Start Up No.1742: fighting Russia on.. Twitter?, Canadian protest crypto gets moving, the smart home puzzle, Horizon’s many bugs, and more


The FBI wants us to approach QR codes found in the wild “with caution”. It’s mostly good advice, but how many people will follow it? CC-licensed photo by Individual Design on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Storm? What storm? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Thoughts on shitpost diplomacy – The Scholar’s Stage

Tanner Greer:

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Approximately three hours ago, the official twitter account of the United States Embassy in Kiev posted this meme.

The meme is idiotic at even the surface level: in face of Russian claims that Ukraine is a 20th century political fiction artificially dividing the Russian people into national categories that would not have made sense to any European who lived before Lenin, and that this cradle of Russian culture should not be allowed to fall within the geopolitical ambit of a hostile anti-Russian alliance, the American embassy tweets a meme that highlights Kiev’s role as the origin point of Russian civilization. This is not hard. A Russian sixth-grader could explain why celebrating the glories of Kievan Rus does not subvert Putin’s claims about the history of the Russian nation so much as reinforce them.

The American diplomat who posted this meme should have known this. He or she was almost certainly a Foreign Service Officer in the Public Diplomacy cone; a public diplomat’s first charge is learning how to communicate persuasively to the people of the region stationed in. It is not that this officer lacked the raw intelligence to fulfill this role: four out of every five applicants fail the Foreign Service’s selective entrance tests. It is what this diplomat did after receiving his or her post that mattered. This diplomat did not study. Memes like these are the product of a culture that retweets more than it reads.   

The internet operates on its own logic. In the world of Twitter, Twitch and Tiktok, fame is the aim and exposure the goal. The influence of an influencer is measured in retweets, reblogs, and runaway memes. The internet-addled man glories in the hashtag that takes on its own life; he revels in the image that entire subcultures make their own. His battleground is “the discourse.” In this ethereal realm of images and threads, prestige comes from being clever, being funny, and being first. One’s internet enemies are to be cancelled where possible, and lampooned when not. The social media addict knows victory when the right words are used by the right sorts.

But not all enemies can be cancelled.

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“We’ll bombard them with memes, and then our third infantry of tweeters will start blocking them.”
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‘Frozen’ bitcoin tied to Canadian protests lands at Coinbase, Crypto.Com • Coindesk

Anna Baydakova and Sam Reynolds:

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Cryptocurrency tied to the Canadian truckers protesting COVID-19 restrictions has been on the move, in defiance of the authorities’ orders to freeze funds, blockchain analysis shows.

Nearly all of the roughly 20 BTC (about $788,000 U.S. at current exchange rates) sent to the Tallycoin fundraiser is gone from that address, with only 0.11 BTC left, according to Blockchain.com data.

Most of the 30 bitcoin wallets identified by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as being attached to the fundraising have been drained as well, with only 0.01 BTC combined between them, on-chain data shows.

Whether the recipients will be able to use the funds to buy goods or services remains to be seen, however.

A CoinDesk review of the public ledger shows that four small portions of the roughly 20 bitcoin raised – about 0.14 BTC each – ended up at two centralized exchanges, Coinbase and Crypto.com. It is not clear whether the funds were cashed out for fiat or frozen at those platforms.

The situation highlights the limitations of a government’s ability to thwart transactions through decentralized, censorship-resistant systems – but also the limitations of those systems to circumvent such sanctions.

…Centralized exchanges’ approaches to wallets sanctioned or blacklisted by authorities can vary, Crystal Blockchain’s head of data intelligence, Nicholas Smart, told CoinDesk.

“First off, does the exchange have to apply the sanctions? They may not if they are not facing the sanctioning market and don’t do business there,” Smart said.

Coinbase and Crypto.com both do business in Canada (although they are not listed among financial institutions ordered to freeze funds by the Mareva injunction in the private lawsuit).

“Second, did they know about the listing, and at what point did they find out?” Smart went on. “This will change if they will stop a transfer and report it or if they simply will report the activity. That detection is also dependent on how good their transaction monitoring system is.”

