Start Up No.1807: Ukraine’s electric bike warriors, touchscreens v drivers, China’s Uyghur data revealed, Clegg’s metaverse, and more

The original Pong game from Atari was hugely successful, but how many lines of code do you think it had – ten, a hundred, a thousand? CC-licensed photo by Axel Tregoning on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Beep boop boop. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ukraine is using quiet electric bikes to haul anti-tank weapons • Motherboard

Matthew Gault:


The Ukrainian military is using stealthy electric bikes modified to carry next-generation light anti-tank weapons (NLAWS) to fight Russia.

Soldiers on electric bikes have been spotted across Ukraine since the early days of the war, mostly on ELEEK brand bikes. e-bikes are fast and, critically, much quieter than a gas powered bike. They allow soldiers to perform quick guard patrols or move swiftly into position.

On Telegram last week, pictures surfaced of the Delfast branded bikes that had been modified to carry massive anti-tank weapons. The two photos showed the e-bike modified with a crate on the back and a huge missile launcher poking from the back.

The e-bikes are used for transporting the launchers; the anti-tank weapons aren’t fired from the back of the bikes. The quiet design and fast speed—a Delfast can reach speeds up to 50 mph—allow the bikes to move NLAWS into position and quickly flee once fired.

Both Delfast and ELEEK are Ukrainian companies. When reached for comment, representatives of Delfast in the United States denied it had sold Ukraine any of its bikes. “Delfast continues to support the people of Ukraine. We are working with governments and the larger tech community to end this war,” a representative of Delfast in the U.S. told Motherboard. “We have not sold Delfast bikes or made modifications to our e-bikes to support any military action. We are also donating 5% of all sales to fund humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.”

This is technically true: Delfast has not sold the Ukrainian military any of its bikes. It gave them away.


It’s the silence: if they were carried on normal motorcycles, the noise would be a clue from miles away. The first war where electric vehicles become a key player?
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Touch screens in cars solve a problem we didn’t have • The New York Times

Jay Caspian King:


The question of whether touch screens are good or bad was broached way back in 1986, when Buick put something called the Graphic Control Center in its Riviera line. What’s particularly striking about the Graphic Control Center, a nine-inch touch screen in the center of the dashboard, was that it wasn’t all that functionally different from today’s versions.

You could turn the fan up and down, you could set your car’s temperature, and you could change the radio station. There was a five-band sound equalizer that you could use to turn up the bass in your speakers. (The funniest, and perhaps most useful, feature was the Reminder function, which was like a to-do list for the driver. Here’s a video showing all the functions.)

But by 1990, