Start Up No.1758: Dorries profiled, Go player banned for AI use, NYT zaps Wordle Archive, Google as maths teacher, and more


The video-sharing site Vimeo is abruptly hiking fees for what it says are the 1% using the most bandwidth – with the alternative being deletion. CC-licensed photo by TitanasTitanas 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. No blue site! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Nadine Dorries, Britain’s Big Tech slayer • POLITICO

Annabelle Dickson:

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The UK’s proposed law [due to be published Thursday] to regulate harmful content online floats hefty penalties for sites that fail to remove illegal material such as terrorist propaganda and child sexual abuse. It also imposes a so-called duty of care on platforms where people can interact with each other, making them responsible for policing online content and protecting users from content deemed “harmful.”

…Dorries was quick to put her stamp on the law. Social media sites hosting large amounts of pornographic material will have to work under the same age-verification rules as adult content sites.

She’s unveiled plans to force social networks to let users filter out unverified accounts, and promised the biggest platforms will have a legal duty to protect users from fraudulent paid-for advertisements — a move previously resisted by the government.

Campaigners wanting tougher action against Big Tech already spy an ally. Imran Ahmed, the founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which highlights misinformation online and pushes reform, said Dorries is “a conviction politician — and that is what you are going to need to take on one of the world’s most aggressive lobbying industries.”

“The final Online Safety Bill is likely to be tougher for businesses under Dorries than it would have been under former secretaries of state,” agreed Ben Greenstone, a former senior official in the department who now runs the consultancy Taso Advisory. He cited the recently published “broad” list of illegal content platforms will be required to act on when the new bill becomes law.

…Dorries has framed the online safety debate as a deeply personal mission. She often references her three grown-up daughters in meetings, and has spoken about her “devastating” experience meeting parents of children who had taken their own lives when she was Johnson’s mental health minister.

“It was not that they went online and looked for the means to do so, but because algorithms took them in that direction, whether it was to pro-anorexia sites, suicide chatrooms or self-harm sites,” she told MPs in November.

A second official close to Dorries said she’s pragmatic about what’s achievable. “We can write a bill which says ‘protect children,’ but if it won’t pass, that’s not going to help anyone,” they said.

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The full feature is worth reading: it becomes clear that Dorries has the support of almost all of her civil servants, and that the tech industry is deeply suspicious of her (and briefs quietly against her). The question though is whether you want someone who understands what’s possible and what’s not possible, or just knows how they want it all to look.
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Chinese Go player gets one-year ban for using AI during national competition – Global Times

Chen Xi:

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The Chinese Weiqi Association on Tuesday issued a statement suspending a Chinese player from attending competitions of weiqi, more commonly known as Go overseas, for a year after he violated the “no use of AI” rules when participating in a national chess competition earlier that day.

According to the statement, Liu Ruizhi used an AI program during the first round of the Chinese professional Go Championship preliminaries, and his supervisors did not fulfil their supervisory responsibilities.

The authority pronounced Liu’s opponent Yin Qu the winner of the match and decided to suspend Liu from participating in professional competitions until March 15, 2023. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, competitions have been held online and the organizing committee requires each player to have a supervisor during matches.

According to the rules of the competition, the use of AI is strictly prohibited during competitions. Players who break this rule will be banned for one year. If the player is a member of the national training team, they will be expelled from the team immediately.

Zuo Shiquan, head of the equipment manufacturing research institute under the China Center for Information Industry Development, told the Global Times on Wednesday that AI can guide a player by calculating the next step after analyzing the historical data of contestants input in advance and that this counts as cheating during a match. 

“AI has rich computing resources beyond that of human beings. In front of the Go board, the two players not only compete through their skills but also their mentality. If they do not do this, the joy of playing the game is lost,” a Go expert surnamed Hu commented on the Quora-like platform Zhihu.

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Might lose the joy of playing, but gain the joy of winning and making money. Go is big money in Korea, China and Japan – like chess, only more so. And in the past few years, following AlphaZero, AIs have become widely available that are as good as top-level professionals. Liu was not top-level; he’s barely at the starting line. I can’t find an equivalent of a chess professional being banned (though there have been suspicions about some).
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New York Times takes down third-party Wordle Archive • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

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The Wordle Archive is still fully playable in its own archived form (as of March 5) at the Internet Archive, appropriately enough. Other sites that allow you to play archived Wordle puzzles are not hard to find, as are sites that let you play unlimited Wordle puzzles beyond the usual one-a-day limit.

But some of those sites may be under threat, if the Times’ treatment of Wordle Archive is any indication.

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

Even if that prior art didn’t exist, though, The New York Times would have trouble claiming copyright protection on the basic design of Wordle. While Wordle’s specific presentation can be copyrighted, the game’s basic guessing mechanic is hard to protect with anything short of a patent (which would be exceptionally hard to acquire, in this case).

“Whenever you have a copyright, you’re protecting the expression, not the idea,” Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars. “It’s a line a lot of people have a very hard time with, especially when you get into games.”

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Having paid a couple of million dollars, the NYT is naturally going to be looking for ripoffs. It’s also going to be playing whack-a-mole endlessly. And as this points out, all you’d need to do is make a few tweaks (circular icons?) and you’ve got a new instantiation.
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TrueCaller exploited India’s weak data laws to build a caller ID empire • Rest of World

Rachna Khaira:

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As of March 2021, the [caller-identifying Truecaller] app has been downloaded over 581 million times, the website claims. India accounts for over a third of these downloads, and its database has a staggering 5.7 billion unique phone identities. The firm is headquartered in Stockholm, but the majority of its employees are Indian. This is no surprise:  Out of more than 278 million monthly active users (MAUs) across 175 countries, over 205 million are from India alone, making the country its biggest market, according to the firm’s statistics.

While India is a huge and lucrative market for technological innovations, a weeks-long investigation by The Caravan shows that Truecaller’s apparent success in the country is based on rather dubious grounds. Interviews with a former senior employee who worked with the company for over half a decade, lawyers specializing in privacy laws, and experts at policy research think tanks revealed that the majority of Truecaller’s datasets are comprised of information that has been collected without a user’s consent — a feat made possible by the lack of a comprehensive legal framework surrounding data protection in India. The firm may also be building a complete financial profile of its registered users, The Caravan’s investigation shows.

In a series of written responses to The Caravan, Truecaller insisted that it offers a “privacy-focused service” that is “committed to being transparent and compliant with the laws of the countries we operate in.” But, as Prasanna S., a coder-turned-lawyer who specializes in privacy issues, told The Caravan, “They are correct to the extent that there may not be a statutory breach in doing so. However, breach of privacy is an actionable wrong, and their activity, to the extent that they reveal personally identifiable information to the callee without the consent of the caller, is certainly a breach of privacy.”

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Vimeo is telling creators to suddenly pay thousands of dollars — or leave the platform • The Verge

Mia Sato:

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Lois van Baarle, a digital artist based in the Netherlands, joined Vimeo 13 years ago as a student studying animation, back when it was still an indie creator platform. When van Baarle started making subscriber-only Patreon content in 2020, Vimeo seemed like the best option for hosting her videos — Patreon itself didn’t offer video hosting, and YouTube didn’t have the same features to protect her work, like controlling where her videos could be embedded.

“I was already paying $200 a year, which I think is pretty expensive,” van Baarle says. “But I thought, well, it’s a quality platform.” She’s uploaded 117 subscriber-only videos so far, and each one only gets around 150 views on average, van Baarle says. Her most viewed video has around 815 views.

So the notice Vimeo sent van Baarle on March 11th shocked her. Her bandwidth usage was within the top 1% of Vimeo users, the company said, and if she wanted to keep hosting her content on the site, she’d need to upgrade to a custom plan. Her quoted price: $3,500 a year. She was given a week to upgrade her content, decrease her bandwidth usage, or leave Vimeo.

“I’ve never had it where a platform reached out to me and was like, ‘Pay up, or get off our platform,’ basically,” she says.

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Andy Baio has also been angry about this. He points out that Vimeo floated on the stock market in May 2021, and – such a coincidence! – its stock has fallen by 80% since. Now it’s focussing on the enterprise market, and pricing accordingly. But that 1% includes a lot of independent creators, who now have to choose between YouTube, which they’ve probably chosen already not to be on, or not being anywhere.
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Adaptive Learning Technology • The Keyword Google blog

Alicia Cormie:

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Imagine you’re a student stuck on a math problem. With 25 other students in your class, you can’t always get immediate help, leaving you frustrated and diminishing your confidence to complete future problems. Now imagine a different scenario. You’re stuck on a problem, but instead of growing frustrated, you receive a helpful hint or video that gives you exactly what you need to unblock you. You realize what you need to do differently, complete the math problem correctly and feel more confident in your ability to learn.

Early attempts at adaptive learning worked only for very specific content and curricula. With recent AI advances in language models and video understanding, we can now apply adaptive learning technology to almost any type of class assignment or lesson at an unprecedented scale. When students receive individualized, in-the-moment support, the results can be magical.

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What I notice about that worked example (of a hint) is that it doesn’t use the most efficient way to solve the equation. Divide both sides by 2 and you have x + 3 = 1. Subtract 3 from both sides: x = -2. I used two steps rather than three; half as many chances to go wrong. Is it all like this, Google? And speaking of help with your work…
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It’s like GPT-3 but for code—fun, fast, and full of flaws • WIRED

Clive Thompson:

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Built by OpenAI, the private research lab, and GitHub, the Microsoft- owned website where programmers share code, the [Copilot] tool is essentially autocomplete for software development. Much as Gmail tries to finish a sentence as you write it, Copilot offers to complete a chunk of your program. The tool was released last summer to a select group of coders.

[Feross] Aboukhadijeh quickly discovered that Copilot was good, almost unsettlingly so. He would begin typing a line of code, and within a few seconds the AI would figure out where he was headed—then, boom, the next four or five full lines would show up as light gray text, which he could accept by hitting Tab. When he saw it produce clean code that did exactly what he was intending, he found it a bit uncanny. “How is it getting these predictions?” he recalls wondering. “Some of them are really eerie.”

For weeks, Aboukhadijeh kept Copilot turned on while he worked. He discovered that it had other impressive tricks; it could even understand commands he wrote in basic English. If he simply typed into his code editor “Write a function that capitalizes every word in a document,” Copilot would assemble that code all by itself. He’d check to make sure it didn’t have errors; sometimes it did.

What’s more, the tool was improving his code. At one point, for example, Aboukhadijeh needed his software to recognize several different formats of text documents, so he ponderously listed all the formats, one by one, in his code. Copilot instead recommended a single, pithy command that elegantly swept them all together.

“I was like, how did it even … ?” he says, trailing off in stupefaction. He doesn’t think he’ll ever turn Copilot off.

…GitHub and OpenAI have been tracking Copilot’s performance through anonymized data on how many suggested lines coders accept and how much they then store on GitHub. They’ve found that the AI writes a remarkable 35% of its users’ newly posted code.

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The implications of this are huge. The AI writes 35%, then 50%, then.. And is that a bad thing?
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‘It’s our home turf.’ the man on Ukraine’s digital frontline • Time

Vera Bergengruen:

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Having previously used Telegram during the 2019 Ukrainian presidential campaign, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s team has been able to rely on existing infrastructure when the messaging app turned into the main front in the information war. [Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo] Fedorov’s ministry also set up a cryptocurrency fund that has raised more than $63m worth of donations for the Ukrainian military.

“I think the future is with tech, and this is why we will win,” he said. Wearing a gray turtleneck and white AirPods, he spoke to TIME on a video call from an undisclosed location somewhere near Kyiv. “Russia’s leadership still lives in the 20th century,” Fedorov said. “They have failed to notice that… governments must move towards becoming more and more like tech companies, rather than being rigid like a tank, like a war machine.”

The matchup—military hardware vs. digital savvy—is set to play a key role in the next phase of the war. As the Russian military continues its brutal offensive, leaving behind destroyed cities and hundreds of dead civilians, the Ukrainian government is keeping the world’s attention on the conflict through a steady stream of official posts on social media and messaging apps. These range from informal, personal videos from Zelensky, to regular updates meant to “pre-bunk” Russian disinformation, to direct appeals to Russians themselves. “I could even say it’s our home turf,” says Fedorov, who ran Zelensky’s digital campaign before being appointed to his current role in August 2019.

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No doubt: Ukraine has been a huge success on the digital front.

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Freedom of Information requests around the academic status of Dr. Tsai Ing-wen • mySociety

Gareth Rees:

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We recently became aware of extensive misuse of our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow, in connection with the academic status of Taiwanese politician Dr Tsai Ing-wen.

This activity became apparent through a very large quantity of correspondence being sent through the site, all focusing on the validity of Dr Ing-wen’s qualification from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). 

The majority of this material was repeating the same or very similar FOI requests, and some were not valid requests at all. We also saw mass posting of annotations, some on completely unrelated requests, and new requests which copied the titles of unrelated existing requests in an apparent attempt to evade our attention.

…Researching the topic more deeply, we discovered a statement from the Information Commissioner on requests they’ve also received on this subject, in which they say:

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“The intent of these requests is clearly to try to add weight to theories around the falsification of President Tsai’s PHD, which have already been considered at length by the Commissioner and the Tribunal and found to be entirely lacking in substance.”

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Further, both the LSE and the University of London have published their own statements, and a copy of the PhD thesis in question is now available online via LSE’s website.

While rejecting one FOI request on this subject as vexatious, LSE raised the possibility that people in China could be making requests to benefit from the country’s citizen evaluation system…

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A new era in disinformation: try to discredit a real academic qualification through FOI requests.
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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

Start Up No.1757: the AI bioweapon maker, slower Chipmunks, Instagram forced out of Russia, Sizewell C extends, and more


The wreckage of tanks among the ruins in Ukraine are symbolic of the problem that will follow any peace: rebuilding is going to be very, very expensive. CC-licensed photo by manhhai 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. Three weeks already. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery • Nature Machine Intelligence

Fabio Urbina, Filippa Lentzos, Cédric Invernizzi and Sean Ekins:

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Our drug discovery company received an invitation to contribute a presentation on how AI technologies for drug discovery could potentially be misused.

The thought had never previously struck us. We were vaguely aware of security concerns around work with pathogens or toxic chemicals, but that did not relate to us; we primarily operate in a virtual setting. Our work is rooted in building machine learning models for therapeutic and toxic targets to better assist in the design of new molecules for drug discovery. We have spent decades using computers and AI to improve human health—not to degrade it. We were naive in thinking about the potential misuse of our trade, as our aim had always been to avoid molecular features that could interfere with the many different classes of proteins essential to human life. Even our projects on Ebola and neurotoxins, which could have sparked thoughts about the potential negative implications of our machine learning models, had not set our alarm bells ringing.

Our company—Collaborations Pharmaceuticals, Inc.—had recently published computational machine learning models for toxicity prediction in different areas, and, in developing our presentation to the Spiez meeting, we opted to explore how AI could be used to design toxic molecules. It was a thought exercise we had not considered before that ultimately evolved into a computational proof of concept for making biochemical weapons.

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Keep reading. It’s like the first act of an extremely worrying bioterror thriller:

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In less than 6 hours after starting on our in-house server, our model generated 40,000 molecules that scored within our desired threshold. In the process, the AI designed not only [the very deadly nerve agent] VX, but also many other known chemical warfare agents that we identified through visual confirmation with structures in public chemistry databases. Many new molecules were also designed that looked equally plausible. These new molecules were predicted to be more toxic, based on the predicted LD50 [lethal dose for 50% exposed to it] values, than publicly known chemical warfare agents.

…Without being overly alarmist, this should serve as a wake-up call for our colleagues in the ‘AI in drug discovery’ community.

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You can say that again.
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Alvin and the Chipmunks at 16 RPM • Doc Pop’s Weblog

“Doctor Popular” with something a little lighter (relatively):

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I recently learned that Alvin and The Chipmunks albums sound great when played at 16 2/3 RPM. Basically, this is half speed, so the actors voices sound like normal people, but the music sounds super sludgy and heavy. Very reminiscent of The Melvins!

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He embeds two songs – the covers of Blondie’s “Call Me” and The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian”. They do sound amazing. (Lovely detail in the Wikipedia entry about Walk Like An Egyptian on how the recording of the song led to tensions in the band.) Of course, the music was recorded at normal speed, and then the vocals added with the music at half speed and mixed back in at double speed. The singers are struggling to keep their notes (and maybe aren’t the greatest singers) over such a long period.
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Russians bid hasty farewell to Instagram • Financial Times

Polana Ivanova and Hannah Murphy:

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Russian Instagram users woke up this week to an app that would not load and a feed empty of the content they had grown to love, after Moscow decided to ban the social media site over its parent company Meta’s policies on the war in Ukraine.

The photo-sharing app has 80mn users across Russia — around half of the country’s population. Many wrote farewell posts over the weekend and directed their followers to other social media platforms, as the clock ticked down on the 48 hours the government had given people to wind down their profiles before the app was officially blocked on Monday.

The loss of the beloved service for Russians is symbolic of the increasing isolation of their nation, as US internet companies join a western corporate exodus from the country. The war in Ukraine has placed Silicon Valley companies in the middle of a geopolitical battle for influence, given their position as gatekeepers to information seen by billions.

“I didn’t believe it until the last minute,” said Yulia Telnova, 36, who has run her baking business from her home kitchen in Novosibirsk since 2018, sharing photos of elaborate icing sculptures on Instagram and building her client base on the app. “Today, when my Instagram stopped working . . . then yes. Then I believed it.”

