Start Up No.1777: the psychopathy of bitcoin, the mystery of the Tesla Twitter bot army, Mac maker hit by lockdown, PM fined, and more


Imagine you had a job you really liked, but you had to do it in an office where you couldn’t personalise your workspace. How would that make you feel? CC-licensed photo by Daniel Tuttle on Flickr.

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


Bitcoin fans are psychopaths who don’t care about anyone, study shows • The Sun via NY Post

Harry Pettit:

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The average Bitcoin investor is a calculating psychopath with an inflated ego, according to scientists.

A team of experts recently surveyed more than 500 people to uncover the personality traits that are most common among crypto nuts. They identified that many investors exhibit signs of the “dark tetrad”, a group of four unsavoury traits made up of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism.

In plain English, that means dark tetrads have an inflated sense of self-importance and derive pleasure from the pain of others. They also find it difficult to empathise with others and are sly and manipulative.

Scientists at Queensland University of Technology described their findings in research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences earlier this month. They asked 566 people to complete personality surveys as well as answers questions about their attitudes to crypto.

Of the participants, one in four reported that they owned crypto and two-thirds showed an interest in crypto investing.

All four dark tetrad traits correlated with an affinity for investing, each for their own reasons.

According to the researchers, dark tetrads are partly drawn to crypto because they are prepared to take risks. Digital assets such as Bitcoin are infamously volatile and the feast-or-famine nature of investing is particularly enticing to some.

Study lead author Dr. Di Wang wrote in The Conversation: “Dark tetrad traits are ‘dark’ because of their ‘evil’ qualities: extreme selfishness and taking advantage of others without empathy.”

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I’d have linked directly to The Conversation article, but it was wordier: The Sun, as you’d expect, got to the meat of the topic much more directly.
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Elon Musk’s not-so-secret weapon: an army of Twitter bots • Los Angeles Times

Russ Mitchell:

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In early November 2013, the news wasn’t looking great for Tesla. A series of reports had documented instances of Tesla Model S sedans catching on fire, causing the electric carmaker’s share price to tumble.

Then, on the evening of Nov. 7, within a span of 75 minutes, eight automated Twitter accounts came to life and began publishing positive sentiments about Tesla. Over the next seven years, they would post more than 30,000 such tweets.

With more than 500 million tweets sent per day across the network, that output represents a drop in the ocean. But preliminary research from David A. Kirsch, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, concludes that activity of this sort by so-called bots has played a significant part in the “stock of the future” narrative that has propelled Tesla’s market value to altitudes loftier than any traditional financial analysis could justify.

In a market in love with “meme stocks,” sexy narrative is proving far more profitable than financial analysis, said Kirsch, co-author of “Bubbles and Crashes: The Boom and Bust of Technological Innovation.”

…Over the 10-year study period, of about 1.4 million tweets from the top 400 accounts posting to the “cashtag” $TSLA, 10% were produced by bots. Of 157,000 tweets posted to the hashtag #TSLA, 23% were from bots, the research showed.

Kirsch and research assistant Moshen] Chowdhury tracked 186 Tesla-related bot accounts and found that after each was launched, the company’s stock appreciated more than 2%. (They looked at the average stock return for the week previous to the bot’s creation and for the week following.) While Tesla’s market value has increased over the years, the price has seen dramatic ups and downs. The periods around bot creation showed sharp increases, but outside those windows, trading was far more volatile, Chowdhury said.

“This isn’t a causal relationship, but it does raise questions,” Kirsch said, about why there’s a correlation that does not appear to be random. “We’re trying to understand the mechanism. It can’t be just a bunch of tweets that push the stock. People have to notice them, interpret them and act on them.”

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Very, very big hanging question: who’s behind the bots? But they don’t know.
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@elon • No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway points out that he took a stake in Twitter long before Elon Musk (OK, it was only 0.000276%) but that he found activists who agreed with him in thinking Twitter gets too little revenue for what is “among the most important products in history – real time news source, global communications platform”. So what’s his big idea?

