Start Up No.1787: more on Musk (afraid so), Russia cuts gas to Poland, accountants v crypto, Ikea’s winding road to sales, and more

You can rewind 25 years to run Mac OS 8 in a single browser window. Don’t ask why; it’s emulation. CC-licensed photo by youngthousandsyoungthousands on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russia to halt gas supply to Poland, government told • The Guardian

Daniel Boffey:


Poland’s government has been told that the country’s gas supply from Russia will stop from Wednesday following Warsaw’s refusal to pay its supplier, Gazprom, in roubles, in an apparent warning shot to the rest of Europe.

The decision to kill supply at 8am CET had also followed Poland’s announcement earlier on Tuesday that it was imposing sanctions on 50 entities and individuals –including Russia’s biggest gas company – over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The move will be a grave concern to those countries who are the most heavily dependent on Russian gas, such as Germany, but at a hastily arranged press conference, Polish ministers said they had sufficient supplies to weather an interruption while accusing Gazprom of a breach of contract.

Anna Moskwa, minister for climate, said: “There are no worries about shortages gas in our homes. It is worth pointing out that liquified nature gas alone supplies the market sufficiently. LNG deliveries in [terminal] Świnoujście are growing – in 2015 there was one, in 2021 it was already 35. As of today, it provides for about 50 deliveries.”

She added: “Appropriate diversification strategies that we have introduced allow us to feel on the safe side in this situation.”

PGNiG, Poland’s largest gas supplier, said it would file a breach of contract lawsuit over Gazprom’s decision.

Russia currently supplies about 55% of Poland’s annual demand of about 21bn cubic meters of gas but the country’s government has still been pushing the EU and other western allies to go further in punishing the Kremlin.


Weather in Poland is about the same as in the southern UK – down to 3ºC overnight. I think this is the first time that a fossil fuel has been used so directly as part of a war threat. There have been threats, but this is different. And, perversely, it’s likely to hasten the end of the use of gas. Why leave yourself vulnerable to a capricious foreign power?
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Meteorites contain key DNA and RNA building blocks • Popular Science

Tatyana Woodall:


For decades, astronomers have pondered the idea of panspermia, the theory that life on Earth was delivered here by a meteorite. The concept was once deemed improbable because it raised more questions than answers. But recent close examinations of extraterrestrial objects hint there may be some support for this far-out notion after all. 

Researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan have found new evidence that the chemical components necessary to build DNA may have been carried to Earth by carbonaceous meteorites, some of the earliest matter in the solar system, as they report in a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications. Although these kinds of materials make up about 75% of all asteroids, they rarely fall to Earth, limiting how often scientists can study them. Yet they are troves of information: Scrutinizing these space rocks can tell stories about unique cosmic locations. Their contents may also help reveal the ancient chemical reactions that made our world a living planet. 

Specifically, several meteorites have been found to contain nucleobases. These chemicals, called the building blocks of life, make up the nucleic acids inside DNA and RNA. Of the five major nucleobases, previous meteorite studies detected only three of them, named adenine, guanine, and uracil. But the present research proves for the first time that two more—cytosine and thymine—can exist within space rocks. 


“Space rocks” – a classic example of the “second mention“.

But if all the elements of DNA could have arrived on spac..meteorites, that pushes the question of origins back, and also raises more strongly the possibility of DNA-based life elsewhere.
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I helped build ByteDance’s vast censorship machine • Protocol

Shen Lu spoke to “Li An” (it’s a pseudonym – so quaint! So soon-to-be-outlawed!):


It was the night Dr. Li Wenliang struggled for his last breath in the emergency room of Wuhan Central Hospital. I, like many Chinese web users, had stayed awake to refresh my Weibo feed constantly for updates on his condition. Dr. Li was an ophthalmologist who sounded the alarm early in the COVID-19 outbreak. He soon faced government intimidation and then contracted the virus. When he passed away in the early hours of Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, I was among many Chinese netizens who expressed grief and outrage at the events on Weibo, only to have my account deleted.

I felt guilt more than anger. At the time, I was a tech worker at ByteDance, where I helped develop tools and platforms for content moderation. In other words, I had helped build the system that censored accounts like mine. I was helping to bury myself in China’s ever-expanding cyber grave.

I hadn’t received explicit directives about Li Wenliang, but Weibo was certainly not the only Chinese tech company relentlessly deleting posts and accounts that night. I knew ByteDance’s army of content moderators were using the tools and algorithms that I helped develop to delete content, change the narrative and alter memories of the suffering and trauma inflicted on Chinese people during the COVID-19 outbreak. I couldn’t help but feel every day like I was a tiny cog in a vast, evil machine.

…When I was at ByteDance, we received multiple requests from the bases to develop an algorithm that could automatically detect when a Douyin user spoke Uyghur, and then cut off the livestream session. The moderators had asked for this because they didn’t understand the language. Streamers speaking ethnic languages and dialects that Mandarin-speakers don’t understand would receive a warning to switch to Mandarin. If they didn’t comply, moderators would respond by manually cutting off the livestreams, regardless of the actual content.


