Start Up No.1738: Wikipedia v web3, how Johnson was persuaded on climate change, track your mains frequency!, and more

A number of people who, like Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin, got bionic eyes have had them fail after the company lost interest. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Very windswept. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why you can’t rebuild Wikipedia with crypto • Platformer

Casey Newton interviews Molly White, creator of web3 Is Going Just Great:


Newton: You’re a longtime editor and administrator of Wikipedia, which is often presented by crypto people as a web3 dream project: a decentralized public good operated by its community. And yet something tells me you think about decentralization and community very differently than they do. How do your experiences at Wikipedia shape the way you view web3? 

White: I think my experiences with the Wikimedia community have given me a pretty realistic view of how wonderful but also how difficult community-run projects can be. There are some issues that community-driven projects are prone to running up against: deciding issues when the community is split, dealing with abuse and harassment within the community, handling outside players with a strong interest in influencing what the community does. I think this is partly why some of the best critics of web3 have backgrounds in communities like Wikimedia and open source—they are familiar with the challenges that community governance and decentralization can bring. When I watch DAOs spring into existence and encounter a lot of the same difficulties we’ve seen over and over again, I often find myself wondering how many members have ever been involved in community-run projects in the past. I think a lot of people are dipping their toes in for the first time, and learning a lot of things the hard way, with very high stakes.

Web3 also adds an enormous amount of complexity on top of the already-complex types of issues that the Wikimedia community has faced, because there’s money involved. The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation handles most of the finances with respect to Wikipedia, and so although the community has input, it’s largely not a day-to-day concern. There also aren’t really intrinsic monetary incentives for people to contribute to Wikipedia, which I think is a very good thing.


It certainly is notable that strong critics of web3 (David Gerard, White) are longtime Wikipedia contributors. As she says, they know how this all goes wrong.
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Their bionic eyes are now obsolete – and unsupported • IEEE Spectrum

Eliza Strickland and Mark Harris:


Barbara Campbell was walking through a New York City subway station during rush hour when her world abruptly went dark. For four years, Campbell had been using a high-tech implant in her left eye that gave her a crude kind of bionic vision, partially compensating for the genetic disease that had rendered her completely blind in her 30s. “I remember exactly where I was: I was switching from the 6 train to the F train,” Campbell tells IEEE Spectrum. “I was about to go down the stairs, and all of a sudden I heard a little ‘beep, beep, beep’ sound.”

It wasn’t her phone battery running out. It was her Argus II retinal implant system powering down. The patches of light and dark that she’d been able to see with the implant’s help vanished.

Terry Byland is the only person to have received this kind of implant in both eyes. He got the first-generation Argus I implant, made by the company Second Sight Medical Products, in his right eye in 2004 and the subsequent Argus II implant in his left 11 years later. He helped the company test the technology, spoke to the press movingly about his experiences, and even met Stevie Wonder at a conference. “[I] went from being just a person that was doing the testing to being a spokesman,” he remembers.

Yet in 2020, Byland had to find out secondhand that the company had abandoned the technology and was on the verge of going bankrupt. While his two-implant system is still working, he doesn’t know how long that will be the case. “As long as nothing goes wrong, I’m fine,” he says. “But if something does go wrong with it, well, I’m screwed. Because there’s no way of getting it fixed.”

…After Second Sight discontinued its retinal implant in 2019 and nearly went out of business in 2020, a public offering in June 2021 raised $57.5m at $5 per share. The company promised to focus on its ongoing clinical trial of a brain implant, called Orion, that also provides artificial vision. But its stock price plunged to around $1.50, and in February 2022, just before this article was published, the company announced a proposed merger with an early-stage biopharmaceutical company called Nano Precision Medical (NPM). None of Second Sight’s executives will be on the leadership team of the new company, which will focus on developing NPM’s novel implant for drug delivery.


