Start Up No.1735: Facebook’s toxic superuser problem, AirTags investigated, can Reels challenge TikTok?, batteries!, and more


An attempt by Samsung to demo its new phone in the metaverse didn’t go to plan. At all. CC-licensed photo by Moogani GossipGirl on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Still not feeling invaded. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


• 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.


Facebook has a superuser-supremacy problem • The Atlantic

Matthew Hindman, Nathaniel Lubin and Trevor Davis:

»

If you want to understand why Facebook too often is a cesspool of hate and disinformation, a good place to start is with users such as John, Michelle, and Calvin.

John, a caps-lock devotee from upstate New York, calls House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “PIGLOSI,” uses the term negro, and says that the right response to Democrats with whom they disagree is to “SHOOT all of them.” Michelle rails against the “plandemic.” Calvin uses gay as a slur and declares that Black neighborhoods are always “SHITHOLES.” You’ve almost certainly encountered people like these on the internet. What you may not realize, though, is just how powerful they are.

For more than a year, we’ve been analyzing a massive new data set that we designed to study public behavior on the 500 U.S. Facebook pages that get the most engagement from users. Our research, part of which will be submitted for peer review later this year, aims to better understand the people who spread hate and misinformation on Facebook. We hoped to learn how they use the platform and, crucially, how Facebook responds. Based on prior reporting, we expected it would be ugly. What we found was much worse.

The most alarming aspect of our findings is that people like John, Michelle, and Calvin aren’t merely fringe trolls, or a distraction from what really matters on the platform. They are part of an elite, previously unreported class of users that produce more likes, shares, reactions, comments, and posts than 99% of Facebook users in America.

They’re superusers. And because Facebook’s algorithm rewards engagement, these superusers have enormous influence over which posts are seen first in other users’ feeds, and which are never seen at all. Even more shocking is just how nasty most of these hyper-influential users are. The most abusive people on Facebook, it turns out, are given the most power to shape what Facebook is.

«

As you’d expect – you’ve read Social Warming, right? – attention is focused according to a power law, and it’s the incredibly obnoxious people who get and focus the attention. Their research shows that 500 pages “account for about half of public US page engagement on the platform”.
unique link to this extract


I used Apple AirTags, Tiles and a GPS tracker to watch my husband’s every move • The New York Times

Kashmir Hill:

»

In recent months, people have freaked out after finding AirTags hidden in their bags and on their cars. They were scared about being stalked or followed by someone wanting to steal their vehicles. A Sports Illustrated model, Brooks Nader, said she found one in her coat pocket after visiting a Manhattan bar. All these people received warnings on their iPhones, a feature Apple had built into the AirTag system to help prevent unwanted tracking.

…Alyson Messenger, a lawyer in Los Angeles who works with survivors of domestic violence, said she knew of two women stalked by former partners with AirTags. She thinks other cases are “flying under the radar.”

An abuser could also put spyware on a person’s phone to track them, but that requires time, access and knowing their passcode. With these location-tracking devices, a person “just needs to get close enough to a victim or their property to place them,” Ms. Messenger said. “It’s insidious because the devices are so discreet and unnoticeable. We suspect it is happening and victims don’t know.”

…I asked Mr. Zientz about how LandAirSea [which sells a tracker] dealt with people using its devices for unwanted spying.

“It’s certainly something that comes up,” Mr. Zientz said. “People call in, and they’re like, ‘I found this on my car. What are you going to do about it?’”

The company, which sells about 15,000 devices per month, according to Mr. Zientz, tells these callers they should go to the police, because they will need a subpoena to determine who owns the device they discovered. He estimated that the company received approximately 30 subpoenas per year.

Mr. Zientz said many people arrive at these products after searching online for “spouse tracker,” but that the company was trying to discourage this by marketing the device for “asset protection” and “fleet management.” I asked Mr. Zientz why the company didn’t have any messaging about the legality of its devices on its website or in its packaging.

“It’s in our terms somewhere,” he said.

«

Like facial recognition, this is clearly a genie that’s been out of the bottle for a long time; Apple just made it a lot more visible.

unique link to this extract


It’s way too early to count out Instagram Reels • Big Technology

Alex Kantrowitz:

»

When Joy Ridenhour, a junior communications major at NYU, returned home to Virginia for winter break this year, she heard familiar music coming from her parents’ phones. “I was like, huh, it’s interesting they’re watching TikTok,” she said. “But then I realized they weren’t using TikTok, they had discovered Instagram Reels.”

TikTok is giving Facebook an “unprecedented” fight, as Mark Zuckerberg conceded last week, ​​but the battle will be fiercer than many imagine. Despite the narrative that Facebook is cooked, the company is already cutting off TikTok’s growth by feeding its copycat — Reels — to people like Ridenhour’s parents, who might’ve been late TikTok adopters but likely won’t be now.

Reels may still be an inferior product, but it has several advantages that don’t fit neatly into stories about Facebook’s demise. Here are some key factors to consider when assessing the fight between the two social giants, relayed with as much nuance as possible:

TikTok reached 1 billion monthly users last fall — a major feat — but Instagram reportedly hit 2 billion monthly users a few months later. To maintain its fast-paced growth, TikTok must win over people like Ridenhour’s parents, who will likely see no reason to download an app that’s essentially the same as Reels. “They were never interested in TikTok,” Ridenhour said. There are 1 billion people in this camp.

That said, Instagram Reels could be a gateway drug for younger users, who may find TikTok after experimenting with Reels. Ridenhour’s 14-year-old brother, for instance, began using Reels, then downloaded TikTok, and now prefers it over Instagram. 

«

unique link to this extract


Half of MPs don’t know chance of flipping two heads in a row • Royal Statistical Society

»

As politicians over the course of the pandemic have dealt with a barrage of statistics, the Society decided to put their statistical skills to the test. A total of 101 MPs were asked the question: if you toss a coin twice, what is the probability of getting two heads? Just over half, 52%, of MPs gave the correct answer of 25%.

This is an improvement from when the RSS polled MPs with the same question ten years ago, when 40% of MPs gave the correct answer.

In this latest survey conducted by Savanta ComRes on behalf of the RSS in late 2021/early 2022, 32% of MPs gave the incorrect answer of 50%, compared to 45% of MPs in the 2011 survey.

Of those asked in the most recent survey, there was a modest estimated difference between MPs from the two main parties. In the survey, 50% of Conservative MPs gave the correct answer, while 53% of Labour MPs were right.

…The survey also found that politicians who have been in power for longer performed better than those elected more recently. Those who had started in office between 2001 and 2009 performed the best, with 68% giving the correct answer, compared to 38% of MPs elected in 2019.

«

Is it worth pointing out that many of the MPs who were newly elected in 2019 supported Brexit? The 101 sample is just about representative, one hopes, of the 650 members.
unique link to this extract


Samsung held an event in the metaverse. It didn’t quite go to plan • CNBC

Sam Shead:

»

The metaverse is more commonly associated with players using headsets or smart glasses which allow them to live, work and play in a virtual world much like the one depicted in the “Ready Player One” novel and movie. Depending on your point of view, the metaverse is either a utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare.

The event specifically took place in Samsung 837X, a virtual building that Samsung has built on Decentraland that’s designed to be a replica of its flagship New York experience center. Samsung 837X is there all the time but there just happened to be an event inside the building’s “Connectivity Theatre” on Wednesday.

But CNBC, and many others, struggled to find the 837X building and when we did many of us were unable to gain access to it. …CNBC immediately noticed a large line of people at the main entrance to the 837X building. People were struggling to get in. Some users were getting their avatars to jump on other people’s heads as they clambered to the front of the queue but it didn’t help. The doors wouldn’t open and the chatbox was again full of pleas for help.

In an emailed statement to CNBC, Samsung said that “visitors and the Decentraland community have given us a highly positive response, seeing it as a fresh spin into an all-digital world.”

Then added: “Unfortunately, a technical issue in one of Decentraland’s realms prevented some people from accessing the event. As soon as we knew of the issue, we informed the community via Twitter and redirected our visitors to a new entry.”

«

The irony being that you could just watch the actual humans on a stream in a normal desktop browser.
unique link to this extract


Rising popularity of VR headsets sparks 31% rise in insurance claims • The Guardian

Jem Bartholomew:

»

A man landing an upper-cut on the ceiling fan, a woman slamming into furniture, a guy smashing through a lighting fixture: gamers are learning that virtual reality headsets can often cause havoc at home.

The trend of crashing into furniture while in the metaverse provoked a 31% jump in home contents claims involving VR headsets last year, insurer Aviva said, marking a 68% overall increase since 2016.

“As new games and gadgets become popular, we often see this playing through in the claims made by our customers,” said Kelly Whittington, Aviva’s UK property claims director. “In the past we’ve seen similar trends involving consoles with handsets, fitness games and even the likes of rogue fidget spinners.”

Aviva said the average VR-related claim for accidental damage in 2021 was about £650, often from broken TVs smashed by overenthusiastic gamers.

Claims to Aviva involving virtual reality headsets can get wacky. One customer launched a controller at his TV when a zombie jumped out during the game. Multiple people reported cracking TV screens. One child smashed two designer figurines – perched on the mantelpiece – when his game demanded a “swipe” move.

All three claims were accepted and settled, an Aviva spokesperson told the Guardian.

«

I’ve got one word for you: rubber furniture. OK, two words.
unique link to this extract


Neuralink monkeys subjected to extreme suffering, draft complaint says • Business Insider

Isobel Asher Hamilton:

»

Neuralink is developing a device that would be embedded in humans’ brains to monitor and potentially stimulate brain activity. The device consists of a microchip and wires that would be threaded through a patient’s skull into the brain.

The research at the center of the allegations is affiliated with the University of California at Davis, which operates a federal primate-research facility. The PCRM says it obtained more than 700 pages of documents, including veterinary records and necropsy reports, through a public-records request to the university.

The records relate to 23 monkeys owned by Neuralink, which were housed and experimented upon at UC Davis’ facility from 2017 to 2020, the draft complaint says.

In its draft complaint, the PCRM accuses UC Davis and Neuralink of nine violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including breaches of stipulations that researchers minimize pain and distress for animals, that daily observations of the animals take place, and that researchers have an attending veterinarian advise on the use of anesthesia.

Also in its draft complaint, the PCRM gave examples of incidents were it believed monkeys had suffered unduly. One monkey was documented as having missing fingers and toes “possibly from self-mutilation or some other unspecified trauma,” according to the draft complaint.

Jeremy Beckham, a research advocacy coordinator with the PCRM, told Insider that out of the 23 monkeys, seven survived and were transferred to a Neuralink facility in 2020, when he said Neuralink severed its relationship with UC Davis.

«

“Seven of 23 monkeys survived” sounds bad, though one would need to know a lot more about these experiments to know if that’s a good or bad outcome. Vivisection is never pretty, though it can lead to outcomes we all benefit from.
unique link to this extract


Dispatch from the Ottawa Front: Sloly is telling you all he’s in trouble. Who’s listening? • The Line

Matt Gurney on the problem for Ottawa’s police chief, Peter Sloly:

»

Before I came to Ottawa, I spoke with a few people who were sympathetic to the protest: I was advised to stay away from this secondary encampment site, or at least to approach it with caution. I wasn’t feeling particularly heroic on Tuesday, but I figured it wouldn’t make sense to travel all the way from Toronto and then ignore one of the main sites. I drove over, parked my car nearby and walked the rest of the way to the parking lot.

It was clear well before I even arrived that this was something different. There was absolutely no visible police presence. Not a single uniformed officer or marked cruiser. (Note my careful phrasing there: I have no doubt this place is under watch. Just not overtly.) This site, for lack of a better term, has been fortified. There are many trucks parked in the parking lot, but some of them have been arranged to form outer walls. These walls have been augmented with wooden sawhorses and what looked to me to be stacked pallets of some kind. There was an entrance with a tent marked Reception (see photo, below). I wish I could give you a better description of the site, or tell you what was inside, but as soon as I began to approach it on foot, someone very quickly fell into step behind me. A series of others, four or five, met me before I made it to the reception tent. We chatted briefly, and I got the distinct impression that it would be way, way better for me to be somewhere else. I left.

«

There’s clearly a group there which is looking for trouble – serious trouble. And Sloly’s problem is that he needs much more force than his police can muster. In other words, Sloly is asking for the military. Which shows that the problems democracy faces are getting deeper. (See also this piece from The Atlantic, by an Ottawa resident.)
unique link to this extract


Britishvolt gigafactory: Britain’s best-kept industrial secret is an unexpected solution to saving the planet • Sky News

Ed Conway:

»

Here, day and night, they bake some of the heaviest parts of the crude oil – quite literally the bottom of the barrel – drill out what is left with extraordinarily high-pressure water drills, run the resulting product through kilns and out come dark, grey-black pockmarked pebbles which look a little bit like miniature asteroids.

This is coke, a dry, light, very carbon-heavy mineral. You’ve probably heard of coke before. The most well-known variety is coking coal, made from the coal you dig from the ground and used to make steel from iron ore. But the coke they make here at this refinery, owned by American company Phillips 66, is very special indeed. It goes by a few names: needle coke, premium coke, graphite coke and they have been making it here for decades. But in the past few years, it has suddenly become very important indeed.

For after the coke is churned out of the kilns here, it is shipped overseas, mostly to China. There it is cooked at high temperatures in a further process which turns it into an incredibly pure form of graphite – sheet upon sheet of carbon atoms. This so-called synthetic graphite is then mixed with the “natural” graphite you get out of the ground and turned into a fine powder which is then coated on to fine copper sheets. Lo and behold, the coke which came out of the Phillips 66 refinery has become an anode.

That’s right: one of the critical materials going into batteries today is a processed form of crude oil, much of it coming from the North Sea. There are a few grams of Humberside coke in many if not most smartphones in the world, sitting alongside the lithium and cobalt, without which those batteries simply wouldn’t function.

Much is made these days about the lithium inside batteries or the cobalt that also goes into the cathodes. Far less is said about the other end of the battery. Yet without the kind of graphite produced from Humberside coke (and this refinery turns out to be one of the world’s most important producers of the stuff – and the only one in Europe) net zero will remain a pipe dream.

«

This is just s small part of a really long but very educational read. Very counterintuitive that you need more carbon for all the batteries.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1734: Google+ is dead (again), who wants Macron’s DNA?, electricity ‘surge pricing’ coming, deciphering Indus, and more


Though useful for tracking lost dogs, Apple’s AirTags have also been used for malicious purposes – so the company is going to make it easier to find any you don’t own that are travelling with you. CC-licensed photo by Tony Alter on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Where are you exactly? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


An update on AirTag and unwanted tracking • Apple

»

New privacy warnings during AirTag setup: In an upcoming software update, every user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a message that clearly states that AirTag is meant to track their own belongings, that using AirTag to track people without consent is a crime in many regions around the world, that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag.

Addressing alert issues for AirPods: We’ve heard from users who have reported receiving an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert. We’ve confirmed this alert will not display if an AirTag is detected near you — only AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or a third-party Find My network accessory. In the same software update, we will be updating the alert users receive to indicate that AirPods have been traveling with them instead of an “Unknown Accessory.”

…• Precision Finding: This capability allows recipients of an unwanted tracking alert to locate an unknown AirTag with precision. iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13 users will be able to use Precision Finding to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag when it is in range.

Display alert with sound: When AirTag automatically emits a sound to alert anyone nearby of its presence and is detected moving with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, we will also display an alert on your device that you can then take action on, like playing a sound or using Precision Finding, if available. This will help in cases where the AirTag may be in a location where it is hard to hear, or if the AirTag speaker has been tampered with.

«

Coming at some unspecified future date. Notable for the implication that Apple has helped law enforcement find who was behind some AirTags (“Based on our knowledge and on discussions with law enforcement, incidents of AirTag misuse are rare”). The warning about linking the identifying information might make criminals take an extra step, of setting up a finsta iCloud account.
unique link to this extract


So nice they killed it twice: Google+’s business pivot is dead • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Google+ is dead—again! The consumer version of Google+ may have shut down in April 2019, but Google kept the service rolling as an enterprise-focused social network it rebranded “Google Currents.” You need to pay for GSuite to use it, and only members of your organization can see the posts, so it is for private company announcements and discussions.

View more stories In the latest Google Workspace blog post, Google says that Currents is “winding down” starting in 2023. This is no surprise, since Google+ was a completely failed consumer product. Why Google thought pushing the dead service onto business would make Currents successful is unclear. (Hey, Google Stadia, does this sound familiar?) Google never really did anything with Currents after rebranding it as a business product. After rotting for years as a dead consumer product, Currents just rotted for a few more years with new business branding. What is surprising is that Google is pitching Google Chat as a replacement.

«

Amadeo’s job, as the guy doing the Google beat, is basically births and deaths. He’s like the classified bit of a newspaper.
unique link to this extract


Every employee who leaves Apple becomes an ‘associate’ • The Washington Post

Reed Albergotti:

»

Inside Apple, your job classification can mean a lot. The difference between a “level 4” engineer and a “level 5,” for instance, could mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. And those titles help determine how much Apple employees can make when they leave the company for another job. But there’s a hitch.

In widely used databases that companies refer to for verification of job information, Apple changes the job title for every employee, whether they’re a PhD in computer science or a product manager, to “associate,” the company confirms.

Apple’s approach is bizarre if not unique, experts in employment practices say, but until now has gone largely unnoticed by anybody but a handful of job applicants whose résumés conflict with official databases maintained by job verification services run by companies such as Equifax and LexisNexis.

The title “associate” is generally used to connote more junior roles. Entry-level retail workers, for instance, are often called associates. Law firms refer to recent law school hires in the same way, and in universities, associate professors are ranked below those with the title “professor.”

The practice recently came to light when Cher Scarlett, a former Apple software engineer who raised concerns about alleged discrimination and misconduct at the company, filed a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that when Apple changed her job title to “associate,” it delayed the hiring process at a prospective employer by nearly a week, during which time the company rescinded the offer. Scarlett said the job verification service hired to vet her résumé was unable to resolve the discrepancy with Apple.

Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock confirmed that, for years, Apple has changed the job titles of its former employees to “associate.” Rosenstock declined to say why Apple does this or precisely when the practice began.

«

You can imagine that Apple doesn’t want its corporate structure to become visible as more and more people leave; recruiters and rivals spend huge amounts of time trying to figure out who fits where in an org chart.

But you’d think a grown-up company could at least confirm to a potential hirer what someone’s job was.
unique link to this extract


People need to hear the good news about climate change • Slow Boring

Matthew Yglesias:

»

There is a lot of confusion about the difference between predictions and warnings.