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Accountants are bracing themselves for a crypto-induced nightmare tax season • Mel Magazine

Quinn Myers:


For RJ, a 38-year-old certified public accountant in Chicago, tax season is never easy. “Every year it’s been hell, the worst 15 weeks of my life over and over again,” he tells me. “But now I would do anything to go back in time to avoid what’s coming. I can’t believe I was naive enough to think it couldn’t get worse.” 

RJ is dreading this year’s tax season due to the unprecedented number of people who took interest in trading stocks and cryptocurrency over the course of 2021. To get an idea why, here’s how RJ first realized something terrible was coming his way: “I’ve been doing the taxes of a friend from college’s little brother — he’s worked the same job since graduating so it’s been a pretty simple filing every year, and I give him the family and friends discount,” RJ explains. “This year, bless his heart, he emailed me early asking about crypto taxes, so I had him send over a document of his investments.” 

In response, “he sent over a massive spreadsheet with an endless amount of transactions, most of which were like ‘Bought $45 of Cumcoin at $.000000065 on PancakeSwap,’ and ‘Traded 750,000 SHIB to BLAZE on CoinFort, transferred to XCryptoX Wallet,’” RJ says. “I almost walked out of the office and straight into the lake.” 

RJ isn’t alone in agonizing over the forthcoming tax season. “I’ve been a CPA for 13-plus years and have done seasonal tax work for most of that period,” says Colin Smith, a CPA in Ohio. “This tax season is shaping up to be more stressful than ever before, as there are a number of ways the explosion in crypto and retail stock trading can create major headaches for accountants.”


On the plus side, at least they kept a spreadsheet.
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Infinite Mac: An Instant-Booting Quadra in Your Browser •

Mihai Parparita:


I’ve extended James Friend’s in-browser Basilisk II port to create a full-featured classic 68K Mac in your browser. You can see it in action at or

…It’s a golden age of emulation. Between increasing CPU power, WebAssembly, and retrocomputing being so popular The New York Times is covering it, it’s never been easier to relive your 80s/90s/2000s nostalgia. Projects like v86 make it easy to run your chosen old operating system in the browser. My heritage being of the classic Mac line, I was curious what the easiest to use emulation option was in the modern era. I had earlier experimented with Basilisk II, which worked well enough, but it was rather annoying to set up, as far as gathering a ROM, a boot image, messing with configuration files, etc. As far as I could tell, that was still the state of the art, at least if you were targeting late era 68K Mac emulation.


It is pretty amazing to see this running in a browser, about as fast as the originals used to run. Control strip! Spatial Finder! Also.. not many apps. And, of course, no browser.
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What’s the future of twitter under Musk? | Inside Story – YouTube

I popped up on Al Jazeera TV to talk about the Musk takeover of Twitter along with Quinn McKew of Article 19 and Ramesh Srinivasan, professor of information studies at the University of California and author of the book “Beyond the Valley”. Skip forward about four minutes to get to the discussion.
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Twitter takeover was brash and fast, with Musk calling the shots • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Michelle Davis and Liana Baker:


The first breakthrough was coming up with $46.5bn for the bid. After bringing on Morgan Stanley as his adviser, Musk was able to get a dozen banks to commit $25.5bn in debt financing. He pledged another $21bn in equity financing himself.

Doing video calls, making presentations and sharing parts of his vision for the future of Twitter helped the banks get comfortable working with him, Bloomberg reported.

There were also at least two consecutive weekends where advisers worked through a few sleepless nights. The code name for the bid was “Project X” at some of the banks involved. Musk, meanwhile, dialed in to calls from places like Texas, where Tesla is now based.

The second tactic Musk employed was appealing directly to Twitter shareholders late last week. After revealing he had financing in place, Musk brought his pitch to some of Twitter’s biggest active investors and urged them to pressure Twitter to engage, some of the people said. Some shareholders reached out to Twitter to say they wanted it to take the offer seriously, they said.

Twitter’s board, meanwhile — joined in some cases by management — set up meetings with eight to 10 of its investors to gauge shareholder views on a potential deal, one of the people said. Those meetings began before Musk made his financing commitments public.

The third catalyst that led to a deal was the role of the price, $54.20, and how it compared with Twitter’s own growth prospects. The company’s advisers, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., did a valuation analysis and presented it to the board last Friday, one of the people said. Musk’s camp didn’t get a look at those materials, though, given the decision to bypass reviewing Twitter’s books.

Twitter’s shares were trading well below Musk’s bid, with the stock closing at $47.08 the previous day, and far from their $70-plus highs of a year earlier. But the question was whether the stock could recover without taking the deal. The analysis didn’t paint an optimistic picture.


As others have pointed out, Twitter was due to report earnings on Thursday. Given the economic slowdown, those would probably have been mediocre. Selling at a premium suddenly began to look like an attractive idea.
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2008: Why are there no spam or trolls on Twitter? • The Guardian

Kate Bevan, who I asked to write this piece in March 2008 when Twitter was just a couple of years old:


Because it’s rather like an RSS feed – you choose to read it – and nobody so far has worked out how to spam a feed.