Quite the dilemma for people who could benefit from this. (And a terrific piece of reporting by Strickland and Harris.) It’s why you’d want a bigger health organisation as an intermediary between patient and company to guarantee some sort of pipeline. (In the UK, the NHS usually fulfils that role.)
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Meta CEO Zuckerberg promotes Nick Clegg to lead on policy issues • Reuters

Elizabeth Culliford:


Meta Platforms Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he had promoted policy chief Nick Clegg into a larger role to lead on all policy matters, signaling less involvement from Zuckerberg in the area.

“We need a senior leader at the level of myself (for our products) and Sheryl (for our business) who can lead and represent us for all of our policy issues globally,” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Clegg, who was a British deputy prime minister from 2010 to 2015, joined Facebook in 2018 to run its global policy organization. He has led on issues like Facebook’s content policy and elections and spearheaded its establishment of the company’s independent content oversight board.

“Nick will now lead our company on all our policy matters, including how we interact with governments as they consider adopting new policies and regulations, as well as how we make the case publicly for our products and our work,” Zuckerberg said in the post.

The CEO said the change would allow him to focus more on leading the company as it builds new products while Sandberg focused on the success of its business.


So two people above him, both more powerful. Essentially the same dynamic as when he was deputy, and the much smarter George Osborne was Chancellor and David Cameron, the better politician, was PM.

Clegg has climbed the not-so-greasy pole at Facebook very quickly by being a magnificent sponge – he’s the one rolled out to be punched in the press, and soon no doubt in Congress – but he’s never going to be in Sandberg’s role. Or Zuck’s, of course.
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Revealed: the 11 slides that finally convinced Boris Johnson about global warming • Carbon Brief

Daisy Dunne, Josh Gabbatiss, Leo Hickman, Robert McSweeney and Ayesha Tandon:


A scientific briefing that UK prime minister Boris Johnson says changed his mind about global warming has been made public for the first time, following a freedom-of-information (FOI) request by Carbon Brief.

Last year, on the eve of the UK hosting COP26 in Glasgow, Johnson described tackling climate change as the country’s “number one international priority”. He also published a net-zero strategy and told other countries at the UN General Assembly to “grow up” when it comes to global warming.

However, just a few years earlier, Johnson was publicly doubting established climate science. For example, in a Daily Telegraph column published in 2015 he claimed unusual winter heat had “nothing to do with global warming”. And, in 2013, he said he had an “open mind” to the idea that the Earth was heading for a mini ice-age.

Last year, acknowledging his past climate scepticism, Johnson told journalists that he had now changed his mind, largely due to a scientific briefing he received shortly after becoming prime minister in 2019.


It is definitely a scientific briefing (there’s an explanation of each slide too), and there’s also a useful set of emails from the runup where the scientists are discussing what to include. Quite a good example of “figure out who you’re trying to persuade, of what” though they could also have done “his new squeeze is probably going to be helpful in persuading him.”
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Meta’s Foo Fighters SuperBowl VR concert failed in the most basic ways • TechRadar

Hamish Hector:


Most online events, particularly those on a grand scale like this Foo Fighters concert [on Sunday night], allow people to enter a virtual waiting room before the officially posted start time – typically opening this up about 30 minutes before showtime. 

This prevents there being a huge impact on the servers with users flooding in all at once, which reduces the likelihood of participants experiencing crashes.

Meta decided to opt for a different strategy. As reported by Bye, no one could join the event until the well-advertised 8pm PT start time rolled around, and the pre-recorded concert began just five minutes later at 8:05pm. 

At 8pm, more than 61,000 eager people would have received an invite to join the Foo Fighter’s After Show (roughly the number of people who registered their interest ahead of time), and, unsurprisingly, the lobby crashed due to the influx of users who tried to join in one big push.

Bye highlighted that there were other ways to jump into the concert through the Horizon Venues app, but this seems to have not been an intuitive solution for users or issues persisted there. At its peak, the max number of VR viewers only reached around 13,000 – less than a quarter of the people who wanted to attend.

Quest users who were able to join found themselves watching a prerecorded video of a concert, with sub-optimal viewing angles and camera operators walking about the stage. This made some feel like the Foo Fighters After Show was not the VR-first experience that had been promised. 

In response to complaints on Twitter the VP of Horizon, Vivek Sharma, cited that problems were caused by “unprecedented” demand. Adding that further opportunities to see the show would be available for those who missed out the first time.

