Troops in Russia stole a consignment of tractors and harvesters from Melitopol – so the Ukrainians disabled them remotely. CC-licensed photo by Dan Davison on Flickr.
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A selection of 10 links for you. Channelling The The. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.
Why Jony Ive left Apple to the ‘Accountants’ • The New York Times
Tripp Mickle has a new book coming out about Apple after Steve Jobs:
It was 2014, and Apple’s future, more than ever, seemed to hinge on Mr. Ive. His love of pure, simple lines had already redrawn the world through such popular products as the iMac, iPod and iPhone. Now, he was seated at a conference table with Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, the two men embodying nearly 40 years of collaboration, with one designing and the other assembling the devices that turned a failing business into the world’s largest company. They both wanted another hit, but Mr. Ive was pushing for a product reveal more audacious than any in the theatrical company’s history.
The Apple Watch was slated to be introduced at a local community college auditorium near the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. To bring cosmopolitan gloss to a suburban landscape of strip malls, Mr. Ive recommended removing two dozen trees and erecting a lavish white tent.
His extravagant vision wasn’t going over well. “They want $25 million,” a colleague said of the event’s price tag. Apple marketers at the table were aghast. Few could comprehend the logistics of moving trees, much less the staggering cost.
It was a microcosm of the challenges beginning to haunt Apple’s top designer. He believed the watch’s success hinged on persuading the world that it was a fashionable accessory. He regarded a rave from Vogue as more important than any tech reviewer’s opinion. The tent was critical to making the event as glamorous as a high-end fashion show.
But under Mr. Cook’s leadership, Apple was increasing its scrutiny of every dollar it spent and debating many ideas Mr. Ive proposed. The marketers not only questioned the expense; they also favoured a more traditional product introduction, focused less on how the watch looked and more on what it could do, like tracking a workout or tapping a wrist with a text message.
Overlooked in this writeup is that the marketers were absolutely right. People don’t buy Apple Watches as fashion objects; they buy them for their utility. (I was wrong about this too, until I tried one.) Plus that since Ive left we’ve had good keyboards, computers with useful ports, AirPods Pro, HomePod minis. Things still get made.
Do people get a sort of schadenfreude from books saying Apple is doomed? Though at least this book seems well researched.
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Apple’s not-so-secret plan to take another gigantic bite of the microchip market • WSJ
In November 2021, Qualcomm’s chief financial officer said the company expected to supply 20% of the 5G modems Apple uses in its mobile devices in 2023. Currently, Qualcomm supplies nearly 100% of these chips. (The exception is the Apple Watch, which since the Series 4 model has used an Intel modem.) While it’s possible that Apple could be planning to use 5G modems from another supplier starting in 2023, analysts are expecting that will be the year it reveals its own, Apple-designed modem.
As was the case with Apple’s move to its own processors for iPhones and Macs, designing its own chips for cellular connectivity could give the company a number of advantages over competitors.
The first is cost, says Wayne Lam, senior director of research at technology consulting firm CCS Insight. According to a recent analysis of the cost of materials in the newest iPhone SE, the first version of the more affordable iPhone model with 5G capability, the chips that allow the phone to connect to cell networks collectively cost as much or more than the chips that make up the “brains” of the phone—the A15 processor and its attached memory chips.
That’s a reversal of what has been the norm for decades in smartphones and similar mobile devices: Typically, the main processor of the device has been more complicated and expensive than the parts that allow it to communicate wirelessly.
It will also liberate Apple from supplier relationships that, whatever benefits they have provided, have at times been a source of tension. In 2019, for example, Apple settled a contentious court battle with Qualcomm over patent-licensing fees, agreeing to pay at least $4.5bn and to purchase Qualcomm’s modems for several years.
Another big advantage Apple could gain is that, by integrating its own modems onto the same A-series chip that powers its phones, it could tweak them in ways that would make them faster, more efficient, and more capable than what’s possible with its current combination of its own chips and Qualcomm’s, says Mr. Lam.
Apple bought Intel’s failed 5G modem division, and is hiring for similar positions. And that’s about all we know so far about Apple’s foray into phone modems. But look, it’s hardware!
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Impact of energy-draining ‘vampire devices’ overstated, says tech expert • The Guardian
One recent report from British Gas claimed “Brits could … save an average of £110 per household per year by simply flicking a switch”. The energy provider said 23% of British energy bills were caused by “vampire electronics, those that continue to drain power when left on standby”.
But that statistic came from a 2015 report from the US National Research Defence Council, based on analysis of homes in California. “Think about the laptop you used 10 years ago,” Melson says: “That might need a big ugly plug in the middle, a big transformer. By and large, now you can just plug them straight into USB-C: that is much more energy efficient, and there is no need to draw power.”
As well as being seven years old and based on another country’s energy, consumers may struggle to make some of the suggested savings: a third of the “always on” electronics identified in the study are “recirculation pumps, fishponds, aquariums, and protected outlets in bathrooms, kitchens and garages.” Consumers who switch off their aquarium at night can save money but their fish may object.
Other devices included in the 23% figure are left on because they are intended to run all the time: wifi routers and electric space heaters or air conditioning units increase the electricity used by a home but provide benefits while doing so.
More importantly, Melson notes, American consumers are not covered by the array of European regulations that have slashed power use for British consumers. He said: “The eco-design directive, European regulation, has driven design changes across the sector. It’s much more regulated, and business practices have evolved.”
The US report that first found the 23% figure even highlights the advantages of European regulation: “The European standard addresses a large portion of the idle load issue highlighted in this study,” the American researchers say.
Get rid of halogen lamps. Use lower temperatures for your washing. Big saving right away. This is going to be an ongoing battle to get rid of this misinformation.
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2019: what happened to America’s political centre of gravity? • The New York Times
Sahil Chinoy, examining the US political parties in 2019:
The Republican Party leans much farther right than most traditional conservative parties in Western Europe and Canada, according to an analysis of their election manifestos. It is more extreme than Britain’s Independence Party and France’s National Rally (formerly the National Front), which some consider far-right populist parties. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is positioned closer to mainstream liberal parties.
These findings are based on data from the Manifesto Project, which reviews and categorizes each line in party manifestos, the documents that lay out a group’s goals and policy ideas. We used the topics that the platforms emphasize, like market regulation and multiculturalism, to put them on a common scale.
The resulting scores capture how the groups represent themselves, not necessarily their actual policies. They are one way to answer a difficult question: If we could put every political party on the same continuum from left to right, where would the American parties fall?
According to its 2016 manifesto, the Republican Party lies far from the Conservative Party in Britain and the Christian Democratic Union in Germany — mainstream right-leaning parties — and closer to far-right parties like Alternative for Germany, whose platform contains plainly xenophobic, anti-Muslim statements.
The Republican platform does not include the same bigoted policies, and its score is pushed to the right because of its emphasis on traditional morality and a “national way of life.” Still, the party shares a “nativist, working-class populism” with the European far right, said Thomas Greven, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin who has studied right-wing populism.
There’s an accompanying graphic which shows it pretty clearly, and this is before the storming of the Capitol and the total Trumpification of the GOP – whose 2020 manifesto was “we don’t really know, what does Trump say?”
Just to confirm what I said about right-wingers who think Twitter is “too left”. No, it’s reflecting the world outside their tiny pond.
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Farm vehicles removed from Ukraine by Russians who find they’ve been remotely disabled • CNN
Olexsandr Fylyppov and Tim Lister:
Russian troops in the occupied city of Melitopol have stolen all the equipment from a farm equipment dealership — and shipped it to Chechnya, according to a Ukrainian businessman in the area.
But after a journey of more than 700 miles, the thieves were unable to use any of the equipment — because it had been locked remotely.
Over the past few weeks there’s been a growing number of reports of Russian troops stealing farm equipment, grain and even building materials – beyond widespread looting of residences. But the removal of valuable agricultural equipment from a John Deere dealership in Melitopol speaks to an increasingly organized operation, one that even uses Russian military transport as part of the heist.
CNN has learned that the equipment was removed from an Agrotek dealership in Melitopol, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early March. Altogether it’s valued at nearly $5m. The combine harvesters alone are worth $300,000 each.
…Some of the machinery was taken to a nearby village, but some of it embarked on a long overland journey to Chechnya more than 700 miles away. The sophistication of the machinery, which are equipped with GPS, meant that its travel could be tracked. It was last tracked to the village of Zakhan Yurt in Chechnya.
The equipment ferried to Chechnya, which included combine harvesters — can also be controlled remotely. “When the invaders drove the stolen harvesters to Chechnya, they realized that they could not even turn them on, because the harvesters were locked remotely,” the contact said.
So they’ll be broken up for parts. Do we like John Deere stuff now? (Also, don’t show this story to Tory MPs.)
