecting the climate.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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