Start Up No.1713: what if email were slower?, PC sales boom, Argentina roasts, scientists complain at Spotify misinfo, and more


A German newspaper has raised questions about the timings and dates of tennis’s Novak Djokovic’s PCR Covid tests. Big questions. CC-licensed photo by angela n. on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. No blue site! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The subversive genius of extremely slow email • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

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Every day, the mail [British readers: post] still comes. My postal carrier drives her proud van onto the street and then climbs each stoop by foot. The service remains essential, but not as a communications channel. I receive ads and bills, mostly, and the occasional newspaper clipping from my mom. For talking to people, I use email and text and social networking. The mail is a ritual but also a relic.

That relic is also the model for a new personal-communication app called Pony Messenger. Think of it as email, if email arrived by post: You compose a message and put it in an outbox; once a day (you can choose morning, afternoon, or evening “pickups”), Pony picks up your outbound dispatches and delivers your inbounds. That’s it. It’s postal-service cosplay. It’s slow email.

Dmitry Minkovsky has been working on Pony over the past three years, with the goal of recovering some of the magic that online life had lost for him. The work falls into a long tradition, part conceptual art and part whimsy, that emerged in response to the oppressive instantaneity of the internet. In 2007, the Near Future Laboratory made Slow Messenger, an IM appliance that would reveal messages only if you cradled it in your hand; last year, the artist Ben Grosser created the Minus social network, on which you can post only 100 times. Other technologies of unhurriedness include Dialup (a surprise-phone-call app), Slowly (a pen-pal service), and Mail Goggles (a Gmail add-in to prevent email regret).

I used to find such projects appealing for their subversiveness: as art objects that make problems visible rather than proposing viable solutions to them. But now it’s clear that the internet needs design innovations—and brake mechanisms—to reduce its noxious impact. Our suffering arises, in part, from the speed and volume of our social interactions online. Maybe we can build our way toward fewer of them.

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The thing we used to value about email was that it would be delivered immediately. Now though we have messaging, and everyone* has a smartphone, so that isn’t such a pressing issue. I’m really not sure I’d trade my constant stream of email for a once-per-day drop, unless it all came at 7am. Which I suppose could be arranged.
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Growth streak for traditional PCs continues during holiday quarter of 2021 • IDC

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Total PC shipments during 2021 reached 348.8 million units, up 14.8% from 2020. This represents the highest level of shipments the PC market has seen since 2012.

“2021 has truly been a return to form for the PC,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile and Consumer Device Trackers. “Consumer need for PCs in emerging markets and global commercial demand remained strong during the quarter with supply being a gating factor. While consumer and educational demand has tapered in some developed markets, we continue to believe the overall PC market has reset at a much higher level than before the pandemic.”

“A challenging logistical environment, coupled with ongoing supply-side shortages, meant that the PC market could have been even larger than it was in 2021,” according to Tom Mainelli, group vice president of IDC’s Device and Consumer Research. “We closed the year with many buyers still waiting for their PC orders to ship. As we move through the first half of the year, we expect supply to remain constrained, especially with regards to the commercial segment where demand is the most robust.”

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Really remarkable. Apple did very well (unsurprisingly, given the pent-up demand for the new M1 MacBook Pros and Airs) with 22% growth, half as much against as the rest of the market. So it had 7.5% sales share for the year, its highest in ages. The M1 project has surely paid off.
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Ground temperatures hit 129ºF as Argentina suffers blackouts • Gizmodo

Molly Taft:

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On Tuesday, air temperatures rose to 106.7ºF (41.5ºC) in Buenos Aires, the second-highest reading in the city in more than 100 years of records. Other parts of the country saw temperatures as high as 113ºF (45ºC). The heat was so bad in Argentina on Tuesday that it was briefly the hottest place in the world, surpassing parts of Australia that usually have that honor during austral summer.

“This is a heat wave of extraordinary characteristics, with extreme temperature values ​​that will even be analyzed after its completion, and it may generate some historical records for Argentina temperatures and persistence of heat,” meteorologist Lucas Berengua told Reuters.

Infrastructure has sagged in the face of sweltering temperatures. Around 700,000 people were without power for hours on Tuesday afternoon as temperatures rose and the grid struggled; the city’s electric providers blamed increased demand from cooling during the heatwave. The agency that provides drinking water also asked residents to take conservation measures, saying that its purification system was affected during the outage.