Telnova is one of many millions of Russians who rely on the app to make a living, using it to run small, at-home businesses, or to promote themselves as influencers with large numbers of followers.

Like others, Telnova has now opened a page on the Russian domestic platform VKontakte, a Facebook lookalike that recently came under state control. Though sad to see Instagram go, as it was the source of “99%” of her customers, Telnova said she was not panicked, adding that she would just “have to build up a client base once again”.

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The essential fungibility of social networks, being demonstrated in real time.
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Possible outcomes of the Russo-Ukrainian war and China’s choice • US-China Perception Monitor

Hu Wei is the vice-chairman of the Public Policy Research Center of the Counselor’s Office of the State Council, the chairman of Shanghai Public Policy Research Association, the chairman of the Academic Committee of the Chahar Institute, a professor, and a doctoral supervisor:

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China cannot be tied to Putin and needs to be cut off as soon as possible. In the sense that an escalation of conflict between Russia and the West helps divert US attention from China, China should rejoice with and even support Putin, but only if Russia does not fall. Being in the same boat with Putin will impact China should he lose power. Unless Putin can secure victory with China’s backing, a prospect which looks bleak at the moment, China does not have the clout to back Russia. The law of international politics says that there are “no eternal allies nor perpetual enemies,” but “our interests are eternal and perpetual.” Under current international circumstances, China can only proceed by safeguarding its own best interests, choosing the lesser of two evils, and unloading the burden of Russia as soon as possible. At present, it is estimated that there is still a window period of one or two weeks before China loses its wiggle room. China must act decisively.

2. China should avoid playing both sides in the same boat, give up being neutral, and choose the mainstream position in the world. At present, China has tried not to offend either side and walked a middle ground in its international statements and choices, including abstaining from the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly votes. However, this position does not meet Russia’s needs, and it has infuriated Ukraine and its supporters as well as sympathizers, putting China on the wrong side of much of the world. In some cases, apparent neutrality is a sensible choice, but it does not apply to this war, where China has nothing to gain. Given that China has always advocated respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it can avoid further isolation only by standing with the majority of the countries in the world. This position is also conducive to the settlement of the Taiwan issue.

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Roughly 48 hours after this article was published, access to the site was blocked in China.
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Preparing for defeat

Francis Fukuyama:

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I’ll stick my neck out and make several prognostications:

1. Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine. Russian planning was incompetent, based on a flawed assumption that Ukrainians were favorable to Russia and that their military would collapse immediately following an invasion. Russian soldiers were evidently carrying dress uniforms for their victory parade in Kyiv rather than extra ammo and rations. Putin at this point has committed the bulk of his entire military to this operation—there are no vast reserves of forces he can call up to add to the battle. Russian troops are stuck outside various Ukrainian cities where they face huge supply problems and constant Ukrainian attacks.

2. The collapse of their position could be sudden and catastrophic, rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition. The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize. This is at least true in the north; the Russians are doing better in the south, but those positions would be hard to maintain if the north collapses.

3. There is no diplomatic solution to the war possible prior to this happening. There is no conceivable compromise that would be acceptable to both Russia and Ukraine given the losses they have taken at this point.

4. The United Nations Security Council has proven once again to be useless. The only helpful thing was the General Assembly vote, which helps to identify the world’s bad or prevaricating actors.

5. The Biden administration’s decisions not to declare a no-fly zone or help transfer Polish MiGs were both good ones; they’ve kept their heads during a very emotional time. It is much better to have the Ukrainians defeat the Russians on their own, depriving Moscow of the excuse that NATO attacked them, as well as avoiding all the obvious escalatory possibilities. The Polish MiGs in particular would not add much to Ukrainian capabilities. Much more important is a continuing supply of Javelins, Stingers, TB2s, medical supplies, comms equipment, and intel sharing.

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Mr End Of History predicting End Of War. It’s probably as good an analysis as any.
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The bankrupt colonialist • Comment is Freed

Lawrence Freedman:

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The strains on the Russian war effort are already evident, from the army’s hesitation about trying to fight their way into cities and the recruitment of mercenaries, to the reported appeal to China for help with supplies of military equipment and Putin’s fury with his intelligence agencies for misleading assessments and wasting roubles on Ukrainian agents who turned out to be useless. He is now having to choose between a range of poor outcomes, which the US suggests may include escalation to chemical use (which would be both militarily pointless and test further Western determination not to get directly involved).

We are now beyond the point where Putin has much ‘face’ to be saved, even if it were a priority for the other major powers to save it. In launching this disastrous war he has revealed himself to be not only a vicious bully but also a deluded fool. 

War is rarely a good investment. Putin has acted for reasons of political and not economic opportunism. The prospects for any territory “liberated” by Russia is bleak. They will not prosper and will remain cut off from the international economy. To the extent that people stay they will have to be subsidised for all their needs while there will be little economic activity.  

Because of the destruction the short-term prospects will be bleak even if these territories are fully returned to Ukraine. But over the longer-term they will be much better off because of the amount of economic assistance Ukraine will receive and its integration into the international economy.

This support will be even more vital should Putin be inclined to follow a scorched earth policy, attempting to demolish Ukraine’s defence and industrial capacity, diminishing it as a modern economic power for the foreseeable future. This would be not so much a strategy and more of a temper tantrum, punishing the Ukrainians for refusing to be colonised.

…The question of the future of sanctions and how they might be unwound is not one to be discussed separately from any peace talks. They are a vital part of the negotiations. As there can be no Western-led peace talks without Ukraine, it should be made clear to Moscow that for now this is a card for Zelensky to play. The future of the Russian economy can then be in his, Zelensky’s, hands.

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Six months in, El Salvador’s bitcoin gamble is crumbling • Rest of World

Anna-Cat Brigida and Leo Schwartz:

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[Software developer Mario] Gómez took an interest in the digital infrastructure the Salvadoran government was building for its transition to Bitcoin, including the Chivo Wallet, which is what is known as a custodial wallet. Custodial wallets address a common problem for cryptocurrency users. Bitcoin payments employ the blockchain, a process by which every financial transaction is logged in a digital ledger and then verified through a computational process. Users hold a public key, which assigns them to their Bitcoin holdings, and a private key, which allows them to access their funds. But this can cause problems. Users who lose their private key, for instance, can never recover their Bitcoin. With a custodial wallet, a third party holds the keys so that users don’t have to worry about losing them.

It made sense that the Chivo Wallet would be custodial — the administration had to build a wallet that would be functional for everyday people, the majority of whom had never even had a bank account. But it didn’t sit right with Gómez. Many Bitcoin purists criticize custodial wallets as contradictory to what they see as cryptocurrency’s fundamental ethos of decentralization. A famous adage in the crypto world goes, “Not your keys, not your coins.” In other words, if another entity has access to your private key, you don’t actually own your Bitcoin. Even though Chivo is technically a private company, it is 99% owned by a state-owned company and funded by a $150 million public trust. In effect, the government would control its citizens’ keys.

Gómez drafted long Twitter threads about his findings. The next day, a few days before the Chivo Wallet was set to launch, the police pulled him over for what they said was a problem with his car, took him to two stations, and confiscated his phones.

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There’s not a huge amount of evidence that the gamble is crumbling, if we’re honest. The question becomes how you do evaluate its success. I think it would depend on having a view of monetary flows – but that’s something only the central government might have, through its view of Chivo. And you can bet that it won’t let on if things are going badly.
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UK looking to extend life of nuclear plant by 20 years amid energy crisis • Financial Times

Jim Pickard and Nathalie Thomas:

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The UK is looking at a 20-year extension of the Sizewell B nuclear power plant on England’s east coast to 2055 as Boris Johnson aims to bolster domestic energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The extension is one of several options under consideration as the prime minister draws up a new “energy supply strategy”, which will be published next week against the backdrop of highly volatile international gas prices and an escalating cost-of-living crisis.

Johnson’s new approach will not see him cut Britain’s carbon targets, including the plan to reach net zero by 2050, and will see an increase in targets for various renewable energy sources, according to officials.

However, it will also seek to improve security of supply of hydrocarbons by increasing North Sea oil and gas production and potentially keeping some of Britain’s few remaining coal-fired power plants open slightly longer than expected — rather than relying on imports.

Johnson held a meeting with executives from the oil and gas industry on Monday morning where he urged them to increase production. “We have been clear with energy companies and suppliers they have a vital role to play,” Downing Street said.

…EDF’s 1.2GW Sizewell B plant in Suffolk, which started operating in 1995 and can meet about 3% of the UK’s electricity demand, is the only one of Britain’s six remaining atomic power plants that will continue generating beyond the end of the decade. Only one new station, the 3.2GW Hinkley Point C in Somerset, is currently under construction. It is due to come on stream in 2026.

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Notice there’s no mention of fracking (here or in the full story), so perhaps wiser heads are prevailing.
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The future is vast: Longtermism’s perspective on humanity’s past, present, and future • Our World in Data

Max Roser:

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Before we look ahead, let’s look back. How many came before us? How many humans have ever lived?

It is not possible to answer this question precisely, but demographers Toshiko Kaneda and Carl Haub have tackled the question using the ​​historical knowledge that we do have.

There isn’t a particular moment in which humanity came into existence, as the transition from species to species is gradual. But if one wants to count all humans one has to make a decision about when the first humans lived. The two demographers used 200,000 years before today as this cutoff.1

The demographers estimate that in these 200,000 years about 109 billion people have lived and died.

It is these 109 billion people we have to thank for the civilization that we live in. The languages we speak, the food we cook, the music we enjoy, the tools we use – what we know we learned from them. The houses we live in, the infrastructure we rely on, the grand achievements of architecture – much of what we see around us was built by them.

In 2022 7.95 billion of us are alive. Taken together with those who have died, about 117 billion humans have been born since the dawn of modern humankind.

This means that those of us who are alive now represent about 6.8% of all people who ever lived.

These numbers are hard to grasp. I tried to bring it into a visualization to put them into perspective.

It’s a giant hourglass. But instead of measuring the passage of time, it measures the passage of people.

Each grain of sand here represents 10 million people: each year 140 million babies are born. So we add 14 grains of sand to the hourglass. Every year, 60 million people die; this means six grains pass through the hourglass and are added to the large number of people who have died.

«

It really is mindboggling (and the diagrams, on the post, are good). Though of course it is premised on not wiping ourselves out, and keeping things on an even footing that doesn’t lead to huge deaths.
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The Reg online standards converter

»

Welcome to the Reg online standards converter, which allows instant conversion of commonly-used metric and imperial standards into approved Vulture Central units, and vice-versa. To get started, simply make your selection from the list below and you’ll be offered three sets of fields: Imperial, Metric and Reg. Enter the desired figure into any one field, hit calculate and you’re in business.

Not all conversions will work perfectly. This is because here at the Reg Standards Bureau, our priority has to be preserving the accuracy of our own units. Accordingly, all our conversion factors are Reg standards.

To maintain our own high standards, we’ve had to shave a teensy bit of accuracy off everyone else’s. For instance: there are 8 furlongs to a mile, which means 25 miles should convert to 200 furlongs. But it actually converts to 199.something furlongs. As our technical wizard explains: “To turn a mile into anything else, it first needs to be converted into linguine”.

Area (nanoWales – nW)
Force (Norris – No)
Length (linguine – lg)
Temperature (Hilton – Hn)
Volume (grapefruit – gf)
Weight
Velocity – (Percentage of maximum velocity of sheep in a vacuum)
Money – (Pogba – Pg)

«

Areas are thus given in “Wales” (compared to the size of Wales, the country). And as you’d expect from a publication as on the ball as The Register, it now offers length conversion to giraffes. Though it should really be half-giraffes, the most inspired (for virality) measurement I think I’ve ever seen.
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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

Start Up No.1756: Shenzhen in lockdown, iCloud Private Relay criticised, Ukraine goes for Clearview AI, ‘Studio’ or ‘Pro’?, and more


If there’s one thing Ukraine needs right now, it’s surface-to-air missile launchers such as the S-300P, which can be carried on the back of a truck. Quite a big truck. CC-licensed photo by Andrey Korchagin 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. Achieving strategic objectives. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


China locks down Shenzhen as it battles biggest Covid surge since start of pandemic • Financial Times

Ryan McMorrow, Primrose Riordan, Gloria Li and Kathrin Hille:

»

China is battling its biggest Covid surge since the start of the pandemic and has locked down multiple cities including Shenzhen, its technology hub, in a move that threatens already brittle global supply chains.

Apple supplier Foxconn and dozens of other factories in Shenzhen have stopped production after authorities imposed a lockdown on the city of 17.5mn.

Factories in the tech and manufacturing hub that borders Hong Kong have been ordered to close, residents have been told to stay home and public transport and restaurants shut after China reported more than 5,000 locally transmitted coronavirus cases across the country at the weekend.

Rapidly rising case counts were reported in the north-eastern province of Jilin, as well as in Shanghai, where some neighbourhoods have been put into lockdown, and many other cities around the country.

Authorities in Jilin are rushing to build four new hospital and quarantine facilities with 16,000 beds to separate those infected with coronavirus and their close contacts from the rest of the population. The construction has revived memories of similar steps taken at the start of the pandemic in Wuhan in 2020, and a live webcam is streaming progress online.

The lockdown in Shenzhen is scheduled to last for six days and could compound disruptions to global supply chains that have contributed to rising inflation in the US and Europe.

More than 30 Taiwanese companies, making everything from circuit boards to touchscreen modules, announced production stoppages at their factories in the city. Most of the manufacturers said the plants would be shut until March 20 pending further announcements by local authorities.

Foxconn said it had adjusted production at other plants to “minimise the potential impact”.

«

On the assumption that this is the omicron variant, this will be a stop-start thing. Absent 100% triple-jab vaccination, cases will reduce and surge as the lockdowns begin and end. The supply chain problems are going to continue for a while.
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iCloud Private Relay under fire in the UK as a safety threat • Macworld

David Price:

»

iCloud Private Relay is similar in effect and method to a VPN, but with certain differences. The idea is that, once the service is enabled by the user, Safari browsing activity is encrypted and diverted through two relays in such a way that no single party has access to the data. This frustrates ISPs because that data is valuable to them in numerous ways.

In the response, naturally, they focus on the ones that can theoretically benefit the user. By monitoring browsing data, for example, Mobile UK says providers can understand consumer trends and better predict and anticipate demand patterns. “Losing this information,” the group complains, “could compromise future network optimization and investment prioritization.”

And as always when a lobbyist group wishes to criticize the use of encryption, the specter of serious crime is invoked. “By preventing network providers and Apple from accessing information on traffic encrypted by the service, Private Relay impairs the insights available under the Government’s investigatory powers,” the statement warns. This will affect law enforcement’s ability to deal with terrorism, organized crime, child sexual abuse, and exploitation, it adds.

There are eight elements to Mobile UK’s complaint, including the somewhat speculative (“there are reports that…”) claim that browsing performance is impacted by Private Relay and more genuine-sounding concerns about competition and the diminished role of the ISP. Rather than attempting to sum up the group’s entire argument here, we would urge the reader to check out the statement themselves.

But it may not come as a surprise that we find the statement self-serving and disingenuous. Network operators dislike the use of privacy services like Private Relay for one reason and one reason only: because it cuts them out of the loop and prevents them from monitoring and monetizing user data. And the use of serious criminal activity as a pretext for wide-scale surveillance is as contemptible on the internet as it is in daily life.

«

Interesting stat in the Mobile UK statement: Apple handsets now make up over 50% of the UK market. Really would not have expected that.

At least two claims that I think are wrong-ish: they say that “Customers are directed to more Apple services” (er, no), and “all traffic is now shipped through Apple”, which is true, but Apple can’t see both who you are and what you’re visiting.
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“It’s a mess”: How crypto mining went from boom to bust in Kazakhstan • Rest of World

Naubet Bisenov and Meaghan Tobin:

»

On the windswept, freezing steppes of northern Kazakhstan, a set of buildings can signal only one thing: cryptocurrency miners.

…Inside, halls of ASIC mining units, entangled with cables, are attended by a few staff. Some of the equipment is sturdy enough to withstand temperatures of -15 degrees; other parts need heating to stay above freezing point. The system is drawing 1% of the electricity it would normally require, just enough to maintain a holding pattern.

When Rest of World visited in early February, Aibolat Balgozhin, the company’s chief power engineer, was helpless. “We have not been able to operate properly since October 13, when the first power cuts hit us,” he told Rest of World. “And we are kept in the dark as to when we would be able to work at full capacity or what solutions the power grid operator, KEGOC, is going to come up with.” 

In September 2021, when China banned all cryptocurrency-related activity, it reshaped an industry for which it had provided a haven. Miners scrambled into crypto-friendly Kazakhstan, propelling the country into world’s second-biggest Bitcoin production base, by one estimate.

But six months later, the industry is already being pushed out. Facing civil unrest and blackouts on the electricity grid, the government has throttled the power supply of the miners it once welcomed. As it buckles under infighting and government pressure, Kazakhstan’s significant mining base is preparing to move on, industry players and experts say. Smaller players can either flee somewhere like Russia — a risky jurisdiction, whose hostile politics would imply another temporary home — or, for bigger outfits, swallow higher costs to join the swelling ranks in the US, where the mining industry is clearly beginning to concentrate [with 41% of known power usage in December 2021].

“It’s a mess, essentially,” said Alejandro De La Torre, previously vice president at Bitcoin mining pool Poolin, “a big mess.”

«

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Why Ukraine needs ground-based air defenses way more than MiGs • The Drive

Tyler Rogoway and Thomas Newdick:

»

When it comes to helping Ukraine continue to keep Russia from gaining air superiority over its skies — a miraculous achievement thus far in the conflict that is now in its third week — all the focus has been on providing the embattled country with a couple of dozen decades-old MiG-29 Fulcrums. This has been an unfortunate distraction. What Ukraine really needs more than anything else are ground-based air defense systems — surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs — especially the kind with medium or greater altitude engagement capabilities that are optimized for high mobility. And not just any SAM systems that fulfill the requirements, but Soviet-era systems that the Ukrainian military is fully trained on employing in combat and supporting in the field.

While providing additional fighters for Ukraine’s air arm, which remains under great pressure from Russia’s war machine, is one potential facet of bolstering its air defenses, it is far from the most important or convenient one. Fighters are the least of the Russian military’s counter-air worries at the moment. The presence of medium to higher-tier SAM threats keeps Russia’s combat aircraft from operating at medium altitudes or above, in effect pressing them right into the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile (man-portable air defense systems or MANPADS) engagement envelope, which is roughly defined as anything under 15,000 feet. Thousands of MANPADS of different types have flooded into Ukraine and have been dispersed among troops across the country — and more are on the way. They have been brutally effective so far, but without the threat presented by more capable air defense systems, the opportunities to engage the enemy at lower altitudes will decline. In other words, the presence of one enables the other.

Highly unpredictable ground-mobile SAMs complicate the tactical threat picture even more for Russia. They are far more survivable than their less agile, largely static counterparts. They can appear out of virtually nowhere and then disappear before traditional counterattacks are possible. Leveraging radar guidance, they are also effective in any weather, day or night.

«

They also provide a handy shopping list of SAM systems, in case you were thinking of buying some to defend a border near you from incursion any time soon. I mean, I like the S-300P truck-mounted launcher, but what other colours is it available in?

Meanwhile the forced shift of everyone on social media from virological epidemiologist to military strategist continues apace.
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Peloton got trapped in its trillion-dollar fantasy • Bloomberg Quint (via..)

Drake Bennett and Mark Gurman:

»

If Peloton’s story thus far were a Peloton class, it would be a high-intensity one, perhaps even a Tabata ride. Everyone would pedal as fast as they could, recover for not long enough, then do it again, as a charismatic figure on the screen urged them on with promises of transformational personal growth and of the massiveness of the total addressable market of subscription fitness. Midway through, the instructor would announce that the 20-minute class would actually go for an hour. Here and there, riders would injure themselves. There would be technical issues with the machines. At the end, right after recommending a five-minute post-ride stretching class and intoning his mantra—“We’re not a stationary bike company, we’re not a treadmill company, we are an innovation company that is at the nexus of fitness, technology, and media!”—the instructor would announce his transition to a new role at the company. It would be exhilarating and entertaining, but perhaps not a ride you’d want to do every day.

…The bring-your-own-bike model holds evident appeal for [new CEO Barry] McCarthy, who’s less interested in the physical machines than in his company’s content. “The magic happens in the tablet,” he says. He muses that perhaps the Peloton screen should be an open platform where third-party programmers can place apps. Or maybe the company could try the inkjet printer business model, offering machines for cheap and making money through higher monthly subscription fees. At the moment, you can ride your bike even if you’re not paying for classes. McCarthy plans to experiment with making those payments mandatory. (On March 10, the company announced such a test, saying it would create a monthly subscription that combines the price of its hardware and content and lacks an upfront hardware payment.)

In all of this, McCarthy says he’ll let the data be his instructor. It’s a familiar narrative: Startup founder gives way to the bean counters and market researchers.

«

A good roundup – Peloton is poised between success and disaster – and notable too for Mark Gurman’s name as a reporter, since he’s usually exclusively on the Apple beat.
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Exclusive: Ukraine has started using Clearview AI’s facial recognition during war • Reuters

Paresh Dave and Jeffrey Dastin:

»

Ukraine’s defense ministry on Saturday began using Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology, the company’s chief executive told Reuters, after the U.S. startup offered to uncover Russian assailants, combat misinformation and identify the dead.

Ukraine is receiving free access to Clearview AI’s powerful search engine for faces, letting authorities potentially vet people of interest at checkpoints, among other uses, added Lee Wolosky, an adviser to Clearview and former diplomat under U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

…The Clearview founder said his startup had more than 2 billion images from the Russian social media service VKontakte at its disposal, out of a database of over 10 billion photos total.

That database can help Ukraine identify the dead more easily than trying to match fingerprints and works even if there is facial damage, Ton-That wrote. Research for the US Department of Energy found decomposition reduced the technology’s effectiveness while a paper from a 2021 conference showed promising results.

Ton-That’s letter also said Clearview’s technology could be used to reunite refugees separated from their families, identify Russian operatives and help the government debunk false social media posts related to the war.

The exact purpose for which Ukraine’s defense ministry is using the technology is unclear, Ton-That said. Other parts of Ukraine’s government are expected to deploy Clearview in the coming days, he and Wolosky said.

«

I saw someone describe this as “Clearview being used as a weapon of war”, which seems absurdly overblown to me. Certainly there might be some potential for errors at checkpoints – but that’s not a weapon.
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QAnon, Ukraine and ‘biolabs’: Russian propaganda efforts boosted by US far right • NBC News

Ben Collins and Kevin Collier:

»

The “biolabs” conspiracy theories were almost unheard of until the day of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Pyrra Technologies, a cybersecurity and threat intelligence company, said the first mention of biolabs came on the far-right social network Gab on Feb. 14, 10 days before the invasion. The user included an awkwardly worded graphic, titled “Exclusive US biolabs in Ukraine, and they are financed at the expense of the US Department of Defense.”

The post largely sat idle for days. Welton Chang, the CEO of Pyrra, said posts about biolabs on the top 15 far-right social networks numbered in the single digits in the days before Russia’s invasion. But on Feb. 24, the day Russia began its invasion, the number of posts about biolabs on English-language far-right websites skyrocketed into the hundreds and only grew in the days after.

Boosted by far-right influencers on the day of the invasion, an anonymous QAnon Twitter account titled @WarClandestine pushed the “biolabs” theory to new heights, using the same “US biolabs” graphic initially included on the Gab post that went largely unshared the week before.

Twitter said the account and others that pushed the biolabs theory were banned for “multiple violations of our abusive behavior policy.”

The biolab conspiracy theory has taken over as the prevailing narrative on pro-Trump and QAnon websites like The Great Awakening and Patriots.Win.

Chang said the rhetoric on pro-Trump sites, which had largely been anti-Putin in the first days of the war, has shifted because of the biolab conspiracy theory.

“These communities already know what the rhythm and cadence of Covid conspiracies should be like to get people to buy it,” Chang said. “They had a lot of practice with QAnon. The kinds of things that get people excited, like any time you say ‘secret biolab,’ it gets people’s emotions up.”

«

Politifact has done a debunking, and there’s an even better unravelling of the claims (which are also being echoed by professional attention-seeker Glenn Greenwald) in a Twitter thread, here on a single page. But the point is really about how these claims get pushed into the mainstream. For another of those, see Marc Owen-Jones’s thread about Chinese sources promoting it.
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‘Pro’ has lost all meaning, and Apple knows it • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:

»

From the jump, Apple made it clear who the Mac Studio and Studio Display were for. It showed them being used by musicians, 3D artists, and developers in its presentation, and the message was clear: these are products for creative professionals or people who aspire to be creative professionals. You know, the same exact crowd it’s targeted with MacBook Pro commercials for years.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh, I wonder when the iPhone Studio comes out,” says Jonathan Balck, co-founder and managing director of ad agency Colossus, in an interview with The Verge. “Pro was exclusive, and it was about one way of doing things, but the whole culture is moving toward creativity,” he adds while musing whether we could see Apple’s Pro branding shift to become Studio branding instead.

I can hear people asking: “Isn’t it a bit early to predict that, given that we’ve only seen two products?” It’s a very fair question. But it definitely seems like a first step — to me, the Mac Studio line is a clear successor to Apple’s iMac Pro. Both computers are powered by monstrous CPUs and come standard with 10Gb Ethernet and a healthy crop of Thunderbolt and USB ports. I’m convinced that, had Apple released the new Studio even two years ago, it would’ve put “Pro” in the name. (Though, to play devil’s advocate, I’m not as sure it would’ve done so for the Studio Display.)

Some marketing experts tell me that the word “Pro” is starting to get long in the tooth, and not just from overuse. “The previous term Pro is, in my opinion, outdated and dry,” says Keith Dorsey, founder and CEO of the creative marketing group and management company YoungGuns Entertainment.

Balck agrees; “If you look at the word Pro, that is in many ways restrictive,” he says in an interview, explaining that when you say a product is “professional,” it evokes ideas like job interviews, portfolios, and standoffishness. Pro products, he says, come across as just for those who use creativity to get a paycheck.

«

Arguably true; “Studio” comes across as hep and groovy compared to “Pro”. Though Apple first came out with a Studio Display brand in 2001, and that was on sale for three years, so this isn’t actually the newly minted brand it might seem to be. It’s just been resting, that’s all.
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Facebook parent says users can’t post calls to assassinate Putin • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Kurt Wagner:

»

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. clarified on Sunday that it is against the company’s user rules to share a post that “calls for the death of a head of state” – likely a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last week, Facebook temporarily relaxed its policies so that Ukrainian users could post threats of violence against the Russian military, which invaded its neighbor in late February. The change led to some public confusion as to what was allowed, and what was not, on Facebook and Instagram.

Meta’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg posted a statement Friday saying the move is aimed at protecting Ukrainian rights and doesn’t signal tolerance for “discrimination, harassment or violence towards Russians.” On Sunday, he tried to further explain the company’s stance to employees in an internal post.

“We are now narrowing the focus to make it explicitly clear in the guidance that it is never to be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general,” Clegg wrote in the internal post, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. He added that the revised policy only applies in Ukraine, and “only in the context of speech regarding the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.”

“We also do not permit calls to assassinate a head of state,” Clegg said, though he didn’t mention Putin by name.

«

So it’s fine to call for the death of Russian soldiers, but not Russians in general, and not their leader? Is it OK to call for the death of the most senior general? This policy is all over the place.
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Asteroid half the size of a giraffe strikes Earth off coast of Iceland • Daily Mail

Sam Tonkin:

»

A small asteroid struck the Earth above Iceland last Friday — just two hours after it was spotted by an astronomer.

The space rock, named 2022 EB5, is believed to have mostly burnt up in our planet’s atmosphere, but even if it had impacted the surface it would have done little to no damage because it was just 10ft (3 metres) wide, about half the size of a giraffe. 

«

1) if it had hit the surface it could have made quite a dent. Especially if it had landed on a giraffe.
2) Which half of the giraffe is it the same size as? Left/right? Top/bottom?
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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: Switzerland has citizen military training, as well as Israel and Finland (thanks Wendy G). Any others?

Start Up No.1755: why Facebook’s Diem died, the war-prepped Finns, shrinkflation!, end of the 27in iMac, spamming Russia, and more


in Russia, 44 chess grandmasters have written to Vladimir Putin calling for peace in Ukraine. But does their action count as defiance? CC-licensed photo by Andreas Kontokanis 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.


Facebook Libra: the inside story of how the company’s cryptocurrency dream died • Financial Times

Hannah Murphy and Kiran Stacey:

»

Under [former US Treasury official Stuart] Levey’s direction, Diem shrank. To placate European and US regulators, the project’s scope was narrowed to the creation of a digital currency backed one-for-one by the dollar rather than a basket of currencies and other low-risk assets, which some were concerned might challenge the dominance of the dollar. A team of crypto engineers spanning Europe and Silicon Valley worked feverishly to build a system to monitor transactions for signs of money laundering or sanction breaking. They also came up with ways to prohibit anonymous transactions and vet the outfits that could build services to support Diem currency.

…[by spring 2021] Levey and the rest of the senior team, including [Diem originator David] Marcus, felt confident enough to test issuing a small amount of Diem currency as well as trialling a version of the Novi digital wallet. The test would be available to a small group of users, but the team was jubilant at the prospect, according to several people involved at the time.

Reaching the major milestone required the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, Finma, to approve Diem’s licence. The application papers were on the regulatory agency’s desk, and Finma had convened a college of more than 20 regulatory watchdogs from around the world to guide it through the process. It just needed the final green light from the US Treasury.

It was at this point that the Treasury issued its first devastating “No”. Officials told Finma and Diem that they were requesting a temporary delay of the pilot. The Biden administration was still settling in, they said, and needed time to review the project. Levey was indignant, convinced that these were not substantive concerns.

…In a testy phone call, the [US Federal Reserve’s] general counsel Mark Van Der Weide told Levey that the government was uncomfortable condoning any project until it had put a “comprehensive regulatory framework” for stablecoins in place, and he expressed nervousness about a coin with the potential to “massively scale” as Diem might.

According to Diem staffers, something seemed off about Van Der Weide’s delivery during the call. He was stiff, almost robotic. When they compared notes with colleagues at Silvergate, they found that a call they’d received from Van Der Weide had played out in a suspiciously similar way. They concluded that the official must have been reading from a script; both groups felt slighted. The Fed and the Treasury both declined to comment. “It was a last-minute rug-pulling exercise, the night before the proposed launch date,” says one person who was involved.

«

Fabulously ironic, given all that goes on with cryptocoins, that the rugpull should come from the government. Diem’s dead. (David Gerard has written a book – Libra Shrugged – about it all.)
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How the Finns deter Russian invasion • The Atlantic

Graeme Wood:

»

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a strategic failure because it assumed and required a quick and decisive victory, and at best it will get victory slow and Pyrrhic. But the Ukrainians have failed badly as well, by waiting too long to arm and train their citizens. If you want ordinary people to make your society occupation-proof, you have to teach them to kill well before they need to do so.

The strategist Edward N. Luttwak has proposed that countries aligned with NATO shift in this direction preemptively, as a matter of policy. Instead of buying heavy, technologically advanced equipment, Luttwak told me, they should adopt the Finnish model. In Finland, adolescent males report for a short and intense period of military training, followed by shorter refreshers for most of their adult life. The training is not, as in the Israeli model, a few years of dedicated service. Nor does it emphasize military discipline, such as keeping one’s bunk tidy and shoes polished, or the Prussian-style transformation of citizen-recruit into fighting machine. Instead, it prepares civilians to be ready to join their unit and harass and kill invaders. A country of Finland’s size can rapidly field nearly 1 million trained soldiers. “Ukraine could have done this,” Luttwak said, “and they should have.”

The Finno-Soviet Winter War of 1939 ended with Soviet withdrawal, and Luttwak said it should now be a deterrent model for other countries, including Poland and the Baltic nations. “Do not try to stop the invasion,” Luttwak said. “Wait for them to enter your country. Once the tank stops rolling forward, let the soldiers come out to cook or to pee, and then kill them.” Finland suffered during the invasion and conceded territory in the peace treaty that ended the war three months later. But the Soviets lost about seven times as many men, and when they withdrew, they knew that occupying Finland again would mean frostbite, fear, and the chance of getting shot dead in the snow with your pants down.

A Finnish defense official I spoke with stressed that the Finnish model incorporates a technologically advanced professional military and would not work without it. But a territorial-defence reserve can deter occupation in the first place—particularly if it has training and enjoys the logistical support of other countries.

«

Sounds like planning to run an insurgency; which is of course always going to favour the invaded over the invader. But it’s the model – prepare early – that really needs to be considered. Israel, Finland – which other countries have trained civilians? (The US definitely doesn’t count.)
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Inflation and supply chain snags are causing “shrinkflation” for food products • Quartz

Clarisa Diaz:

»

Shoppers tend to be price-sensitive but they may not notice subtle changes in packaging, or read the fine print on the size or weight of a product. The result is that consumers are less likely to notice getting less if the price is the same [aka “shrinkflation”].

“Downsizing comes in waves, and it tends to happen during times of increased inflation,” said Edgar Dworsky, a consumer rights lawyer that keeps track of downsized products on consumerworld.org. “Bottom lines are being pinched and there’s three basic options: raise the price directly, take a little bit out of the product, or reformulate the product with cheaper ingredients.”

…Frito-Lay confirmed Doritos shrunk their bags due to pandemic pressures. “Inflation is hitting everyone…we took just a little bit out of the bag so we can give you the same price and you can keep enjoying your chips,” said a representative. Representatives at Proctor & Gamble which makes Crest toothpaste, and at Mondelez—which makes Nabisco Wheat Thins, confirmed reductions in their products’ volumes but did not disclose the reasons why. While Crest 3D White does now sell a 5oz tube, its 4.1oz tube shrank to 3.8oz. Bounty, according to a representative at Proctor & Gamble, got better as it got smaller since the paper towels are more absorbent than they used to be.

Gatorade—the sports drink brand of PepsiCo—recently replaced its 32 oz size with a 28 oz bottle for the same price. That’s the equivalent of a 14% price increase.

“Basically we redesigned the bottle, it’s more aerodynamic and it’s easier to grab,” said a company representative. “The redesign generates a new cost and the bottles are a little bit more expensive…this is only a matter of design.”