But for example:
• I predict that another big wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections will hit next winter (if not sooner) as new variants emerge from animal reservoirs and the unvaccinated population as accumulated immunity wanes.
• I warn that there’s no guarantee the next variant (or the one after that) won’t combine super-transmissibility with being four or five times as deadly as Omicron (or worse), and unless we get cracking on next-generation vaccines, we could be staring down an epidemiological catastrophe within the next few years.

The prediction is something that I actually think is more likely than not to happen. With the warning, in this case, I am being hand-wavy about the actual probability (because I sincerely have no idea) but I’m trying to scare you a bit with a plausible small-probability catastrophe. The warning is a completely legitimate rhetorical device. In policy circles, we probably don’t spend enough time worrying about small odds of really bad things happening.

But if you are sitting around doomscrolling, paralyzed by the terror of SuperCovid, I want you to remember that this probably won’t happen and also that instead of worrying, you could take ten minutes to email your members of Congress and urge them to support the bipartisan Apollo Program for Biodefense. The odds of your email swaying a member of Congress are low, and the odds that one member of Congress getting fired up about this will cause it to pass are also low. But the odds of SuperCovid emerging are also low. We are simply trying to further reduce the probability, and every email you write counts.

By the same token, with climate change, two ideas are frequently mixed up:
• The IPCC predicts that unless we hold global warming to less than 1.5 degrees centigrade, the world will suffer some irreparable harms.
• The IPCC warns about cataclysmic results under the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow unabated into the indefinite future.

These are both bad. But it’s not the case that we either hit the 1.5-degree target or else we fall into the nightmare scenario. There’s a whole range of possible outcomes.

«

OK, but I’m still waiting for the good news. Though as he points out, there are a lot of “doomers” out there (just as there are on Covid, to be honest.)
unique link to this extract


An incomplete history of Forbes.com as a platform for scams, grift, and bad journalism • Nieman Journalism Lab

Joshua Benton:

»

If you need a refresher: The Gordon Gecko 1980s and NASDAQ-boom 1990s were both very good to Forbes, but things started to drift downward in the 2000s, both in print and in the new world online. When the financial crisis hit, there were cuts and layoffs and, for the first time, a non-Forbes hired to run the place, Mike Perlis. He and chief product officer Lewis D’Vorkin came up with a revival strategy that just screams early 2010s digital media: It’s all about scale, baby, scale.

Forbes’ staff of journalists could produce great work, sure. But there were only so many of them, and they cost a lot of money. Why not open the doors to Forbes.com to a swarm of outside “contributors” — barely vetted, unedited, expected to produce at quantity, and only occasionally paid? (Some contributors received a monthly flat fee — a few hundred bucks — if they wrote a minimum number of pieces per month, with money above that possible for exceeding traffic targets. Others received nothing but the glory.)

As of 2019, almost 3,000 people were “contributors” — or as they told people at parties, “I’m a columnist for Forbes.”

Let’s think about incentives for a moment. Only a very small number of these contributors can make a living at it — so it’s a side gig for most. The two things that determine your pay are how many articles you write and how many clicks you can harvest — a model that encourages a lot of low-grade clickbait, hot takes, and deceptive headlines. And many of these contributors are writing about the subject of their main job — that’s where their expertise is, after all — which raises all sorts of conflict-of-interest questions. And their work was published completely unedited — unless a piece went viral, in which case a web producer might “check it more carefully.”

All of that meant that Forbes suddenly became the easiest way for a marketer to get their message onto a brand-name site.

«

A very entertaining spin through a fingers-over-the-eyes descent into crapness of what was once a respected brand. Sort-of related: crypto exchange Binance is investing $200m (in real money I hope) in Forbes. Yes, that’s Binance, which once filed a lawsuit against Forbes (then dropped it).
unique link to this extract


Putin kept Macron at a distance for snubbing COVID demands: sources • Reuters

Michel Rose:

»

French President Emmanuel Macron refused a Kremlin request that he take a Russian COVID-19 test when he arrived to see President Vladimir Putin this week, and was therefore kept at a distance from the Russian leader, two sources in Macron’s entourage told Reuters.

Observers were struck by images of Macron and Putin sitting at opposite ends of 4-metre-long (13 ft) table to discuss the Ukraine crisis on Monday, with some diplomats and others suggesting Putin might be wanting to send a diplomatic message.

But the two sources, who have knowledge of the French president’s health protocol, told Reuters Macron had been given a choice: either he accepted a PCR test done by the Russian authorities and was allowed to get close to Putin, or he refused and had to abide by more stringent social distancing.

“We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table. But we could not accept that they get their hands on the president’s DNA,” one of the sources told Reuters, referring to security concerns if the French leader was tested by Russian doctors.

«

What? What?? WHAT?? What exactly do they think Russia is going to do with Macron’s DNA? Clone him? Leave it at the scene of a crime and try to incriminate him? There’s caution, and there’s really wild caution. This sounds like they think Putin is some sort of Bond villain who can target people based on their DNA. (I liked No Time To Die, but it was fiction, people.)
unique link to this extract


Energy ‘surge pricing’ to be offered to millions of households • Daily Telegraph

Matt Oliver:

»

Energy “surge pricing” is to be introduced for millions of British households for the first time after three of Britain’s largest suppliers threw their weight behind a revolutionary overhaul of the country’s power market.

Scottish Power, EDF and Octopus Energy said on Wednesday that they support radical new tariffs under which customers will be charged more for using energy during peak periods, and less in quieter ones.

The three businesses – which together have 11 million customers, equal to around a third of British households – gave their backing to a plan in which smart meters will automatically send half-hourly updates to suppliers about household energy use.

This change paves the way for the widespread use of surge pricing, raising the possibility that families could pay higher electricity rates for watching television or putting on the washing machine during peak times such as the morning and evenings, as prices fluctuate throughout the day.

The three companies already provide time-of-use deals to relatively small numbers of customers but experts say the smart meter overhaul will make it easy to offer them to millions more bill payers.

A Scottish Power spokesman said: “Time of use tariffs that are updated on a half-hourly basis will give consumers a real opportunity to save money on their energy bills, particularly for EV drivers charging from home.”

«

About half of domestic meters are “smart” meters that can feed directly back to the electricity companies how much energy they’re using, and allocate charging on that basis.

Wonder how the reactionary media (IOW right-wing ones) will react to this. Some people won’t like the idea of staggering when they use heavy consumption systems (heaters, washing machine, dishwasher, tumble dryer); others will get used to using timers.
unique link to this extract


Geomagnetic storm destroys 40 new SpaceX satellites in orbit • The New York Times

Robin George Andrews:

»

Over the past three years, SpaceX has deployed thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit as part of its business to beam high-speed internet service from space. But the company’s latest deployment of 49 new satellites after a Feb. 3 launch did not go as planned.

As a consequence of a geomagnetic storm triggered by a recent outburst of the sun, up to 40 of 49 newly launched Starlink satellites have been knocked out of commission. They are in the process of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, where they will be incinerated.

The incident highlights the hazards faced by numerous companies planning to put tens of thousands of small satellites in orbit to provide internet service from space. And it’s possible that more solar outbursts will knock some of these newly deployed orbital transmitters out of the sky. The sun has an 11-year-long cycle in which it oscillates between hyperactive and quiescent states. Presently, it is ramping up to its peak, which has been forecast to arrive around 2025.

This recent solar paroxysm was relatively moderate by the sun’s standards. “I have every confidence that we’re going to see an extreme event in the next cycle, because that typically is what happens during a solar maximum,” said Hugh Lewis, a space debris expert at the University of Southampton in England. If a milquetoast outburst can knock out 40 Starlink satellites hanging out at low orbital altitudes, a more potent solar scream has the potential to inflict greater harm on the mega-constellations of SpaceX and other companies.

«

Notice “and other companies” in that. SpaceX’s model, where unsuccessful satellites fall back, is actually a good thing: they’ll just burn up, won’t hit the ground, and won’t be space junk. Doesn’t help if there’s a big solar flare, but less (or not more) space junk is always welcome.
unique link to this extract


She’s at the center of the Covid lab leak controversy. Now she’s telling her story • MIT Technology Review

Jane Qiu interviewed Shi Zhengli, the head of the Wuhan Institute of Virology:

»

As Shi showed me around her lab, she pointed to the deep freezers where the team kept tens of thousands of bat samples in chemical soups. She told me how virus-containing samples are kept frozen in the field, either on dry ice or in liquid nitrogen, before being transferred to dedicated, double-locked deep freezers in the Wuhan lab. Only designated personnel can access those samples; they need approval from two senior staff members, each of whom is in charge of a separate key to the two locks. All access to the samples is logged.

The core of her research over the past 18 years, she explained, has been to look for bat viruses that are closely related to SARS-CoV-1, and to understand how they could evolve new features that allow them to infect humans. She talked me through that process, which begins with testing each bat sample to see if it contains a coronavirus—using the same PCR-based technique as many covid-19 tests. All coronaviruses contain a gene that encodes an enzyme called RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, or RdRp, which helps viruses replicate by making more copies of their genomes. If the characteristic RdRp shows up in a bat sample, it’s a telltale sign that a coronavirus is present. 

At first glance I was concerned by the sheer size of Shi’s collection of more than 20,000 bat samples. But she explained that on average only 10% contain coronaviruses, and only 10% of those are closely related to SARS-CoV-1: in all its years, the team has identified approximately 220 such viruses. The findings, say virologists such as Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney, have provided valuable insight into the evolutionary history of coronaviruses and the way they generate genetic variants.

Whenever the team found a bat relative of SARS-CoV-1, Shi says, she asked the same questions: How threatening is it to other animal species, including humans? What would it take for the virus to become one that, like SARS-CoV-1, can cause major epidemics?

«

Qiu worked as a molecular biologist for a decade and speaks Chinese and understands China. She wrote an earlier article in 2020 speaking to Shi. Of course the article doesn’t prove anything either way. It won’t convince the sceptics who insist Covid must have come from a “lab leak”. (This peer-reviewed paper says almost surely zoonosis.) Worth the time, though, to read an expert interviewed by someone who’s pretty close to the same.
unique link to this extract


An ancient language has defied decryption for 100 years. Can AI crack the code? • Rest of World

Alizeh Kohari:

»

Politics aside, it is remarkable how little we know about the original people of the Indus Valley, who at one point constituted nearly 10% of the world’s inhabitants. It is especially galling given how much more we know about their contemporaries, such as the people of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. Part of the reason for this is the continued elusiveness of the Indus script.

Putting machines to work on the Indus script is trickier than using them to reverse-engineer [the ancient Greek script] Linear B. We don’t have a great deal of information about the Indus script: most crucially, we don’t know what other language it may be related to. As a result, a model like [MIT researcher Jaiming] Luo’s wouldn’t work for the Indus script. That’s not to say technology can’t help, though. In some ways, computer modeling has already played a crucial role: by showing that the Indus script is a language at all. 

For most of the 20th century, the Indus inscriptions were widely accepted as representations of an undeciphered language. Then, in 2004, a group of Harvard researchers — cultural neurobiologist and comparative historian Steve Farmer, computational theorist Richard Sproat, and philologist Michael Witzel — published a paper essentially rubbishing nearly all existing research on the matter. The Indus seals, they claimed, were nothing more than a collection of religious or political symbols — similar to, say, highway signs — and all attempts to decipher them as a language were a waste of time. To underscore their point, Farmer offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could find an Indus inscription containing at least 50 symbols. 

Most Indologists and other Indus script researchers dismissed these arguments. One group of mathematicians, however, turned to computers to investigate the claims. Ronojoy Adhikari, a professor of statistical physics at the University of Cambridge, was one of them. 

«

Not a short read, but absorbing. I feel we’re getting better at identifying the spaces where machine learning can do find solutions that we can’t. And: another good story from Rest Of World. (Thanks Peter R for the link.)
unique link to this extract


• 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

Start Up No.1733: hands off in the Meta-verse, how Melania Trump bought her own NFT, Myanmar searching for VPNs, and more


Many Facebook Groups supporting trucking protests in Canada are organised by a single, hacked account. Why hasn’t Facebook acted? CC-licensed photo by michael_swanmichael_swan on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Aren’t they sweet? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The hacked account and suspicious donations behind the Canadian trucker protests • Grid News

Anya van Wagtendonk, Benjamin Powers and Steve Reilly:

»

The entity behind some of the largest Facebook groups supporting the protests is an unknown person or persons who used the Facebook account of a Missouri woman. She says her account on the platform was hacked and stolen.

The account launched a handful of Facebook groups for the protest, all between Jan. 26 and 28, before the trucker convoy reached Ottawa. With a combined following of more than 340,000 members and more than 7,500 posts, the group names were variations on a theme: “Convoy to Ottawa 2022,” “Convoy for Freedom 2022,” “Freedom Convoy/Ottawa 2022 for Canada,” “Freedom Convoy 2022” and “2022 Official Freedom Convoy to Ottawa.”

Facebook groups are organized by administrators. Grid found that the only administrator account for these groups belonged to the Missouri woman. Reached briefly by phone on Monday, she said her account was hacked and she was not involved with the groups.

“Someone stole my identity on Facebook,” she said. “I don’t know how they [did] it.”

The woman, whom Grid is not naming because she is the victim of apparent identity theft, said her daughter set up a new account for her. A new Facebook account with the woman’s name appeared in October 2021 with the post: “New account. Last one got hacked.”

The groups were disabled Monday afternoon as Grid was reporting this story. Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about the hacked account. “We continue to see scammers latch onto any hot-button issue that draws people’s attention, including the ongoing protests,” Margarita Franklin, a spokeswoman for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said in a statement to media outlets on Monday.

«

Great stuff, Facebook. All this stuff explodes and it takes journalists to look at a couple of older posts and figure out that the account was hacked. And does it take any action? Oh nooooo.
unique link to this extract


Meta establishes four-foot “personal boundary” to deter VR groping • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

»

In the real world, the idea of personal space is ingrained from a young age and enforced mainly by unspoken interpersonal contract and subtle social pressure. In the world of virtual reality, on the other hand, Facebook parent Meta is now using software to enforce a 4-foot zone of “personal space” for each avatar in its metaverse-style social spaces.

As detailed in a recent blog post, Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues spaces now include a default personal boundary that “prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions.”

The system, in effect, sets up an invisible cylinder with a 2-foot radius that surrounds each avatar; if user movement would cause two cylinders to overlap, “the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary” without any other overt feedback. Two users will be able to jointly reach outside their personal boundary for interactions like a high-five or fist-bump, Meta writes. Having the system on by default will “help to set behavioral norms—and that’s important for a relatively new medium like VR,” Meta writes.

The new announcement comes a few months after a New York Times story calling attention to the problem of “harassment and assaults” in the VR world. But the general issue is much older than that, with writers making public complaints of virtual groping since at least 2016, when affordable consumer-grade virtual reality was still a new and much-hyped concept.

«

Meta/Facebook said that this “builds upon existing harassment measures”. O tempora, o mores.
unique link to this extract


Analyzing the very bizarre sale of Melania Trump’s $170,000 NFT • Vice

Jordan Pearson:

»

The $170,000 purchase of an NFT collection auctioned by Melania Trump was made by the entity that originally put the NFT up for sale, according to blockchain records. 

The former first lady got into NFTs last year, launching her own website and lining up a slate of auctions. On Jan. 11, Trump started auctioning the “Head of State Collection, 2022” on the Solana blockchain, a package deal that paired the “iconic white millinery masterpiece worn by Mrs. Trump” (a wide-brimmed hat she wore during a 2018 visit with French President Emanuel Macron) with a watercolor of her wearing it, as well as an NFT. The opening bid, according to a press release, was “the equivalent of $250,000” denominated in SOL tokens (1,800 SOL at the time) and a “portion” of the proceeds would be used to “provide foster care children with access to computer science and technology education.”

After the auction’s conclusion, the New York Times ran a piece describing the sale as attracting a few bids all around 1,800 SOL, ultimately ending with somebody purchasing the NFT for 1,800 SOL worth $170,000 at the time (now $200,000), a price far below the figure touted by the auction’s press release and which the paper described as “deflated results” due to a wider crash in the price of cryptocurrencies. 

Now, according to Solana blockchain records reviewed by Motherboard and shared with an independent researcher, we know who bought the NFT collection: Melania Trump herself, or at least, whoever set up the auction for her.

«

I do love that the blockchain lets these circular scams be revealed. Though there are so many more of them than you’d ever expect.

And how very surprising that a Trump should be mixed up in a highly questionable fraud-adjacent transaction.
unique link to this extract


You’re listening to KUOW … like it or not: mysterious glitch has Mazda drivers stuck on public radio • GeekWire

Kurt Schlosser:

»

Drivers of certain vehicles in Seattle and other parts of Western Washington are shouting at their car radios this week. Not because of any particular song or news item that’s being broadcast, but because an apparent technical glitch has caused the radios to be stuck on public radio station KUOW.

The impacted drivers appear to all be owners of Mazda vehicles from between 2014 and 2017. In some cases the in-car infotainment systems have stopped working altogether, derailing the ability to listen to the radio at all or use Bluetooth phone connections, GPS, the rear camera and more.

According to Mazda drivers who spoke with GeekWire, and others in a Reddit thread discussing the problem, everyone who has had an issue was listening to KUOW 94.9 in recent weeks when the car systems went haywire.

KUOW sounded unsure of a possible cause; at least one dealership service department blamed 5G; and Mazda told GeekWire in an official statement that it identified the problem and a fix is planned.

“I see the Mazda symbol, like it’s coming on,” said Stephanie Marquis of Olympia, Wash., who was sitting in her car trying to get her dashboard screen to work. “It just keeps rebooting. Now it’s black. It’s like it’s trying to turn on but it won’t turn on.”

…Marquis said she took her car to the dealer in Olympia and was told the problem may be related to KUOW “switching to 5G.” She called Mazda’s corporate offices and was on hold for over an hour before a rep told her he would look into it and call her back. She never heard back.