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Twitter should move to a subscription model (#fuckingobvious). Corporate users and users with large followings would pay for a fraction of the value they receive. I have long advocated for this model; by shifting the company’s revenue source from advertisers to users, subscription aligns economic incentives with user experience, rather than user exploitation. This leads to a myriad of benefits, which is why recurring-revenue businesses register greater growth and retention and bigger valuations.

Nothing better illustrates the value of Twitter to its users than Tesla. The carmaker spends almost nothing on advertising (GM spends $2+ billion per year), yet it has built the best brand in the industry. This is a function of performance (outstanding products, exceeding targets) multiplied by reach. The reach is a function of Elon’s 80.9 million PR agents (i.e., his Twitter followers). The social network could charge Mr. Musk $10 million a month and — after making a series of ad hominem attacks on the board/company/CEO — he would pay it. Nearly every Fortune 10,000 company and A/B/C list celebrity who uses the platform as a real-time communications tool would pay fees scaled by follower count.

In addition, ad-supported media is what drives the enragement cycle, the bots, and the misinformation plaguing Twitter. Cleaning that up would be good for business, and for the commonwealth. False stories on Twitter are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true ones — and spread six times faster.

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He then takes Musk out to the woodshed and points out that he’s mostly an idiot, even if he has done remarkable things with Tesla and, especially, SpaceX.

Twitter subscriptions? Seems smart enough to me. Give it exclusivity and value, and revenue.
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Shanghai, Kunshan lockdowns hit iPhone, Mac and iPad makers • Nikkei Asia

Lauly Li:

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Three key Apple suppliers have suspended production in and near Shanghai as strict COVID-19 lockdown measures show signs of affecting the US tech giant’s supply chain in China.

Pegatron, the iPhone assembler, said in a stock exchange filing on Tuesday that operations at its two production sites in Shanghai and the Chinese city of Kunshan have been suspended to comply with government regulations. These are Pegatron’s only iPhone manufacturing bases, as its new iPhone assembly plant in India has not yet begun operation, Nikkei Asia has learned. Pegatron makes roughly 20% to 30% of all iPhones.

Pegatron told Nikkei Asia that it is in close communication with its clients and suppliers, while complying with local government regulations, and hopes to resume production soon.

Quanta, the world’s biggest contract notebook manufacturer and a key MacBook maker, told Nikkei Asia that it has halted production at its key manufacturing site in the Songjiang district of Shanghai since the start of April in compliance with the government’s COVID prevention measures. Quanta, which also counts Dell and HP as clients, has around 20% of its total notebook capacity in Shanghai. It also makes some Internet of Things products and servers for non-U.S. destinations in the city. Major iPad and notebook maker Compal Electronics also has halted activities at its Kunshan facilities, according to the company.

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The stop-go is going to affect everyone, not just Apple. It’s worse, much worse, for the citizens of Shanghai, where the crisis may be approaching some sort of crescendo.
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#Wearenotwaiting – the parents who hacked diabetes • Always On

Rory Cellan-Jones on how parents built their own remote monitoring system for their childrens’ type 1 diabetes:

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Amy, with her needlephobia, still needed to keep pricking her finger to test her blood glucose levels. There was a new wearable device called the Dexcom which provided constant glucose monitoring but at that stage regulators had not approved it for use by children as an integrated system with an insulin pump – it was 2014 before that was allowed.

That spurred Kevin on, aware that as Amy was entering her teens, they needed to find a way of allowing her a little more freedom. How could they let her go to town or the cinema with her friends, knowing that she might have a hypo and friends wouldn’t know what to do?

Having finally got hold of a Dexcom monitor, he decided to make its data available to Amy. So he built something for her:

“Because it was just a radio frequency that just flings the data out there, we had this other device that she could keep in her pocket in a little box. And then that device bluetoothed to her phone. That was the element of her being able to see on her phone what her glucose readings were.”

The next step was to make the data available online so that it could be seen on any smartphone or smartwatch.

…A system called Nightscout was developed by the hacker community to make glucose readings from the Dexcom available in the cloud. Built on open source principles it is still available today and works with a wide range of glucose monitors. Meanwhile, another open source project Android APS allowed Kevin to monitor Amy’s condition on an Android smartphone or smartwatch: “So whatever device I had, as long as you had internet connectivity, then I could get that information.”