«

More aerodynamic? Why exactly does a soft drink bottle need to be aerodynamic?
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Red letter day: how Russian chess defied Putin • TheArticle

British chess grandmaster Raymond Keene:

»

To my astonishment, not to mention extreme admiration, forty-four of Russia’s leading chess Grandmasters, including last year’s world title challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi and the top female player Alexandra Kosteniuk (pictured above), have written an open letter to President Putin denouncing his war against Ukraine. These bold paragons of the chess community are thereby risking not just their personal freedom, but their lives.

«

Sounds amazing, right? But I’m not sure about his interpretation. Here’s the text of the letter, in the translation he provides:

»

“We believe that chess, like sports in general, should bring people together. The most difficult and prestigious international tournaments were held in our country at the highest level even in the midst of a pandemic.

“Chess teaches responsibility for one’s actions; every step counts, and a mistake can lead to a fatal point of no return. And if this has always been about sports, now people’s lives, basic rights and freedoms, human dignity, the present and future of our countries are at stake.

“In these tragic days, we think of all the people who found themselves in the centre of this terrible conflict. We share the pain with our Ukrainian colleagues and call for peace.”

«

I don’t see any denunciation of the war there, to be honest. You could, if you made an effort, view it as support for Putin’s action. (The Ukrainians should have thought through what dallying with the West/democracy/Nato/electing a president who isn’t a glove puppet would cause, etc etc.) Though Keene does go on to suggest that chess allowed people in Soviet Russia the ability to think for themselves – at least on the chessboard. (His regular readers agree with him, judging by a polling system at the end of the article.)
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Russians liquidating crypto in the UAE to seek safe havens • Reuters via Financial Post

Yousef Saba, Lisa Barrington, Riham Alkousaa and Alexander Cornwell:

»

Crypto firms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are being deluged with requests to liquidate billions of dollars of virtual currency as Russians seek a safe haven for their fortunes, company executives and financial sources said.

Some clients are using cryptocurrency to invest in real estate in the UAE, while others want to use firms there to turn their virtual money into hard currency and stash it elsewhere, the sources said

One crypto firm has received lots of queries in the past ten days from Swiss brokers asking to liquidate billions of dollars of bitcoin because their clients are afraid Switzerland will freeze their assets, one executive said, adding that none of the requests had been for less than $2bn.

“We’ve had like five or six in the past two weeks. None of them have come off yet – they’ve sort of fallen over at the last minute, which is not rare – but we’ve never had this much interest,” the executive said, adding that his firm normally receives an inquiry for a large transaction once a month.

“We have one guy – I don’t know who he is, but he came through a broker – and they’re like, ‘we want to sell 125,000 bitcoin’. And I’m like, ‘what? That’s $6 billion guys’. And they’re like, ‘yeah, we’re going to send it to a company in Australia’,” the executive said.

Dubai, the Gulf’s financial and business center and a growing crypto hub, has long been a magnet for the world’s ultra-rich and the UAE’s refusal to take sides between Western allies and Moscow has signaled to Russians that their money is safe there.

«

Just to repeat that line: none of the requests had been for less than $2bn. Multiple requests to liquidate billions into actual usable currency. I’m doubtful that there’s anything like that sort of liquidity in the bitcoin system. Selling a few hundred bitcoin in one go can make the market slump. Selling thousands? Not sure it’ll happen.
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Vaccines and Omicron mean Covid now less deadly than flu in England • Financial Times

John Burn-Murdoch and Oliver Barnes:

»

A combination of high levels of immunity and the reduced severity of the Omicron variant has rendered Covid-19 less lethal than influenza for the vast majority of people in England, according to a Financial Times analysis of official data.

But the speed with which Omicron infects people still pushed the total number of deaths this winter whose underlying cause was a main respiratory disease to 9,641 since the first week of January, 50% higher than in a typical flu season despite lower levels of social mixing, the Office for National Statistics figures revealed.

The high degree of immune protection from vaccination and previous infection among England’s population formed the basis of the government’s decisions to end legally enforced self-isolation last month and scale back free testing from April 1 as part of its “living with Covid” plan.

However, experts said a recent increase in hospital admissions — possibly driven by decreased behavioural caution after the dropping of restrictions or protection from the booster waning for older age groups — highlighted the risk of the government’s strategy.

“Is Omicron the same as flu? No. But the vaccines have made the risks to the individual very similar,” said Dr Raghib Ali, senior clinical research associate in epidemiology at Cambridge university…

«

But you won’t read THAT in the mainstream.. oh hang on.
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What Google Search isn’t showing you • The New Yorker

Kyle Chayka:

»

[The Google search results page, with its] cluttered onslaught of homogenous e-commerce options is what recently prompted Dmitri Brereton, a 26-year-old engineer at a recruiting-software company in San Francisco, to publish a blog post titled “Google Search Is Dying”. When it comes to product reviews or recipes, Brereton argued, results from Google’s search engine “have gone to shit.”

Rather than settling for the default, those who want to know what a “genuine real-life human being” thinks of a certain product have learned work-arounds, such as adding “Reddit” to their searches to bring up relevant threads on that platform. On Reddit’s “Buy It for Life” forum, for instance, they’ll find users showing off a Soviet-era toaster, a restored vintage Sunbeam, and other toasters to “grow old with,” as one put it. Brereton’s post–which ended “Google is dead. Long live Google + ‘site:reddit.com’ ”—became the No. 10 most upvoted link ever on the tech-industry discussion board Hacker News. No. 11 is a complaint about Google’s search results looking too similar to its ads, while No. 12 is a link to an alternative, indie search engine. Clearly, others share Brereton’s sense of search-engine discontentment.

Brereton told me recently that his frustration began in late 2020. “I was browsing the Internet one day, and I began to feel like something was just off,” he said. “A lot of the content doesn’t feel authentic—it doesn’t feel real.” He sounded bemused by the runaway popularity of his post, which was part of a personal research project on how information is organized online. Better information could be found on social media, discussion boards, and small-scale personal blogs, but Google Search was deprioritizing those platforms in favor of corporate Web sites, which could afford the money and effort it takes to optimize for Google’s search algorithm. “The authentic Web” seemed hidden, Brereton said. “The algorithms tell us what to read.”

«

It’s a good article pulling together mentions of a number of other search engines (which have been mentioned here before). I linked to Brereton’s post (he was just “dkb”) when it came out, of course.
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Obituary: Mary Coombs, first woman commercial programmer, dies at 93 • The Register

Thomas Claburn:

»

In her oral history, Coombs described the planning process prior to writing code, which hasn’t changed all that much over time.

“Well, once you’ve got a specification in detail which has been agreed, you then have to draw flowcharts to show how this would be done on the computer, with boxes and arrows and… and every place where you need to make a decision,” she said. “…The flowcharts tended to get more complicated as time went on because the programs tended to become more complicated.”

In 1954, J. Lyons & Co. commercialized [the room-sized first commercial computer] LEO under the name Leo Computer Ltd in order to offer it for sale to other companies. In her oral history, she describes the challenge of debugging the room-sized LEO.

“I can remember one particularly long evening when it kept going wrong and we were there all evening, because you had to have a programmer involved in this, the engineers couldn’t do it on their own,” she recalled. “And we eventually discovered that the management lift which went up to the fifth floor where the boardroom etc, was, was interfering.

“But it took an awful long time to work this out, because somebody had to think of it as a possible explanation when all else had failed. Because obviously if the lift wasn’t working, it would have been an intermittent sort of fault. So it was quite, quite difficult.”

«

A bug as abstruse in its way as adjustable office chairs making displays flicker.
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Ukraine: Spam website set up to reach millions of Russians • BBC News

Joe Tidy:

»

A Norwegian computer expert has created a website enabling anyone to send an email about the war in Ukraine to up to 150 Russian email addresses at a time, so that Russian people have a chance to hear the truth their government is hiding.

All over Russia email inboxes are pinging.

Millions of messages are being received with the same intriguing subject: Ya vam ne vrag – I am not your enemy.

The message appears in Russian with an English translation and it begins: “Dear friend, I am writing to you to express my concern for the secure future of our children on this planet. Most of the world has condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The lengthy email goes on to implore Russian people to reject the war in Ukraine and seek the truth about the invasion from non-state news services.

In just a few days, more than 22 million of these emails landed in Russian inboxes, and they’re being sent by volunteers around the world, who are donating their time and email addresses to the cause.

«

Can’t help but feel that this will have as much effect as changing the background on your Twitter page to blue and yellow. As much as anything, it ignores that fact that many Russians want to believe that Putin is doing the right thing, and that the sanctions (if they notice them yet) are being imposed because the West is angry at being thwarted in its Evil Plans.

It has been compared to leaflets dropped from planes. At least you could start fires with those.
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Apple currently has no plans to release a larger-screen iMac • 9to5Mac

Filipe Espósito:

»

Sources told 9to5Mac that Apple currently has no plans to release a larger-screen iMac in the near future. The information comes from the same sources that revealed to us the plans for Mac Studio and Studio Display in advance.

As we previously reported, Apple has been working on the next wave of Macs with the new M2 chip, which includes a new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. However, when it comes to the iMac, the company currently has no plans to release new high-end versions of its all-in-one desktop for now.

This not only applies to a larger screen model, but also versions with Pro, Max, or Ultra chips. Based on information seen by 9to5Mac, Apple is working on a new 24in iMac expected to be introduced sometime in 2023, but similar to the MacBook Air and the 13in MacBook Pro, it is unlikely to feature Apple’s high-end processors.

Of course, keep in mind that Apple’s plans may change, and this doesn’t mean that the company hasn’t considered introducing different versions of the iMac before. But right now, our sources suggest that Apple is focused on promoting Mac Studio and the upcoming Apple Silicon Mac Pro to its professional users.

«

OK, so the update might get the M2 (assuming that’s what it’s called) but it won’t have a 27in screen. Let this be an end of it. The iMac Pro/27in iMac: they’re both dead, Jim. The iMac is a consumer product.
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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

Start Up No.1754: Ukraine’s tech sector under attack, war causes neon gas shortage, don’t frack – insulate, Twitter’s growth plans, and more


If you look at a Go board and think it looks a bit like a QR code, there’s a good reason why. CC-licensed photo by Chad Miller 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 11 links for you. Not encircled. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Ukraine’s thriving tech sector tries to hang on even as Russia’s attacks intensify • Rest of World

Masha Borak:

»

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Vik Bogdanov was a digital marketer, writing content in Kyiv for a robotics and custom software company and contributing to the open-source coding site Hacker Noon.

Now, he splits his time between his day job and trying to hack websites in Russia and Belarus, as part of the Ukrainian “IT Army,” a volunteer group of around 200,000 people engaged in a cyber conflict with Moscow. From his apartment in Kyiv, he told Rest of World that he knows many other IT workers who joined Ukrainian defense units or volunteered to help civilians hiding in bomb shelters. Others have become refugees, driving in long lines from the city as they flee bombs and shootings.

“I can’t carry arms, I can’t shoot, I can’t do anything, but I can use my skills on the information front,” Bogdanov said. 

…“If Ukraine becomes unavailable, there will be visible effects on the global IT industry,” said Roman Pavlyuk, vice president of digital strategy at Intellias, a software firm with 2,000 employees in Ukraine. Half of Intellias’ staff have had to leave their homes.

Pavlyuk was attending a client workshop during a business trip in the US when the war started and he first heard the news. “War is always a surprise,” he said. But, he added, Ukrainian companies have been living in a state of alert for almost eight years. In 2014, Russia forcibly annexed Crimea and began to sponsor a proxy war in breakaway provinces in the east of Ukraine, conflicts that continued to simmer until the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“Many [local] companies were born since the war was started eight years ago,” Olga Afanasyeva, head of the Kyiv office at software company ELEKS, told Rest of World.

«

The tech sector was booming. Until, obviously, two weeks ago.
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Giving peace a chance • Comment is Freed

Lawrence Freedman, with an excellent explainer about the possible options if Russia gets totally bogged down in Ukraine:

»

The important thing to keep in mind about Vladimir Putin is that he is a spy and not a soldier. He began his career in the Soviet era KGB and was head of its Russian successor, the FSB, before becoming Prime Minister and then President. He has an instinct for the covert, the fabricated and the dishonest, for gaining advantage through manipulating perceptions, leaving his opponents disoriented and motivating his supporters by warning of dark threats.

He has relied on this approach increasingly over the course of his presidency, constructing a worldview to justify policies that appear to be increasingly detached from reality. How much of this reflects his true convictions and how much he knows to be fake is hard to discern. His descriptions of Ukraine’s proper relationship with Russia and the character of its leaders may reflect his convictions however fantastical they may seem to outsiders; claims that the Ukrainians are blowing up their own residential buildings or are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons are wholly cynical. 

The best soldiers, by contrast, rely on honest appreciations of the situation in which they find themselves. At the start of wars they might be prey to their own delusions about their military position and overconfident about the victories to come, but there is still a harsh reality to war that cannot be gainsaid. If supplies are not getting through, units have been destroyed and key objectives have not been reached that is the situation to be addressed. Pretending otherwise can make defeat more likely and more painful when it comes. 

«

Importantly, he explains why Ukraine probably won’t want a ceasefire, because of “keep what you hold”, and what “negotiated peace” might mean. You’ll be better informed – if not any more optimistic.
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Assessing the impact of Russia’s assault • Canalys Research

Among multiple points about the tech impact of Russiaa’s invasion of Ukraine:

»

The world’s supply chain crisis will worsen: Just as hopes rise that global semiconductor shortages are starting to ease, the crisis in Ukraine threatens yet another set-back.

Ukraine is the world’s largest supplier of neon gas, key to semiconductor manufacture. That’s in addition to rising oil prices and the effect of sanctions arising directly from the crisis. This is likely to drive even higher levels of price inflation for technology products across the globe.

Disruption to vendor supply via Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway, which has become a cost-effective alternative to air freight from Asia, is already contributing to significant shipment delays for the European channel. Yet with many parts of the IT industry worldwide still struggling with product shortages, one potential immediate benefit of the effective shutdown of the Russian IT market – one of the world’s largest – could be the reallocation of IT products destined for Russia to other markets across EMEA, helping local channel partners to clear sales backlogs.

«

Did not know that point about neon. Semiconductors use 70% of world demand, and Ukraine supplies about 50% of that.
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Study: Insulation and heat pumps can deliver UK energy security more quickly than domestic gas fields • BusinessGreen News

Cecilia Keating:

»

A national heat pump and home insulation roll out would cut demand for Russian gas much more quickly than development of new gas fields in the North Sea, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has warned.

An analysis by the think tank notes concludes that the deployment of insulation and electric heat pumps in 6.5 million homes by 2027 could reduce UK gas demand by four%, which is roughly equivalent to UK imports of Russian gas.

By enabling citizens to use less gas to heat their homes, a policy focused on heat pumps and insulation could also curb energy bills and protect millions of households from volatile international gas prices, it said.

In contrast, an energy security strategy focused on approving new North Sea oil fields would not shield consumers from volatile international gas prices and would have little short-term impact on the provenance of UK’s gas supplies, given the projects in question would not come online until 2028 at the earliest, it said.

“The net zero path leads us to common sense home insulation and clean, renewable, homegrown energy that enables us to cut dependence on other countries like Russia for gas and oil,” said Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin, head of analysis at the ECIU. “It’s a permanent solution and the UK needs to embrace it with greater urgency if we want to be truly energy secure.” 

«

Anyone would think that Insulate Britain had it right all along.
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‘I’m pleased it is being used for people’s safety’: QR code inventor relishes its role in tackling Covid • The Guardian

Justin McCurry:

»

The eureka moment that helped Masahiro Hara perfect the Quick Response, or QR code, sprang from a lunchtime game of Go more than a quarter of a century ago.

He was playing the ancient game of strategy at work when the stones arranged on the board revealed the solution to a problem troubling the firm’s clients in Japan’s car industry – and which is now being repurposed as a weapon in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

As an employee of the automotive components firm Denso Wave, Hara had been fielding requests from factories to come up with a better way to manage their inventories of an ever-expanding range of parts.

Workers wanted a less labour-intensive way to store more information, including kana and kanji characters, but the barcodes then in use could hold only 20 or so alphanumeric characters of information each. In some cases, a single box of components carried as many as 10 barcodes that had to be read individually.

Having helped develop a barcode reader in the early 1980s, Hara knew the method had its limitations. “Having to read so many barcodes in a day was very inefficient, and workers were tired of scanning boxes multiple times,” Hara, now a chief engineer at the company, said in an online interview from its headquarters in Aichi prefecture, central Japan.

“We had been making barcode readers for 10 years so we had the knowhow. I was looking at the board and thought the way the stones were lined up along the grids … could be a good way of conveying lots of information at the same time.”

Masahiro Hara had his breakthrough idea while playing the Go board game. Photograph: Cheryl Hatch/AP
And so the theory behind the QR code was born. Twenty-six years later, the two-dimensional patterns of tiny black and white squares, which can handle 200 times more information than a standard barcode, have revolutionised the way we shop, travel and access websites.

«

The interview is from 2020, but I didn’t know that Go was the inspiration for the QR code. Very satisfying. (One comment I saw: “this means I’m going to have to treat every QR code as a life-and-death problem.” A Go in-joke.)
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How Twitter plans to add its next 100 million users • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

[New Twitter CEO, Parag] Agrawal’s influence is being felt in how products are developed, according to [Arnaud] Weber, Twitter’s new leader of consumer engineering. “We are becoming more and more data-driven,” he says. “I think Parag brings a cultural change where basically we are pragmatic. We look at metrics, we do experiments, we increase the size of the experiments, et cetera.”

