Start Up No.1752: Apple displays at speed, US gets into solar as oil dwindles, Russians turn to VPNs, army logistics, and more

Inside Russia, foreign currency is now unavailable for six months as Vladimir Putin tries to ride out the economic storm engulfing the country. CC-licensed photo by Ian Barbour on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Still quite Ukraine-y, but no blue site! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russia suspends foreign currency sales as sovereign default ‘imminent’ •

Giulia Bottaro:


Russia has suspended the sale of foreign currencies until September 9 in a scramble to steady its economy, as rating agency Fitch indicated that a sovereign default is imminent.

Citizens will not be able to buy foreign currencies in local banks but they will, however, be able to change them into the local ruble unit.

Between March 9 and September 9 “the banks will not be able to sell foreign currencies to citizens,” the Russian central bank said in a statement.

Cash withdrawals from foreign currency accounts at Russian banks will be limited to $10,000 until September 9.

Withdrawals on such accounts will only be permitted in dollars irrespective of the currency in which the account is denominated.

It may take “several days” for the banks to supply the necessary amount of foreign currency to the actual office, it added.

The ratings agency Fitch, which further cut its rating of Russia into the junk territory to ‘C’ from ‘B’, said that the ratcheting up of sanctions and the potential limits to the energy market increase the likelihood that the Kremlin will not pay sovereign debt obligations.

The ruble hit an all-time low against Western currencies on Monday


Six months. As someone commented on Twitter, Putin has destroyed the ruble. This is going to have a colossal effect.
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Solar power and batteries account for 60% of planned new US electric generation capacity • U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)


Power plant developers and operators expect to add 85 gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity to the US power grid from 2022 to 2023, 60% (51 GW) of which will be made up of solar power and battery storage projects, according to data reported in our Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. In many cases, projects combine these technologies.

Battery storage capacity, as well as renewable capacity, significantly increased in the United States during 2021, partly because of tax credits and partly because of falling technology costs, especially for batteries. Depending on the configuration and charging sources, both solar power and battery storage units may be eligible for the solar investment tax credit (ITC), which is scheduled to phase down by 2024.

More than half of the 51 GW of planned solar and battery storage capacity within the next two years will be located in three states. The largest share, 12 GW (23%), will be in Texas. The next largest share, 11 GW (21%), will be in California, and 4 GW (7%) will be in New York.


Er.. how is battery storage counted under “generation”? Notably, though, wind is going to be another 15GW of planning addition – and about the same amount in gas. Might have to tear the latter up now – or perhaps coal-fired stations will come back online.
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The new silent majority: people who don’t tweet • Axios

Erica Pandey and Mike Allen:


Most people you meet in everyday life — at work, in the neighborhood — are decent and normal. Even nice. But hit Twitter or watch the news, and you’d think we were all nuts and nasty. 

The rising power and prominence of the nation’s loudest, meanest voices obscures what most of us personally experience: Most people are sane and generous — and too busy to tweet. 

It turns out, you’re right. We dug into the data and found that, in fact, most Americans are friendly, donate time or money, and would help you shovel your snow. They are busy, normal and mostly silent.

These aren’t the people with big Twitter followings or cable-news contracts — and they don’t try to pick fights at school board meetings.

So the people who get the clicks and the coverage distort our true reality. 

Three stats we find reassuring:
• 75% of people in the US never tweet
• On an average weeknight in January, just 1% of US adults watched primetime Fox News (2.2 million) while 0.5% tuned into MSNBC (1.15 million)
• Nearly three times more Americans (56%) donated to charities during the pandemic than typically give money to politicians and parties (21%).

One chart worth sharing: as polarized as America seems, Independents — who are somewhere in the middle — would be the biggest party. (29% identify as Democrats, 27% as Republicans, 42% as independents.)


Which seems to leave 2% who don’t identify as any of those. Always worth a reminder that Twitter isn’t real life. Though based on this, nothing at all is real life.
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Malware now using NVIDIA’s stolen code signing certificates • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:


Threat actors are using stolen NVIDIA code signing certificates to sign malware to appear trustworthy and allow malicious drivers to be loaded in Windows.