«

And what was it? Mazda: “Between Jan 24 and 31, a radio station in the Seattle area sent image files with no extension, which caused an issue on some 2014-2017 Mazda vehicles with older software,” the Mazda statement said. “Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) has distributed service alerts advising dealers of the issue.”
unique link to this extract


IRS was wrong to give in to hysteria and drop use of facial verification to fight fraud and protect consumers • ITIF

Daniel Castro:

»

The primary reason detractors give for opposing the IRS’s use of facial recognition is their “serious concerns about privacy,” although the details of those privacy concerns are a bit murky. After all, the IRS maintains extensive records about taxpayers’ most sensitive financial information, so the idea of the agency also having access to a database of selfies does not seem particularly risky. Some objected to the IRS using a private company, ID.me, to operate its facial verification system, arguing that the company might misuse this information. But again, the IRS routinely uses contractors, including to process sensitive taxpayer information, and requires them to adhere to strict privacy controls and subjects them to penalties for violations, so there is no particular reason why facial recognition presents unique privacy risks.

Critics also claim that the IRS should not use facial recognition because “research shows people of color are more likely to be misidentified.” Here too, the evidence does not support the claims, as independent testing by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has shown that the best performing facial recognition algorithms have high accuracy rates across most demographics. In addition, the specific company’s algorithm used by ID.me has performed very well in these tests, with little variation based on demographics.

Moreover, the implication of these incorrect claims about facial recognition’s “bias” seems to be that the IRS would underserve communities of color by locking them out of important government services, which shows just how little the critics understand the technology.

«

You can sort of guess what sort of companies will be in the ITIF’s supporters list. [ITIF = Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.] It’s somewhat tin-eared, to say the least, to think that having a facial recognition system on all the nation’s taxpayers wouldn’t attract some negative responses.
unique link to this extract


Myanmar junta using draft law to conduct searches for VPNs • Radio Free Asia

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane, English version by Joshua Lipes:

»

Myanmar junta officials are stopping people to see if their mobile phones use privacy software to access websites like Facebook that regime opponents have used to coordinate protests, including an upcoming “Silent Strike” marking the one-year anniversary of the coup that brought the military in power, sources said.

The junta earlier this month ordered all ministries and internet service providers to comment by Jan. 28 on a proposed cybersecurity law that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and 500,000 kyats (U.S. $280) for any resident of Yangon found in possession of unauthorized Virtual Private Network (VPN) software.

But residents said officials have already begun stopping passersby and demanding access to their phones, even though the legislation has not been approved.

VPNs, which anonymize a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, can be used to bypass location-specific firewalls that would otherwise block access to certain websites. Since seizing power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the junta has restricted the country’s internet.

Residents of Yangon told RFA’s Myanmar Service that authorities recently began targeting VPNs because people are using them to organize the strike scheduled for next week.

“They stopped our motorcycle and asked for our phones to check if we were using VPN software,” a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity said of an encounter with police in Yangon’s Thanlyin township on Wednesday morning.

“Luckily, there was no VPN on my phone. I deleted it some time ago because I didn’t use it much. When they didn’t find it on my phone, we were allowed to leave, but they took away the phones of those who had the software. There were so many people stuck there, but I don’t know what happened [to them].”

«

unique link to this extract


How Telegram became the anti-Facebook • WIRED

Darren Loucaides:

»

In the world of social media, Telegram is a distinct oddity. Often rounding out lists of the world’s 10 largest platforms, it has just around 30 core employees, had no source of ongoing revenue until very recently, and—in an era when tech firms face increasing pressure to quash hate speech and misinformation—exercises virtually no content moderation, except to take down illegal pornography and calls for violence. At Telegram it is an article of faith, and a marketing pitch, that the company’s platform should be available to all, regardless of politics or ideology. “For us, Telegram is an idea,” Pavel Durov, Telegram’s Russian founder, has said. “It is the idea that everyone on this planet has a right to be free.”

Campo shared that faith—but as Telegram’s head of growth, business, and partnerships, he also bore the brunt of its complications. In the mid-2010s, when the media began referring to Telegram as the “app of choice” for jihadists, it was [Elies] Campo who fretted most about ISIS’ use of the platform. He says he often feels like an anxious parent when messaging Durov. “I’m the nag,” Campo says. What troubled him now was how the influx of insurrection-adjacent Americans would play in the media and with the business partners he had to deal with.

So he wrote a long message to Durov. “Good evening Pavel,” he recalls it opening. “Have you been looking at what’s happening in the US? Have you seen Trump is being blocked on other social networks?” He warned that the US far right’s embrace of Telegram could “potentially eclipse” a far more flattering story that was, by sheer coincidence, driving its own stampede of new users onto the platform.

…While Telegram has plenty of channels and groups dedicated to apolitical subjects like Bollywood movies and Miami’s tech scene, it has proven particularly well suited to activism. Its blend of private messaging and public channels makes it a perfect organizing tool: ideal for evangelizing in public and then plotting in secret. “I call it the one-two punch,” says Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who studies Telegram. “You can do both propaganda and planning on the same app.”

«

Today’s long read.
unique link to this extract


Let’s face it, LinkedIn might be the best social network right now • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

I’m ready to speak my truth: I like LinkedIn. Actually, I love LinkedIn.

At least once a day I open the app, not to look for a job or to wish a colleague from a decade ago a happy work anniversary. But because—unlike in my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds—the conversation is meaningful, the people are civil and there’s no politics. At least not anymore.

LinkedIn recently started testing a no-politics setting, which I enabled. It filters out content about political parties and candidates, election outcomes, ballot initiatives and more. The Microsoft-owned company has made the setting available to some U.S. users over the past few months.

“If they find it effective, if it’s helping them better accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish on LinkedIn, then we’ll roll it out to more,” LinkedIn chief executive Ryan Roslansky told me in an exclusive video interview.

The feature is one of many that the professional social network has been adding while it enjoys the fruits of the quit-pocalypse—I mean the massive upheaval in the labor market that has been best described as The Great Reshuffle. Just look at Microsoft’s last quarter: LinkedIn revenue was up 37% year over year, and new hires made through the service more than doubled.

But here’s the shocker: It isn’t just seasoned professionals flocking to this decidedly uncool corner of the internet.

“We’re seeing a lot of Gen Z join the network right now,” Mr. Roslansky told me, adding that job moves are up nearly 70% for users ages 16 to 22, vs. just 7% for users over 55. “We’re seeing the platform evolve much more to cater to them.”

«

When I wrote Social Warming, I realised that LinkedIn – despite its network – simply wasn’t a contributor to the general problem of anger. Partly that’s because of the way it prevents people connecting (you need some sort of close-ish connection to get in touch) and partly because its focus on “business” means that anger is out of place.

However, you can’t apply that to every social network.
unique link to this extract


RealityOS offers the clearest signal that Apple is serious about an AR headset • Macworld

Michael Simon:

»

iOS developer Rens Verhoeven has spotted a reference to realityOS in the App Store upload logs that likely signals Apple’s augmented reality/virtual reality headset is well along in development. Rumors have swirled for years that Apple is working on an Oculus-style mixed-reality device that will strap multiple displays and cameras to our face, but Apple has characteristically been mum about its existence.

RealityOS could be a placeholder name, but it matches up with Apple’s naming convention — tvOS, watchOS, macOS, etc. We still don’t know what the device will be called, but Apple Reality has been floated as a possible name. It could also apply to an expansion of Apple’s current ARKit framework for the iPad and iPhone, but we’d be shocked if Apple’s AR headset wasn’t running realityOS.

Rumors say that the initial release could be a high-priced niche placeholder as Apple works to bring the tech to the masses over the next several years.

«

Everyone’s writing AR/VR OSs. Probably the next big landrush. Bear in mind that every time there’s been an OS goldrush, only two have come through from the many that have started: Windows and MacOS on desktop, Windows and Linux on servers, iOS and Android on mobile. So if Apple succeeds in this (and if it’s a significant space), whose OS will be the other one for AR devices?
unique link to this extract


Wisconsin Foxconn deal: race to bottom in corporate subsidies is over • CNBC

Scott Cohn:

»

“At the end of the day, economic development and site selection is not about a race to the bottom — about who can do it cheaper than another person — it really is a decision about the best value,” said Christopher Lloyd, a site selection consultant at McGuireWoods in Richmond, Virginia, and chairman of the Site Selectors Guild, an industry trade group.

He said Wisconsin is among many states that have moved away from headline-grabbing incentives in their pitches to companies, selling things like infrastructure and workforce.

“They want to show that we can deliver on many of these fronts to companies. So, give us a shot,” he said.

Back in Wisconsin, they are still dealing with the downsides of the big gamble on Foxconn.

Because the company never met its hiring targets, the state did not have to pay any of the $2.85bn in incentives it had promised in the original deal. But close to $1bn has already been spent on infrastructure and land acquisition, with large portions of those costs falling to the Village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County, both of which saw their debt downgraded.

Like the state, the village is also attempting to renegotiate its agreement with Foxconn.

“Everything’s on the table,” Village president Dave DeGroot told WTMJ-TV in April.

Meanwhile, Foxconn has been doing light manufacturing on the site, which includes four buildings and a giant glass sphere that the company originally planned as a data centre, but apparently only contains an auditorium.

«

An empty sphere for people to talk to each other, rather than a world-class manufacturing site. Somehow descriptive of the Trump years. (Thanks Mark C for the link.)
unique link to this extract


• 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

Start Up No.1732: Nvidia-ARM deal collapses, Peloton cuts 2,800 jobs, Meta evades antitrust?, DOJ recovers $3.6bn bitcoin, and more


The EPC system which rates a house’s energy needs doesn’t accurately reflect the energy efficiency of air source heat pumps. That’s bad. CC-licensed photo by Krzysztof Lis on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


$66 billion deal for Nvidia to purchase Arm collapses • FT via Ars Technica

Richard Waters, Arash Massoudi, and James Fontanella-Khan:

»

The deal, the largest ever in the chip sector, would have given California-based Nvidia control of a company that makes technology at the heart of most of the world’s mobile devices. A handful of Big Tech companies that rely on Arm’s chip designs, including Qualcomm and Microsoft, had objected to the purchase.

SoftBank will receive a break-up fee of up to $1.25bn and is seeking to unload Arm through an initial public offering before the end of the year, said one of the people.

The failure is set to result in a management upheaval at Arm, with chief executive Simon Segars being replaced by Rene Haas, head of the company’s intellectual property unit, the person added.

The collapse of the deal robs SoftBank of a big windfall it would have earned thanks to a boom in Nvidia’s stock price.

The cash-and-stock transaction was worth up to $38.5bn when it was announced in September 2020. But the value soared as Nvidia’s shares took off, reaching a peak of $87bn last November.

In the UK, where politicians have viewed Arm as a strategic national asset, attention is set to shift to whether the company will be listed on the country’s domestic market. A British competition review into the deal was extended late last year to include national security considerations.

However, people close to SoftBank said the group prefers the idea of listing Arm in New York and will seek to resist nationalistic pressure. US markets accord higher valuations to tech stocks, even after a recent sharp reversal, and UK tech executives recently pressed for changes to listing arrangements to make London more attractive.

Nvidia decided to abandon its pursuit of Arm at a board meeting earlier on Monday, said a person familiar with the discussion. Nvidia’s pursuit of Arm marked an opportunistic attempt to score an end-run around chip rivals such as Intel and AMD, and it was prompted by an approach from SoftBank after the Japanese company decided to shed the business.

«

unique link to this extract


Peloton giving 2,800 fired employees a free 1-year subscription • Business Insider

Ben Gilbert:

»

Peloton is firing over 2,800 employees — 20% of its corporate workforce — because of an ongoing downturn in the company’s business.

As part of the severance plan for the over 2,800 laid off employees, Pelton is offering a curious benefit: a one-year membership to Peloton.

“The Peloton monthly membership will be complimentary for impacted team members for an additional 12 months,” Peloton said in its press release about the layoffs. That’s in addition to a “meaningful cash severance allotment” that’s determined “based on job level and tenure” with the fitness company, alongside several other benefits.

Peloton also announced CEO John Foley is stepping down as the chief executive, with former Spotify and Netflix CFO Barry McCarthy stepping into the role. The company is also scrapping plans to build a new factory in North America.

In the last few months, Peloton has seen a major downturn after home-fitness products spiked in popularity during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

With gyms reopening as vaccine rates increased, Peloton’s business took a huge hit: The company’s market value has dropped from $50bn last year to $9.8bn as of early February 2022.

«

Pretty amazing if it has 14,000 employees (so 2,800 is one-fifth). All making treadmills/stationary bikes? But that’s quite the parting gift. Very much in the spirit of its 2019 Christmas ad. (Also: the instructors didn’t get fired. They get paid up to $500k per year.)
unique link to this extract


Meta’s free fall reveals a big issue with Congress’ antitrust bill • Protocol

Issie Lapowsky:

»

As Meta’s stock price plummeted in one of the biggest collapses in US history Thursday, tech policy wonks noticed something peculiar: The company’s market value is creeping mighty close to falling below the threshold set by Congress in its antitrust bill specifically targeting Meta.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which is headed to the Senate floor, prohibits large tech platforms from boosting their own products and services on the platforms they own. Just how large is large? The bill says covered platforms have to have a market cap of $550bn or higher “over any 180-day period during the 2-year period” prior to any alleged violations.

A day ago, it was more or less unthinkable that Meta would ever cross into uncovered territory. But that was before the company reported a bruising quarter, during which Facebook’s user base declined for the first time in its history. Meta’s stock price dropped more than 26%, shaving hundreds of billions of dollars off of its market cap in a single day.

The schadenfreude from Big Tech critics was swift — but it was also quickly followed by some keen-eyed observation that Facebook might soon bomb its way out of antitrust enforcement.

«

I guess they could keep rewriting the value in the bill, sort of like people running from side to side trying to catch a falling Frisbee.
unique link to this extract


Meta is absolutely not threatening to leave Europe • Meta

Markus Reinisch is vice president, public policy for Europe:

»

There has been reporting in the press that we are “threatening” to leave Europe because of the uncertainty over EU-US data transfers mechanisms. This is not true. Like all publicly-traded companies, we are legally required  to disclose material risks to our investors. Last week, as we have done in our previous four financial quarters, we disclosed that continuing uncertainty over EU-US data transfers mechanisms poses a threat to our ability to serve European consumers and operate our business in Europe.

We have absolutely no desire to withdraw from Europe; of course we don’t. But the simple reality is that Meta, like many other businesses, organisations and services, relies on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate our global services. We’re not alone. At least 70 other companies across a wide range of  industries, including ten European businesses, have also raised the risks around data transfers in their earnings filings. 

International data transfers underpin the global economy and support many of the services that are fundamental to our daily lives. For many years, the legal framework supporting the transfer of data across the Atlantic has faced severe disruption. The Safe Harbour Agreement was struck down by the European Court of Justice in 2015. Last summer Privacy Shield, which was used by more than 5,000 companies on both sides of the Atlantic, was also invalidated by the European Court of Justice. These decisions have been made based on a conflict between EU and US laws over the protection of data. We want to see the fundamental rights of EU users protected, and we want the internet to continue to operate as it was intended: without friction, in compliance with applicable laws — but not confined by national borders.

«

I suspected that this was a bit overblown. Though notice that there isn’t an answer to what they’re going to do about the data transfer problem.
unique link to this extract


Heuristics that almost always work • Substack

Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex fame) offers a number of scenarios, including “the security guard”, “the doctor”, “the skeptic”, “the interviewer” and more. There’s also this:

»

The Futurist

He comments on the latest breathless press releases from tech companies. This will change everything! say the press releases. “No it won’t”, he comments. This is the greatest invention ever to exist! say the press releases. “It’s a scam,” he says.

Whatever upheaval is predicted, he denies it. Soon we’ll all have flying cars! “Our cars will remain earthbound as always”. Soon we’ll all use cryptocurrency! “We’ll continue using dollars and Visa cards, just like before.” We’re collapsing into dictatorship! “No, we’ll be the same boring oligarchic pseudo-democracy we are now” A new utopian age of citizen governance will flourish. “You’re drunk, go back to bed.”

When all the Brier scores are calculated and all the Bayes points added up, he is the best futurist of all. Everyone else occasionally gets bamboozled by some scam or hype train, but he never does. His heuristic is truly superb.

But – say it with me – he could be profitably replaced with a rock. “NOTHING EVER CHANGES OR IS INTERESTING”, says the rock, in letters chiseled into its surface. Why hire a squishy drooling human being, when this beautiful glittering rock is right there?

«

I feel a little seen.
unique link to this extract


DOJ seizes $3.6bn in bitcoins after busting entrepreneur couple in Bitfinex laundering scheme • TechCrunch

Anita Ramaswamy:

»

The US Justice Department (DOJ) has seized over 94,000 bitcoins that were allegedly stolen in the 2016 hack of crypto exchange Bitfinex and arrested a married couple suspected to have laundered the money, the department announced today. The couple — Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and Heather Morgan, 31 — faces charges of conspiring to launder money and to defraud the U.S. government. Facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted, they are set to make their initial appearance in federal court in Manhattan later today.

The asset seizure, worth $3.6bn at today’s bitcoin prices, is the largest in the Justice Department’s history, officials said. They did not recover the entire sum of funds lost in the 2016 hack, though — the 119,754 bitcoins allegedly stolen in total are now worth $4.5bn.

While Morgan and Lichtenstein were not formally accused of perpetrating the hack, prosecutors said they discovered the suspects because the bitcoins were sent to a digital wallet Lichtenstein controlled. The couple obtained the coins after a hacker breached Bitfinex’s systems, initiating more than 2,000 illegal transactions, the DOJ said.

Lichtenstein and Morgan are both deeply involved in the tech startup ecosystem, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

«

Guess that involvement might slow down a bit now. There’s a detailed article about how the DOJ would have got the “money” back – by waiting for them to upload their private keys to a cloud service, and then issuing a warrant against it. The duo would never have known.
unique link to this extract


Every M1 Mac is due for a 2022 refresh with faster M2 chip, new designs • Macworld

Michael Simon:

»

According to Mark Gurman’s latest Power On newsletter, Apple is preparing to launch no less than four M2 Macs throughout 2022. The first models will likely arrive later in the year, with the redesigned MacBook Air leading the way, followed by a new 13-inch MacBook Pro, 24-inch iMac, and entry-level Mac mini. A DigiTimes report on Tuesday said the 13-inch MacBook Pro may launch at Apple’s spring event to usher in the new chip.

Like 2021, Apple will be releasing Macs with several different chips in 2022. The M2 will be a successor to the M1, likely with the same 8-core design (four performance cores and four efficiency cores), and the M1 Pro and M1 Max will make their way into more high-end Macs. The first of those, the 27-inch iMac, could arrive at Apple’s spring event, with a Mac mini coming later in the year.

Based on the Macs rumored to launch in 2022, Apple silicon is on an 18-month cadence. The first M1 Macs were released in November 2020, so a June release would be roughly a year in a half. The same would go for a fall launch for a new 24-inch iMac.