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Rebecca Thomson exposed the Post Office scandal — and nobody listened • The Sunday Times
In May 2009, Rebecca Thomson was preparing to publish the biggest story of her career. A 26-year-old reporter at the trade publication Computer Weekly, she had landed the job just two years after graduating from a journalism course at Cardiff University.
It was her first investigation and she had spent the past six months speaking to Post Office workers who claimed their lives had been destroyed by a faulty IT system. She had seven case studies, each of whom had lost everything after the government-owned Post Office had accused them of stealing.
The story was published on the front page of the magazine under the headline: “Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods: Postmasters tell their story.” Thomson and her editor, Tony Collins, had pushed the story as hard as they could. They prepared for the scoop to get picked up by the nation’s news media.
But nothing happened. There were no national newspaper follow-ups, no Radio 4 Today programme interview requests. It was a flop. “It really did go out to a clanging silence,” says Thomson, 39, of the paltry few stories that appeared in regional papers. “I was super-ambitious, and I was disappointed and a bit confused about the fact that there had been so little reaction to the story, because I still continue to feel like it was incredibly strong.”
It was to be another decade before these subpostmasters, who had become pariahs in their communities, spat at and labelled criminals, saw their names finally cleared.
I worked on Computer Weekly (when I started, we used typewriters and carbon paper for duplicates). We did break some worthwhile stories; the national papers did sometimes follow up. This one was a big miss by the rest of the media. Which meant a lot of people suffered for too long. Trade publications are a useful part of the media ecosystem, too easily overlooked. Sadly, but understandably, Thomson grew frustrated and left the trade.
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Bored Ape Yacht Club creator’s metaverse mint rocks the Ethereum blockchain • The Verge
Yuga Labs, the web3 company behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club, disrupted the entire Ethereum blockchain as a flood of users rushed to purchase NFTs representing virtual plots of land in its upcoming metaverse project, Otherside. A total of 55,000 Otherdeeds sold at a flat price of 305 ApeCoin, or around $5,800 at the time of purchase (via CoinTelegraph), raising about $320 million in what was considered the “largest NFT mint in history.”
Otherdeeds are minted in BAYC’s native ApeCoin, but still require Ethereum for gas fees. A gas fee is the cost associated with a transaction on the Ethereum blockchain. Fees typically increase as the network gets more congested, as it becomes more work to process a transaction.
Such a large volume of transactions during the Otherdeed mint caused gas [transaction] fees to soar. As noted by CoinTelegraph, Reddit user u/johnfintech pointed out that some buyers shelled out anywhere from 2.6 ETH ($6,500) to 5 ETH ($14,000) in gas fees alone — more than the cost of an Otherdeed NFT (and in some cases, more than twice the cost). By the time the virtual land deeds sold out, buyers paid a total of about $123m just to execute their transactions on the Ethereum blockchain (via Bloomberg).
Yuga Labs issued an apology on Twitter shortly after the mint ended. “We’re sorry for turning off the lights on Ethereum for a while,” Yuga Labs said. “It seems abundantly clear that ApeCoin will need to migrate to its own chain in order to properly scale. We’d like to encourage the DAO [decentralized autonomous organization] to start thinking in this direction.”
To me this says two things. First, that the claims of “web3” to eliminate the middleman and make finance cheaper are pure hooey. Second, that if people have this sort of “money” just lying around, it’s not really “money”, because you could do so much more with real money. Go on holiday. Buy a car. In the US, book an unscheduled doctor’s visit.
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Heat wave scorches India’s wheat crop, snags export plans • Associated Press
An unusually early, record-shattering heat wave in India has reduced wheat yields, raising questions about how the country will balance its domestic needs with ambitions to increase exports and make up for shortfalls due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Gigantic landfills in India’s capital New Delhi have caught fire in recent weeks. Schools in eastern Indian state Odisha have been shut for a week and in neighboring West Bengal, schools are stocking up on oral rehydration salts for kids. On Tuesday, Rajgarh, a city of over 1.5 million people in central India, was the country’s hottest, with daytime temperatures peaking at 46.5ºC (114.08ºF). Temperatures breached the 45ºC (113ºF) mark in nine other cities.
But it was the heat in March — the hottest in India since records first started being kept in 1901 — that stunted crops. Wheat is very sensitive to heat, especially during the final stage when its kernels mature and ripen. Indian farmers time their planting so that this stage coincides with India’s usually cooler spring.
Climate change has made India’s heat wave hotter, said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the Imperial College of London. She said that before human activities increased global temperatures, heat waves like this year’s would have struck India once in about half a century.