Climate change is a key ingredient in basically all heat waves now. The planet has warmed roughly 1.8ºF (1ºC) since the world began burning fossil fuels. That seeming small rise has majorly shifted the odds toward more extreme heat, and observations around the world have borne that out.

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#dontlookup. Though at least this isn’t a wet-bulb high – the sort that kills.
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🤔 What if the Industrial Revolution had started 2,000 years ago rather than 200? (And why didn’t it?) • Faster Please

James Pethokoukis:

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why didn’t the Industrial Revolution start 2000 years ago? One important reason: Those pre-industrial societies intentionally extinguished the sparks of progress. For millennia, stasis had powerful defenders. The Roman Emperor Tiberius executed rather than rewarded a man who had invented unbreakable glass. Queen Elizabeth I declined to grant a patent to the inventor of the stocking-frame knitting machine, worrying that the invention would deprive textile workers of their employment. The guilds of preindustrial Europe played a key role in making sure Europe stayed preindustrial by blocking new technologies.

Then the protectors of the status quo, like the textile machinery-wrecking Luddites, started to fail. Governments started siding with the innovators and disruptors. Politicians did not like angry workers, but they liked losing wars to richer and technologically superior enemies even less. This is all documented in The Technology Trap by Carl Benedikt Frey, the Oxford Martin Citi Fellow at Oxford University, where he teaches economics and economic history. In November 2019, I had a podcast chat with Frey. From that conversation:

Pethokoukis: What was the original catalyst for the industrial revolution as you understand it?

Frey: So I don’t believe in mono-causal explanations of economic development. I think it was a blend of things that came together that made the industrial revolution, but I think that one very underestimated factor that I highlight in the book has to do with the structure of political power.

Before the industrial revolution, in most pre-industrial societies, craft skills were a source of political clout. They didn’t have any interest in technologies that threatened their jobs and incomes. And, fearing social unrest, monarchs of governments typically sided with the guilds rather than pioneers of industry, fearing that they might challenge the political status quo.

And what happened in Britain was, first of all, with the rise of Atlantic trade, the new merchant class emerged. They were the ones who stood to benefit from mechanization because, with rising wages, mechanization was what allowed them to remain competitive in trade.

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A very interesting counterfactual. But also, what are the modern equivalents of craft guilds? Fossil fuel companies?
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Novak Djoković: were the results of his positive PCR test manipulated? • DER SPIEGEL

Jörn Meyn, Max Hoppenstedt, DER SPIEGEL:

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A coronavirus test with the number 7371999 was actually supposed to be Novak Djoković’s ticket for unproblematic entry into Australia. That positive test is the most important argument the unvaccinated tennis player has presented for why he should be allowed into the country, despite its strict entry regulations, to play in the Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 17. The PCR test was performed at 1:05 p.m. on Dec. 16, and seven hours later, the positive result was returned.

That, at least, is the story told by documentation from the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, which Djoković’s lawyers later presented in court. But a closer look at the allegedly positive PCR test, especially its digital version, raises questions.

The digital data suggests that the test results aren’t from Dec. 16 at all. In the digital results, there is a timestamp for 2:21 p.m. Serbian time on Dec. 26. Such timestamps are normally produced automatically by corona test systems, marking when individual tests are entered into the relevant database. That usually happens just a few minutes after the test result becomes available. Another possibility could be that the timestamps are generated when the tested person downloads the results from the server.

Djoković’s lawyers also presented a second, negative test as part of the tennis star’s immigration proceedings. That test was apparently meant to prove that Djoković had since recovered from his COVID-19 illness. According to the documentation presented, it is from the afternoon of Dec. 22 – and the timing of that test is confirmed by the digital timestamp.

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Very sus. And the other, natural question: if he hadn’t happened to get infected, what was he going to do to qualify for entry to Australia, which offers only very narrow options for the unvaccinated?
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An Open Letter to Spotify

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On Dec. 31, 2021, the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE), a Spotify-exclusive podcast, uploaded a highly controversial episode featuring guest Dr. Robert Malone (#1757). The episode has been criticized for promoting baseless conspiracy theories and the JRE has a concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals. JRE #1757 is not the only transgression to occur on the Spotify platform, but a relevant example of the platform’s failure to mitigate the damage it is causing.

We are a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators spanning a wide range of fields such as microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and neuroscience and we are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform. With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.