However, we find these excuses to be pretty weak coming from a multi-billion dollar company – especially one that has been heavily advertising this concert and its VR services in the run-up to, and during, the Super Bowl.


Makes the metaverse even weirder if gigs start on time there.
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A crucial clue in the $4.5bn bitcoin heist: a $500 Walmart gift card • WSJ

James Fanelli, Ben Foldy and Dustin Volz:


Every transaction of bitcoin is recorded in a public ledger for anyone to see—resulting in huge volumes of data. Analyzing their patterns can reveal groups that seem to share a common source or connection. Court documents show federal agents used software tools to sift through the data in search of connections and patterns, a process called cluster analysis.

One cluster of bitcoin addresses, identified in court filings as 36B6mu, caught investigators’ attention.

On May 3, 2020, a fraction of a bitcoin went from the cluster to an exchange that sells prepaid gift cards. In return, a $500 gift card for Walmart was sent to a Russian-registered email. The transaction, however, was conducted via an IP address linked to a cloud service provider in New York that investigators linked to Mr. Lichtenstein, according to the agents.

Portions of the gift card, filings said, were then redeemed through Walmart’s phone app. Three purchases were conducted online using Ms. Morgan’s name, using one of her emails, and the couple’s apartment address was provided for delivery.

Between February of 2019 and December 2020, bitcoin worth about $7.8 million today flowed through the cluster to and from accounts at various crypto exchanges that investigators said in court documents are tied to Mr. Lichtenstein and Ms. Morgan.

Investigating agents in January 2021 asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui in Washington to issue a warrant to search email accounts connected to the couple. Judge Faruqui approved the warrant in August, noting the public nature of the blockchain ledger meant that those using it had no constitutional right to privacy.


Great thing when you’re committing your crimes in full sight, and it’s only the names that need to be found.
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Google Search is dying • DKB



If you’ve tried to search for a recipe or product review recently, I don’t need to tell you that Google search results have gone to shit. You would have already noticed that the first few non-ad results are SEO optimized sites filled with affiliate links and ads.

Google still gives decent results for many other categories, especially when it comes to factual information. You might think that Google results are pretty good for you, and you have no idea what I’m talking about.

What you don’t realize is that you’ve been self-censoring yourself from searching most of the things you would have wanted to search. You already know subconsciously that Google isn’t going to return a good result.

I’m far from the only one who thinks Google is dying…


Yes, you’ve heard it a few times before. But there’s a Redditor who has a fairly good explanation:


I think I understand what this article is trying to say. It’s not saying that Google’s search technology is worse or that people don’t use Google to search. It’s saying that people trust less of the results Google shows compared to seeing discussions of it on Reddit.

For instance, if I’m looking to see reviews of the Honda Civic 2022 or whatever, I actually do find myself typing “Honda Civic review reddit” instead of “Honda Civic review”. This is because I want to see what real people and enthusiasts (on r/cars or whatever) are talking about the car, rather than the top results at Google which are basically just paid reviews advertising the car anyway.

Even though I kinda know people in Reddit are just as capable of spouting BS that are completely wrong, I find the discussions more authentic anyway than the corporate speak the “big websites” have on their articles that Google shows me.


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Google plans Android privacy change similar to Apple’s • CNBC

Jessica Bursztynsky:


Google said it’s developing new privacy-focused replacements for its advertising ID, a unique string of characters that identifies the user’s device. The digital IDs in smartphones often help ad-tech companies track and share information about consumers.

The changes could impact big companies that have relied on tracking users across apps, like Facebook-parent Meta. Apple’s tweaks hit Meta particularly hard, for example. Meta said earlier this month Apple’s privacy changes will decrease the social media company’s sales this year by about $10 billion. That news contributed to wiping $232bn from the company’s market cap in a single day, eventually pushing the company’s below $600bn. Meta was worth more than $1 trillion back in June 2021.

But while Meta fought against Apple’s changes, it seems supportive of the way Google plans to implement its privacy tweaks.