There’s also a new Mac Pro due in 2022 as the culmination of the Apple silicon transition.

«

The Mac Pro is the more interesting one of these: is it going to support external GPUs?
unique link to this extract


Food coloring firm Oterra to lease offices once used by Foxconn • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ricardo Torres:

»

The former Foxconn Opus building in Mount Pleasant will house Oterra, a natural food colouring company.  

The Mount Pleasant Village Board and Village Community Development Authority Tuesday each unanimously approved a development agreement with Oterra. The development is expected to bring more than 100 jobs to the village. 

The business park was developed by Brookfield-based MLG/Highway 20 Limited Partnership and the property is now owned by by Milwaukee-based James Campbell Company. The building was the first space to be occupied by the Foxconn Technology Group when it began work on its massive Racine County development site south of the office building.

The Opus building, located along Interstate 94 at 13315 Globe Drive, hosted former President Donald Trump in 2018 when he made remarks and attended a groundbreaking ceremony. Foxconn no longer used the Opus building following the completion of four buildings on its property. 

The building was built in 2016 and Foxconn has been the only tenant in the building. In December, Foxconn received $28.8m in tax credits for investing $266m and creating 579 full-time jobs in the state. It’s unclear what the company plans to produce in Wisconsin. 

Details about the Oterra development were discussed in closed session with the Village Board, community development authority, along with the Racine County Board Executive Committee and Committee of the Whole. There was no discussion in open session regarding the agreement on Tuesday.  

According to the agreement, the building is in tax incremental district 4 and the village will pay roughly $2.04m, through the collection of property taxes, to pay the remaining municipal revenue obligation on the property. 

Once that debt is paid, the village plans to reimburse Oterra for 76% of its taxable capital improvements through the life of TID 4, which is expected to close in August 2035. 

«

So the Foxconn-in-Wisconsin saga grinds to its end: a complete waste of time and money.
unique link to this extract


Energy performance certificates hold back heat decarbonisation • FORESIGHT

Jan Rosenow:

»

In 2014, we bought an old Victorian house in Oxford, UK, well aware it needed major renovation work. Our energy performance certificate (EPC), which shows the energy performance of a building, was a poor grade “E” on a scale of A to G, with A being the highest performing category. We have since carried out a major refurbishment programme, installing underfloor insulation, triple and double glazing, underfloor heating, internal solid wall insulation and an air source heat pump. We demolished the old kitchen at the back of the house and replaced it with a modern extension built according to the latest building codes. After all of these improvements, we expected a significant improvement in our EPC rating, yet we are still received an “E” grade.

It is possible the assessor made a mistake, up to 62% of EPCs contain errors of some kind, but the low grade is most likely due to the heat pump we installed. Official UK government policy is to roll out heat pumps across the housing stock. The Climate Change Committee, a government advisory body, believes 2.5 million heat pumps need to be installed by 2030 to meet climate targets. In contradiction to this goal, the EPC system penalises people for investing in heat pumps by regularly issuing poor ratings for their homes. Installers have also complained that EPCs do not recommend heat pumps as an energy performance improvement measure.

There are at least three reasons why the installation of heat pumps does not result in improved EPC ratings and why it is usually not recommended by the EPC.

«

Because: EPCs assume you’ll heat with gas (it’s cheaper, per kWh, than electricity) and they don’t know that heat pumps have efficiencies typically in the 300-400% range (1kWh of electricity generates 4kWh of heat).
unique link to this extract


Traders are selling themselves their own NFTs to drive up prices • Engadget

Amrita Khalid:

»

The NFT marketplace is rife with people buying their own NFTs in order to drive up prices, according to a report released this week by blockchain data firm Chainalysis. Known as “wash trading”, the act of buying and selling a security in order to fool the market was once commonplace on Wall Street, and has been illegal for nearly a century. But the vast, unregulated NFT marketplace has shown to be a golden opportunity for scammers.

The report tracked instances of the same traders selling the same NFTs back and forth at least 25 times, a likely incident of wash trading. It identified a group of 110 alleged NFT wash traders who have made roughly $8.9m in profit from this practice. Researchers also discovered significant evidence of money laundering in the NFT marketplace in the last half of 2021. The value sent to NFT marketplaces by addresses associated with scams spiked significantly in the third quarter of 2021, worth more than $1m worth of cryptocurrency, according to the report. Roughly $1.4m of sales in the fourth quarter of 2021 came from such illicit addresses.

“NFT wash trading exists in a murky legal area. While wash trading is prohibited in conventional securities and futures, wash trading involving NFTs has yet to be the subject of an enforcement action,” wrote the authors of the report.

«

Legally murky? Seems like pretty straightforward fraud by misrepresentation. And so easy to do. Makes ransomware look like a mug’s game.
unique link to this extract


• 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

Start Up No.1731: Dutch fine Apple again, Spotify’s Big Short, video games that spy, North Korea’s crypto nukes, and more


Fuel poverty is made worse by prepayment meters, which charge much higher prices. It’s an experience you don’t forget. CC-licensed photo by Lydia on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Be gentle with them. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


I lived through fuel poverty as a child. This is how it really feels • The Guardian

Kerry Hudson:

»

Let’s start with a multiple choice question. It is a cold, wet February evening. You come home with your two kids after school. You stand in the hallway and contemplate your options. Do you put on the heating? It is freezing and your kids are reluctant to take off their coats. Perhaps you should make a cheap but nutritious dinner for them. They have been saying all the way home that they are “starving”. You could give them their night-time bath, because it is two days since they had their last one, or save the cost of the heating for some new winter boots – theirs are too tight and letting in water.

You can pick only one option.

When energy bills increase for millions in April, these decisions will become a stark reality for many. According to the thinktank the Resolution Foundation, the number of households living in “fuel stress” will rise by 2.5 million to 5 million. This is a staggering number to comprehend, so please think of your neighbours, your auntie, your best friend, your favourite teacher from school who might be in that position.

As for the measures announced by the government on Thursday to ameliorate the effects of the rise in the energy price cap, the words “too little, too late” and “poorly thought‑out” spring to mind.

Perhaps I should be writing this from a clear-eyed, journalistic point of view, but in fact I am writing this from a place of fury. You see, I grew up in extreme poverty. I know only too well the absolute degradation and hardship of poverty – particularly fuel poverty – when home isn’t a home, but a place that you avoid as long as possible, lingering in shopping centres or libraries, where you can stay warm for a little longer.

…As a child, I came to know what it was to be constantly cold, even as you slept. Even a duvet could feel wet, heavy and hopeless.

«

unique link to this extract


Dutch watchdog fines Apple $5.7m again in App Store dispute • Reuters

Toby Sterling:

»

The Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has been levying weekly fines of €5m on Apple since the company missed a Jan. 15 deadline to make changes ordered by the watchdog.

Apple, which could not immediately be reached for comment, has twice published information on its own blog about changes it is making to comply with the Dutch order. However, the ACM said on Monday it was not receiving enough information from the U.S. company to assess whether Apple was actually complying.

“ACM is disappointed in Apple’s behaviour and actions,” it said in a statement. It noted that Dutch courts have upheld its decision, which found that Apple’s behaviour violated competition law.

Apple is under pressure in many countries over the commissions it charges on in-app purchases, with the US Senate approving a bill last Thursday that would bar Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google from requiring users to use their payment systems. read more

Apple on Jan. 15 first asserted it had complied with the Dutch regulator’s December order , which covers only dating apps like Match Group’s Tinder. But the regulator responded that Apple hadn’t actually yet made the changes – it had just indicated it would

«

If the ACM keeps on not liking Apple’s suggestion, the cost might get quite a bit bigger than any putative revenue that it’s getting from Dutch dating apps.
unique link to this extract


The Big Short of music streaming • Dadadrummer

Damon Krukowski:

»

Spotify used the financial model of arbitrage to obtain a cheap if not free product – digital music – and resell it in a new context to realize profit. In other words, Spotify’s profit requires that digital music have no value. Spotify continually talks down the value of music on their platform – they offer it for free; they tell musicians we are lucky to be paid anything for it; they insist that without their service, there is only piracy and zero income. Most tellingly, they invest nothing back into music. Unlike a record label, publisher, or most anyone else in the music industry, Spotify devotes none of its profits to the development of new recordings.

In truth, without Spotify there are many ways to realize value for recorded music today. There is physical media; there are paid downloads; there are even other corporate streaming services that pay twice or three times the royalties that Spotify offers. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell know this well; they clearly have no doubt in the value of their music outside Spotify.

But Spotify can’t acknowledge that, in the spirit of normal negotiation, because it is in their vital interest to keep digital music from developing any value outside of the context they provide and sell – to subscribers, to advertisers, and above all to investors.

Is it any wonder that a company built on the financial device of arbitrage would appeal hugely to the stock market? Spotify’s accountants insist, nearly each and every quarter, that they have once again lost money on the music they stream. And yet this consistently losing business is now capitalized on the NYSE to the tune of $37bn.

«

unique link to this extract


Scientists heal paralyzed mice with spinal cord implants • Futurism

Abby Lee Hood:

»

“If this works in humans, and we believe that it will, it can offer all paralyzed people hope that they may walk again,” the research team at the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology told the Times of Israel, adding that the team has started discussing clinical trials with the US Food and Drug Administration.

The experiment took place at Tel Aviv University where the team, led by Professor Tal Dvir, engineered spinal cord tissue from human cells and implanted them into mice with long-term paralysis. Of the 15 mice they operated on, 12 were able to walk normally.

Dvir told the Times of Israel that the mice received spinal implants from cells of multiple people, but for human patients the plan would be to grow a unique spine for each using their own body’s cells. If approved, the study’s authors wrote in their conclusions that a personalized hydrogel would be created to implant into patients.

Of course, it’s always unclear whether an animal-tested therapy will work in humans.

«

There’s a Twitter account, @justsaysinmice, which points out that there are so many pieces of research which only work in mice that it’s exhausting.
unique link to this extract


The unnerving rise of video games that spy on you • WIRED

Ben Egliston:

»

While there are no numbers on how many video game companies are surveilling their players in-game (although, as a recent article suggests, large publishers and developers like Epic, EA, and Activision explicitly state they capture user data in their license agreements), a new industry of firms selling middleware “data analytics” tools, often used by game developers, has sprung up.

These data analytics tools promise to make users more amenable to continued consumption through the use of data analysis at scale. Such analytics, once available only to the largest video game studios—which could hire data scientists to capture, clean, and analyze the data, and software engineers to develop in-house analytics tools—are now commonplace across the entire industry, pitched as “accessible” tools that provide a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace by companies like Unity, GameAnalytics, or Amazon Web Services. (Although, as a recent study shows, the extent to which these tools are truly “accessible” is questionable, requiring technical expertise and time to implement.)

As demand for data-driven insight has grown, so have the range of different services—dozens of tools in the past several years alone, providing game developers with different forms of insight. One tool—essentially Uber for playtesting—allows companies to outsource quality assurance testing, and provides data-driven insight into the results. Another supposedly uses AI to understand player value and maximize retention (and spending, with a focus on high-spenders).

«

The toxic (but commercially utterly compelling) combination of surveillance capitalism and opportunistic machine learning. Succeeded for social networks, so why not video games?
unique link to this extract


IRS abandons ID.me facial recognition plans • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:

»

The IRS said Monday it would transition away from using a face-scanning service, offered by the company ID.me, in the coming weeks and would develop an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition.

The agency originally had said that starting this summer all taxpayers would need to submit a “video selfie” to the company to be able to access their tax records and other services on the IRS website. But lawmakers and advocates slammed the idea of mandating the technology’s use nationwide, saying that it would unfairly burden Americans without smartphones or computer cameras and would risk leaking sensitive data to hackers. Facial recognition algorithms have also been shown to work less accurately on darker skin.

“The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” IRS commissioner Charles Rettig said in a statement announcing the IRS decision. “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured, and we are quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of nearly two dozen members of Congress who had urged the IRS to halt the plan, said in a statement Monday, “I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive and no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services.”

«

Read the room, IRS, read the room.
unique link to this extract


North Korea: missile programme funded through stolen crypto, UN report says • BBC News

»

North Korean cyber-attacks have stolen millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency to fund the country’s missile programmes, a UN report briefed to media says.

Between 2020 and mid-2021 cyber-attackers stole more than $50m (£37m) of digital assets, investigators found. Such attacks are an “important revenue source” for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme, they said.

The findings were reportedly handed to the UN’s sanctions committee on Friday. The cyber-attacks targeted at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia.

The report also referenced a study published last month by the security firm Chainalysis that suggested North Korean cyberattacks could have netted as much as $400m worth of digital assets last year.

And in 2019, the UN reported that North Korea had accumulated an estimated $2bn for its weapons of mass destruction programmes by using sophisticated cyber-attacks.

«

Neatly tying together Kim Jong-un’s two big programmes when he took over: the nuclear weapons programme and hacking.
unique link to this extract


When the boss lives in a cramped flat over an old shop, what hope has Britain got? • The Sunday Times

Robert Colvile:

»

Should we really be running a major economy from an awkwardly retrofitted set of Georgian townhouses? Does it make sense for No 10 [Downing St, the Prime Minister’s office and residence] to function as a cramped, ungainly, dilapidated hybrid of command centre, event space, provincial museum and family home — in which your influence is dictated largely by your physical proximity to the PM’s office?

Then there’s the way we treat those in charge. Leaving aside your views on the incumbent, does it sound like a recipe for peak performance to have the prime minister living in a flat above the shop, with no dedicated catering, cleaning or childcare (sharing the space, in this case, with two very young children)? To have no on-call GP, so that when he catches a potentially fatal disease, he is essentially locked in his flat, with meals shoved under the door, until he has to be carted off to hospital? That’s before we even get to the whole system of red boxes, in which the people running the country are handed a sheaf of printouts every evening and asked to make billion-pound decisions armed with a marker pen and bottle of wine.

A few weeks ago Tony Blair gave a big speech arguing that Britain was utterly unprepared for the challenges it faced. In particular, our long-term growth rate is “woefully insufficient to pay for the services we expect”. I hosted an event on Thursday with the director-general of the CBI, at which we both made the same point: without a radical pro-business agenda to get GDP up, we will remain in the awful trap of low growth, high spending and high taxes.

But how are we going to thrive in the 21st century with a power structure designed for the 19th? We’ve kept things going via a series of bodges — but no one can argue this is how you would do things if you started with a blank sheet of paper, or even one half-covered in crayons by one of the prime minister’s kids who had wandered into the office.

«

Physical proximity has often been crucial for power systems. Though you could do a lot better than No.10 and No.11 for organisation. The White House has similarly been criticised as inappropriate for the modern challenges it has (which became even worse when Covid hit). A problem with hanging on to the past.
unique link to this extract


Queen Elizabeth is hooked on political gossip • POLITICO

Annabelle Dickson:

»

Former dispatch writers said they were instructed to write “the inside track” because the queen reads the newspapers and listens to BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning program, Today, or another daily news show.

Former Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who held the post between 2003 and 2005, recalls his instructions from the queen when he asked what he should write about.

“She said something like ‘that which doesn’t make the press would be of interest,’” he recalls. “It’s personal correspondence so it would never be disclosed to anybody. So there was every encouragement just to be frank and transparent with what one was saying because it was just private between she and I.”

Another, the Conservative Andrew MacKay, who held the post in 1996, admitted his initial “rather stilted efforts” prompted a phone call from the queen’s private secretary who suggested the queen wanted the “gossip and the inside track.” He subsequently transformed his letters into a “who’s up, who’s down,” something he was later told had been “appreciated.”

“It’s patently obvious to everybody but the most anti-royalist that she has been a hugely successful monarch over a very long period of time. I think one of the keys is her attention to detail, her desire to be well-informed, and not interfere, because she understood the constitutional position completely,” MacKay added.

Those characteristics have been a “help” to successive prime ministers, who hold weekly private meetings with the queen at Buckingham Palace, Mackay said.

By 2014, dispatches were sent to Buckingham Palace by email rather than being collected by a messenger, Anne Milton, one of the few female vice chamberlains to hold the post said.

“I used look for things that, in my very humble opinion, might amuse her,” Milton said. “If there had been a bit of a row in the house … it’s quite nice to give a bit of color to the events that have gone on.”

«

I do wonder what the briefing notes for the past few weeks have looked like. (The Queen is meant to be apolitical, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be interested in politics.)
unique link to this extract


Nerdle – the daily numbers game

Richard Mann:

»

Driving home with Imogen, we were chatting about the Wordle craze and agreed there must be an equivalent for us maths fans. A few minutes later, we’d decided on the rules of the game and the name “nerdle”. As far as we can work out, there are over 100,000 valid words but we have chosen 17,723 valid “words” as there are quite a lot we thought you wouldn’t like. We think it’s just as fun playing with numbers as playing with letters. See if you agree!

«

It’s quite tough. Certainly tougher than Wordle. Which almost certainly means the NY Times is not going to buy it and there won’t be breathless features about it provoking family rows. If you need an alternative, there’s Mathler, which is about as mindbending.
unique link to this extract


• 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

Start Up No.1730: technology’s FOMO bullies, Apple yields minimally to Holland, how Russia-Ukraine could end, PelotoNike?, and more


A ransomware attack means that Hula Hoop snacks, and a number of others, are on delay for between two and seven weeks. CC-licensed photo by Andrew Rees on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not the invading type. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Beware the FOMO bullies of technology • The Atlantic

Charlie Warzel:

»

“Web3” does feel more like investors pumping a stock than it does an organic movement. Still, I worry about developing a mindset that goes beyond reflexive skepticism and into a kind of calcified naysaying. My career was born out of a love for new gadgets and services, and the connections and experiences they foster. Then I saw how platforms like Twitter and Facebook could influence how we saw ourselves and one another—and not always for the better.

So far, my experience with Web3 is different. A lot of its projects seem like unnecessarily complex and theoretical financialized tools in search of broader utility; “play-to-earn” blockchain-based games such as Axie Infinity represent, for me, a dystopian vision of leisure, if not a new era of “bullshit jobs.” Non-fungible tokens don’t personally appeal to me and, as some have shown, the technology does not appear to be fully decentralized. Decentralized autonomous organizations—described by some as an internet community or a group chat with a shared bank account—are perhaps the most interesting application of blockchain technology, but I still struggle to see how they aren’t just a new riff on LLCs. Many of them also seem chaotic.