This week, NVIDIA confirmed that they suffered a cyberattack that allowed threat actors to steal employee credentials and proprietary data.

The extortion group, known as Lapsus$, states that they stole 1TB of data during the attack and began leaking the data online after NVIDIA refused to negotiate with them. The leak includes two stolen code-signing certificates used by NVIDIA developers to sign their drivers and executables.

A code-signing certificate allows developers to digitally sign executables and drivers so that Windows and end-users can verify the file’s owner and whether they have been tampered with by a third party. To increase security in Windows, Microsoft also requires kernel-mode drivers to be code signed before the operating system will load them.

After Lapsus$ leaked NVIDIA’s code-signing certificates, security researchers quickly found that the certificates were being used to sign malware and other tools used by threat actors.


The phrase “threat actors” is such a strange one when you look at it for longer than a moment. You can’t act a threat – you make it, then you carry it out. Though what’s the alternative? “Bad people”? “L33t haX0rs”?

And not good that malware can be signed to run, of course. Revoking the certificates is difficult – though they’re expired, Windows will still run them (otherwise you’d be revoking legitimate software on millions of systems). There’s a solution in the article, but it’s “not an easy tasks, especially for non-IT Windows users.”
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Apple’s ‘Peek Performance’ event: the seven biggest announcements • The Verge

Kim Lyons, Mitchell Clark, and Richard Lawler :


Apple has just finished its “Peek Performance” event, where it introduced a new version of the iPhone SE with its latest mobile processor and 5G, a new desktop Mac aimed at creative professionals, and an external monitor that doesn’t have a $5,000 starting price (finally). If you’re looking for a quick round-up, here are the biggest announcements Apple made in its hour-long presentation.


The display looks nice. Then again, at £1,600+ (there’s essentially parity in the dollar-pound exchange rate) you’d hope so. Notable how the display uses an iPhone chip, the A13 (found in the iPhone 11 range), presumably to drive all those pixels?

And the Mac Studio, which only began being rumoured over the weekend, seems to be a monster of a machine at the top end. It leaves Intel in the dust.
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AppsFlyer: In-app gaming purchase revenue declined 35% globally in 2021 •

Jeffrey Rousseau:


Today AppsFlyer said in a report that in-app mobile gaming purchase revenue declined 35% globally in 2021 following Apple’s App Tracking Transparency update.

The analytics company’s State of Gaming App Marketing said that this decline came as the tech giant’s OS update gave users more privacy in their app usage.

The tech giant shared last year that the average app contains six different data trackers.

With the rollout of iOS 14.5, mobile apps are required to ask for permission from users to gather tracking data.

Additionally, during 2021 AppsFlyer said that in-app advertising revenue increased by 55% on AndroJeffid devices, which the report said was driven by hypercasual and hardcore games. [So, “games”? – Overspill Ed.]

“Data privacy in the United States has become one of the biggest growing concerns around technology, and this is reflected in the 39% consumer opt-in rates of Apple’s ATT framework – which is much lower than the global average,” said AppsFlyer head of gaming Brian Murphy.


Lightly edited from the original, which used too many words, had the opposite sense of what ATT does, and called an OS update “operating system firmware”. Time for a session on the subs’ desk, Jeffrey.
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VPN apps save millions from censorship in Russia • Appfigures



The government in Russia is making it increasingly difficult for residents to access news. In the last week, they’ve outlawed most news coverage and blocked Facebook and Twitter, forcing those who want to stay in the know to use VPN apps, which allow users to get around such bans and blocks.

…As of right now, VPN apps make up most of the top apps in Russia across the App Store and Google Play.

To see how big of a trend this is right now, I combined downloads for the top 10 VPN apps in each store.

Cumulative downloads of the top 10 apps on the App Store and Google Play started climbing on February 24th, the day Russia officially invaded Ukraine. According to our estimates, downloads grew from a daily average of 16K to more than 700K by Wednesday.