According to [VP of consumer product, Jay] Sullivan, a top product priority under Agrawal is “making Twitter more relevant to each individual person.” Twitter has historically relied on users manually following accounts, but the company has recently been investing in machine learning to surface tweets it thinks users will want to see.

A tentpole feature of this approach is called Topics, which shows related tweets around themes like a sports game or TV show. “I think one key part of the problem is that we have this amazing content on Twitter, which is often real-time and often very engaging, and we need to find ways to show that content to these new users once we understand what they care about,” says Weber.

To address its engagement problem, the team has been testing a feature called Communities, which acts like a mix of Facebook Groups and Reddit for tweeting with others who share specific interests.

“One of the things I hear from people is, ‘Hey, I read a lot of stuff. I’m not necessarily comfortable tweeting or don’t know when or why I should tweet. I would feel better if I was tweeting to a smaller community of people,’” says Sullivan. “And so we need to make the product more participatory and approachable, both for individuals and further along the spectrum, for people who view themselves as true creators.”

The biggest Twitter product bet in recent memory is Spaces, its audio chat feature that was built in response to the rapid rise of Clubhouse during pandemic lockdowns. The company hasn’t shared general usage stats for Spaces yet, but Sullivan says that, in the last couple of weeks, there have been multiple Spaces about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with over 100,000 listeners.

«

Twitter aims to add these 100 million daily users (that’s about 50% growth) by the end of 2023. I hope it doesn’t make it, because Twitter would be an even worse hellhole with 50% more users.
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Updated Mac mini to have versions with M2 and M2 Pro chip • 9to5Mac

Filipe Espósito:

»

As rumours point to a new redesigned Mac mini coming soon, 9to5Mac has learned from sources that Apple is developing two new versions of it: one with M2 and one with the M2 Pro chip.

Codenamed J473, the new Mac mini will be powered by the M2 chip, which is Apple’s next-generation entry-level chip for Macs and iPads. M2 will represent the first major upgrade to Apple’s “M” family of chips since the introduction of the M1 in 2020.

Internally known as “Staten,” M2 is based on the current A15 chip, while M1 is based on the A14 Bionic. Just like M1, M2 will feature an eight-core CPU (four performance cores and four efficiency cores), but this time with a more powerful 10-core GPU. The new performance cores are codenamed “Avalanche,” and efficiency cores are known as “Blizzard.”

M2 Mac mini development is nearing completion, and its release date is expected to be announced sometime later this year.

According to 9to5Mac’s sources, Apple had plans to introduce high-end versions of the current Mac mini with the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, but they were probably scrapped to make way for the Mac Studio.

This time, Apple has also been working on another new Mac mini (codenamed J474) that features the M2 Pro chip – a variant with eight performance cores and four efficiency cores, totaling a 12-core CPU versus the 10-core CPU of the current M1 Pro.

«

So those will be priced below the Mac Studio (the Mac mini that fell off its diet) and fill the gap in desktops. Simple.
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New Yorkers with marijuana convictions will get first retail licenses • The New York Times

Jesse McKinley and Grace Ashford:

»

New York State will soon announce plans to usher in its first outlets for retail sales of marijuana by the end of the year, giving applicants access to stockpiles of the drug grown by local farmers and offering sweeteners like new storefronts leased by the state.

The only catch? To be one of the state’s first licensed retailers, you or a member of your family must have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense.

The policy, to be announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday, is part of a concerted push to assure that early business owners in the state’s projected billion-dollar marijuana industry will be members of communities that have been affected by the nation’s decades-long war on drugs.

In favouring those with marijuana convictions and prepping their businesses for turnkey sales, New York appears to be trying to avoid pitfalls encountered in some other states, which have seen designated “social equity” applicants and other mom-and-pop marijuana businesses struggle with issues like lack of capital or competition from deep-pocketed corporate operations.

Chris Alexander, the executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, said that by focusing early on “those who otherwise would have been left behind,” New York was in a “position to do something that has not been done before.”

«

What an excellent idea: the people who have been most disadvantaged by the outdated laws on marijuana get to be the ones who benefit first.
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Reach plc launches new minimum page view targets for reporters • HoldtheFrontPage

David Sharman:

»

Regional journalists will be expected to generate increases of up to 70% in online page views on their stories by the end of 2022 under new targets being set by their publisher.

Reach plc has announced the scheme, under which news reporters who have been with the company for more than six months will be set minimum benchmarks of between 80,000 and 850,000 page views per month, depending on which title they work for and what their role is.

Journalists who fall below half of their “benchmark” number will be expected to have increased their monthly page views by 40% come July this year, and by 70% at the end of 2022, according to documents seen by HTFP.

Those who record less than their benchmark number, but more than half of it, will be set a target of increasing monthly page views by 20% come July and 35% at the end of the year.

The documents state that the “consequences” for staff not hitting July and December’s goals would “depend on the individual circumstances.”

However, the publisher has sought to reassure its journalists that the scheme, entitled Accelerated Personal Development, is “not designed to be punitive”.

The targets, which were outlined to staff last week, have been drawn up after Reach analysed data over the course of September, October and November to create an average number of monthly page views per role across its regional titles.

</blockquote

This is totally mad. The journalists get “minimum benchmarks”, but what control do they have over how stories are presented? Essentially this is demanding virality that’s beyond their control. Not to mention that pageviews are a terrible metric: what you want is engaged readers who return, not one-hit wonders. Twenty years into web journalism, and they’ve landed on pageviews as the metric they want their staff to die on.
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Why America is the world’s first poor rich country • Eudaimonia and Co

umair haque in 2018, with what is essentially a pre-followup to the CNBC piece from yesterday about two-thirds of Americans living from paycheck to paycheck:

»

America, it seems, is becoming something like the world’s first poor rich country. And that is the elephant in the room we aren’t quite grasping. After all, authoritarianism and extremism don’t arise in prosperous societies — but in troubled ones, which are growing impoverished, like America is today. What do I mean by all that?

Let’s begin with what I don’t mean. I don’t mean absolute poverty. Americans are not living on a few dollars a day, by and large, like people in, for example, Somalia or Bangladesh. America’s median income is still that of a rich country, around $50k, depending on how it’s counted. Nor do I really mean relative poverty — people living below median income. While that’s a growing problem in America, because the middle class is imploding, that is not really the true problem these numbers hint at, either.

America appears to be pioneering a new kind of poverty altogether. One for which we do not yet have a name. It is something like living at the knife’s edge, constantly being on the brink of ruin, one small step away from catastrophe and disaster, ever at the risk of falling through the cracks. It has two components — massive inflation for the basics of life, coupled with crushing, asymmetrical risk. I’ll come to what those mean shortly.
The average American has a relatively high income, that of a person in a nominally rich country. Only his income does not go very far. Most of it is eaten up by attempting to afford the basics of life. We’ve already seen how steep healthcare costs are. But then there is education. There is transport. There is interest and rent. There is media and communications. There is childcare and elderly care. All these things reduce the average American to constantly living right at the edge of ruin — one paycheck away from penury, one emergency away from losing it all.

But this isn’t true for America’s peers. In Europe, Canada, and even Australia, society invests in all these things — and the costs of basic necessities societies don’t provide are regulated. For example, I pay $50 dollars for broadband and TV in London — but $200 for the same thing in New York — yet in London, I get vastly more and better media for my money (even including, yes, American junk like Ancient Aliens). That’s regulation at work.

«

The cost of basic utilities in the US belies any suggestion that regulation, or lack of public ownership, is a bad thing. (Thanks Martin for the link.)
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Apple ditches the 27-inch iMac (for now) • Cult of Mac

Killian Bell:

»

After gracing us with its jaw-dropping Mac Studio and 27in Studio Display on Tuesday, Apple finally discontinued the aging 27in iMac. The machine is no longer available to purchase through official Apple retail channels.

It’s probably not gone for good, however. Cupertino is rumoured to be working on a larger iMac model that could appear alongside other new Mac models — including a new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro — later this year.

You’d have to be pretty crazy to buy a Mac with an Intel chip at this point. Apple silicon has gotten so good that it now outperforms even the fastest Mac Pro configuration in both processing and graphics — and by quite a long shot.

It seems Cupertino chiefs were starting to feel a little guilty about charging customers for a 27in iMac that’s falling way behind the pack. So, for the time being, at least, it is no longer a part of Apple’s lineup.

The company today removed the 27in iMac from the Apple Store. You’ll still be able to buy one from third-party retailers while stocks last, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Mac Studio is around the same price — and a lot better.

The larger iMac probably isn’t gone for good. Apple is rumoured to be working on a new model with a revamped design that will be powered by its latest and most powerful M1 chipsets, likely including the incredibly new M1 Ultra.

«

I agree with Neil Cybart, who says that the 27in iMac (the “iMac Pro”) is gone – because the reason for needing a “pro” version is gone. As he says: the iMac now is a consumer desktop, as it was at its inception. The 27in Pro was a stopgap until Apple had a powerful enough desktop and standalone screen. Expect the Mac Pro. And that’s it.

There is however still one good reason to buy a Mac with an Intel chip: if you need to run Windows natively.
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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

Start Up No.1753: Sandberg claims women don’t do war, perfect multiplication, how best to use Twitter, personalised TV?, and more


The use of lead in petrol to stop knocking depressed Americans’ IQ by about 5 points each up to 1996, research says. CC-licensed photo by frankieleonfrankieleon 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. Still going. 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.


Sheryl Sandberg on Russia-Ukraine: women-led countries wouldn’t go to war • CNBC

Ryan Browne:

»

“No two countries run by women would ever go to war,” Sandberg told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Dubai on Tuesday during a fireside at a Cartier event marking International Women’s Day.

…Sandberg said that, if half the world were run by women, she believes the world would be “safer” and “much more prosperous.”

…Last week, Russian media censor Roskomnadzor said it would block access to Meta’s Facebook, claiming the social platform unfairly restricted access to several state-affiliated media outlets.

Russian authorities at first had ordered the platform to stop fact-checking and labeling content posted on Facebook by state-owned outlets like RT and Sputnik, Meta’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg said. Meta refused that request. Russia has since strengthened its crackdown on social media companies, with Facebook blocked and Twitter harder to use.

Sandberg summed up Russia’s decision to block Facebook from the country in six simple words.

“Social media is bad for dictators,” Sandberg said. “That’s why Putin took us down.” The move will only worsen the internet freedoms of citizens in Russia, she added. “The scariest part of all of this is the lack of access,” she said. “When we go down in Russia, people are losing their ability to actually understand what’s happening.”

“We need to fight for access [and] make sure that social media exists so that people do get information from from all over the world, and that that information is valid and real.”

«

There was a longstanding theory that two countries with a McDonald’s wouldn’t go to war; Russia-Ukraine blew that one up. Sandberg really does talk some nonsense. Social media might be bad for dictators, but it’s also bad for democracies, at least as provided by the company she works for.

Yael Eisenstat, who worked there but quit in disgust, commented:

»

“Is she that out of touch? What I don’t understand is: does Sandberg really believe what she says? Or is the world finally seeing the real her? Sidenote: When I was at Facebook, an employee asked her what her north star was. A number of us were surprised that she had no answer.”

«

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In the Ukraine conflict, fake fact-checks are being used to spread disinformation • ProPublica

Craig Silverman and Jeff Kao:

»

Researchers at Clemson University’s Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica identified more than a dozen videos that purport to debunk apparently nonexistent Ukrainian fakes. The videos have racked up more than 1 million views across pro-Russian channels on the messaging app Telegram, and have garnered thousands of likes and retweets on Twitter. A screenshot from one of the fake debunking videos was broadcast on Russian state TV, while another was spread by an official Russian government Twitter account.

The goal of the videos is to inject a sense of doubt among Russian-language audiences as they encounter real images of wrecked Russian military vehicles and the destruction caused by missile and artillery strikes in Ukraine, according to Patrick Warren, an associate professor at Clemson who co-leads the Media Forensics Hub.

“The reason that it’s so effective is because you don’t actually have to convince someone that it’s true. It’s sufficient to make people uncertain as to what they should trust,” said Warren, who has conducted extensive research into Russian internet trolling and disinformation campaigns. “In a sense they are convincing the viewer that it would be possible for a Ukrainian propaganda bureau to do this sort of thing.”

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine unleashed a torrent of false and misleading information from both sides of the conflict. Viral social media posts claiming to show video of a Ukrainian fighter pilot who shot down six Russian planes — the so-called “Ghost of Kyiv” — were actually drawn from a video game. Ukrainian government officials said 13 border patrol officers guarding an island in the Black Sea were killed by Russian forces after unleashing a defiant obscenity, only to acknowledge a few days later that the soldiers were alive and had been captured by Russian forces.

For its part, the Russian government is loath to admit such mistakes, and it launched a propaganda campaign before the conflict even began. It refuses to use the word “invasion” to describe its use of more than 100,000 troops to enter and occupy territory in a neighboring country, and it is helping spread a baseless conspiracy theory about bioweapons in Ukraine.

«

BBC radio interviewers tried haplessly to get Russian interviewees to engage with a few facts; this shows why there’s a problem. In passing, I think “conflict” is the wrong word for the headline. Crimea was a conflict. This is a war – Russia wants all of Ukraine, just as Hitler wanted all of, well, everything. “Civil war” is a struggle for the whole country. Conflict is limited, war is not.
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How to best use Twitter • Don’t Worry About the Vase

Zvi Mowshowitz:

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It is high time for me to talk about the only practical way I know about to follow developments in the world in real time, whether they be a war, a pandemic or something else entirely, which is Twitter and in particular Twitter Lists.

I do not know of any practical alternative. One can of course watch or read the usual news reports, which are mostly effectively State Media of various quality, for various different States. When you’re reading about an actual war, the State part of State Media becomes more prominent and harder to miss.

The best TV sources for international events like the war that I have are Bloomberg (as far as I can tell, the closest thing to non-state media) for the economic side of things and the BBC World News for the more general side. Occasionally I’ll take a glance at CNN or Fox News or various other networks to get a sense of what they are focusing on. I have not attempted to directly watch any Russian broadcasts but am curious what is the best option for that.

For domestic American events, there are no non-obvious TV sources I have found, and TV is essentially useless other than to know what the Narratives are saying or to cover discrete events like debates, elections or the State of the Union. Any kind of #Analysis is strictly fuhgeddaboudit.

For written media, the usual suspects are what they are so choose your favorites. None of them seem able to keep up with the pace of play other than Bloomberg offering insight into markets, so they are mostly again useful for ‘how are things being presented and sold’ than insight into actual events.

For what is happening, Twitter is where it is at.

To use Twitter properly, there are four vital pieces of technology.

• Tweetdeck or another similar alternative application
• Knowing who to follow and read
• Lists
• Unfollows, filters, mutes and blocks.

«

Notably, Dominic Cummings gave much the same advice the other day: use Lists (self-curated groups of experts around a topic). Twitter’s timeline as normally configured is a jumble of the relevant and irrelevant, and using its algorithmic feed is a recipe for staying badly informed. Personally I use Tweetbot, and lots of lists. (Via John Naughton)
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Ukraine warns of radiation leak risk after power cut at occupied Chernobyl plant • Reuters

Natalia Zinets and Alessandra Prentice:

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Radioactive substances could be released from Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant because it cannot cool spent nuclear fuel after its power connection was severed, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said on Wednesday.

It said fighting made it impossible to immediately repair the high-voltage power line to the plant, which was captured by Russian forces after the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. read more

Energoatom said there were about 20,000 spent fuel assemblies at Chernobyl that could not be kept cool amid a power outage.

Their warming could lead to “the release of radioactive substances into the environment. The radioactive cloud could be carried by wind to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Europe,” it said in a statement.

Without power, ventilation systems at the plant would also not be working, exposing staff to dangerous doses of radiation, it added.

On Tuesday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog warned that the systems monitoring nuclear material at the radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl had stopped transmitting data.

«

Considered dispassionately: possibility 1: Russia had no idea that keeping Chernobyl connected matters, and its forces in the field are just cutting power because that’s strategy. In which case the question becomes whether commanders will consider this a risk they should not take, and try to restore power (which also depends on how well they can communicate in the field). Or possibility 2: they knew this and did it on purpose. Seems like two of the three branches of possibility aren’t good.

However: there are backup generators, and the spent rods in question are more than 20 years old, and so don’t need much cooling – storage cooled by air will do it. Though the air probably needs filtration.
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Apple’s new 27-inch 5K Studio Display supports Center Stage • Pocket Lint

Maggie Tilman:

»

One of the more interesting things about the Apple Studio Display is that it features an A13 Bionic chip inside to power the impressive camera and audio system, regardless of whether you have an M1 powered Mac connected to the display. 

There’s a 12-megapixel ultra-wide “Center Stage” ready camera – the same that’s been on the iPad. It supports the Center Stage feature, so video calls and conferences can be more engaging. It also includes an array of “studio-quality mics”, Apple said, in addition to a high fidelity six-speaker sound system consisting of four noise-canceling woofers and two high-performance tweeters.

And, thanks to Apple Silicon, it can process multi-channel surround sound. The speakers even support for Spatial audio for music and video with Dolby Atmos.