Perhaps worst of all, I find so much of Web3 deeply inaccessible. When I took the time to set up a crypto wallet and participate in the new economy, the experience was devoid of thrill. I didn’t feel that sense of hope and potential that came when I first logged onto the internet, logged into Facebook, downloaded a song on Napster, or held a smartphone in my hand and checked my email away from a computer.

That itself can feel sad, even unsettling, given Web3’s revolutionary framing. I’d like to think that my instincts toward hucksterism and hype cycles are well attuned. Over the years, I’ve watched tech optimists—including some of the very boosters of Web3—get blinded by their ego, greed, or naivete. But there’s a part of me that worries about my own capacity to imagine the future. What if even now, at just 34 years old, I’ve become the guy who [as David Letterman did interviewing Bill Gates about the newfangled ‘internet’ in 1995] says “Does radio ring a bell?”

…Web3 will likely influence the direction of the internet incompletely and unpredictably. But the FOMO-fueled marketing of this technology can still be deeply problematic: It strong-arms people into markets and ideas, attracting grifters, scammers, and the greedy while repelling those who want to build sustainable communities and products.

«

Warzel is always worth reading (and has now been folded back into The Atlantic, where his newsletter sort-of lives).
unique link to this extract


We found the real names of Bored Ape Yacht Club’s pseudonymous founders • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopulos:

»

As the value of the asset they produced has skyrocketed, the identities of BAYC’s founders have become the subject of intense interest — not all of it positive. People have pointed out that apes in streetwear-inspired outfits and gold teeth is a racist trope (representatives for Yuga Labs vigorously denied this). Others have expressed concern that Seneca, the young Asian American artist who actually drew the main artwork, has been underacknowledged and undercompensated for her work. Nicole Muniz, the public-facing CEO of Yuga Labs, told BuzzFeed News, “Every single artist of the original five were compensated over a million dollars each.” (Seneca did not respond a request for comment.) This reveals a unique problem with the idea of a billion-dollar company run by an unknown person: How do you hold them accountable if you don’t know who they are?

BuzzFeed News can now reveal the identities of BAYC’s two main founders: Greg Solano, a 32-year-old writer and editor, and Wylie Aronow, a 35-year-old originally from Florida.

Neither man immediately responded to a request for comment.

BuzzFeed News searched public business records to reveal the identities of the two core founders, who go by the pseudonyms “Gordon Goner” and “Gargamel.” According to publicly available records, Yuga Labs, the company name behind BAYC, is incorporated in Delaware with an address associated with Greg Solano. Other records linked Solano to Wylie Aronow. Yuga Labs CEO Nicole Muniz confirmed the identities of both men to BuzzFeed News.

Speaking as Gordon Goner and Gargamel, the founders have given interviews to outlets like Rolling Stone and the New Yorker discussing the origin story of the idea of a group of rich apes living in a swamp clubhouse. The broad strokes of their biographies fit Solano and Aronow: They’re both in their 30s, met while growing up in Florida, and both had literary aspirations (one completed an MFA degree in creative writing, the other dropped out for health reasons, according to their interview in CoinDesk).

«

As you could predict, people got totally bent out of shape by Notopoulos committing an act of journalism and discovering publicly available (but slightly obscured) information about people who may be getting millions of dollars and are encouraging others to put real money into their not-useful things. The idea of “accountability” seems to shock some people. Predictably, they’re also people who boost NFTs. Why might that be?
unique link to this extract


Apple blasted over paltry 3% fee reduction for external payments in the Netherlands • Macworld

Michael Simon:

»

After announcing in mid-January that it would be complying with the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets order to allow alternate payment processing options in dating apps, Apple is now offering more details on how the new system will work.

Developers must first request a StoreKit External Purchase Entitlement or the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement and provide the payment service provider’s name and website. Apple requires the PSP to offer broad payment support, including Apple Pay, and be able to split payments, “with the ability to pay commission directly to Apple at the developer’s request.”

The last bit is particularly important, because Apple will still be taking a 27% fee for every transaction made through an external store or link, just 3% less than using the App Store’s payment system. Apple describes it as “a reduced rate that excludes value related to payment processing and related activities.”

«

Most people will have no idea that Apple’s doing this. But third-party developers for Apple’s platform are furious. Apple is not just doing the least it could, it’s making it actively harder for apps to use a different payment system, and still taking a hefty chunk. It’s a disdain so lofty it’s barely visible from the ground.

(I don’t know why it’s dating apps specifically that Holland picked out for this special treatment. Clues welcome.)
unique link to this extract


Inside Google’s plan to salvage its Stadia gaming service • Business Insider

Hugh Langley:

»

When Google announced last year that it was shutting down its internal gaming studios, it was seen as a blow to the company’s big bet on video games. Google, whose Stadia cloud service was barely more than a year old, said it would instead focus on publishing games from existing developers on the platform and explore other ways to bring Stadia’s technology to partners.

Since then, the company has shifted the focus of its Stadia division largely to securing white-label deals with partners that include Peloton, Capcom, and Bungie, according to people familiar with the plans.

Google is trying to salvage the underlying technology, which is capable of broadcasting high-definition games over the cloud with low latency, shopping the technology to partners under a new name: Google Stream. (Stadia was known in development as “Project Stream.”)

The Stadia consumer platform, meanwhile, has been deprioritized within Google, insiders said, with a reduced interest in negotiating blockbuster third-party titles. The focus of leadership is now on securing business deals for Stream, people involved in those conversations said. The changes demonstrate a strategic shift in how Google, which has invested heavily in cloud services, sees its gaming ambitions.

Last year, Google entered conversations with Peloton to be a back-end provider for games running on the fitness company’s bikes, three people familiar with the situation said. Peloton unveiled the first of those games, titled “Lanebreak,” in summer and ran a closed demo late last year that was supported by Google’s technology.

«

Note it’s “salvage” rather than “revive”. Salvage is what you do with a holed or sunken ship. Google seems constantly unable to follow through on promising starts: it beat Apple to wearables, and squandered it by leaving it to OEMs. Its messaging approach has been haphazard, at best. And now this. Apple’s subscription games service seems to chug along, in part because it never promised to revolutionise the world; just to be an add-on.
unique link to this extract


How will the Russia-Ukraine crisis end? • Comment Is Freed(man)

Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of War Studies at King’s College London, making a guest post on his son’s Substack:

»

While it is not hard to identify differences of opinion among NATO members, [Vladimir] Putin is probably disappointed that the fractures are not deeper. Ukraine has obviously been bothered by the war scare most, not least because it raises a fearful prospect but also because continual mobilisation is draining both socially and economically. This is why Zelensky tried to encourage the US and the UK not to push their more alarmist scenarios too hard.

Even though Putin would have preferred more disarray on NATO’s side he has put some added stress on Ukraine; reminded everybody that Russia is a great power with a significant military clout; got more diplomatic attention than he has enjoyed for a while, with Western leaders paying court, and the possibility might of some modest improvements in Russian security; agreed a verbose communiqué with President Xi of China at the Olympics, which condemns NATO enlargement, along with ‘colour revolutions’; and has been able to use the build-up to cement a developing alliance with Belarus. The Belarusian dictator President Lukashenko once wished to keep his independence from Russia but lost that last year when Russia helped him clamp down on the opposition. He is now hosting exercises with Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border.

If Putin breaks off all diplomacy now then that would be the clearest sign that war was close. If he continues to explore possibilities with [US president Joe] Biden and [French president Emmanuel] Macron and others then in the event of an offensive it would be hard to explain why he is embarking on a war he has said he does not want. It is therefore at least possible that he will carry on developing a mixture of options, seeing if anything changes, taking what he can from the situation, until it is time to start bringing his troops back home. Some crises do just fade away.

«

🤞
unique link to this extract


Question Time showed that you can’t counter anti-vax myths with cold reason alone • The Guardian

Sonia Sodha:

»

research shows that the process of “myth-busting” – setting out a common false statement, then explaining why it is wrong – backfires because it counterintuitively reinforces and helps spread the myths.

This is why the premise of last week’s Question Time [a weekly audience asks/politicians answer panel show] was so flawed. The presenter of the BBC programme, Fiona Bruce, announced in mid-January that the programme wanted to explore why some people had chosen not to be vaccinated against Covid and specifically invited them to apply to be an audience member on the programme.

Understanding why some people have not yet been vaccinated despite the wealth of evidence that the vaccines are safe, effective and save lives is hugely important to improving take-up. But there are numerous research reports on this, to which a current affairs programme such as Question Time has little to add. And if the objective was instead to increase understanding and build empathy among viewers, its tribal format, in which rhetorical flourish is deployed to score quick wins over opponents, could not be less well suited to the task. In response to widely aired concerns, the programme said it would vet potential audience members to allow ordinary unvaccinated members of the public through while filtering out the fanatics.

This is to misunderstand that the expression of reasonable-sounding doubts can be a much more effective transmitter of misinformation than ranting and raving. And sure enough, the programme ended up falling into a number of disinformation traps.

…Question Time also bought into another piece of conventional wisdom that disintegrates on close examination: the idea that on most issues people can be divided into tribes based on their fixed beliefs. The whole endeavour was based on the premise that “the unvaccinated” are a group of people who have been “unrepresented” on our national broadcaster, as if they share a coherent set of attitudes. But people have not yet been vaccinated for all sorts of reasons. Imagine thinking it useful to sort a Question Time audience on the basis of other unhealthy behaviour, such as smoking or excessive drinking.

«

unique link to this extract


Exclusive: iPhone flaw exploited by second Israeli spy firm, sources say • Reuters

Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter:

»

A flaw in Apple’s software exploited by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group to break into iPhones in 2021 was simultaneously abused by a competing company, according to five people familiar with the matter.

QuaDream, the sources said, is a smaller and lower profile Israeli firm that also develops smartphone hacking tools intended for government clients.

The two rival businesses gained the same ability last year to remotely break into iPhones, according to the five sources, meaning that both firms could compromise Apple phones without an owner needing to open a malicious link. That two firms employed the same sophisticated hacking technique – known as a “zero-click” – shows that phones are more vulnerable to powerful digital spying tools than the industry will admit, one expert said.

“People want to believe they’re secure, and phone companies want you to believe they’re secure. What we’ve learned is, they’re not,” said Dave Aitel, a partner at Cordyceps Systems, a cybersecurity firm.

Experts analyzing intrusions engineered by NSO Group and QuaDream since last year believe the two companies used very similar software exploits, known as ForcedEntry, to hijack iPhones.

«

What’s odd about this is that ForcedEntry exploits a very particular weakness in Apple’s GIF processing. I don’t know enough about the discovery process for bugs to be sure, but it seems distinctly unlikely that two Israeli hacking companies should have separately found precisely the same mechanism for breaking into iPhones.
unique link to this extract


KP Snacks ‘compromised’ by ransomware cyberattack and ‘cannot safely process orders’ • betterRetailing

Jack Courtez:

»

KP Snacks has been hit by a cyberattack causing delays and cancelations to deliveries that could last “until the end of March at the earliest”.

A letter from KP Snacks sent to store owners on 2 February said its systems had been “compromised by ransomware” and it “cannot safely process orders or dispatch goods”.

KP Snacks revealed the hack wiped out its IT and communications systems begining on 28 January. “We have teams working through the resolution, but it is unknown when this will be resolved,” the letter read.

Messages sent by Nisa to partnered stores on 1 February, and seen by betterRetailing told local shops to “expect supply issues on base stock and promotions until further notice”.

The hack means supply of top selling brands including McCoy’s, Hula Hoops, Tyrrells, Space Raiders, Skips, Butterkist, Pom-Bears, Nik Naks and KP Nuts is at risk.

The wholesaler added: “Initial discussions have highlighted that no orders will be being placed or delivered for a couple of weeks at least and service could be affected until the end of March at the earliest.”

Nisa said it was introducing ordering caps in order to “manage what stock we do have”.

Files seen by cybersecurity site Bleeping Computer showed KP Snacks listed on hacker group Conti’s confidential ‘data leak page’. The site alleged that examples of KP Snacks related “credit card statements, birth certificates, spreadsheets with employee addresses and phone numbers, confidential agreements, and other sensitive documents” were shown on the data leak page.

«

I should point out that the website has an “Age Verification” system to make sure you’re 18 or older before you can read such salacious details. (See how well you get on at persuading it of your age.) Meanwhile, Britain’s diet might be marginally better for the next few weeks.
unique link to this extract


Estimate to rip and replace Huawei, ZTE networking gear in US carriers more than tripled since 2020 • PhoneArena

Alan Friedman:

»

As recently as last summer, the FCC said that ripping out Huawei and ZTE’s networking gear would cost it $1.9bn, an estimate originally calculated in 2020. But on Friday Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told Congress that the wireless providers involved in the program requested $5.6 bn to be reimbursed for the cost of “ripping and replacing” the insecure networking equipment.

The FCC issued a press release on Friday which noted that the goal of the “The Supply Chain Reimbursement Program” is to reimburse advanced communications providers for the reasonable expenses these companies laid out for the “removal, replacement, and disposal of covered communications equipment and services.”

While the figure that the rural carriers are seeking is more than triple the amount that the FCC earmarked for this program, the actual amount that will be spent for the rip and replace could still be lower than the inflated new figure. In the press release, Chairwoman Rosenworcel noted that Congress has yet to set aside the $5.6bn that the carriers are asking for.

«

Wonder if it’s a shortage of people to do the work, or if Nokia and Alcatel have hiked their prices. That’s a pretty dramatic change. (Huawei and ZTE don’t agree that their equipment is insecure, but the Trump admin said they weren’t to be trusted.)
unique link to this extract


Amazon and Nike said to be considering Peloton bid • FT

James Fontanella-Khan, Sara Germano, Dave Lee and Patrick McGee:

»

Amazon and Nike have not held any talks with Peloton and the considerations are preliminary, according to people briefed on the matter. They added that the decision to look at Peloton was opportunistic given its market value collapsed from nearly $50bn 12 months ago to less than $8bn this week.

Any deal would be hard to get done without the backing from John Foley, Peloton’s co-founder, and other insiders due to the company’s dual-class shareholder structure, which gives them veto power on all big decisions.

Other buyers are also likely to emerge, said those briefed on the matter, potentially including Apple and large private equity buyers.

Peloton was riding high at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, when thousands of people started using its signature stationary bike amid lockdowns.

On Friday, its share price jumped 30% in after-hours trading after The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was considering a bid for the company. The Financial Times first reported Nike’s decision to evaluate a deal.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on “rumours and speculation”. Nike did not return a request for comment. Peloton declined to comment.

Blackwells Capital, which owns less than 5% of Peloton, has accused Foley of mismanagement, including misleading investors and hiring his wife in an executive role, a decision that the hedge fund claimed cost $40bn in shareholders’ wealth.

«

There’s not the faintest chance that Apple would bid for it – why would it want to make stationary bikes and treadmills? It never buys hardware companies, Beats excepted. It could make some sense for Amazon, but Nike feels like a better fit, as the premium version of the brand, where the subscription would work well.
unique link to this extract


• 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

Start Up No.1729: iPhone privacy costs Meta $10bn, Windows on Apple’s ARM?, DeepMind tries coding, gas prices in context, and more


It’s a hit! The Nintendo Switch – which uses a processor from 2015 – has passed 100m sales faster thanany other console. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Meet you in the metaverse. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Meta says Apple’s privacy changes could cost the company $10bn • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Brian X Chen:

»

The news, along with increased spending as Meta tries to focus on the new idea of a metaverse, dropped Meta’s stock price more than 26% on Thursday morning. Mr. Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Apple’s changes and new privacy regulations in Europe represented “a clear trend where less data is available to deliver personalized ads.”

Meta’s warning and its cratering stock price were reminders that even among tech giants, Apple holds extraordinary sway because of its control of the iPhone. And the tech industry received a clear notice that a long-planned shift in how people’s information may be used online was having a dramatic impact on Madison Avenue and internet companies that have spent years building businesses around selling ads.

“People can’t really be targeted the way they were before,” said Eric Seufert, a media strategist and author of Mobile Dev Memo, a blog about mobile advertising. “That breaks the model. It’s not just an inconvenience that can be fixed with a couple of tweaks. It requires rebuilding the foundation of the business.”

…Only 24% of iPhone users around the world have consented to being tracked by advertisers, according to data published in December by the analytics company Flurry. That means that a broad swath of iPhone users are evading the personal tracking preferred by advertisers.

It has been a dismaying shift for advertisers, which have for years tracked people online in order to determine how many sales their clients were making. Advertisers also rely on tracking to resurface products that consumers have viewed but not yet purchased, reminding them that it might be time to buy. But for privacy activists, the change is a welcome check against surveillance that puts power back into the hands of everyday technology users.

«

But: Snap and Twitter and Pinterest, which rely more on brand advertising, have all done better. Snap reported its first profit. It’s an ill wind that blows no good.
unique link to this extract


Why Facebook’s daily users are falling for the first time as Gen Z and millennials jump ship to TikTok

Rhiannon Williams:

»

rumours of Facebook’s imminent demise are greatly exaggerated, as the company looks to the metaverse as its next great source of income – repackaging its business model of surveillance capitalism combined with targeted advertising, says Christian Fuchs, professor of media and communication studies and author of Social Media: A Critical Introduction.

“Facebook’s transformation into Meta and the announcement to create a metaverse is the attempt to expand the model of digital surveillance and targeted advertising from users’ platform use to their entire everyday life. This vision is not something radically new, but an expansion of Facebook’s existing model.

“TikTok only appears to be different from Facebook. It is combining the sale of targeted ads with in-app purchases,” he added. “TikTok is just like Facebook: part of the world of platform capitalism that commodifies and commercialises the internet. It is time for true alternatives to this model.”

The social network isn’t facing the same fate that MySpace or Friends Reunited suffered before it because even if it continued losing a million daily users each quarter, it would still take 500 years to vanish entirely, [your friendly Overspill editor Charles] Arthur points out, explaining that Facebook’s inexorable rise was born from offering something different to Google, which in turn was the orthogonal response to Microsoft’s PC dominance.

“The solution to beating Google wasn’t to create another search engine, it was to create social networks,” he says.

“So, beating Facebook doesn’t lie in being a site where people write things – it’s being TikTok with an incredibly powerful algorithm that watches every tiny move you make to serve you more engaging video.

“But Facebook is still safe for now. There’s a long way to go before they’re scrabbling around for users. It’s not a MySpace scenario. We hit peak Google a few years ago, but Google doesn’t show any signs of going away.”

«

unique link to this extract


Metaverse of madness • Digits to Dollars

Jay Goldberg:

»

while most people who spend the day working behind VR goggles need a day to re-adjust to reality, it does seem that VR has made real advances.

By contrast, AR is still a work in progress as it presents serious technical challenges. For instance, the compute and battery for AR glasses still need a great amount of miniaturization. Most implementations we have seen are either unwieldy or limited in functionality. Placing a digital overlay on top of a real world image is incredibly difficult. The graphics have to refresh quickly enough to allow for free movement of the head, otherwise the lag creates nausea as users see two out-of-sync worlds simultaneously. This requires immense graphics processing – for which see above regarding miniaturization. It also requires very high bandwidth, low latency data connections.

This last part is probably why we hear so much about the metaverse personally. From our position entrenched deep in the telecom networking world, the solution to this bandwidth/latency problem is 5G!

The telecom operators and, especially, their equipment vendors are grasping at any opportunity they can to extol the virtues of 5G (which are otherwise fairly limited), and many of them have grasped AR fiercely. Unfortunately for them 5G is only part of the solution, the other technical challenges and the required software and content are just not ready yet.

«

Sure that “metaverse” and 5G are going to be mentioned together a lot more in the next few years. Some of them might even be actual uses.
unique link to this extract


100 million and counting: Nintendo affirms that Switch is still mid-cycle • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

»

Nintendo’s latest financial report to investors, issued as an overview of its fiscal year’s third quarter, came with a momentous announcement for the veteran video game and console producer: Switch has joined the 100 million-worldwide-sales club.

What’s more, Switch’s current tally of 103.5m means the device has leapfrogged over both the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo Wii in terms of sales. The count makes the Switch Nintendo’s highest-selling home console of all time. While Sony’s PS4 and PS2 console families continue to hold higher sales counts, neither got to the 100m mark as quickly as Switch, which only needed 57 months to do so (March 2017 to December 2021).

The only console family to get to the 100 million-global-sales mark faster is Nintendo’s own portable DS platform, which needed only 51 months. The DS, which came out in 2004, launched at a lower $149 price point and went lower from there, while Switch has never sold for less than $199.

In a statement to investors, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa affirmed that the Switch console, as it nears its fifth anniversary, is “in the middle of its lifecycle.” Furukawa said nearly the exact same thing a few months earlier when Switch crossed the 90 million-sales mark.

«

As reader Ravi pointed out to me, the Switch has the computing power of a 2015 Android tablet. (It’s using the Tegra X1, released May 2015.) And yet here it is.
unique link to this extract


Can you run Windows on ARM on an Apple Silicon Mac after all? It depends • getwired.com

Wes Miller works at Directions On Microsoft, which untangles the everlastingly tricky questions about Windows licensing:

»

To help our customers understand what was and was not correct in terms of licensing Windows on ARM, I recently reached out to Microsoft and asked, specifically, if a user purchased a retail license for Windows 10 or Windows 11, and used that to activate a WIP or other install of Windows 10 on ARM or Windows 11 on ARM, respectively, was it properly licensed? (A single retail license of Windows Pro, for example, can license one physical PC, or one virtual machine – but not both.)

Microsoft’s very helpful and comprehensive response, via email, is below:

»

Yes customers can use retail copies to run Windows 10/11 on Macs, including ARM Macs. The Windows retail EULA does not have any use rights restrictions on the type of device you install Windows on. Note that the EULA does stipulate that not all versions of Windows are supported on all device types, so theoretically customers could run into compatibility issues with performance & support case by case, but this is not a licensing restriction. Customers can find more details on compatibility at https://aka.ms/minhw.

«

I also asked a couple volume-licensing related questions that are a bit nerdy for a blog post, but I will discuss in an upcoming report at work. In a nutshell, Microsoft’s licensing perspective seems to me to be pretty clear, that “a Mac is a Mac”.

So why the hokey title then? Why did I say “it depends?” It comes down to support…

«

Plus the fact that you can’t install it anyway. (No Boot Camp yet, on Apple Silicon Macs.)
unique link to this extract


What happens if a cryptocurrency exchange files for bankruptcy? • Credit Slips

Adam Levitin:

»

First, the custodially held cryptocurrency is property of the bankruptcy estate—that’s the new legal entity that springs into existence upon the filing of the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy estate accedes to all of the debtor exchange’s property rights, and those include, at the very least, the exchange’s possessory interest in the cryptocurrency.

But wait, you bluster, the custodial agreement clearly says that I am the owner, that it’s my property, that I retain title to it. Yup, but that’s not how the law actually works. Just because they wrote that doesn’t mean it’s true.

For starters, the idea of “ownership” is a little more tricky. It’s not a binary concept in law. Legal thinking generally conceives of ownership as a bundle of sticks, and the sticks can be separated and doled out to different folks. For example, I might “own” an estate called Blackacre, but I can rent the back 40 to you, lease the westfold to your cousin, give you brother fishing rights in the stream, your sister an easement to cross the forest, and the bank a mortgage (that’s a contingent property interest). I still “own” Blackacre, but lots of other folks have property interests in it.  Same story with crypto. Once deposited with the exchange, the customer does not have the possessory interest and, as explained below, the customer might not have any interest at all, because the transaction could well be deemed a sale, not a deposit.

At the very least, the cryptocurrency exchange has a possessory interest in the cryptocoins. If that’s all there is, you might get your coins back, but it won’t be immediate or automatic, and you won’t be able to trade in the interim. 

Things get much worse, however, if the exchange has any right to use the cryptocurrency—to rehypothecate it or to use its staking rights—that too is property of the estate.  Not to pick on Coinbase, but under its staking arrangement it gets  a 25% “commission” on any staking rewards and it indemnifies the customer for any slashing losses. The shared gains and internalized losses sure looks like an investment partnership there. 

«

But why worry? Because 50 crypto exchanges went bust in the first ten months of 2020.
unique link to this extract


Why are gas bills so high and what’s the energy price cap? • BBC News

»

Why have gas prices gone up?
A worldwide squeeze on energy supplies has pushed the price of gas prices up to unprecedented levels:
• a cold winter in Europe in 2020/21 put pressure on supplies and reduced the the amount of gas stored
• a relatively windless summer in 2021 made it difficult to generate wind energy
• increased demand from Asia – especially China – put pressure on liquefied natural gas supplies

The UK is relatively hard-hit because about 85% of homes have gas central heating, and gas generates a third of the country’s electricity.

Why have energy firms collapsed?
When wholesale gas prices spiked, many energy suppliers collapsed – affecting millions of households.

This is largely because the energy price cap prevented them passing on all of their increased costs to customers.

When their supplier went bust many households were switched to a more expensive deal with another supplier.

In the past, consumers have been encouraged to shop around when bills rise.

But at the moment better offers – especially fixed deals – are not available.People already on fixed deals are advised to stay put.

Other households are being encouraged to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

«

I think the graph from Trading Economics for the natural gas prices tells the whole story. Prices for natural gas have never been this high.
UK gas prices over past 25 years
unique link to this extract


Twitter is testing a new ‘Articles’ feature • Engadget

Mariella Moon:

»

Based on a new discovery by Jane Manchun Wong… Twitter is working on a new feature that would cater to the needs of those who want to share their thoughts on the website in one lengthy article. 

Manchun Wong, known for finding experimental features within apps, discovered the existence of a “Twitter Articles” tab. The name itself signifies a long-form format for the social network that has long only allowed people to post bite-sized text messages, but its exact nature is a mystery for now. It’s also unclear whether it will be available to everyone, if it does make it to wide release, or if it will be exclusive to Twitter Blue subscribers. 

Not everyone’s keen on the idea either. Someone pointed out that it might reduce engagement on Twitter, since a thread of tweets often get multiple reactions and responses from the same users. A Twitter spokesperson told CNET that the company is “always looking into new ways to help people start and engage in conversations” and that it will share more soon.

«

Manchun Wong has a really good track record, so if she’s spotted it, then it is being prepared for launch. Not quite sure why people can’t just do what celebrities do, and write it in a Note and then screenshot that.

Or else Twitter will have stopped being a microblog and just become a blog.
unique link to this extract


Google and Apple might be forced to open up their platforms for third-party app stores and payments • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

»

The Open App Markets Act has advanced out of Senate Judiciary committee. In short, that means the bill — which would require Apple to allow sideloading of apps on iPhones, and force both Google and Apple to allow third-party billing on their app stores and third-party app stores on their platforms — is one step closer to becoming law. It’s particularly important to note (and particularly concerning for Apple and Google) that the act got plenty of bipartisan support.

If you haven’t been following the news for this particular act, it’s understandable. Until now, it wasn’t clear how serious we might need to take it. Plenty of bills proposed in Congress die in the committee stage. The topically related American Innovation and Choice Online Act received less across-the-aisle support, though it also passed this committee stage.

The details for the Open App Markets Act are still generally subject to change before (and if) they are passed into law, but the current details indicate that it would require app store providers with over 50 million US customers to meet basic requirements, including allowing customers to install apps from outside those stores, not to prevent third-party billing (or to try to influence that billing unfairly with other practices), and to allow third-party app stores, among other competition-friendly changes.

«

Still has some way to go, but there might be some reason for Apple (and slightly less, Google) to get concerned about this.
unique link to this extract


Google AI outfit DeepMind says new coding bot rivals humans • The Register

Simon Sharwood:

»

Alphabet-owned AI outfit DeepMind claims it has created an AI that can write programming code, find novel solutions to interesting problems, and do it at the level of the mid-ranking human entrants in coding contests.

Dubbed “AlphaCode” and detailed in a pre-print paper [PDF], the tool is said to advance on previous automated coding efforts by displaying the ability to tackle “problems that require a combination of critical thinking, logic, algorithms, coding, and natural language understanding.”

Previous efforts to create code that codes haven’t been able to reach that level of sophistication, but have done decently when asked to handle simple maths or programming chores.

«

One programming task it was set is essentially to see if you can make one text string match another by typing characters and backspace. Simple enough, but programming that is much harder. AlphaCode ranked in “the top 54.3% of entrants” in a programming contest, which suggests there’s could be a lot of programmer unemployment in the near future. Sure, AlphaGo didn’t put any professional Go players out of work, and AlphaFold hasn’t put any X-ray crystallographers out of work (as far as I know), but coding is a different game. (Although I’ve literally heard “code that writes code is coming for coders’ jobs!” for just short of 40 years now.)

Of course it all depends on the problem to be coded being described correctly. Which is often remarked on.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

• 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.


Start Up No.1728: Facebook users decline, Windows wins supply fight over Chromebooks, goodbye Google, all about Covid, and more


Early this century, phone companies wanted customer service to make video calls. They wouldn’t. What’s changed? CC-licensed photo by Karl Baron on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not yet down by a million users. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook loses users globally for the first time in its history • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Will Oremus:

»

Facebook parent Meta’s quarterly earnings report on Wednesday revealed a startling statistic: for the first time, the company’s growth is stagnating around the world.

User growth on the Facebook app — a constant since it created its viral social network in 2004 — fell by about half a million users in the first three months of 2021, to 1.93 billion users logging in each day. The loss was greatest in Africa and Latin America, suggesting that the company’s product is saturated globally, and that its long quest to add as many users as possible has peaked.

Facebook also showed for the first time on Wednesday what a tiny fraction of revenue is earned from its investment in virtual and augmented reality hardware, a suite of products the company dubs the metaverse.

Facebook Reality Labs, the company’s hardware division that builds the Oculus Quest headset, has revenue of $877m, reflecting stronger-than-expected sales during the holiday season.

But that figure is a tiny fraction of its revenue — $33.67bn last quarter — a figure that is primarily derived from targeted advertising on its main social network.

«

Those are huge numbers though for targeted advertising. Stagnating, perhaps, but it’s still a colossal engine for making money, just like Google’s search.

Trouble comes when people aren’t spending time on the site, or when they simply delete their accounts. (Though, as was pointed out about this drop in user numbers, it could be that Facebook has got better at deleting fake accounts: a million in two billion is 0.05%, which could just be better admin.)
unique link to this extract


Windows PCs prioritized over Chromebooks in components shortage • Ars Technica

Scharon Harding:

»

In a tech world still hindered by component shortages, choices have to be made. And in the world of laptops, it seems that choice is Windows-based devices over those running Chrome OS.

IDC on Monday released early data from its latest Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. It pointed to a sharp 63.6% decline in Chromebook shipments, which the IDC defines as “shipments to distribution channels or end users, in Q4 2021 (4.8m shipments) compared to Q4 2020 with (13.1m shipments).”

In addition to market saturation, supply issues also hurt Chromebook shipments, as the industry still struggles with a deficit of PC components, from CPUs to integrated circuits for Wi-Fi modules and power management.

“Supply has also been unusually tight for Chromebooks as component shortages have led vendors to prioritize Windows machines due to their higher price tags, further suppressing Chromebook shipments on a global scale,” Jitesh Ubrani, research manager with IDC’s Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers, said in a statement accompanying Monday’s announcement.

«

Which confirms what I thought might have happened: that Chromebook sales paused in Q4 after having a good Q3. That would explain how Apple could have a blowout quarter for new MacBook Pro sales while Windows could claim to have “increase market [sales] share”.

Even with a fantastic quarter, Apple couldn’t have increased sales by 8.3m (the Chromebook difference in sales).
unique link to this extract


Covid sufferers become infectious quicker than first thought, study shows • Financial Times

Clive Cookson and Oliver Telling:

»

The world’s first study in which volunteers were deliberately infected with Covid-19 found that people started to develop symptoms and become infectious to others after just two days, much quicker than expected.

Scientists had previously estimated this incubation period to be five days.

The UK government-funded “human challenge” trial found that levels of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in the nose and throat peaked after five days, though participants remained infectious for an average of nine days and a maximum of 12 days after exposure.

The researchers said their results support guidance that people should quarantine for 10 days after they first feel Covid symptoms or have a positive test result.

The study took place in a special unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Eighteen of the 34 volunteers aged 18 to 29 became infected after receiving a low dose of the original Sars-Cov-2 strain via droplets in the nose.

None suffered serious symptoms though 13 temporarily lost their sense of smell. Only one volunteer still had that symptom after six months.

“Our study reveals some very interesting clinical insights, particularly around the short incubation period of the virus and extremely high viral shedding from the nose,” said Christopher Chiu, professor in infectious diseases at Imperial College London, who was the trial’s chief investigator.

«

That 18/34 figure is telling. The infectious period too. Amazing that it’s taken us this long to get solid data; and for the omicron variant, the infection period is probably shorter and so will the infected ratio be.
unique link to this extract


Upland, blockchain, NFTs: the weird future of geospatial AR • Protocol

Janko Roettgers:

»

It’s the stuff of nightmares: The other day, I found my property occupied by a stranger, who was renting it out, Airbnb style.

The good news: I’m OK. I wasn’t actually evicted from my own home — at least not in this world. Someone had acquired my property in Upland, a blockchain-powered game that allows people to buy, develop, rent out and sell virtual land parcels based on real-world property borders. It’s a bit like Monopoly, played on top of Google Maps, with virtual land speculation happening on a gamified version of the real world.

With bright and colorful imagery, and a goofy-looking llama as a mascot, Upland emphasizes that it’s all fun and games. That’s true for its economy as well, as most of its in-game transactions have little to no monetary value in the real world. The person who bought my property currently makes the equivalent of 4 cents a month in Upland’s in-game currency by renting it out to other players.

However, Upland has big ambitions, which include eventually expanding into AR, and providing its data via APIs to third-party developers who may one day be able to build their own game and nongame applications with it. And the company is not alone: A small but growing number of startups and crypto initiatives have begun selling and renting out AR spaces tied to real-world addresses. One day, these efforts could be key to telling your smart glasses which information to display as you look at a famous landmark, or even your neighbor’s home.

This brings up a ton of questions: Who should have the rights to an AR layer tied to a physical address? What does it mean that these AR properties are being divided up among early adopters before most people even know they exist? Will we see the same issues that have plagued real world real estate, including gentrification and displacement, replicated in AR?

And, on a more personal level: What should I do about my virtual squatter?

«

This is a bit weird, though, really.
unique link to this extract


North Korea hacked him. So he took down its internet • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Just over a year ago, an independent hacker who goes by the handle P4x was himself hacked by North Korean spies. P4x was just one victim of a hacking campaign that targeted Western security researchers with the apparent aim of stealing their hacking tools and details about software vulnerabilities. He says he managed to prevent those hackers from swiping anything of value from him. But he nonetheless felt deeply unnerved by state-sponsored hackers targeting him personally—and by the lack of any visible response from the US government.

So after a year of letting his resentment simmer, P4x has taken matters into his own hands. “It felt like the right thing to do here. If they don’t see we have teeth, it’s just going to keep coming,” says the hacker. (P4x spoke to WIRED and shared screen recordings to verify his responsibility for the attacks but declined to use his real name for fear of prosecution or retaliation.) “I want them to understand that if you come at us, it means some of your infrastructure is going down for a while.”

P4x says he’s found numerous known but unpatched vulnerabilities in North Korean systems that have allowed him to singlehandedly launch “denial-of-service” attacks on the servers and routers the country’s few internet-connected networks depend on. For the most part, he declined to publicly reveal those vulnerabilities, which he argues would help the North Korean government defend against his attacks. But he named, as an example, a known bug in the web server software NginX that mishandles certain HTTP headers, allowing the servers that run the software to be overwhelmed and knocked offline. He also alluded to finding “ancient” versions of the web server software Apache, and says he’s started to examine North Korea’s own national homebrew operating system, known as Red Star OS, which he described as an old and likely vulnerable version of Linux.

«

There used to be a saying when the internet was young – “don’t annoy the wizards”. North Korea may not have heard it. Might know it now.
unique link to this extract


On racialized tech organizations and complaint: a goodbye to Google • Medium

Alex Hanna finished working on the AI team at Google on Wednesday:

»

Even though it was unstated, Google’s Ethical AI team has (and continues) to exemplify a deep ethic — learned and emerging from a Black feminist tradition — of growth, nurturing, and wanting to see each other succeed. For that, I want to give our erstwhile co-leads the deepest appreciation. I’m going to deeply miss all of my teammates.

But Google’s toxic problems are no mystery to anyone who’s been there for more than a few months, or who have been following the tech news with a critical eye. Many folks — especially Black women like April Curley and Timnit — have made clear just how deep the rot is in the institution. I am quitting because I’m tired. I could spend time rehashing the litany of ill treatment by Google management from prior organizers or how the heads of diversity and inclusion are implicated in the company’s union-busting, which we know thanks to the case brought by the whistleblowers illegally fired for organizing against ICE, CPB, and homophobia on YouTube.

I could describe, at length, my own experiences, being in rooms when higher-level managers yelled defensively at my colleagues and me when we pointed out the very direct harm that their products were causing to a marginalized population. I could rehash how Google management promotes, at lightning speed, people who have little interest in mitigating the worst harms of sociotechnical systems, compared to people who put their careers on the line to prevent those harms.

I could do that. But I’ve also learned, thanks to my doctoral training in sociology, that one must expand one’s personal problems into the structural, to recognize what’s rotten at the local level as an instantiation of the institutional.

«

Ouch. There is a culture problem at Google – or more exactly, there’s a culture collision problem. I wonder to what extent such a collision would happen in the UK.
unique link to this extract


Solving the Wordle puzzle • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

In the game, you get six guesses to solve a puzzle. When it comes to the puzzle of Wordle, I’m going to solve it for you in four: its unoriginal design, its ritual comfort, its interpretive sharing mechanism, and—one that may disappoint you, but that you need to accept—the fact that it’s just a game, and games are fun.

Many game designers will tell you that games need to be easy to learn but hard to master. The fallacy comes from the history of Pong, one of the first popular coin-operated electronic games. Before he came up with the idea for Pong, Nolan Bushnell, who co-founded Atari, first tried to re-create a cosmic-dogfight game popular in university labs for the everyperson. The result, a coin-operated game with a plethora of indistinguishable buttons called Computer Space, was a commercial failure. But Pong was simple. It had just one knob for each player, along with an engraved instruction: insert coin. avoid missing ball for high score.

The thing is, Pong didn’t succeed because it was simple. After all, chess and Go, two games with the greatest longevity and the highest status in history, are not easy to learn. Neither is Fortnite or League of Legends. No, Pong worked because it was unoriginal: Ping-Pong, but on a weird, new computer at the bar—which wasn’t that weird and new in a context where pinball and mechanical games were commonplace.

Wordle is likewise unoriginal.

«

We’ve all heard about Wordle, but the diversion into the question of what makes some games stick, while others don’t, is worthwhile.
unique link to this extract


Video calls for customer service: what changed? • Terence Eden’s Blog

Eden was working for Vodafone in the early 2000s, when it had spent billions (yes) on 3G frequencies, and wanted to show customers how totally awesome 3G was:

»

The project we were working on was to incentivise customers to make video calls. That’s hard to do when you’re the only one of your social circle with a Video Phone.

So here was the plan – within 24 hours of buying and activating their new phone, each customer should receive a video call from customer service. The call was, ostensibly, to ask them how they were enjoying their new phone. But, really, it was to show them the awesome coolness of being able to make and receive video calls.

The project never launched. There were technical blockers – without decent 3G coverage, people’s first call would be a horrible experience and probably put them off. There were cost blockers – video calls were significantly more expensive than voice calls. But there were two powerful social elements.

The first was that executives couldn’t find enough attractive call centre workers. No joke! They didn’t outright say that they wanted to institute a “no mingers” policy – but it was very obvious that their idea of “making a good impression” involved a certain amount of conventional attractiveness.

The second was that call centre workers didn’t want to expose their faces to callers! Anyone who has worked in a call centre knows that members of the public can be abusive arseholes. Staff were incredibly nervous about being seen. It was a fundamental change in the relationship between the customer and the agent. Being face-to-face is an important part of customer experience, but this was such a huge shake-up that it led to serious resistance.

«

Yet, as he documents, with examples, that has completely changed now.
unique link to this extract


Battery breakthrough achieves energy density necessary for electric planes • The Independent

Anthony Cuthbertson:

»

Researchers have achieved a world-leading energy density with a next-generation battery design, paving the way for long-distance electric planes.

The lithium-air battery, developed at the Japanese National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), had an energy density of over 500Wh/kg. By comparison, lithium-ion batteries found in Tesla vehicles have an energy density of 260Wh/kg.

The new battery can also be charged and discharged at normal operating temperatures, making them practical for use in a technologies ranging from drones, to household appliances.

According to the researchers, the battery “shows the highest energy densities and best life cycle performance ever achieved” and marks a major step forward in realising the potential of this energy storage.

“Lithium-air batteries have the potential to be the ultimate rechargeable batteries: they are lightweight and high capacity, with theoretical energy densities several times that of currently available lithium ion batteries,” according to a release posted by NIMS.

The team is now planning to implement other materials into the battery with the aim of significantly increasing the battery’s cycle life.

Energy density has been the biggest obstacle towards the advancement of electric planes, with 500Wh/kg viewed as an important benchmark for achieving both long-haul and high-capacity flights.

Lithium-air batteries have the potential to hold up to five times more energy than lithium-ion batteries of the same size (3,460 Wh/kg), however previous experimental designs have consistently failed beyond the lab scale.

«

“Paving the way” is always one of those “now file it away while they work on it for ten years” phrases.
unique link to this extract


Tumblr is everything (or, How the snowflakes won) • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:

»

[In its heyday] Tumblr users could easily collect images and phrases that would help them construct a pretty shadow box of political positions and cultural signifiers. They often had a much harder time using those images and phrases correctly, as determined by an online community that could easily get carried away and didn’t leave a ton of room for error. “Tumblr also had this darker side,” Melanie Kohnen, an assistant professor of rhetoric and media studies at Lewis & Clark University, told me. “This intense emotional engagement that was prevalent in Tumblr culture and the articulation of emotion could play out in ways that were not always healthy.”

Tumblr was often criticized for its purity culture—conversations could go nuclear as soon as someone was deemed “problematic,” or once their “fav” had been declared “canceled.” Anonymous “Ask” boxes enabled anonymous harassment, and dogpiling was a common experience for anyone who misspoke. Deleting an offending post often did little to defuse a situation, because the post would still be preserved on the pages of anyone who had reblogged it. Tumblr’s “cascading” dynamic became a source of endless punishment, and cancel culture, as it’s understood and fought over today, can be said to have emerged from its milieu.

«

However now…

»

According to data provided by the analytics company Similarweb, visits to Tumblr’s website and mobile apps declined more than 40% from October 2018 to October 2021, while the number of unique visitors dropped 17.5%. Tumblr no longer has its place on the list of internet spaces—Instagram, TikTok, Discord—that seem most responsible for driving internet culture and shaping the sensibilities of the up-and-coming generation. The site has been sold and sold again, shedding clout through both the natural aging process for social-media platforms and an unnatural run of tragic corporate mismanagement. (Also: It has seemingly never figured out how to make money.)

«

Basically defined the people who could be called “extremely online”.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: I’m reliably informed that there are roundabouts in America. My comment: not enough, evidently.

• 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.


Start Up No.1727: inside a ransomware gang, how Casio revolutionised reggae, Denmark’s Covid forecast success, and more


The US transport safety agency is forcing Tesla to get its self-driving cars to obey the Stop sign – which you might think they would do already. CC-licensed photo by thecrazyfilmgirl on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Not available on Clubhouse. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Inside Trickbot, Russia’s notorious ransomware gang • WIRED

Matt Burgess:

»

when the phones and computer networks went down at Ridgeview Medical Center’s three hospitals on October 24, 2020, the medical group resorted to a Facebook post to warn its patients about the disruption. One local volunteer-run fire department said ambulances were being diverted to other hospitals; officials reported patients and staff were safe. The downtime at the Minnesota medical facilities was no technical glitch; reports quickly linked the activity to one of Russia’s most notorious ransomware gangs.

Thousands of miles away, just two days later members of the Trickbot cybercrime group privately gloated over what easy targets hospitals and health care providers make. “You see, how fast, hospitals and centers reply,” Target, a key member of the Russia-linked malware gang, boasted in messages to one of their colleagues. The exchange is included in previously unreported documents, seen by WIRED, that consist of hundreds of messages sent between Trickbot members and detail the inner workings of the notorious hacking group. “Answers from the rest, [take] days. And from the ridge immediately the answer flew in,” Target wrote.

As Target typed, members of Trickbot were in the middle of launching a huge wave of ransomware attacks against hospitals across the United States. Their aim: to force hospitals busy responding to the surging Covid-19 pandemic to quickly pay ransoms.

«

Remarkable work getting all the inside info, the structure and how it works. It’s both more organised and more skanky than you expect.
unique link to this extract


Okuda Hiroko: the Casio employee behind the “Sleng Teng” riddim that revolutionized reggae • Nippon.com

Hashino Yukinori:

»

“Under Mi Sleng Teng,” by Jamaican singer Wayne Smith, is one of the milestones in the history of Jamaican popular music. Written by Smith and his friend Noel Davy, the pioneering dancehall classic was made using a Casio electronic keyboard. The song immediately became a smash hit when it was released in 1985, and its optimistic digital sound and addictive beat soon took the world by storm.

The rhythm section has always formed the backbone of reggae music. In modern styles, the drums and bass provide the distinctive “riddims” or backing over which a DJ or singer overdubs a vocal. It is common for numerous artists to make their own “versions” (vocal interpretations) of popular riddims, building original songs around the same basic rhythmical pattern. The “Sleng Teng” riddim, named after the song in which it was first used, has now inspired as many as 450 different songs. The riddim played a key role in bringing Jamaican music into the digital era, and is known as one of the “monster riddims” that ushered in the golden age of the dancehall era.

Today, 35 years after the original song was released, the conventional version of reggae history holds that the “father” of the riddim was Wayne Smith and his producer at the Jammy’s label in Jamaica. In fact, the history of the riddim goes back further than Smith and his collaborators. It was originally a preset rhythm pattern programmed into the Casiotone MT-40, released in 1981. It was this preset that Smith and his friends used as the basic building block for their revolutionary song.

In other words, Casio, familiar to millions as the maker of the calculators used in classrooms and offices around the world, played midwife to Jamaican digital dancehall. Even more remarkably, the preset track that became the Sleng Teng riddim was the work of a young developer who was still in her first year with the company.

For years, her story has been the stuff of legend among aficionados of Jamaican music. But little has been known of Okuda’s background, and her face has never appeared in media interviews. Now, 40 years on from the original release of the MT-40, Okuda Hiroko has finally cast aside her veil of secrecy and consented to an interview.

«

OK, I’d never heard of it, but the crossover is too delicious to miss. (Listen on Apple Music, or if you prefer on Spotify.)
unique link to this extract


What does “trust in media” even mean? • Medium

Elizabeth Spiers on the large amount of anti-vaxx content on Substack, some of it on “Substack Pro” (which subsidises and promotes writers):

»

Substack takes a different position [on content moderation], and one that’s even more mind-boggling: that allowing for the publication of disinformation helps people trust the media more. Yes, more. Not less.

Their argument, as articulated in a post by the founders, is that deciding what can and can’t be said on their platform undermines trust in the media. This presumes gatekeeping is the problem, and conflates trust with satisfaction. It utterly misunderstands (in a self-serving way, in my opinion) what the trust problem is, and why it exists…

…Substack’s rationale is so bizarre and maybe even a little Orwellian. It’s probably true that giving people the lies they want makes them trust you more. But that is not the kind of trust that journalists are looking to build. It’s a trust that is indistinguishable from customer satisfaction and has nothing at all to do with truth. And for the news media at least, publishing truth is the entire mandate.

It’s also worth noting that good journalistic work does not inherently build trust, either. One theory for why trust in the media went down precipitously after Watergate is that overall trust in institutions went down. Watergate is perhaps the most well known journalistic success story of the 20th century, so by the logic that journalistic success enhances trust, it should have gone up.

In general, trust in the media often parallels trust in other institutions. Do people trust government? Their educational systems? Who do they believe is regularly lying to them? (Note that vaccine hesitancy is also driven in part by increased distrust of pharmaceutical companies, for example, which is not totally irrational given the opioid epidemic and increasing awareness of who’s responsible for it.)

The problem of how to rebuild trust in media organizations that cover news is multifaceted, and the answer is not just do better journalism, or publish more diverse viewpoints. Across the ecosystem there is access to better journalism on more topics and a more diverse array of opinions than there has been in any point in modern history simply because the barriers to entry for publication are so low.

But I have to hand it to Substack: this is definitely the first time I’ve ever seen anyone suggest, with whatever passes for a straight face in pixels, that the answer is tolerating the publication of lies.

«

unique link to this extract


Filippo Bernardini: the alleged book thief behind a bizarre publishing-industry mystery • The New Republic

Alex Shephard on the guy who (allegedly) phished authors and publishers to get advance copies of books:

»

Perhaps the most compelling thing about Bernardini’s plot is how plainly inexplicable it was. The project was an elaborate contraption that took zeal and organizational effort to construct; at the same time the scope of his ambitions was so comically modest that it hardly seemed a worthwhile undertaking. The fact that the pieces of the puzzle don’t quite come together to form a coherent whole has fueled an added layer of speculation from those who have seen the “How” of Bernardini’s machinations but can’t quite grasp the “Why.”

Some have speculated that Bernardini was attempting to use his collection of stolen manuscripts to somehow boost his career as a translator. He had been actively pitching his services to publishers in Italy—where he had previously published translations of works from Chinese and Korean—offering expertise in several languages. Translation can be a tough market to break into; it’s also not an especially lucrative one, to say the least. One of the strategies for advancing in this field is to attach yourself to a rising star. Bernardini, in this interpretation, was looking for such an author in his pile of obscurities, hoping it would provide him with the means to get a leg-up in a competitive field. 

“You don’t have to steal most of this stuff. You literally couldn’t pay people to give you books fast enough.”
If this theory bears out, it might provide an answer to one of this mystery’s biggest questions. Even though the FBI insisted in its statement that “publishers do all they can to protect … unpublished pieces because of their value,” anyone who has spent any time in proximity to the industry knows that this is absurd. Publishers are constantly sending unpublished works to reviewers, booksellers, and other industry figures; often shifting hundreds, or even thousands, of manuscripts in this fashion. In more than a decade of writing on and working in the publishing industry I can count on one hand the times I was told that I couldn’t receive a book that hadn’t yet been published.

«

I think all of this is overthinking it. Given how tiny some of the readerships are, I think the thief is simply someone who enjoyed the thrill of the chase and trophy. What he ended up with wasn’t that important; getting a buzz out of successful phishing was. Some people troll on social media; he cast his hook in the world where he worked.
unique link to this extract


The hidden drought in China’s subtropics • Sixth Tone

Yuan Ye:

»

Li Kuo, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Sixth Tone that successive months of drought in the East River basin should be seen as an extreme weather pattern influenced by climate change.

The wider Pearl River Delta region is an example of what happens when extreme economic growth comes up against limits imposed by climate change. Its cities have planned their futures assuming water supplies based on weather patterns that no longer hold.

Manufacturing hub Dongguan, for example, gets most of its water from reservoirs and streams fed by precipitation. But rising temperatures have left the watersheds of the rivers Dongguan relies on drier and less dependable, according to Lin Kairong, professor of water resources at Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-Sen University.

Its countless factories have left much of Dongguan’s water sources too polluted to use for tap water. As a result, the city’s 10 million residents have a per person water availability of just 217 cubic meters a year, according to government data — much less than 500 cubic meters, the amount considered by the United Nations to indicate “absolute scarcity.” Amid the drought, the city has rationed water for industrial users.

Provincial officials are looking for new water to tap by investing in infrastructure such as dams, water treatment plants, and water transfer projects. The biggest project on the books, costing an estimated 35.4 billion yuan ($5.56 billion), is a diversion of the West River to supply some of the thirstiest cities. The project is moving ahead despite objections from environmental groups, and, once complete in 2024, it is expected to alleviate water scarcity in Guangzhou, Dongguan, and Shenzhen, as well as provide backup supplies to Hong Kong.

Huang [Guoru, a hydraulic engineering professor in Guangdong in the south of China] told Sixth Tone that he had previously considered it unnecessary to spend so much money on the water transfer project. But droughts in recent years have changed his mind.

«

unique link to this extract


Why were Denmark’s Covid models better than England’s? • Unherd

Freddie Sayers:

»

what is the explanation for this huge difference [in projected hospitalisations from the Covid omicron variant] with the Danish modellers?

One idea might be that the Danes paid better attention to the real-world data coming out of South Africa at the time that Omicron was intrinsically much milder than Delta. On 17th December Neil Ferguson’s group at Imperial produced a meta-study that concluded that there was “no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta.” Even at the time this felt like a bizarre finding, and evidence now seems to suggest something closer to 10%-20% of the severity of Delta. So that was overly cautious, we now can say for sure, bad information.

However, both the UK modelling groups and the Danish group produced a range of scenarios with different severities, and both used the 50% mid-point as most likely. So that doesn’t explain the difference.

Dr [Camilla] Holton-Møller [chair of the Expert Group for Mathematical Modelling at Denmark’s public health agency ‘Statens Serum Institut] suggested two other variables that might explain it.

The first was the attention the Danish groups paid to behavioural changes that weren’t mandated. In other words, from their observations over the course of the pandemic, people moderate their behaviour at times of high case numbers even if they are not forced to by the Government.

“In our country we had put in some assumptions about people also changing their behaviour, so when cases go up you actually see population behaviour change. That has been one of the key figures in our model… that put a lid at the top of our model. ”

The British scientists, even a year and a half after the pandemic began, seem unwilling to consider this crucial factor. The discussion paper for the Warwick model admits that, while unmandated behaviour change is “highly likely… such dynamic changes are beyond the current capacity of this model.”

«

It is indeed odd that the modellers haven’t managed to figure out how to do this, after three sets of measures.
unique link to this extract


BlackBerry sells mobile and messaging patents for $600m • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

BlackBerry is adding another sad chapter to the downfall of its smartphone business. Today, the company announced a sale of its prized patent portfolio for $600m. The buyer is “Catapult IP Innovations Inc.,” a new company BlackBerry describes as “a special purpose vehicle formed to acquire the BlackBerry patent assets.”

BlackBerry says the patents are for “mobile devices, messaging and wireless networking.” These are the patents surrounding BlackBerry’s phones, QWERTY keyboards, and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). BlackBerry most recently weaponized these patents (which covered ideas like muting a message thread and displaying notifications as a numeric icon badge) against Facebook Messenger in 2018. That was nothing new for BlackBerry, which is a veteran of the original smartphone patent wars. Back when BlackBerry was still called RIM, it went after companies like Handspring and Good Technology in the early 2000s.