In the 10 days between 2/24 and 3/5, the top 10 VPN apps on the App Store and on Google Play saw more than 4,600,000 new downloads. And our estimates are very conservative here.


So, just wondering, might Coinbase’s crackdown on transactions from Russian IP addresses be circumvented by a VPN? I’m not suggesting that’s what these downloads are about – I expect they’re almost all for news or social media – but it seems like a potential loophole.
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Attack on Europe: documenting equipment losses during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine • Oryx

Stijn Mitzer in collaboration with Joost Oliemans Kemal, Dan and Jakub Janovsky:


A detailed list of the destroyed and captured vehicles and equipment of both sides can be seen below. This list is constantly updated as additional footage becomes available.

This list only includes destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available. Therefore, the amount of equipment destroyed is significantly higher than recorded here. Small arms, munitions, civilian vehicles, trailers and derelict equipment (including aircraft) are not included in this list. All possible effort has gone into discerning the status of equipment between captured or abandoned. Many of the entries listed as ‘abandoned’ will likely end up captured or destroyed. Similarly, some of the captured equipment might be destroyed if it can’t be recovered. ATGMs [anti-tank guided missiles] and MANPADS [man-portable air defence system, with a range of up to 6km] are included in the list but not included in the ultimate count. The Soviet flag is used when the equipment in question was produced prior to 1991.


Presently shows Russian losses at about 4:1 over Ukrainian. That could be an undercount of the Ukrainian losses, but the Russian losses (now including two one-star generals) are very substantial.

Open source, of course.
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How are the Big Sanctions hurting Russia so far? • Noahpinion

Noah Smith:


Why are all these brands pulling out of Russia? Maybe it’s to appear moral and avoid negative attention from Western consumers. Maybe it’s because Western governments are leaning on them to pull out. But the simplest explanation is that Russians are just not going to be able to pay for these goods, with the ruble crashing and Russian banks unable to make transactions with the West. What company would risk the negative optics of keeping their stores open in Russia just to serve customers who can’t pay?

Now before you laugh and think “Ha ha, look at those Russians who can’t buy fancy Swedish furniture”, realize that one of Russia’s main imports from Europe is medicine. Russians are going to have quite a lot of difficulty getting the medicines they need. (All pharmacies have stopped selling drugs at pre-war prices.)

This is just one way in which life is about to get significantly harder for the average Russian. Remember, Russia is not an impoverished country — its GDP per capita (PPP) was about $27,000 in 2019, making it somewhat poorer than a rich European country, but much richer than Ukraine (~$12,000).

In the past 15 years, Russians have become used to living a reasonably comfortable life. It’s a nearly-developed consumer society that has become accustomed to deep economic integration with Europe. Now suddenly that is all being yanked away — Russians are being asked to go back to the economic isolation, shortages, and hardship of the 90s, or even of the USSR, almost overnight.

I can’t say I know what political effect that will have. Will Russians rally around the flag and see this as an attack from the West that they need to resist? Or will discontent over Putin’s pointless war of choice rise and rise? Only time will tell.


Also worth reading, on the same topic: “The Russian sanctions regime and the risk of catastrophic success“.
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November 2021: Feeding the Bear: a closer look at Russian army logistics and the fait accompli • War on the Rocks

Alex Vershinin, writing very presciently last November as Russia’s troop buildup began, pointing out that its aims of rapid progress (the “fait accompli”) would quickly hit a problem – the logistics of resupply:


The Russian army does not have enough trucks to meet its logistic requirement more than 90 miles beyond supply dumps. To reach a 180-mile range, the Russian army would have to double truck allocation to 400 trucks for each of the material-technical support brigades. To gain familiarity with Russian logistic requirements and lift resources, a useful starting point is the Russian combined arms army. They all have different force structures, but on paper, each combined army is assigned a material-technical support brigade. Each material-technical support brigade has two truck battalions with a total of 150 general cargo trucks with 50 trailers and 260 specialized trucks per brigade. The Russian army makes heavy use of tube and rocket artillery fire, and rocket ammunition is very bulky. Although each army is different, there are usually 56 to 90 multiple launch rocket system launchers in an army.