“But now it is a much more common event — we can expect such high temperatures about once in every four years,” she said.
India’s vulnerability to extreme heat increased 15% from 1990 to 2019, according to a 2021 report by the medical journal The Lancet. It is among the top five countries where vulnerable people, like the old and the poor, have the highest exposure to heat. It and Brazil have the the highest heat-related mortality in the world, the report said.
Two weeks, no smartphone: how I tried – and failed – to kick my screen addiction • The Guardian
James Ball felt he was spending too much time being Very Online:
Starting to feel as if I’m getting into the rhythm of this, I head to another friend’s birthday party, near London’s Waterloo station. When I get there, I am pulled up short as I realise I have absolutely zero idea of where the party is. I haven’t had to worry about directions, or carrying an A-Z map, for a decade. The spur-of-the-moment decision by my friends to nip “round the corner” leaves me wandering the area for more than half an hour until I bump into someone I know.
It serves as a reminder that life is increasingly difficult for anyone shut out of the smartphone world. Around 16% of UK adults are in this position, but this rises dramatically with age: 23% of adults aged 55-64 have no smartphone, increasing to 47% of over-65s. The more it becomes an expectation of how we socialise, or how we get into venues (with Covid passes, or event tickets, for example), how we bank or pay bills, the bigger the cost for those unable or unwilling to get one.
Days 10 and 11
Time to speak to the phone addiction expert: Dr Anna Lembke, who is chief of the Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University. She tells me that phone addiction is real – both because of the nature of the devices and because they are a portal to addictive pastimes such as pornography or gambling. “As with any drug, the vast majority of users won’t get addicted, but a small subset – 10-15% – will run into trouble and potentially get seriously addicted,” she says.
What, I ask, are the negative effects of such an addiction? “Less joy in modest pleasures that used to give us joy,” she says. “Mental preoccupation with the phone, and heightened distractibility and reactivity. Decreased ability to be present in the moment.”
Quite educational; we rely so much on things like maps, calendars and email in our pocket that we easily forget what it was like without them. (If you ever knew that.)
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The shadow crew who encouraged Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover • WSJ
Rob Copeland, Georgia Wells, Rebecca Elliott and Liz Hoffman:
By 2015, tweeting had become a near-daily habit for Mr. Musk. He often posted in the middle of the workday during a period in which Tesla was struggling to make its first electric SUVs. He sometimes replied to major public figures, like Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and the D.J. deadmau5, but otherwise stuck mostly to updates on Tesla’s vehicles and rocket launches at his Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX.
His tweeting soon rose rapidly. He began regularly interacting with fans and detractors and tweeted more than six times a day on average in 2018. “Your math isn’t very good,” he wrote to one journalist who was critical of Tesla. Asked by another why he was spending so much time tweeting, he wrote: “Because Twitter is fun.”
His interest in the platform grew even as it helped land him in legal trouble. Memorable tweets included ones suggesting a British cave explorer was a pedophile and another saying he was considering taking Tesla private and had “funding secured” to do so. He successfully fended off a lawsuit on the former, after arguing his taunt wasn’t meant to be taken literally, and paid $20m to securities regulators in a settlement related to the latter.
To a public-relations consultant who urged him to keep a lower profile on the platform, Mr. Musk in 2018 wrote in an email subsequently made public in litigation, “Will tweet as I wish and suffer the consequences…so it goes.”
His tweeting has only increased since that settlement, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. It wasn’t long after, friends and associates say, that Mr. Musk’s agita with the platform began to grow. He was tweeting an average of nine times a day in 2020 when former Twitter executives say they became aware of his budding friendship with then-CEO Mr. Dorsey.
While Mr. Dorsey was on stage at a Twitter all-hands event in Houston in early 2020, he called Mr. Musk on FaceTime. Mr. Dorsey plugged his iPad into the stage’s jumbo screen, and employees cheered as Mr. Musk’s face lighted up the room.
Mr. Dorsey asked Mr. Musk to choose a single tweet to represent himself.
“I put the art in fart,” replied Mr. Musk, then 48 years old.
There wasn’t a “crew” so much as Musk’s own capricious nature. He’s not Warren Buffett, making long plans. He must have some amazing financial advisers, though, doing the work in the background. Profile them.
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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
There’s a remarkable episode on This American Life that played this weekend on the subject of NFT’s, who is making money behind them, and is what they are doing legal? The Bored Apes make a guest appearance in the piece, which does not go the way you think it would. It’s worth listening to the whole episode. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/769/the-reluctant-explorer