If the name “Catapult IP Innovations” didn’t give it away, weaponizing BlackBerry patents is the most obvious outcome of this deal. According to the press release, Catapult’s funding for the $600m deal is just a $450m loan, which will immediately be given to BlackBerry in cash. The remaining $150m is a promissory note with the first payment due in three years. That means Catapult is now a new company with a huge amount of debt, no products, and no cash flow. Assuming the plan isn’t to instantly go bankrupt, Catapult needs to start monetizing BlackBerry’s patents somehow, which presumably means suing everyone it believes is in violation of its newly acquired assets.

«

How jolly, the patent wars have a new contender.
unique link to this extract


The battle for the world’s most powerful cyberweapon • The New York Times

Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazetti:

»

Ever since the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about U.S. government surveillance of American citizens, few debates in this country have been more fraught than those over the proper scope of domestic spying. Questions about the balance between privacy and security took on new urgency with the parallel development of smartphones and spyware that could be used to scoop up the terabytes of information those phones generate every day. Israel, wary of angering Americans by abetting the efforts of other countries to spy on the United States, had required NSO to program Pegasus so it was incapable of targeting US numbers. This prevented its foreign clients from spying on Americans. But it also prevented Americans from spying on Americans.

NSO had recently offered the FBI a workaround. During a presentation to officials in Washington, the company demonstrated a new system, called Phantom, that could hack any number in the United States that the FBI decided to target. Israel had granted a special license to NSO, one that permitted its Phantom system to attack US numbers. The license allowed for only one type of client: US government agencies. A slick brochure put together for potential customers by NSO’s US subsidiary, first published by Vice, says that Phantom allows American law enforcement and spy agencies to get intelligence “by extracting and monitoring crucial data from mobile devices.” It is an “independent solution” that requires no cooperation from AT&T, Verizon, Apple or Google. The system, it says, will “turn your target’s smartphone into an intelligence gold mine.”

The Phantom presentation triggered a discussion among government lawyers at the Justice Department and the FBI that lasted two years, across two presidential administrations, centering on a basic question: could deploying Phantom inside the United States run afoul of long-established wiretapping laws? As the lawyers debated, the FBI renewed the contract for the Pegasus system and ran up fees to NSO of approximately $5m. During this time, NSO engineers were in frequent contact with FBI employees, asking about the various technological details that could change the legal implications of an attack.

«

This feels like a technology that becomes so valuable to “our” side that they ensure it will not fall into “enemy” hands. Rather like the German rocket scientists after the Second World War who were snapped up by the US and Russia.
unique link to this extract


Tesla to disable ‘rolling stop’ feature after NHTSA says it can ‘increase the risk of a crash’ • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

Tesla is disabling a self-driving feature in nearly 54,000 vehicles that can prompt cars to autonomously perform a “rolling stop” — a manoeuvre in which the vehicle moves slowly through a stop sign without coming to a full stop.

As per a safety recall notice issued by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the consequence of this feature is that “failing to stop at a stop sign can increase the risk of a crash.”

The change will be made as an over-the-air software update to Model S, X, 3, and Y vehicles using the beta version of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” driver-assist feature, release 2020.40.4.10 or newer. (Referring to such software as “self-driving” has become somewhat controversial in the car industry, with other firms distancing themselves from the term over fears it implies a greater degree of control on the part of the software.)

The NHTSA says Tesla introduced the rolling stop functionality last October “in the limited early access FSD Beta population.” As part of these limited updates, Tesla let drivers select different “profiles” for their cars’ self-driving features. Drivers could choose between “Chill,” “Average,” and “Assertive” modes. The last category was accompanied with a warning that the vehicle may “perform more frequent lane changes, will not exit passing lanes, and may perform rolling stops.” It’s not clear if these driver profiles will be completely removed, or if only the rolling stop feature in the “Assertive” mode will be disabled.

«

So in short “rolling stop at a Stop sign” is “not stopping at a Stop sign”. Good to get that clear. If only American drivers could be introduced to roundabouts.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

• 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.


Start Up No.1726: NYT buys Wordle, counting the unboosted US Covid casualties, search for old books and lost internet, and more


In game news, Sony missed out on buying Wordle and ended up with Bungie, makers of Destiny 2, for a few billion dollars. CC-licensed photo by Stefans02Stefans02 on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Five letters into seven figures? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Spotify’s Joe Rogan problem isn’t going away • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

»

Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, published the requisite blog post on Sunday, defending the company’s commitment to free expression and saying that “it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor.” And while Spotify declined to take action against Mr. Rogan, it committed to putting advisory warnings on podcast episodes about Covid-19, and directing listeners to a hub filled with authoritative health information.

Despite its surface similarities, Mr. Rogan’s Spotify standoff is different from most other clashes between creators and tech platforms in a few key ways.

For one, Spotify isn’t merely one of many apps that distribute Mr. Rogan’s podcast. The streaming service paid more than $100m for exclusive rights to “The Joe Rogan Experience” in 2020, making him the headline act for its growing podcast division. Critics say that deal, along with the aggressive way Spotify has promoted Mr. Rogan’s show inside its app, gives the company more responsibility for his show than others it carries.

Another difference is who wields the leverage in this conflict. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are ad-supported businesses; if advertisers disagree with moderation decisions, they can threaten to inflict financial damage by pulling their campaigns. (Whether these boycotts actually accomplish anything is another question.)

Spotify, by contrast, makes most of its money from subscriptions, so it’s unlikely to suffer financially from its handling of Mr. Rogan unless there’s a wave of account cancellations. And given how few Netflix subscribers appear to have canceled their subscriptions during last year’s dust-up with Mr. Chappelle, Spotify can probably breathe easy on this front for now.

«

Still not quite finished: question becomes which star will decide to threaten next, or whether Rogan will clean up his act. Spotify’s position as a publisher that picked Rogan for an exclusive, not a neutral “platform” on which the content appears (as with Apple’s Podcasts, which is just a search engine), makes all the difference here.
unique link to this extract


WhatsApp wants Americans to know your SMS texts aren’t safe • Fast Company

Jeff Beer:

»

It’s not normal for your mail to arrive with the envelopes already open. Nor is it reasonable to expect that Amazon or FedEx box to land on your doorstep unsealed and agape. So why don’t Americans feel any different about the 5.5 billion unencrypted SMS text messages they send every single day? This analogy is the central point of the messaging platform WhatsApp’s first-ever U.S. brand campaign.

WhatsApp has about 2 billion daily users across 180 countries, and they send more than 100 billion messages daily. But WhatsApp is far more popular and widely used in countries, such as India, which reportedly has more WhatsApp users than the United States has residents.

There are a number of reasons why WhatsApp is more widely used globally than locally. In particular, it gained widespread adoption when international carriers were charging high fees for text messages, and WhatsApp was free. Meanwhile, in the United States, wireless carriers in the smartphone era started to offer free SMS messaging as an inducement to sign up, creating less incentive to adopt WhatsApp when there were already free SMS, iMessage, and Facebook Messenger, to name three alternatives. Americans also have traditionally exhibited a lack of concern, or even awareness, around privacy issues, favoring convenience and free services (which, of course, has generally been a boon to Facebook and other platforms).

«

As analogies go, it’s pretty weak, and nobody worries about their email not being encrypted either. A better option would be to point out that WhatsApp offers group texting that probably works better than SMS. Except that Signal offers the same, isn’t associated with Facebook, and has better tapbacks.

OK, maybe they should stick with the analogy to post. (IME you can’t get Americans to move to WhatsApp. That dog won’t hunt.)
unique link to this extract


This company says it’s developing a system that can recognize your face from just your DNA • MIT Technology Review

Tate Ryan-Mosley:

»

Corsight AI, a facial recognition subsidiary of the Israeli AI company Cortica, purports to be devising a solution for that sort of situation by using DNA to create a model of a face that can then be run through a facial recognition system. It is a task that experts in the field regard as scientifically untenable. 

Corsight unveiled its “DNA to Face” product in a presentation by chief executive officer Robert Watts and executive vice president Ofer Ronen intended to court financiers at the Imperial Capital Investors Conference in New York City on December 15. It was part of the company’s overall product road map, which also included movement and voice recognition.

«

It’s complete and utter bollocks. You cannot predict phenotype (what it looks like) from genotype (the DNA), apart from saying they’ll be human, male or female, perhaps eye and hair colour. Beyond that, nothing, and it’s crazy that MIT TR ran this. The idea seems to come up every few years or so, though. This was a debunking of the last one, where the summary concludes that it “finally does not really identify anyone”.
unique link to this extract


‘Pandemic of the unboosted’: low US Covid jab uptake piles pressure on hospitals • Financial Times

Oliver Barnes, John Burn-Murdoch and Jamie Smyth:

»

Almost half of the US Covid-19 hospitalisations this winter could have been averted if the country had matched the vaccination coverage of leading European countries, according to a Financial Times analysis of the Omicron variant’s impact on either side of the Atlantic.

The data show large pockets of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people in the US have placed more pressure on hospitals during the Omicron wave than in European nations with higher immunisation rates. The analysis supports the findings of scientists and accounts of frontline medics who say lower vaccination levels are perpetuating the pandemic in the US.

The number of Covid patients in US hospitals on January 19 would have peaked at 91,000 instead of 161,000 if the US had the same rates of vaccine coverage in each age-group as Denmark, 100,000 if the US had matched the UK, and 109,000 if the US uptake rates looked like Portugal’s, the analysis showed.

Across the seven months since July, spanning the Delta and Omicron waves, US daily patient numbers would have averaged 39,000 — rather than the 80,000 recorded — had its vaccination coverage tracked that of Portugal.

The new data underline the logic behind US President Joe Biden’s often fraught efforts to convince vaccine holdouts to get jabbed. This drive took a further hit last week as his administration was forced to withdraw its vaccination and testing mandate for large businesses following a Supreme Court ruling.

«

It feels like the vaccination programs in developed countries that have pushed them have hit a wall. The UK government has abandoned its requirement for frontline (ie patient-contact) staff to be vaccinated because tens of thousands simply refuse to, and would therefore have had to be fired, creating a colossal and abrupt staff shortage.

Perhaps it could have worked by partitioning (on age, time of service, type of work) so that it wouldn’t all happen at once.
unique link to this extract


Sony acquires Bungie, studio behind Destiny 2, in $3.6bn deal • Polygon

Michael McWhertor:

»

Sony is buying Bungie, the developer of Destiny 2 and the studio that originally created Halo, in a deal worth $3.6bn, Sony Interactive Entertainment announced Monday.

Bungie will remain a multiplatform studio — Destiny 2 is available on PlayStation, PC, and Xbox platforms — with the option to self-publish its games. The studio “will remain independent and multi-platform, will enjoy creative freedom, and their track record in developing massively successful franchises in the sci-fi shooter genre will be highly complementary to SIE’s own IP portfolio,” SIE president Jim Ryan explained in a statement.

“We will continue to independently publish and creatively develop our games,” Pete Parsons, CEO and chairman of Bungie, added in a statement. “We will continue to drive one, unified Bungie community. Our games will continue to be where our community is, wherever they choose to play.​”

Bungie addressed concerns from the Destiny 2 player base in an FAQ about the new deal, promising that nothing will change about the game’s availability on existing platforms. In a graphic outlining Bungie and PlayStation’s “shared vision,” Bungie said:

• “Destiny 2 will stay on all current platforms and expand to new platforms”
• “Bungie maintains full creative control and publishing independence of the Destiny universe”
• “Same game, everywhere — Every player should have an amazing Destiny experience, no matter where you choose to play”

«

Following Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision for a rather more substantial $68.7bn. That’s quite some consolidation. Sony Game & Network Services, the gaming arm of Sony, already has annual revenues of around $20bn. It’s becoming a two-horse race, and Nintendo (in revenue terms) on a donkey.
unique link to this extract


Wordle is joining the New York Times Games • The New York Times Company

»

“If you’re like me, you probably wake up every morning thinking about Wordle, and savoring those precious moments of discovery, surprise and accomplishment. The game has done what so few games have done: It has captured our collective imagination, and brought us all a little closer together. We could not be more thrilled to become the new home and proud stewards of this magical game, and are honored to help bring Josh Wardle’s cherished creation to more solvers in the months ahead,” said Jonathan Knight, general manager for The New York Times Games. “As part of our portfolio of games, Wordle will have an exciting future with the help of a team of talented engineers, designers, editors and more, furthering the user experience.”

[Wordle inventor Josh] Wardle added, “If you’ve followed along with the story of Wordle, you’ll know that New York Times Games play a big part in its origins, and so this step feels very natural to me. I’ve long admired The Times’s approach to the quality of their games and the respect with which they treat their players. Their values are aligned with mine on these matters and I’m thrilled that they will be stewards of the game moving forward.”

At the time it moves to The New York Times, Wordle will be free to play for new and existing players, and no changes will be made to its gameplay.

Wordle was acquired for an undisclosed price in the low-seven figures.

«

So, a million or few. Probably about a dollar per user. In a few months. Wonder how that compares to the Bungie acquisition in per-user pricing.

Notice also the clever wording: “At the time it moves to the NYT, World will be free to play…” Which certainly doesn’t rule out putting a paywall around it at some point. Though Wardle did say there are enough five-letter words in the game as set up to go for a few years, and that’s effectively open source, so expect plenty of clones in no time at all.
unique link to this extract


Automated image recognition: how using ‘free’ photos on the internet can lead to lawsuits and fines • Computer Weekly/Süddeutsche Zeitung

Chad O’Carroll, Sophie Lamotte and Bill Goodwin:

»

Copyright trolling – the enforcement of copyright claims for money through threat and litigation – is nothing new. But Marco Verch has developed the activity in sophisticated ways.

In the US, Verch works with a controversial lawyer, Richard Liebowitz, dubbed a “copyright troll” by a US judge for filing more than 1,120 copyright suits.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of Verch in the US threaten alleged infringers with damages of up to a statutory maximum of $150,000 each.

Many photographers use image search technology, which makes it relatively straightforward to crawl the web to find copies of images that are being used without permission, to legitimately enforce their rights. Automation tools allow these searches to be conducted at a mass scale not previously possible.

But Verch has taken this further by producing huge numbers of images that are protected with licensing conditions. Using his own software and third-party enforcement services, he identifies individuals and organisations that have broken his licensing rules, often unwittingly, leaving them open to be targeted for fines and potentially legal enforcement.

His activities are completely legal, but have resulted in people – some of whom can barely afford to pay – receiving demands for hundreds of euros after making genuine mistakes.

«

I happened to use a Verch photo the other day. I think I linked it correctly, but after being alerted (thanks Ryan S) I removed it. This sort of trolling is so antiquated. And annoying.
unique link to this extract


Marginalia Search

»

This is an independent DIY search engine that focuses on non-commercial content, and attempts to show you sites you perhaps weren’t aware of in favour of the sort of sites you probably already knew existed.

The software for this search engine is all custom-built, and all crawling and indexing is done in-house.

This search engine isn’t particularly well equipped to answering queries posed like questions, instead try to imagine some text that might appear in the website you are looking for, and search for that.

A concrete example: How do I cook steak? will probably not be helpful. Steak Recipe will give better results (just Steak is pretty good too).

«

A lot more explanation on the “About” page, which asks:

»

Ever feel like the Internet has gotten a bit… I don’t know, samey? There’s funny images scrolling by and you blow some air through your nose and keep scrolling and then someone has done something upsetting and you write an angry comment and then you scroll some more.

Remember when used to explore the Internet, when you used to discover cool little websites made by people and it wasn’t just a bunch of low effort content mill listicles and blog spam?

I want to show you that that Internet you used to go exploring is still very much there.

«

No idea who’s behind it, but an interesting question.
unique link to this extract


A search engine that finds you weird old books • Debugger

Clive Thompson:

»

Last fall, I wrote about the concept of “rewilding your attention” — why it’s good to step away from the algorithmic feeds of big social media and find stranger stuff in nooks of the Internet.

I followed it up with a post about “9 Ways to Rewild Your Attention” — various strategies I’d developed to hunt down unexpected material.

One of those strategies? “Reading super-old books online.”

As I noted, I often find it fun to poke around in books from the 1800s and 1700s, using Google Books or Archive.org…

Any book published in the U.S. before 1925 is in the public domain, so you can do amazingly fun book-browsing online. I’ll go to Archive.org or Google Books and pump in a search phrase, then see what comes up. (In Google Books, sort the results by date — pick a range that ends in 1924 — and by “full view,” and you’ll get public-domain books that are free to read entirely.)

I cannot recommend this more highly. The amount of fascinating stuff you can encounter in old books and magazines is delightful.

I still do this! Old books are socially and culturally fascinating; they give you a glimpse into how much society has changed, and also what’s remained the same. The writing styles can be delightfully archaic, but also sometimes amazingly fresh. Nonfiction writers from 1780 can be colloquial and funny as hell.

«

So he built a search engine to find old books: you put in a topic, and off it goes. Could be useful for anyone writing a historical novel, I’d have thought.
unique link to this extract


We all need to stop only seeing the dark side of crypto • WIRED

Boaz Sobrado:

»

amid the noise, the enthusiasm, and the hype, we might be losing the most important story: the way cryptocurrency is changing lives in the developing world.

Take for example, Cuba, a country where internet penetration went from less than 40% in 2015 to an estimated 70% to 80% today. Like most people, Cubans want to buy things and sell things online—but, unlike most people, they cannot buy anything online using a debit or credit card. Due to US sanctions, ordinary Cubans find themselves cut off from the global financial system: They cannot start a Spotify subscription, buy a domain name, or pay for a website-hosting service using a card. This means that if Cubans wish to partake in online commerce, particularly with another country, they have to use cryptocurrencies. And where there’s a need, there’s a way.

Cubans have found solutions such as Bitrefill, a site that sells gift cards from Spotify and other companies for cryptocurrency. Data from Bitrefill for June 2021 shows that four times as many people buy Cuban digital products (such as Cubacel phone top-ups) using cryptocurrencies as buy similar US products, on a population-adjusted basis.

Crypto has deeply penetrated the country to the extent that Cuba’s Communist Party, a conservative Marxist institution not known for its technological savviness, has instructed the Central Bank of Cuba to regulate the use of cryptocurrencies and to study how they can be used to help the government avoid US sanctions. Paradoxically, officials in the US State Department are rumored to be looking into how cryptocurrencies can be used to set up remittance networks that bypass the hefty taxes extracted by the Cuban government.

«

Honourable mentions too for Venezuela and sub-Saharan Africa, though I’m still unsure that anyone has reliable data about El Salvador. Sobrado might not be an entirely unbiased source on this; he is “is a data analyst, fintech entrepreneur and founder of Cuba-based tourism website WhyNotCuba.com”. But I’m always willing to hear life-improving uses of cryptocurrency, like this.
unique link to this extract


• 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