Twitter, for those not in the know, is a collection of microblogs where people post their minute-by-minute thoughts and actions. Anyone can sign up and start posting “tweets”, or updates. Your tweets can be made and viewed via Facebook or your mobile as well as via the website (

However, this is asymmetric, unlike Facebook, which requires you to confirm a friend request before they can see your status updates, which are the same sort of idea as tweets. On Twitter you can choose to follow anyone whose tweets catch your eye; and similarly, unless you limit your tweets only to your friends, anyone can follow you even if you choose not to follow them. Not everyone follows everyone who follows them. You follow?

Given the number of trolls, fools and idiots on the internet, Twitter is remarkable for being largely idiot-free, as blogger Russell Beattie points out. “Think about any other online community system ever created,” he observes. “All of them have had to deal with the core problem of idiots. Anytime a virtual group gets to a certain size, the morons come.”


At the time Beattie reckoned Twitter had roughly a million users. And I’ll confirm – it was pretty much free of spam or trolls. (Like pretty much everyone, Beattie fell out of the habit of blogging as Twitter became embedded in our lives. Much like the spam and trolls – including the giant one who has just bought it – did.)
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Making science more open is good for research—but bad for security • WIRED UK

Grace Browne:


a new paper in the journal PLoS Biology argues that, while the swell of the open science movement is on the whole a good thing, it isn’t without risks. 

Though the speed of open-access publishing means important research gets out more quickly, it also means the checks required to ensure that risky science isn’t being tossed online are less meticulous. In particular, the field of synthetic biology—which involves the engineering of new organisms or the reengineering of existing organisms to have new abilities—faces what is called a dual-use dilemma: that while quickly released research may be used for the good of society, it could also be co-opted by bad actors to conduct biowarfare or bioterrorism. It also could increase the potential for an accidental release of a dangerous pathogen if, for example, someone inexperienced were able to easily get their hands on a how-to guide for designing a virus. “There is a risk that bad things are going to be shared,” says James Smith, a coauthor on the paper and a researcher at the University of Oxford. “And there’s not really processes in place at the moment to address it.”

While the risk of dual-use research is an age-old problem, “open science poses new and different challenges,” says Gigi Gronvall, a biosecurity expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “These risks have always been there, but with the advances in technology, it magnifies them.”

To be clear, this has yet to happen. No dangerous virus or other pathogen has been replicated or created from instructions in a preprint. But given that the potential consequences of this happening are so catastrophic—like triggering another pandemic—the paper’s authors argue that even small increases in risk are not worth taking. And the time to be thinking deeply about these risks is now. 


We’ve been here before, to some extent: there was a moratorium in the 1970s on recombinant DNA work while everyone worked out what the safe parameters were. More recently we’ve seen calls for moratoriums on germ line editing (which remain in force, in effect). The problem is that the technologies for genetic manipulation are available to far more people, far more cheaply, than before. (Thanks G for the link.)
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How Ikea tricks you into buying more stuff • The Hustle

Zachary Crockett:


It’s estimated that 60% of Ikea purchases are impulse buys. And Ikea’s own creative director has said that only 20% of the store’s purchases are based on actual logic and needs.

All of this unplanned buying has earned Ikea an enviable position in the struggling retail landscape. As of 2021, it boasts:
• ~$47.6B USD in annual retail sales
• 458 stores in 61 markets
• 775m store visits + 5B web visits per year
• 225k global employees

On the surface, this success may seem a bit perplexing because Ikea’s way of doing business is extremely unorthodox.

It sells meatballs and lamps under the same roof. It has been described as both “Disneyland for adults” and “a nightmare hellscape.” And the idea of spending an afternoon stuck in a one-way maze — then going home and assembling your own bookcase — isn’t exactly appealing.

But these eccentricities are intentionally engineered to get you to make unplanned purchases, and come back for more.

In general, retailers design their stores with three goals in mind:
• Intelligibility: Easy to understand the floor plan
• Accessibility: Easy to navigate
• A clear visual field: Exposure to products and the lay of the land 

Most companies use store layouts that give customers the freedom to explore at their own will.

Commonly used configurations — grid, racetrack, freeform, and spine — don’t have defined routes: You can wander down any aisle you please, in any order you want.

Ikea breaks all of these rules.

Inside, customers are led through a preordained, one-way path that winds through 50+ room settings. The average Ikea store is 300k sq. ft. — the equivalent of about 5 football fields — and their typical shopper ends up walking almost a mile.

Want a lamp? You’re going to have to walk past cookware, rugs, toilet brushes, and shoehorns to get there.


This is true, though once you know the Ikea layout (which, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t actually vary from store to store) then you can take the shortcut from sofas to kitchens (there are shortcuts). And using the online catalogue ahead of time lets you just head down to the warehouse and get precisely what you need. Though… meatballs. Mmm. (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?

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

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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