Replenishing each launcher takes up the entire bed of the truck. If the combined arms army fired a single volley, it would require 56 to 90 trucks just to replenish rocket ammunition. That is about a half of a dry cargo truck force in the material-technical support brigade just to replace one volley of rockets. There is also between six to nine tube artillery battalions, nine air defense artillery battalions, 12 mechanized and recon battalions, three to five tank battalions, mortars, anti-tank missiles, and small arms ammunition — not to mention, food, engineering, medical supplies, and so on. Those requirements are harder to estimate, but the potential resupply requirements are substantial. The Russian army force needs a lot of trucks just for ammunition and dry cargo replenishment.

…Tanks and armored vehicles burn through fuel when maneuvering in combat or just idling while stationary. This is the reason why the U.S. Army uses “days of supply” to plan fuel consumption, not range. If a Russian army operation lasts 36 to 72 hours as the RAND study estimates, then the Russian army would have to refuel at least once before tactical pipelines are established to support operations.


Supply chains: they’re not just for electronics.
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WAR 101 • The Cosmopolitan Globalist

Claire Berlinski gives a modern updating for Warfighting, the US Marines’ manual:


You’re a 22-year-old Ukrainian who has just been handed a Kalashnikov, four magazines of thirty rounds, a helmet, and body armor. Last week you were studying architecture at Kyiv National University. Now you’re standing in the lead rank. An officer counts off and puts a hand on your shoulder. “You’re a fire team leader.” He points at the next three people in your rank. “That’s your team.”

There are three people behind you. You’ve never seen them before. They await your command.

Generals are not, contrary to popular belief, the most critical decision-makers on a battlefield. The leaders of the fire teams are. The fire team is the smallest unit in battle, usually made up of three people and a leader. Its task:

1. Fire weapons at enemy forces; and
2. Keep each other alive.

Modern militaries are usually organized according to the “Rule of Threes.” Three fire teams in a squad, three squads in a platoon, three platoons in a company. Why three? Because under the stress of combat, you can’t really keep more than three things in mind.

…You’re joined by a man and a woman who both look as if they might be accountants or lawyers, both about ten years your senior. Or perhaps you’re joined by two men who look like they were just let out of prison. You may be unaccustomed to working with people like this. You may never have spoken before to someone like this. It doesn’t matter. You have a common goal: getting the Russians out. You’re motivated by a common emotion: love of your country. You’ll build your unit cohesion on this common purpose and emotion. Everyone, up and down the chain, needs to lose the ego. Talk it out. Yes, seriously. You’ll have a lot of time to talk. Most of combat is sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of terror. Make the most of the boredom.

Shoot, move, and communicate. The free world’s fate is resting on the shoulders of Ukrainian men and women who can remember this.


Terrific reading. Let’s hope none of us ever has to mutter those words to ourselves. (Via John Naughton.)
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1752: Apple displays at speed, US gets into solar as oil dwindles, Russians turn to VPNs, army logistics, and more

  1. I’m not reassured by the “silent majority” argument. Inserting tongue firmly in cheek, “On an average weeknight in January, just 1% of US adults watched primetime Fox News …” might be like “On the average, just 1% of US adults who get Covid will die from it” (obviously, in both cases, that varies significantly among age groups). It’s a small number in a relative sense, but still enough to dramatically harm society. Indeed, to follow the trendy idea of comparing social media to an infectious disease, most people might suffer only a mild case of Twitter. But that doesn’t contradict the outcome that it can still be very painful to many in absolute numbers, even if the overall percentage is small (e.g. the vast majority of those affected don’t die from even ordinary flu, but a significant number do). Also, there are indirect effects. For example, if hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid cases when you have a medical emergency, that’s a big problem for you even if you’re in the majority non-Covid-infected group. Similarly, if social media outrage-mongers are seeking someone to be a hate-mob target, and you do something trivial they think can be exploited for likes/clicks/retweets, that hurts you even if you’re in the majority non-SM-infected group. These articles should be clearer about the “threat-model”, not blithely switch around various statistical rates.

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