As for how the Studio Display connects with your other devices, it has three USB-C ports that deliver speeds up to 10 gigabits per second. There’s a Thunderbolt port, which allows you to connect Studio Display and any plugged-in peripherals to your Mac with a single cable. That same cable delivers 96 watts of power, so it can charge any Mac notebook and it can even fast charge a 14-inch MacBook Pro.

«

I had wondered if the A13 chip was just to drive the pixels, but it’s for all the extra stuff too – the camera focus follow (what Center Stage does) – that the Intel-based Macs can’t handle.

And, as webcams should be, it’s on the LONG side of the device. Ahem, iPad designers. (Thanks Stuart for the link.)
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Future of TV: we’re putting new personalised features into shows using an ethical version of AI • The Conversation

Philip Jackson is a reader in machine audition at the University of Surrey:

»

“Look away now if you don’t want to know the score”, they say on the news before reporting the football results. But imagine if your television knew which teams you follow, which results to hold back – or knew to bypass football altogether and tell you about something else. With media personalisation, which we’re working on with the BBC, that sort of thing is becoming possible.

Significant challenges remain for adapting live production, but there are other aspects to media personalisation which are closer. Indeed, media personalisation already exists to an extent. It’s like your BBC iPlayer or Netflix suggesting content to you based on what you’ve watched previously, or your Spotify curating playlists you might like.

But what we’re talking about is personalisation within the programme. This could include adjusting the programme duration (you might be offered an abridged or extended version), adding subtitles or graphics, or enhancing the dialogue (to make it more intelligible if, say, you’re in a noisy place or your hearing is starting to go). Or it might include providing extra information related to the programme (a bit like you can access now with BBC’s red button).

The big difference is that these features wouldn’t be generic. They would see shows re-packaged according to your own tastes, and tailored to your needs, depending on where you are, what devices you have connected and what you’re doing.

«

But what happens if, as the photo shows, you’re watching it as a family? This is like when you order presents for your kids on Amazon, which messes up its algorithm forever. Though judging by the article they seem more worried about your TV becoming omnipotent.
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Ukraine says it hit Russian vehicles in Kyiv thanks to a Telegram tip • Business Insider

Natalie Musumeci and Oleksandr Vynogradov:

»

Ukrainian forces successfully attacked Russian vehicles in the capital city of Kyiv thanks to a public tip made through the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Ukraine’s top law-enforcement agency said on Tuesday.

The Security Service of Ukraine said in a tweet that it was able to effectively target Russian convoys near Kyiv because of messages sent to an official Telegram bot account called “STOP Russian War.”

“Your messages about the movement of the enemy through the official chatbot … bring new trophies every day,” the government agency tweeted.

“This time we received the coordinates of enemy vehicles marked ‘V’ in Kyiv region,” it added.

“The result is on this photo: fiery ‘greetings’ to the invaders,” the Security Service of Ukraine wrote alongside a photo showing several military vehicles among plumes of black smoke.

«

Quite a dramatic method of crowdsourcing. War is changing as we watch.
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Lead exposure in last century shrank IQ scores of half of Americans • Duke Today

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In 1923, lead was first added to gasoline to help keep car engines healthy. However, automotive health came at the great expense of our own well-being.

A new study calculates that exposure to car exhaust from leaded gas during childhood stole a collective 824 million IQ points from more than 170 million Americans alive today, about half the population of the United States.

The findings, from Aaron Reuben, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Duke University, and colleagues at Florida State University, suggest that Americans born before 1996 may now be at greater risk for lead-related health problems, such as faster aging of the brain. Leaded gas for cars was banned in the US in 1996, but the researchers say that anyone born before the end of that era, and especially those at the peak of its use in the 1960s and 1970s, had concerningly high lead exposures as children.

The team’s paper appeared the week of March 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead is neurotoxic and can erode brain cells after it enters the body. As such, there is no safe level of exposure at any point in life, health experts say. Young children are especially vulnerable to lead’s ability to impair brain development and lower cognitive ability. Unfortunately, no matter what age, our brains are ill-equipped for keeping it at bay.

“Lead is able to reach the bloodstream once it’s inhaled as dust, or ingested, or consumed in water,” Reuben said. “In the bloodstream, it’s able to pass into the brain through the blood-brain barrier, which is quite good at keeping a lot of toxicants and pathogens out of the brain, but not all of them.”

One major way lead used to invade bloodstreams was through automotive exhaust.

«

I’m just going to observe that a recent American president was born in 1946 and lived in Manhattan, New York, which has a lot of vehicles in a crowded city.
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Mathematicians discover the perfect way to multiply • Quanta Magazine

Kevin Hartnett:

»

Four thousand years ago, the Babylonians invented multiplication. Last month, mathematicians perfected it.

On March 18, two researchers described the fastest method ever discovered for multiplying two very large numbers. The paper marks the culmination of a long-running search to find the most efficient procedure for performing one of the most basic operations in math.

“Everybody thinks basically that the method you learn in school is the best one, but in fact it’s an active area of research,” said Joris van der Hoeven, a mathematician at the French National Center for Scientific Research and one of the co-authors.

The complexity of many computational problems, from calculating new digits of pi to finding large prime numbers, boils down to the speed of multiplication. Van der Hoeven describes their result as setting a kind of mathematical speed limit for how fast many other kinds of problems can be solved.

“In physics you have important constants like the speed of light which allow you to describe all kinds of phenomena,” van der Hoeven said. “If you want to know how fast computers can solve certain mathematical problems, then integer multiplication pops up as some kind of basic building brick with respect to which you can express those kinds of speeds.”

«

Which matters, of course, because computers have to do lots of multiplication of large numbers for cryptography and so on.

Meanwhile, the slowest method of multiplication can be witnessed when a new Secretary of State for Education does their first radio interview, and is asked what 8 x 7 is. (It is surely the hardest single-digit multiplicand.)
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As inflation heats up, 64% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck • CNBC

Jessica Dickler:

»

At the start of 2022, 64% of the U.S. population was living paycheck to paycheck, up from 61% in December and just shy of the high of 65% in 2020, according to a LendingClub report.

“We are all seeing the cost of everything shooting up,” said Anuj Nayar, LendingClub’s financial health officer. However, paying more for gas and groceries is hitting households particularly hard, he said.

“You’ve got to eat, you’ve got to commute; these are not discretionary expenses.”

Even among those earning six figures, 48% said they are now living paycheck to paycheck, up from 42% in December, the survey of more than 2,600 adults found.

“Depending on here you live, $100,000 may not get you that far,” Nayar said.

In San Francisco, for example, a family of four with a household of under $120,000 is considered low income.

«

Really scary. According to the US Census, median income there was $67,521 in 2020, slightly down from the 2019 figure. Can’t imagine things have improved since then.

In the UK, the median income was £29,900. A lot lower in apparent value (£1 = $1.36; £29,900 = $40,664) but having health included in taxes makes a big difference.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: thanks to all the people who pointed out that energy storage such as batteries can be counted as “generation” given that it stops surplus generated energy (from solar, say) from being wasted, so it can be fed back into the grid at times of need. (Hydro serves the same function, after all: it’s just a giant gravity-driven battery containing water.)

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.

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 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 • GamesIndustry.biz

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

“Ariel”:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

Start Up No.1751: life under surveillance, Coinbase blocks 25,000 Russian addresses, Tesla FSD doesn’t, YouTube Kids’ flaws, and more


As sanctions have begun to bite, it might be a while before you see planes from Russian airline Aeroflot in European or British airports. CC-licensed photo by Rich Bowen 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. In a convoy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


My wife tracked me, for journalism • The New York Times

Trevor Timm is the husband of Kashmir Hill, who tracked him (with his consent) using AirTags, Tiles and other stuff:

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Despite what some readers said in the comments section of the article and on social media, I have a trusting wife, and I was happy to play a small role in highlighting the privacy implications of emerging technology. But when I heard and saw all of these misinterpretations about my day, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who might be surveilled without their consent, whether it’s by a spouse, an employer or law enforcement.

My mind kept wandering back to a Times investigation about a deadly incident in Kabul. In August, the Pentagon announced a drone attack against a driver who was suspected of having a bomb in his car, posing a threat to troops at the airport in Kabul. At the time, the defense officials called it a “righteous strike.” Journalists on the ground would later conclusively show the victim was not a terrorist; he was an aid worker.

The reporting showed that, while watching drone footage, military personnel misinterpreted almost every movement the man made during the day. What military officials said was a possible visit to an ISIS safe house was, the reporting showed, a day spent driving colleagues at an aid organization to work. Based on misinterpreted data, he and his family, including several children, were killed by a U.S. drone.

My experience, of course, was as different from his as possible. I was never in the slightest danger. Looking at the maps afterward, though, it was unnerving to realise that the devices knew where I was, but that they had no idea what I was doing.

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Coinbase touts blacklist of 25k Russia-linked addresses allegedly tied to illicit activity • Coindesk

Danny Nelson:

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Coinbase is blocking 25,000 Russian-linked crypto addresses it believes are tied to illicit activity, Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal said in a late Sunday blogpost.

That figure accounts for years of sanctions and compliance efforts against Russian bad actors. In other words, it is not specific to the war in Ukraine. Coinbase said it has not seen a surge in illicit activity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Grewal said.

Exchanges have been under pressure to closely monitor Russian-linked crypto activity in the days following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Much of that is due to crypto’s purported risk as a tool for sanctions evasion. Coinbase and other industry participants say those fears are overblown.

“Digital assets have properties that naturally deter common approaches to sanctions evasion,” Grewal wrote in the blog post. He later claimed those properties “can actually enhance our ability to detect and deter evasion compared to the traditional financial system.”

Coinbase cast the 25,000 blocks as evidence of its “proactive” work in rooting out bad actors. It said it can anticipate threats, block sanctioned individuals from engaging with the company and detect attempts at evasion.

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It was a week ago that Coinbase was refusing to ban all Russian accounts because it would punish ordinary citizens and that its mission is to “increase economic freedom in the world”. But now we discover there are accounts it will act against. And it knows they’re Russian. So what has it known, and for how long?
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How Russia’s airline industry was pushed to the brink in a week • Financial Times

Philip Georgiadis, Sylvia Pfeifer, Ian Smith and Steff Chávez:

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Flag carrier Aeroflot, which took delivery of its first western aircraft from Airbus when Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin, on Saturday announced it would stop all international flights other than to Belarus. S7, Russia’s second-largest airline, has also scrapped flights outside domestic airspace.

The industry’s mushrooming crisis is “unprecedented, unpredictable and unforecastable,” said Max Kingsley-Jones of Ascend by Cirium, the aviation consultancy.

With no clarity on how long the sanctions from US and EU authorities will remain in place, experts warned that in a worst-case scenario Russian domestic carriers’ schedules would shrink to levels not seen in three decades.

The EU’s sanctions prohibit the sale, transfer, supply or export of aircraft or any components, while the US has introduced export restrictions including on Russia’s aerospace sector.

“The Russian aviation sector is now on a footing that is similar to North Korea and Iran — and similar to where it was under Soviet rule,” noted Rob Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners.

Russia’s carriers have been hit just as they were drawing a line under the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Expectations of a steady and sustained rebound in domestic demand has been replaced, at least for now, by extreme volatility.

In a sign of the concern, the US, French and UK governments this week advised their citizens to leave the country while commercial flights were still available.

Yet with economists predicting that the Russian economy will soon be driven into a deep recession, local aviation executives are braced for a sharp decline in domestic demand.

“There will naturally be a serious correction in demand,” said one executive. “There are a lot of reasons, including stress for the economy.”

Late on Friday, rating agency Fitch cut Aeroflot’s credit rating from BB to B-, predicting the sanctions would “severely disrupt its business”. Aeroflot declined to comment.

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Tesla Full Self Driving (FSD): what is it not so good doing? • CleanTechnica

Arthur Hasler has been using the Tesla FSD beta for the past six weeks, and covered about 2,000 miles:

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Where Does FSD (Beta) Fail Completely?

Note: These failures are consistent, so I know when to disable the software and drive manually. Some may be caused by errors in the database. However, in item #1, it can see the stop signs — which I know, because they are visualized for me — but it apparently doesn’t use the visual distance information to calculate position accurately.

At some stop signs, it will stop 10 or 15 feet too early. (This may have improved slightly since V10.5.)
• There is one stop sign turning from 1650 W onto Snow Canyon Parkway in Saint George, Utah, where FSD (Beta) will always run the stop sign. Oh my! Note: this is the only stop sign where I have seen this behavior.
Right Lane Bias: Exiting from I-15 at 1600 N in Orem, Utah, 1600 N street narrows from two lanes to one lane at a stoplight. FSD (Beta) will consistently not just fail to make the merge but will actively put the car in wrong (righthand) lane. Recently, I saw the same behaviour in another location.
Right Lane Bias: When making a turn or going across an intersection, your car will sometimes turn into a bike lane or other wide lane on the right. It will find the correct land after ~50 ft.
Right Side Bias: Particularly on a freeway merge when the lane is still double width, your car will cling to the white line on the right. This is unnerving because a normal driver will tend toward the left hand dotted white line where you need to be when the merge is complete. Note: This also occurs with regular Tesla Autosteer.
Parking Lot Behaviour: You can engage FSD (Beta) in the Walmart or UPS parking lot, but good luck having it actually find its way out. In tight quarters, the steering wheel will jiggle and jerk like a Nervous Nellie and it’s as likely to find its way into a blind corner as it is find its way out. [Editor’s note: I have never played with FSD in such circumstances, so this is especially interesting to read.]

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It all makes it sound like something to keep avoiding. FSD always seems like one of those problems where the edge cases are, paradoxically, the ones that come up surprisingly often; that more driving is edge-case handling than we realise. And let’s all wonder how it would cope with roundabouts (Hasler says that it tends to creep forward too slowly when approaching intersections, which would be a problem on a roundabout).
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How YouTube Kids cleaned up its act • WSJ

Yoree Koh:

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YouTube Kids was introduced in 2015. Former employees say it was an effort to show parents and regulators that the company took children’s safety seriously while grabbing its next generation of users.

Employees at YouTube Kids were divided on the best way to build a product specifically for children, the former employees said. Employees debated how big a role, if any, humans should play in picking what videos are allowed in the children’s version, they said. The founding engineers backed an open platform and were against employees selecting content, these people said, while others argued that a product made for children couldn’t be left solely to an algorithm.

The feeling among many product managers and engineers was that if a platform was 99% safe, that was enough, according to one former executive. The point was to find a way to avoid human curation, the person said.

The employees pushing for little editorial interference won out.

Within months, users were spending an average of 90 minutes a day watching videos, smashing internal goals, according to two former executives. Like its parent site, YouTube Kids was self-governed: It relied on users to flag inappropriate or troubling content and was subject to minimal review by human moderators.

Controversy and negative publicity followed. Watchdog groups and parents identified disturbing videos in which popular cartoon characters from Mickey Mouse and Paw Patrol to Peppa Pig were put in obscene or violent situations. Researchers chronicled the prevalence of videos they deemed to have little educational merit, such as “unboxing” videos that showed children and adults opening new toys.

“I would’ve flunked it when it launched,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a group that advocates reducing companies’ interactions with children.

By late 2018, YouTube executives acceded to more editorial intervention and began to pour more resources into YouTube Kids.

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Amazing that anyone seriously thought they could create a childrens’ channel solely run by algorithm. The level of solipsistic belief in their ability is hard to credit.
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Fraud is flourishing on Zelle. The banks say it’s not their problem • The New York Times

Stacy Cowley and Lananh Nguyen:

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Consumers love payment apps like Zelle because they’re free, fast and convenient. Created in 2017 by America’s largest banks to enable instant digital money transfers, Zelle comes embedded in banking apps and is now by far the country’s most widely used money transfer service. Last year, people sent $490bn through Zelle, compared with $230bn through Venmo, its closest rival.

Zelle’s immediacy has also made it a favorite of fraudsters. Other types of bank transfers or transactions involving payment cards typically take at least a day to clear. But once crooks scare or trick victims into handing over money via Zelle, they can siphon away thousands of dollars in seconds. There’s no way for customers — and in many cases, the banks themselves — to retrieve the money.

Nearly 18 million Americans were defrauded through scams involving digital wallets and person-to-person payment apps in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, an industry consultant.

“Organized crime is rampant,” said John Buzzard, Javelin’s lead fraud analyst. “A couple years ago, we were just starting to talk about it” on apps like Zelle and Venmo, Mr. Buzzard said. “Now, it’s common and everywhere.”

The banks are aware of the widespread fraud on Zelle. When Mr. Faunce called Wells Fargo to report the crime, the customer service representative told him, “A lot of people are getting scammed on Zelle this way.” Getting ripped off for $500 was “actually really good,” Mr. Faunce said the rep told him, because “many people were getting hit for thousands of dollars.”

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But here’s the twist: Zelle is owned and operated by the banks which wash their hands of the fraud. At least in the UK the financial regulator is tough on the banks, and often rules against them. Even so, fraud is widespread.
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Librarian’s lament: digital books are not fireproof • ZDNet

Chris Freeland is a librarian, and director of the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program:

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The disturbing trend of school boards and lawmakers banning books from libraries and public schools is accelerating across the country. In response, Jason Perlow made a strong case last week for what he calls a “Freedom Archive,” a digital repository of banned books. Such an archive is the right antidote to book banning because, he contended, “You can’t burn a digital book.” The trouble is, you can.