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That last bit isn’t quite right. Spotify’s misinformation policy is that it doesn’t care about misinformation spread by Joe Rogan, because it paid $100m to get him exclusively and so anything that gets attention is tickety-boo. Probably including this open letter.
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BBC does not subscribe to ‘cancel culture’, says director of editorial policy • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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The BBC opposes so-called “cancel culture” and will actively provide a platform for individuals with contrary viewpoints, according to the man who enforces its editorial standards.

David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy, said the broadcaster should “represent all points of view” and wanted to see a belief in impartiality triumph over identity.

“We are very committed to ensuring that viewpoints are heard from all different sorts of perspectives and we don’t subscribe to the ‘cancel culture’ that some groups would put forward,” he said.

Jordan said everyone should expect their views to be appropriately represented by the national broadcaster – even if they believe the Earth is flat. “It’s critical to the BBC that we represent all points of view and give them due weight,” he said.

“Flat-earthers are not going to get as much space as people who believe the Earth is round, but very occasionally it might be appropriate to interview a flat-earther. And if a lot of people believed in flat Earth we’d need to address it more.”

Asked about issues such as transgender rights, Jordan told the House of Lords communications committee that impartiality should triumph over personal identity. He criticised the New York Times for some of its editorial choices in this area and said individual BBC staff should not be able to veto coverage.

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The flat earth bit has attracted a lot of attention. Though I think Jordan was trying, in a hurry, to think of a topic where there might be an emergent difference of opinion with most of the opinion coming down on one particular side. And he lighted on “flat earth”, which was a terrible choice because it’s settled science, right back to the Greeks. Next time could I suggest trying “the presence of alien life on a distant planet”, Mr Jordan?
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Lawsuit filed against Kim Kardashian for promoting bogus cryptocurrency to her followers • Finbold

Jordan Major:

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With the ever-increasing number of scams occurring in the cryptocurrency space, investors are starting to take matters into their own hands.

Ryan Huegerich, a New York resident, and other claimants filed a class-action lawsuit against  Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Paul Pierce in a California district court, for promoting an Ethereum knockoff, Ethereum Max (EMAX), according to a lawsuit filed on January 7.

The investors acquired EMAX tokens between May 14, 2021, and June 27, 2021, and the complaint was placed on classaction.org, which serves as a consumer resource for class action litigation.

“Defendants touted the prospects of the Company [EMAX] and the ability for investors to make significant returns due to the favorable ‘tokenomics’ of the EMAX Tokens,” the complaint said.
Unknown entities behind the knockoff coin

Apart from suing the celebrities, New York resident Huegerich is also suing the as-of-yet unidentified business body that is behind the EMAX tokens.

“Plaintiff will identify the appropriate Corporate Defendant through discovery of the Executive Defendants,” according to the complaint.

The EMAX cryptocurrency reached an all-time high of $0.0000008546 in May of last year, however at the time of publication, it was trading at $0.0000000197, roughly 97% less than that figure.

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So basically it went from needing a microscope to see the price to needing an electron microscope to see the price. But the point is that Kardashian pushed the EMAX token to her followers.
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Wordle and IP law: what happens when a hot game gets cloned • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

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t’s important to note that the basic five-letter guessing game underlying Wordle is not itself a completely original idea. The same basic gameplay was popularized by Lingo, a game show that dates back to the ’80s in the US and other countries. The two-player pen-and-paper game Jotto, which goes back to 1955, would also be very familiar to Wordle players. Before that, a more traditional version of the game called Bulls and Cows has been played since the 19th century, according to at least one source.

Conveniently, none of this history provides a legal problem for Wordle itself. “Whenever you have a copyright, you’re protecting the expression, not the idea,” Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars. “It’s a line a lot of people have a very hard time with, especially when you get into games.”

In other words, it’s exceedingly hard to copyright an abstract game mechanic like “guessing five-letter words and giving hints based on correct letters.” A game developer can file for a patent on an original gaming idea, a legal process that has been used to strangle video game clones in the past. But getting a patent is a long and arduous process that can fall apart if there’s “prior art” predating the idea (or if the mechanic could be considered legally “obvious”).

Separate from copyright or patent, a trademark could at least legally protect the name Wordle from being exploited by copycats. But unlike copyright, which applies automatically when a work is published, trademarks offer very limited protection until and unless they are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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So all the ripoffs that have been thrown out of the iOS App Store… probably weren’t breaking any demonstrable law.
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Hoping to get an important ex-Facebooker to talk to me for the paperback edition of Social Warming, my latest book. Stick around.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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