One device he used was the Pebble, a very early smartwatch. As Amy spread her wings, her parents now had reassurance that they would get an alert if her glucose readings hit dangerous levels.

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Very neat story of how those who are most motivated can make things happen, even in health tech. And applause for the Pebble, with its e-ink display.
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The Solar Power Series • Tom Hegen

Hegen is a landscape photographer, who has done series on greenhouses and oyster farms:

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In a single hour, the amount of power from the sun that strikes the Earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year. Having this in mind, renewable energy sources could be the key to combating climate change.

What does transforming towards more sustainable sources of energy look like?

This series explores solar power plants in the United States, France and Spain.

These man-made, constructed landscapes represent our efforts of building a more sustainable future in the most sophisticated ways.

The US images came together with helicopter pilot and my fellow partner Lars Gange.

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The pictures were taken in 2021. Some are of what you’d understand as solar farms: lots of solar panels. Others (quite a few) are of “concentrating solar” systems which use parabolic mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a tower, and heat up fluid pumped through it. I think they’re meant to look a bit haphazard.

The whole site’s worth a browse.
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Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to be fined over lockdown parties • BBC News

Jennifer Scott:

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be fined by the police for attending a birthday party thrown for him during a Covid lockdown.

No 10 confirmed he would receive the fixed penalty notice for going to the hour-long gathering in the Cabinet Room on 19 June 2020.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, have also been notified they will get fines.

It comes as part of a Met investigation into illegal parties in Downing Street.

Spokespeople for Mrs Johnson and Mr Sunak said they had not been told which event the fines were linked to.

However, they were reported to be at the same gathering for the PM’s birthday – which was said to have been attended by 30 people.

«

OK, so it took about 21 months for the police to do this, but they got there. Looking forward to how the US copes with whoever was in charge around the events of January 6th 2021, which on that timescale should be around July this year.

(Also: this is a Big Fucking Deal. You make the rules and you break the rules?)
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What Le Corbusier got right about office space • Tim Harford

Harford is the FT’s “undercover economist”, but often also a behaviourist:

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In 2010, the psychologists Alex Haslam and Craig Knight set up an experiment in which participants were asked to perform simple administrative tasks in a variety of office spaces. They tested four different office layouts. One was stripped down: bare desk, swivel chair, pencil, paper, nothing else. The second layout was softened with pot plants and almost abstract floral images. Workers enjoyed this layout more than the minimalist one and got more and better work done there.

The third and fourth layouts were superficially similar, yet produced dramatically different outcomes. In each, workers were invited to use the same plants and pictures to decorate the space before they started work, if they wished. But in one of them, the experimenter came in after the subject had finished decorating, and then rearranged it all. The physical difference was trivial, but the impact on productivity and job satisfaction was dramatic. When workers were empowered to shape their own space, they did more and better work and felt far more content. When workers were deliberately disempowered, their work suffered and, of course, they hated it. “I wanted to hit you,” one participant later admitted.

It wasn’t the environment itself that was stressful or distracting — it was the lack of control.

Yet there is a long, dismal tradition of disempowering workers. In the 1960s, the designer Robert Propst worked with the Herman Miller company to produce “The Action Office”, a stylish system of open-plan office furniture that allowed workers to sit, stand, move around and configure the space as they wished.
Propst then watched in horror as his ideas were corrupted into cheap modular dividers, and then to cubicle farms or, as Propst described them, “barren, rathole places”. Managers had squeezed the style and the space out of the action office, but above all they had squeezed the ability of workers to make choices about the place where they spent much of their waking lives.

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This stuff seems obvious in retrospect, but it’s non-obvious in prospect. How many “clean desk” offices have you worked in? (Me: zero. Newspaper offices are notoriously messy.) I always detested the notion.
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How Apple’s monster M1 Ultra chip keeps Moore’s Law alive • WIRED

Will Knight:

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Benchmarking of the M1 Ultra has shown it to be competitive with the fastest high-end computer chips and graphics processor on the market. [Apple VP of hardware technologies, Tim] Millet says some of the chip’s capabilities, such as its potential for running AI applications, will become apparent over time, as developers port over the necessary software libraries.