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The average person doesn’t have a chance with the smart home • TechCrunch

Owen Williams:

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Smart devices are everywhere, embedded in practically everything — but actually making a smart home that works in harmony is a nightmare that the average person is unlikely to be able to navigate on their own. 

I’ve been navigating this myself lately as someone who just purchased their first home, eager to make the most of the best of this smart tech now that I’m able to rip out light switches and cut holes in my walls when I want to. If you’re intentional about what you buy, the smart home can be magical, and I was ready to invest in that.

My plan was to go into the smart home eyes wide open and take my time to only buy devices that complement each other. I knew from my time renting that cobbling together a bunch of random smart devices without much thought grew increasingly annoying over time. Over the last few months I’ve spent hours researching things like smart light switches, sensors and blinds before spending any money. 

But, even as someone who works in technology, it has amazed me just how complicated the smart home still is: it’s full of jargon and incompatible standards. Before buying anything, people who want to get into the “smart home” need to choose their ecosystems and technologies wisely from the outset or they’ll be fidgeting with it for years — but no device maker is upfront with this. 

The basic goal of anyone building a smart home should be: which device do I want to primarily manage these things through? For most people, the best route is likely via a smart speaker like the Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Apple’s HomePod, all of which will allow you to control those devices with your voice as well as a single app on your phone. 

The problem, however, is that the need for a single app or device to control all the smart things isn’t obvious until you end up with a few different devices that it’s annoying to switch between via different apps to control each of your light bulbs.

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The fact that you have to pick devices that will work with your ecosystem, which is probably determined by your phone, only heightens the confusion. (I use Ikea light bulbs, which interact well, and Hive for heating control.)
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What went wrong with Horizon: learning from the Post Office trial • Evidence Critical Systems

Steven J. Murdoch:

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What seems to be a simple problem – keeping track of how much money and stock is in a branch – is actually much harder than it appears. Considering the large number of transactions that Horizon performs (millions per day), inevitable hardware and communication failures, and the complex interactions between systems, it should have been obvious that errors would be a common occurrence.

In this video, I explained the basics of double-entry accounting, how this must be implemented on a transaction system (that provides atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability – ACID) and gave some examples of where Horizon has failed. For this video, I had to abbreviate and simplify some of the aspects discussed, so I wrote this blog post to refer to the Post Office trial judgement that talked about the situations in which Horizon has been identified to fail.

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There’s a lot here: so many ways in which Horizon could and did go wrong. (That’s Horizon the Post Office system, not Horizon the Facebook system – that still has some runway before it’s decided to have caused the wrongful convictions or deaths of dozens of people.
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The failure paradox • Ingenuism

Don Watkins:

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The aviation industry connected the important players to create a supportive environment that fosters sharing information, maximizing learning, and consistently using best practices. The result is astonishingly safe air travel where past failure sowed the seeds for the current success.

When we celebrate failure, what we are actually celebrating is its role in the learning process. But why should learning require failure? In school, after all, failure isn’t celebrated. The valedictorian isn’t the person who failed the most or even learned the most from failure—she’s the one who failed the least. Failure is treated as something we can avoid and, if we fail, it’s because we didn’t study hard enough, or pay attention enough, or aren’t smart enough. But is it?

Interestingly, one of the most successful approaches to education, the method pioneered by Maria Montessori, takes a completely different approach to failure. Believing that “Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements,” Montessori created self-correcting classroom materials that let the child know when he’s made an error. Using these materials, a child doesn’t experience failure as a punishment, but as feedback that promotes learning.

But even when education encourages a healthier attitude toward failure, the school environment is unique. Its goal is to impart already discovered knowledge. In the real world, we’re seeking to apply discovered knowledge to new situations and to discover new knowledge. And it’s here that failure is most obviously inescapable.

You cannot fly billions of people through the sky without mistakes. You cannot create new products or launch new business ventures knowing they’ll work. Human beings aren’t omniscient or infallible. We acquire knowledge over time, and certain facts only reveal themselves in the midst of a journey into unexplored territory.

And so the question is not, to fail or not to fail? The question is: how to respond to inevitable failures?