A few days ago, Penguin Random House, the publisher of Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, demanded that the Internet Archive remove the book from our lending library. Why? Because, in their words, “consumer interest in ‘Maus’ has soared” as the result of a Tennessee school board’s decision to ban teaching the book. By its own admission, to maximize profits, a Goliath of the publishing industry is forbidding our non-profit library from lending a banned book to our patrons: a real live digital book-burning.

We are the library of last resort, where anyone can get access to books that may be controversial wherever they happen to live – an existing version of Perlow’s proposed “Freedom Archive.” Today, the Internet Archive lends a large selection of other banned books, including Animal Farm, Winnie the Pooh, The Call of the Wild, and the Junie B. Jones and Goosebumps children’s book series. But all of these books are also in danger of being destroyed.

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This isn’t really a digital book-burning though, if the book is widely available in exactly the same way (electronically) but just through a different outlet, and paid (as it’s still in copyright, the author/publisher gets to decide about lending methods). It’s not “censorship” to ask to be paid for your work, and the lazy conflation of what governments do with what creators do, by people who get paid by other means, helps nobody.
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Six key lifestyle changes can help avert the climate crisis, study finds • The Guardian

Matthew Taylor:

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[“The Jump” campaign co-founder Tom] Bailey said as the world reaches the edge of ecological collapse, it needed a workable alternative to this ‘universal consumer society’ in the next decade.

“The research is clear that governments and the private sector have the largest role to play but it is also equally clear from our analysis that individuals and communities can make a huge difference.”

The Jump campaign asks people to sign up to take the following six “shifts” for one, three or six months:

• Eat a largely plant-based diet, with healthy portions and no waste

• Buy no more than three new items of clothing per year

• Keep electrical products for at least seven years

• Take no more than one short haul flight every three years and one long haul flight every eight years

• Get rid of personal motor vehicles if you can – and if not keep hold of your existing vehicle for longer

Make at least one life shift to nudge the system, like moving to a green energy, insulating your home or changing pension supplier

The campaign was officially kicked off on Saturday and Bailey said there was already a growing movement emerging in response to the evidence with Jump groups up and running around the country.

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No more than three items of clothing per year? Long haul and short haul flights essentially never? There’s no way that people are going to make these sacrifices unless the items are put beyond reach by price. And if that’s the case, we’re all in big trouble for some other reason.
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Amazon opens a Whole Foods with the next step in automation • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

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“Would you like to sign in with your palm?”

That was the question a cheerful Amazon employee posed when greeting me last week at the opening of a Whole Foods Market in Washington’s Glover Park neighborhood. She blithely added, “You can also begin shopping by scanning the QR code in your Amazon app.”

“Let’s go for the palm,” I said.

In less than a minute, I scanned both hands on a kiosk and linked them to my Amazon account. Then I hovered my right palm over the turnstile reader to enter the nation’s most technologically sophisticated grocery store.

For the next 30 minutes, I shopped. I picked up a bag of cauliflower florets, grapefruit sparkling water, a carton of strawberries and a package of organic chicken sausages. Cameras and sensors recorded each of my moves, creating a virtual shopping cart for me in real time. Then I simply walked out, no cashier necessary. Whole Foods — or rather Amazon — would bill my account later.

More than four years ago, Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13 billion. Now the Amazon-ification of the grocery chain is physically complete, as showcased by the revamped Whole Foods store in Glover Park.

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The picture it shows, with cameras dangling from the roof, seems to me to shift the vibe from reassuring untroubled shop to spookily monitored surveillance trap.
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Everything we expect to see from tomorrow’s Apple event • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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Apple is set to hold its first event of 2022 on Tuesday, March 8 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time (1800GMT). Apple’s spring events often aren’t as exciting as the September and October events, but it’s nice to have new devices on the horizon in the new year.

For the 2022 spring event, we’re expecting a refreshed version of the iPhone SE, a new iPad Air, and at least one new Apple silicon Mac. We’ve rounded up everything that we might see at the March 8 event below, including last minute rumors.

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iPhone SE 5G, a new iPad Air, an updated ARM-based Mac mini (with M1 Max/Pro chips?), perhaps an updated ARM-based 13in MacBook Pro (sans TouchBar), maybe a new 27in display that doesn’t cost the earth, and perhaps a differently coloured iPhone (green)?

Strange times to be launching such things, but then the iPod was launched only a month or so after 9/11.
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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

Start Up No.1750: TikTok suspends Russian uploads, QR codes’ quiet triumph, analysing the Ukraine war, no search numbers?, and more


The wheat fields of Ukraine give its flag the iconic yellow below the blue sky. War’s disruption has sent wheat prices rocketing, with potentially far-reaching effects. CC-licensed photo by Sunny Lapin 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 11 links for you. Not bogged down. 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.


TikTok suspends new posts in Russia due to the country’s recent ‘fake news’ law • The Washington Post

Nitasha Tiku:

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TikTok will suspend both live-streaming and new content from Russia in response to the country’s new “fake” news law, TikTok said Sunday on the video app’s official communications account on Twitter.

Signed Friday by President Putin, Russia’s new law bans what the country calls “fake” news about its military, including language that describes Russia’s attack against Ukraine as an “invasion,” under threat of a 15-year prison sentence.

“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend live-streaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” TikTok wrote on Twitter, noting that its in-app messaging would continue. “We will continue to evaluate the evolving circumstances in Russia to determine when we might fully resume our services with safety as our top priority.”

The law has further silenced homegrown Russian media voices that until recently were providing the Russian public with information absent from the government’s official account on state-owned media.

Despite TikTok’s increasingly dominant role as a source of content on the conflict from both Russia and Ukraine, the video app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has been quieter than its Silicon Valley counterparts in disclosing the company’s policies on disinformation, fact-checking or censorship.

On Thursday, TikTok representatives exclusively told The Washington Post that the company was developing a policy on how it will handle state-controlled media on its platform.

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I’d guess this is going to drive Russians onto the encrypted messaging platforms, particularly Telegram (though that isn’t end-to-end encrypted, which should, but doesn’t, worry enough users). How long will it take for that to feed through to proper discontent, though?
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Russia’s war on Ukraine threatens global food supply • Associated Press

Joseph Wilson, Samy Magdy, Aya Batrawy and Chinedu Asadu :

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Ukrainian farmers have been forced to neglect their fields as millions flee, fight or try to stay alive. Ports are shut down that send wheat and other food staples worldwide to be made into bread, noodles and animal feed. And there are worries Russia, another agricultural powerhouse, could have its grain exports upended by Western sanctions.

While there have not yet been global disruptions to wheat supplies, prices have surged 55% since a week before the invasion amid concerns about what could happen next. If the war is prolonged, countries that rely on affordable wheat exports from Ukraine could face shortages starting in July, International Grains Council director Arnaud Petit told The Associated Press.

That could create food insecurity and throw more people into poverty in places like Egypt and Lebanon, where diets are dominated by government-subsidized bread. In Europe, officials are preparing for potential shortages of products from Ukraine and increased prices for livestock feed that could mean more expensive meat and dairy if farmers are forced to pass along costs to customers.

Russia and Ukraine combine for nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley exports. Ukraine also is a major supplier of corn and the global leader in sunflower oil, used in food processing. The war could reduce food supplies just when prices are at their highest levels since 2011.

A prolonged conflict would have a big impact some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) away in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer. Millions rely on subsidized bread made from Ukrainian grains to survive, with about a third of people living in poverty.

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A reminder that the Arab Spring was triggered by riots over bread prices.
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I was told that QR codes would never succeed because no one could make money from them • Terence Eden’s Blog

Eden gets to say nyaah nyaah:

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Search back through this blog and you’ll find dozens of posts about QR codes. Back in the day, I was a freelance “Mobile Internet” consultant. I’d rock up to companies and say “you know you can get the Web on your phone, right? It’s going to be the next big thing!” And people would pay me handsomely for that advice.

I’d also talk about apps – “You don’t need one, but if you’re going to develop one, here’s what you need to know.” It was like pushing on an open door.

My final pitch was always – “Hey, QR codes are pretty nifty! Would you like some help with them?”

Silence. Followed by a swift refusal.

The arguments against QR codes back then fell into a few main categories

• They’re ugly (true, but they can be made prettier)
• People don’t scan them (false, with lots of data)
• Hackers might do something bad (unlikely, and easily defended against)

But the main objection was that QR codes could never succeed because no one could make money from them! This was a time when Microsoft was pushing its paid-for MS Tag product – which only lasted about 3 years before it was shut down. They were trying to capture the mobile code scanning market, and failed.

Although lots of people were building scanners, there were very few companies pushing QR codes because they couldn’t see a way to make money from them. Sure, there were a few companies which would sell you a short URL with analytics baked in. But there was no “moat”. Anyone could build a slightly cheaper competitor. And businesses could bypass those companies easily. With no commercial driver, there was no pressure to promote the use of QR. So – in the UK at least – QR codes bumbled along, occasionally appearing on energy bills, physical products, and informational posters.

The “problem” is that QR codes are “boring infrastructure”. That’s what makes them magical – they’re both libre and gratis.

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How do you incentivise people to build infrastructure which uses free material? Easy – just give them a once-in-a-century pandemic.
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Space and time • Comment is Freed

Lawrence Freedman on Russia’s lack of military progress in Ukraine:

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There have been a variety of estimates about how long the Russian army can keep this up, especially if Kyiv and Kharkiv continue to resist. Without a major resupply effort it has been put at no more than three weeks. The Russians have not planned for a long war nor made provisions to sustain it over time. Certainly, wars can be won quickly. In June 1967 Israel took Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria in six days. India required thirteen to advance from the border to Dhaka to receive the surrender of East Pakistan forces, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. It took longer – a month – for the Americans to reach Baghdad in 2003, but they had only one line of advance, up from Kuwait, and were also methodical in their approach. The reason why some wars drag on is rarely because this was envisaged in the original plan. It is normally because of early operational failures.

As soon as front-lines stagnate as an offensive runs out of steam the issue becomes one of the ability to feed the war machine over time, making economic and industrial strength as well as logistics even more important. This is why the Kremlin should be worried about a stalled campaign because it means that so long as Russia stays in Ukraine then its sanctioned economy will struggle even more. Fighting a war is an expensive business. Published estimates of the daily cost have ranged from $500 million to $20 billion. Something a bit over a $1 billion seems plausible.

The pre-war assumptions of a modernised and efficient Russian army that would soon overwhelm the outgunned Ukrainians have now been jettisoned but it remains difficult to accept the contrary assumption that this is a war that the Russians might lose. This is where the state of mind of those involved becomes important. Were it not for the fact that Russia still has the means to make life miserable for ordinary Ukrainians and use its firepower to push those unable to flee down into bunkers, one would say that it is facing defeat. Its army displays the pathology of one in disarray – at least away from the south, its logistics are literally being shot to pieces, command systems are degraded, and its troops demoralised and surrendering. We must keep emphasising that war is an uncertain business.

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What Russian officials think of the invasion of Ukraine • A Sip of Freedom

Ilya Lozovsky, in a translation of an article by a well-connected Russian journalist, Farida Rustamova:

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“If Russia considers itself an empire, why not become attractive to its neighbors by developing the country instead of by forcing their loyalty? Let’s build good roads, quality health care and education, and eventually come up with the kind of technology that would allow us to be the first to colonize Mars. That would be quite empire-like,” a high-ranking official said brokenly when I asked him what he thought of Putin’s motives for starting the war.

Another source— let’s call him a good acquaintance of Putin’s — puts it this way: The Russian president has it in his head that the rules of the game were broken and destroyed not by Russia. And if this is a fight without rules, then it’s a fight without rules — the new reality in which we live. 

“Here he is in a state of being offended and insulted. It’s paranoia that has reached the point of absurdity,” he says. According to him, Putin sincerely believes that, at least in the first years of his rule, he tried his best to improve relations with the West.

“On the one hand, there’s a really unfair state of affairs, where we are constantly being harmed year after year on various scales, and declared  as enemies long before Ukraine,” he said. “On the other hand, there’s our inability to build and execute our policies intelligently, including publicly. And the third thing is Putin’s degradation from being in power for too long.”

“Putin now seriously believes what [Defense Minister] Shoigu and [General Staff chief] Gerasimov are telling him: About how quickly they’ll take Kyiv, that the Ukrainians are blowing themselves up, that Zelensky is a coke addict.”

So far, none of the officials have dared to object to what’s happening in the slightest public way, much less to resign.

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Do journalists need to be brands? • Medium

Elizabeth Spiers:

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[Taylor] Lorenz did not grow up without privilege (Greenwich, Connecticut is not Slapout, Alabama**) but she moved into journalism from a digital background that wasn’t journalism, and does not have the typical trajectory of a Times journalist, or the Ivy League credentials they say are not important but they absolutely pay attention to. Ergo, Lorenz was regarded as a bit of an outsider internally, and some people tend to be dismissive of young women who cover beats they regard as lesser.

Ironically, this is also part of why Lorenz’s profile rose so quickly. She covered web culture, but that often overlapped with tech culture, and tech coverage generally. As a function of that, she was targeted by a high profile tech CEO and VC, Balaji Srinivasan, and that resulted in waves of harassment and nonsense for Lorenz because Srinivasan was able to mobilize a bunch of neoreactionary dudebros who resent the fact that journalists have the temerity to criticize Silicon Valley at all. And he targeted her intentionally, because she’s young, because she’s a woman, and because she wrote for [the NYT’s section called] Styles, which meant that he could portray her as essentially unserious. He thought she was more vulnerable to this kind of attack than, say, Kara Swisher, who reports on tech qua tech, and who would have eaten him for lunch (and has, on several occasions).

When this happened, I do not believe people like [NYT political reporter] Haberman inside the NY Times, understood what was going on. They just saw Lorenz all over the Internet, on TV, being increasingly recognized as one of the faces of The New York Times. Lorenz was accused of drawing attention to herself and when she pushed back on the harassment, was told that she couldn’t take criticism. But what Lorenz was getting wasn’t criticism. Attempting to doxx a journalist and texting them rape threats might be a critique of sorts, but let’s not pretend it’s legitimate discourse, or that Lorenz is thin-skinned to be disturbed by it. But the internal perception, as I understand it, is that Lorenz had not earned the right to all of this attention, even if she was not asking for it.

This is ridiculous, of course. The attention economy is not something you can control, or insert yourself into, willfully, any time you want.

«

Spiers captures the problem – which really really irks younger journalists on the big US papers – whereby journalists aren’t meant to draw attention to themselves, yet have to take all the crap for whatever they or anyone else on their paper writes. Lorenz had a bellyful, and isn’t afraid to point it out. It’s not perfect at the Washington Post (by a long chalk), but not as bad as the NYT. It’s also one that journalists on all publications face: when they tweet, are they speaking for themselves, or their publication?
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Google testing removing the estimated number of search results • SE Round Table

Barry Schwartz:

»

Google Search is testing removing the estimated number of search results figure you typically see under the search bar after you conduct a search query. Google tested this back in 2016 and I guess Google is testing it again.

Initially, when I was first told about this test by Punit on Twitter and then Eli Schwartz on Twitter last week, I thought maybe it was a CSS bug. But since then, a few other people noticed it, including Steve Plunket on Twitter and some on Facebook. So I guess this is a test.

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The “number of sites/results” figure really hasn’t meant anything for at least a decade. Barely anyone looks past the first page of results (they’re more likely to retry their search with different terms than click through to the second page). Possibly the sites number is a sort of silent confirmation that the system’s working which means something to people inside Google. But those outside don’t need it.
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David Leonhardt, the pandemic interpreter • NY Mag’s Intelligencer

Sam Adler-Bell on how David Leonhardt, the writer of the daily NY Times morning newsletter (five million readers!), has become the focus of a furious row over his recent depiction of the risks from Covid:

»

“Many liberals have spent two years thinking of COVID mitigations as responsible, necessary, even patriotic. This attitude has become part of their identity,” Leonhardt told me. This was a good thing earlier in the pandemic, leading to high vaccine uptake, masking, and compliance with social distancing and lockdowns. But thanks to vaccination and the cresting Omicron variant, the costs of liberal caution — he cites “mental-health problems, anger, frustration, isolation, drug overdoses, vehicle crashes, violent crime, learning loss, student misbehavior” — have begun to outweigh the benefits. Leonhardt, who has described his journalistic colleagues as having a “bad-news bias,” sees his role as being an implicit corrective to some of the more alarmist coverage showing up elsewhere in traditional media and even in the Times itself.

This position has enraged some readers — doctors, scientists, and journalists among them — who believe it’s absurd to call for a return to normal when, according to the Times, around 2,000 people are dying from COVID each day. “Leonhardt is one of the key pundits leading the charge of those who want to declare unilateral surrender to COVID-19,” Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, told me. In a January 26 appearance on The Daily, Leonhardt pressed his case that America is at a “pivot point” in which COVID “goes from being this horrible, deadly, life-dominating pandemic to something that is more endemic — to something that looks more like things that we deal with all the time without shutting down daily life, like the flu.” He cited the results of a poll, conducted by his staff and Morning Consult, purporting to show that while older Republicans remain irrationally unafraid of COVID, younger and vaccinated Democrats are irrationally overcautious about it.

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I get the feeling that there’s quite a chunk of Americans who are hanging on to their attitudes from 2020 even though the evidence suggests it’s time to change their position.
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Ten (more) tricks for finding stories • Transom

Latif Nasser:

»

One of the most popular features on Transom is Latif Nasser’s 2018 guide to finding stories. (Latif co-hosts WNYC’s Radiolab.) He’s back with NEW tricks for conjuring unconventional leads. This manifesto is full of creative tips to pull every last bit of interesting data from online search tools. It’s particularly handy during these drawn-out COVID-y times when in-person story hunting is challenging. We guarantee you’ll find a new trick.