“Encouraging to see this long-term, collaborative approach to privacy-protective personalized advertising from Google,” Graham Mudd, vice president of product marketing, ads and business at Facebook said on Twitter.


Maybe curb your enthusiasm on this, as it’s not coming for (at least) two years. And Facebook’s reaction – well, don’t forget that Google and Facebook are presently facing a lot of scrutiny over solid-looking claims that they colluded over ad pricing.
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Accurately track your mains frequency • Hackaday

Jenny List:


Depending upon where in the world you live, AC mains frequency is either 50Hz or 60Hz, and that frequency is maintained accurately enough over time that it can be used as a time reference for a clock. Oddly it’s rarely exactly that figure though, instead it varies slightly with load on the network and the operators will adjust it to keep a constant frequency over a longer period. These small variations in frequency can easily be measured, and [jp3141] has created a circuit that does exactly that.

It’s a surprisingly straightforward device, in which a Teensy takes its power supply from a very conventional if now a little old-school mains transformer, rectifier, and regulator. A sample of the AC from the transformer passes through a low-pass filer and a clamp, and thence to the Teensy where it is fed into one of the on-board comparators from which its period is measured using one of the timers.


You absolutely are not recommended to try this, unless you’re pretty confident about messing about with mains power. Also, this might be more for the US than UK/Europe.

What I find telling about it though is the implicit desire it fulfils to measure absolutely everything that can be measured, no matter whether it makes the slightest difference to your life, or whether you can do anything about it.
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Fantastical update adds cloud-based scheduling features • Six Colours

Jason Snell:


Finding a common time when a group of people can meet has been a recurring theme of my life for a couple of decades now. Back in the old days, it was often finding common times for project meetings at work. For more than a decade, it has also included scheduling podcast episodes with a disparate group of panelists. And as an independent type person, I often need to schedule Zoom meetings with a random collection of people in different time zones with different schedules.

My calendar app has never really done this job well, so I’ve used a bunch of web-based tools to facilitate this work, most notably Doodle and (more recently) StrawPoll. As of last week, though, my calendar app does do this—because last week Flexibits announced Fantastical 3.6, an update to its subscription-based calendar app that adds a new web-based scheduler.

Fantastical’s scheduler works both ways. If you’re trying to find a common time, you can create an event with multiple possible times, and then generate a link to send to potential participants. They can respond on the web with the times they’re available, and—this is maybe my favorite part—you can see their responses right within Fantastical.


I’ve been using Fantastical (it’s a Mac app) for years – I like the fact that it gives you a little calendar accessible from the menu bar, into which you can add appointments etc. I don’t greatly like its determination to parse any use of “at” or similar prepositions into a location, or attempts to deduce dates I haven’t entered, but it’s tolerable for that.

Adding scheduling (it previously added weather) seems like another step closer to the point where, like all apps, it adds messaging.
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Happy Valentine’s Day from Facebook. Here’s a photo of you and your ex • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Emily Kling:


You really loved that wine bar. Look at how happy you were. And is it just us or is your body snatched in this pic? Do you still own that blouse? Oh, right, it doesn’t fit anymore. Just like your ex, it’s gone now.

What happened anyway? I mean, we’re Facebook; we, of course, know what happened. We’ve read the private messages between your ex-boyfriend and your best friend. Pretty steamy. But also, what happened to you? Bummer that you never fully moved on.

Wonder how your ex is doing? Just hover over his name to enlarge his new profile picture. He is still cute and athletic. Did you know he was training to run the marathon? You were always trying to convince him to get back into running. Well, he’s finally done it. And yes, he’s still with your best friend. Sorry, ex-best friend! Our bad.

Here are some pics of them at that vineyard you love. You were right about that place. So romantic. The perfect spot to get engaged. No argument there from your ex. Check out that diamond. Talk about blinding. Quite the rock. And on such a dainty little finger too.


Satire so sharp you could cut your wrists on it. (Via John Naughton)
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Barry T points out, re yesterday’s article about the man with Covid for 14 months, that immunocompromised people aren’t the only way that variants emerge (and possibly not even the major way). There’s also human-animal-human passage, and others.

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