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Frequently Asked Questions for Windows on an Apple Silicon Mac • getwired.com

Wes Miller:

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As I worked on my last blog post, it hit me that there are a ton of “frequently asked questions” that I’ve already seen around Windows on ARM running on Apple silicon Macs. I’ll try to keep these somewhat updated as I can, as things will likely change over time.

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His focus is on the Windows licensing question (especially if you virtualise it, which is your only option on ARM at present). Apple doesn’t have a lot of incentive just yet to get Windows running natively on ARM, as it’s just coming off a year in which it sold more Macs than ever, and most of those were ARM-based, and none of them could run Windows directly. So what’s Apple’s motivation to get Windows running on ARM? It could just keep a few models running on Intel for those who really, really want to run Windows natively on Mac hardware. But it probably won’t.

Equally, Microsoft doesn’t have that much reason to let Apple ARM hardware run Windows: it’s more hassle, another platform to support, and not an eager OEM.
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Firefighters struggle to douse fire on luxury cars vessel off Azores islands • Reuters

Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee:

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Firefighters are struggling to put out a fire that broke out on Wednesday on a vessel carrying thousands of luxury cars, which is adrift off the coast of Portugal’s Azores islands, a port official said, adding it was unclear when they would succeed.

The Felicity Ace ship, carrying around 4,000 vehicles including Porsches, Audis and Bentleys, some electric with lithium-ion batteries, caught fire in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday. The 22 crew members on board were evacuated on the same day. read more

“The intervention (to put out the blaze) has to be done very slowly,” João Mendes Cabeças, captain of the nearest port in the Azorean island of Faial, told Reuters late on Saturday. “It will take a while.”

Lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicles on board are “keeping the fire alive”, Cabeças said, adding that specialist equipment to extinguish it was on the way.

It was not clear whether the batteries sparked the fire.

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However, the vessel is now officially salvage, so if you want to nab yourself a slightly scorched premium EV, launch your boat.
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Peloton is down, so you might have to exercise alone • The Verge

Victoria Song:

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If you were hoping to use the Slack outage to sneak in a Peloton ride, there’s bad news: the popular connected fitness company is also “currently investigating an issue with Peloton services.”

On Peloton’s status page, it appears that users cannot access logins, live classes, on-demand classes, leaderboards, or activate services on Peloton bikes and treadmills. On Twitter, the company said this may also impact users’ ability to access Peloton’s websites. However, as of this writing, the only Peloton site suffering a major outage is the member profile/workout history page. According to DownDetector, people began reporting Peloton outages at around 10AM ET.

While the outage isn’t necessarily Peloton’s fault, it does highlight one of the pitfalls of connected fitness. Without software and connectivity, the expensive hardware you just bought suddenly isn’t quite as useful.

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Can’t even ride it on the road outside. Troubles don’t come singly for Peloton, they come in a.. pack.
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The FBI is alarmed by the spike in fake QR code usage • ExtremeTech

Adrianna Nine:

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according to the FBI, QR codes found out in the physical world (versus the virtual one) should be approached with caution. The agency warns that cybercriminals have begun tampering with QR codes to redirect those who scan them to malicious websites. Some of these websites are said to install malware onto victims’ phones and redirect otherwise innocent payments to the criminal. Others prompt victims to enter their financial institution credentials, giving the criminal access to the victim’s bank accounts. While virtual QR codes are tougher to tamper with, bad actors can easily stick altered codes over pre-existing ones in physical environments. And without more than just a glance, a hungry diner who’s just been seated at their favorite eatery might not notice the difference. 

It’s important to note that the FBI isn’t asking the public to do away with QR codes completely; after all, the codes have proved an excellent way for individuals and businesses to connect without contact and improve operational efficiency.

Instead, the FBI is asking people to look twice before scanning physical codes. The agency recommends that before engaging with a QR code’s destination site, individuals inspect the URL for any typos or misplaced letters; avoiding app downloads and payments via QR code can be a helpful practice, too, since both can usually be conducted through a more trustworthy source, like a mobile app store or official company website.

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“Look twice before scanning physical codes”? We’re meant to be able to decipher QR codes with our bare eyes now? In fact the FBI advice is more nuanced, and includes the good advice not to download a QR code scanner app – because that could be poisoned.
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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: none notified

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