Nasser: Back in 2018, I shared a bunch of my story-finding tricks in an effort to help demystify the process.  A lot of people seemed to find it helpful. I often get emails about it. 

So in that same spirit, here are ten more tricks, surefire ways to find good true stories, or at least to prime your mental pump. Please use them responsibly, but also with reckless abandon.

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Go to Zoom lectures, search out scholarly articles, use search terms tactically, reverse engineer.. your toaster?, noodle around in databases, attend to phrases, look for limits, anticipate traffic jams, make the call (anyway), ask the question anyway. Now you need to fill in the gaps. They’re pretty good.
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Yandex: Russian search engine warns it could default on foreign debt • CNN

Mark Thompson:

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Russia’s biggest search engine could collapse as financial fallout from the invasion of Ukraine spreads.

Yandex, which handles about 60% of internet search traffic in Russia and operates a big ride-hailing business, said Thursday that it may be unable to pay its debts as a consequence of the financial market meltdown triggered by the West’s unprecedented sanctions.

The company is based in the Netherlands, but its shares are listed on the Nasdaq and the Russian stock exchange. Dealing in the stock has been suspended this week as the value of Russian assets collapsed in Moscow and around the world in the wake of the invasion. The imposition of sanctions by the United States, European Union and other big Western economies last weekend piled on the pressure.

Yandex hasn’t been sanctioned but it could still default. Investors who hold $1.25bn in Yandex convertible notes have a right to demand repayment in full, plus interest, if trading in its shares are suspended on the Nasdaq for more than five days. The Moscow stock market will remain shut at least until Tuesday, Russian state news agencies reported on Friday.

“The Yandex group as a whole does not currently have sufficient resources to redeem the Notes in full,” the company said in a statement.

…The crisis in Ukraine poses another threat to its business. Western companies are halting supplies of technology and services to Russian customers. A prolonged suspension of hardware or software sales could hurt Yandex over time.

“We believe that our current data center capacity and other technology critical to operations will allow us to continue to operate in the ordinary course for at least the next 12 to 18 months,” Yandex said.

Yandex, which had a market value of about $17.4bn at the beginning of February, reported revenues worth 356bn rubles in 2021, now equivalent to little more than $3bn after the collapse in the Russian currency.

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The problems with systems will hit much sooner than the debt, I’d guess.
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Putin proves my point. Whatever it is • Financial Times

Robert Shrimsley:

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The most important thing to understand about the invasion of Ukraine is that it proves my point. Yes, yes, it may be pulling Europe to the brink of outright war, causing the deaths of innocent civilians and plunging the global economy into turmoil but the essential issue is that Putin has shown I was right. Right about what, you may ask. About everything. Whatever my personal and political prejudices, they have been triumphantly (ahem, better make that tragically) vindicated.

While Ukrainians have risked their lives on the streets, battalions of keyboard warriors are shelling social media with explanations of how this validates their other opinions. One conservative think-tanker has taken to collating multiple examples of this but, sadly, this virtual conflict has now morphed into a pincer movement with incursions into the real-world dinner tables of pontificating society.

While many others are wrong, all of my own instincts have naturally been borne out by events. This allows me the opportunity to bestow some of my wisdom upon you. I may also soon launch a separate Substack newsletter, at iwasrightallalong.substack.com.

Anyway, lest you were worried that your own inadequate views leave you wandering naked into the cocktail party, here are just a few to be going along with:

«

Choose from Nato’s eastward expansion/ the flabby West/ moving too slowly to net zero/ too much wokey windpower and not enough fracking/ Brexit (all Putin’s fault)/ not embracing Brexit/ dirty money/ pandering to wokery pronouns/ our weak Covid-19 response/ too many restrictions on wood-burning stoves.

Payoff line:

»

“Next week: why I was right about something else.”

«

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: 1,750! Seems like 1,000 only happened recently, and 1,500 ditto. Let’s hope we can Get Ukraine Sorted before the next Big Number here.

Start Up No.1749: Icann leaves Russia online, Twitter goes Birdwatching, AMD and Intel ban, Venezuela users face crypto block, and more


Remember HTC? It isn’t dead yet, and it’s pivoting from the blockchain (yawn) to the metaverse (yay!). Still phones, of course. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster 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 part of a convoy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


ICANN rejects Ukraine’s request to cut off Russia from the global internet • CNN

Brian Fung:

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The international non-profit that coordinates management of the internet told Ukraine it will not intervene in the country’s war with Russia, rebuffing a request to cut Russia off from the global internet.

Ukraine’s proposal is neither technically feasible nor within the mission of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, according to a letter ICANN sent to Ukrainian officials on Wednesday.

“As you know, the Internet is a decentralized system. No one actor has the ability to control it or shut it down,” ICANN CEO Göran Marby wrote in the the letter. Marby expressed his personal concern about Ukrainians’ well-being as well as the “terrible toll being exacted on your country.” But, he wrote, “our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the Internet — regardless of the provocations.”

“Essentially,” he added, “ICANN has been built to ensure that the Internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working.”

Internet governance experts previously told CNN that ICANN was expected to reject Ukraine’s plea, and that Ukraine’s proposal, if implemented, could have devastating consequences for average Russian internet users, including dissidents.

The original request, sent on Monday from Ukraine’s representative on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, called for the Russian internet country code .RU and its Cyrillic equivalents to be revoked. The representative, Andrii Nabok, also said he was sending a separate request to Europe and Central Asia’s regional internet registry, asking it to take back all of the IP addresses it had assigned to Russia.

«

Certainly it would be relatively trivial for lots of companies to block anything coming from a .ru address – and I recall a developer saying recently that he found the simplest way to cut spam by 99% or so was to block anything from that IP range. But it was never going to happen as a broad strategy. Ukraine has developed a clever strategy of asking for everything – cut Russia off the internet, implement no-fly zones – and thus making any little concession seem like both a victory on its part and parsimony on those who do it.
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Twitter’s Birdwatch fact-checking project moves forward with new test • The Washington Post

Will Oremus:

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Twitter will begin showing fact-checking notes, submitted by volunteers, on potentially misleading tweets to a small fraction of its users in a test in the United States this week. The test is a step forward for its experimental Birdwatch program, which seeks to enlist Twitter’s users to flag and debunk misinformation on the social platform.

Users in the test group will see a message inviting them to click for more context when they encounter a tweet that has been flagged by a volunteer fact-checker participating in Birdwatch. There, they’ll find one or more notes written by Birdwatch contributors, correcting or adding relevant background to the tweet itself, and ideally citing reliable outside sources. They’ll then be asked to rate the note’s helpfulness — ratings that in turn are used to determine whether to continue showing that note to others on Twitter.

Twitter launched the Birdwatch pilot more than 13 months ago, inviting interested users to apply to become volunteer fact-checkers. As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, Twitter has enrolled some 10,000 people in the pilot, but just 359 of those had actively contributed fact-checking notes in 2022, as of Feb. 24. In all, Birdwatch contributors have been flagging about 43 tweets per day in recent months, a vanishingly small fraction of the posts on a global platform that is used by some 217 million people each day.

The hope is that, eventually, crowdsourced fact checks can help Twitter users avoid falling for and spreading misinformation, while helping Twitter itself limit the spread of such information.

Twitter is taking a cue from sites including Wikipedia that harness volunteer labor to vet information transparently, at high speed and low cost. The approach differs from rival Facebook’s, which has relied on partnerships with professional fact-checking organizations to identify false posts.

«

Could work – better than Facebook’s system, but worse than Wikipedia’s because that has a static page to coalesce around.
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Putin no longer seems like a master of disinformation • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

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The Ukrainian crisis shows that the West has learned a lot about countering Russian propaganda in the past few years. Social media companies are now adept at spotting and removing Russian disinformation. The Biden administration has been masterful at “prebunking” Russia’s moves; by disseminating intelligence about Russian plans almost as quickly as it collects it, the White House has managed to embarrass and undermine Russian efforts to control the Ukraine story.

Then there’s the steadfast bravery and media wiliness of the Ukrainians, whom Helmus described as “a messaging adversary of the type Russia has never seen before.” As the Russian military bore down on their nation, Ukrainians began filling the internet with irresistible footage of their determination — the 79-year-old grandmother taking up arms against the invaders, the fearless young man kneeling in front of a Russian tank, the member of parliament who boasts on Fox News about kicking Putin’s derrière. In a series of inspirational battlefield dispatches, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has projected an air of heroic machismo of the sort that Putin has long tried to cultivate.

«

It’s the simplicity and directness of the Ukrainian message – and especially its focus through Zelensky, who as an actor (his former job) knows completely the power of a moving image and a few powerful words – that makes it such a complete antidote, or even kryptonite, to Russia’s efforts.
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AMD and Intel halt processor sales to Russia • Tom’s Hardware

Paul Alcorn:

»

In a sign that the United States government’s export restrictions on semiconductor sales to Russia due to its war against Ukraine have been enacted swiftly, AMD has confirmed that it has suspended chip sales to Russia, and according to multiple reports, Intel has taken the same steps. In addition, reports have also emerged that TSMC’s decision to participate in the sanctions will thwart Russia’s supply of homegrown chips. Intel and AMD have both provided us with a statement on the matter, and we have also reached out to Nvidia for comment.

The Russian media outlets also claim that the suspensions have been confirmed by the Association of Russian Developers and Electronics Manufacturers (ARPE). Additionally, Chinese IT companies are said to have been notified by Intel that sales to Russia have been banned.

An AMD representative told Tom’s Hardware, “Based on sanctions placed on Russia by the United States and other nations, at this time AMD is suspending its sales and distribution of our products into Russia and Belarus.”

Intel provided the following comment to Tom’s Hardware: “Intel complies with all applicable export regulations and sanctions in the countries in which it operates, including the new sanctions issued by OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] and the regulations issued by BIS [Bureau of Industry and Security].”

The extent of Intel’s halted sales is currently unclear. The new export restrictions are primarily aimed at chips for military purposes or dual-use chips that could be used for both civilian and military purposes. That means sales of most consumer-focused chips, like Intel’s Core chips, likely won’t be impacted. However, it is widely expected that there will be a temporary halt for all semiconductor sales to Russia as companies work to decide which products and customers are impacted.

«

Depending how long this all goes on (and I think we should expect that it will last months, not weeks) we could see the slow-motion collapse of Russia’s economy and infrastructure. Artillery apart, its military has not looked too well prepared – despite all those “manoeuvres” – in the past week, and that can only get worse as sanctions bite.
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A view from Russian academia • Tatyana Deryugina

Deryugina wrote to loads of Russian academics asking why they weren’t protesting. She got a response from one, which she was given permission to share:

»

Here is also my view as to why the Russian people are not protesting en masse:

1: Negative influence of the USSR: beginning with the immigration after 1917 and Stalinist purges and ending with the destruction of the will to live freely to the falling apart of the country. People didn’t live normally and so don’t want to live normally now, those who protest are mostly very young.

2. A non-trivial share of the people are idiots. They can’t or, for many reasons, don’t want to absorb non-one-sided information and just want to be “outside of politics”. And the most accessible information is, sadly, propaganda.

3. Propaganda is literally EVERYWHERE. On TV it reaches absurd proportions, and besides that special bot farms write a huge number of online comments, forming a false public opinion and swaying those who are uncertain to their side.

4. A huge army of siloviki (strongmen). Ukraine’s Maidan could happen because resistance [against the protestors] was not comparable to that of Russia and Belorussia. The Russian government has a huge horde of policemen and Rosgvardiya [National Guard of Russia] who get paid decent money just for brutally beating people who simply show up to a demonstration (and actually get pleasure out of doing so because they are idealistic and see enemies in those who show up). Then they imprison the people for 30 days and then create problems for them in their studies or work. And any resistance leads to a huge prison sentence. I’m not even mentioning, that people can be jailed for several years for tweets or social media posts (this is not an exaggeration!)

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“A non-trivial share of the people are idiots” is pretty widely applicable, isn’t it.
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Ukraine population density • Airwars

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This interactive map depicts the population per square kilometre of Ukraine. Using data from the WorldPop initiative, each point is colour coded from least to most densely populated. The data comes from bedfore Russia’s invasion on February 24 2022.

Click on any location to reveal the population density there and search for specifgic locations or coordinates using the search bar.

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Even on a first glance it’s quite sparsely populated, with occasional flashes of urban concentration; Russia is trying to occupy a whole load of wide open space.

By contrast, the UK has an average population density of 283 people per sq km; for Ukraine it’s 75. It’s also been seeing continued depopulation due to emigration, plus low birth/high death rates. The former has speeded up dramatically now, of course.
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HTC pivots from blockchain to the metaverse for its next smartphone gimmick • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

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HTC’s slow-motion fall from smartphone grace is reportedly set to continue in 2022, with the company said to be working on a new “metaverse”-focused phone in April as the remnants of the once-flagship smartphone company continues to desperately cling to whatever zeitgeist term it can to stay afloat, according to DigiTimes.

The news comes from Charles Huang, HTC’s general manager for the Asia-Pacific region, who reportedly commented at MWC 2022 that the company would be introducing a new high-end smartphone next month with unspecified “metaverse” features. Details are slim, including any specs, markets it’ll be released in, or even what kind of AR or VR features the new device will offer.

The news sounds a lot like HTC’s last major pivot towards relevancy: its Exodus line of blockchain phones that its offered for the past few years. Promising decentralized apps (“Dapps”) and a built-in cryptocurrency wallet, the phones could run blockchain nodes and even mine paltry amounts of cryptocurrency, but — like many instances of blockchain technology — it was a solution largely in search of a problem that never really took off.

For argument’s sake, a metaverse phone would at least make slightly more sense than a blockchain one, if only because HTC has actually been a major player in the virtual reality space.

«

As Gartenberg notes:

»

Given that HTC’s Viverse doesn’t really exist — nor does widespread adoption of any modern metaverse concept — it’s easy for the company to just say it’s making a metaverse app or phone. After all, who’s to say that you aren’t?

«

First reaction: HTC is still going? Next reaction: how small can it get? Total revenues last year were $140m. That’s about 1% of its peak revenue (from 2011). Sometimes they just don’t die, they just fade Zeno-style.
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Wikimedia says it ‘will not back down’ after Russia censorship threat • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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The Wikimedia Foundation has issued a statement supporting Russian Wikipedia volunteers after a censorship demand from internet regulators. On Tuesday, tech and communications regulator Roskomnadzor threatened to block Wikipedia over the Russian-language page covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, claiming it contained “false messages” about war casualties and the effects of economic sanctions, among other things.

“On March 1st 2022 the Wikimedia Foundation received a Russian government demand to remove content related to the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine posted by volunteer contributors to Russian Wikipedia,” reads the statement sent to The Verge via email. “As ever, Wikipedia is an important source of reliable, factual information in this crisis. In recognition of this important role, we will not back down in the face of efforts to censor and intimidate members of our movement. We stand by our mission to deliver free knowledge to the world.”

The Roskomnadzor demand, which was posted in Russian Wikipedia’s Telegram channel, demands Wikimedia address user edits from a February 27th version of the article. As translated by Wikimedia Russia, it takes issue with “information about numerous casualties among the military personnel of the Russian Federation, as well as the civilian population of Ukraine, including number of children,” as well as “the need to withdraw funds from accounts in banks of the Russian Federation in connection with the sanctions imposed by foreign states.” (While the war’s casualties remain difficult to estimate, the United Nations has confirmed hundreds of civilian deaths in Ukraine since the conflict began last week, including at least 13 children, and acknowledged that its numbers likely underestimate the real death toll.)

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The truth hurts.
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IKEA pauses operations in Russia and Belarus • Ikea.com

»

The war has had a huge human impact already. It is also resulting in serious disruptions to supply chain and trading conditions. For all of these reasons, the company groups have decided to temporarily pause IKEA operations in Russia. 

This means that:

• Inter IKEA Group has taken the decision to pause all export and import in and out of Russia and Belarus
• Inter IKEA Group has taken the decision to pause all IKEA Industry production operations in Russia. This also means that all deliveries from all sub-suppliers to these units are paused
• Ingka Group has taken the decision to pause all IKEA Retail operations in Russia, while the shopping centre Mega will continue to be open to ensure that the many people in Russia have access to their daily needs and essentials such as food, groceries and pharmacies.  

«

Seems to me the smart thing to do if you really want to disrupt them is just to hide all the Allen keys. Or take two screws out of every assembly kit.
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Venezuelan users of crypto wallet MetaMask say they can no longer access it • The Block

MK Manoylov:

»

Users of MetaMask based in Venezuela say they can no longer access the popular digital asset wallet. 

Messages about the issue began to crop up on social media on Wednesday, with numerous examples spreading as of late Thursday morning. The suspected culprit is the API for Infura, a blockchain node infrastructure network.  

A MetaMask support page, updated an hour before press time, states that “MetaMask and Infura are unavailable in certain jurisdictions due to legal compliance.”

…Word of the blockages also prompted commentary on the use of VPNs to circumvent the issue. 

Unclear at present is the extent to which the reported blockages represent at tightening of rules with respect to other countries sanctioned by the US and other governments. Users from Iran and Lebanon appear to have been affected, though many of the recent messages pertain to Venezuelan access. 

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Big win for decentralisation, yes?
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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