The M1 Ultra is part of a broader industry shift toward more modular chips. Intel is developing a technology that allows different pieces of silicon, dubbed “chiplets,” to be stacked on top of one another to create custom designs that do not need to be redesigned from scratch. The company’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger, has identified this “advanced packaging” as one pillar of a grand turnaround plan. Intel’s competitor AMD is already using a 3D stacking technology from TSMC to build some server and high-end PC chips. This month, Intel, AMD, Samsung, TSMC, and ARM announced a consortium to work on a new standard for chiplet designs. In a more radical approach, the M1 Ultra uses the chiplet concept to connect entire chips together.

Apple’s new chip is all about increasing overall processing power. “Depending on how you define Moore’s law, this approach allows you to create systems that engage many more transistors than what fits on one chip,” says Jesús del Alamo, a professor at MIT who researches new chip components. He adds that it is significant that TSMC, at the cutting edge of chipmaking, is looking for new ways to keep performance rising. “Clearly, the chip industry sees that progress in the future is going to come not only from Moore’s law but also from creating systems that could be fabricated by different technologies yet to be brought together,” he says.

“Others are doing similar things, and we certainly see a trend towards more of these chiplet designs,” adds Linley Gwennap, author of the Microprocessor Report, an industry newsletter.

The rise of modular chipmaking might help boost the performance of future devices, but it could also change the economics of chipmaking. Without Moore’s law, a chip with twice the transistors may cost twice as much. “With chiplets, I can still sell you the base chip for, say, $300, the double chip for $600, and the uber-double chip for $1,200,” says Todd Austin, an electrical engineer at the University of Michigan.

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The irony is that at pretty much the point that Moore’s Law stopped applying, chips are now everywhere. The challenge isn’t increasing speed so much as applying what’s there well.
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Apple plans to add features to the iPhone health app this year • The Verge

Nicole Wetsman:

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Apple is planning an expansion to the iPhone health app this year that would include additional sleep tracking and a tool to remind people to take medication, Bloomberg reported. The company could also add body temperature sensing to the Apple Watch this year and is still working on developing a blood pressure monitor.

The new medication tool would let users scan pill bottles and track when they took the medication. Not all planned features would be available at launch.

A body temperature sensor could help expand fertility tracking features on the Apple Watch. Body temperature changes over the course of the menstrual cycle, and that data can help predict when someone might get their period or the window when they’re most likely to become pregnant. The Oura smart ring has a temperature sensor that gives users information about their period, and it’s FDA-cleared to feed data to the digital birth control Natural Cycles.

Apple pushed plans to add a blood pressure monitor to the Apple Watch back to 2024, Bloomberg reported. Blood pressure is a major target for wearable companies and could make devices significantly more useful for tracking cardiac health. But the feature is notoriously tricky, and experts say it still needs more refinement before it can perform well in the real world.

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Basically, Apple is targeting old people with the medication stuff – notice how it added fall detection a few years ago and who it directly targeted (children of older people who might fall over, who then bought their parents a Watch). After yesterday’s Pebble piece I was discussing on Twitter whether Apple would go after Garmin’s top-end segment of the fitness market. This shows they won’t, and why: there are more people taking pills than shaving seconds off their 10k time.
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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?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1777: the psychopathy of bitcoin, the mystery of the Tesla Twitter bot army, Mac maker hit by lockdown, PM fined, and more

  1. I already started the medication alerts with my dad (by pre-setting alarms on his apple watch) now that he has to take several pills after a heart attack. So it’s definitely an aspect ripe for improvement. With the Boris Johnson story I think what is being overlooked is that the police were effectively sued to enforce the law. If they weren’t sued on at least three occasions (Private Eye listed some, if not all, these efforts), it would have all been swept under the carpet (or that expensive wallpaper he has in 10 Downing St). And the police wonder why their reputation is so poor….

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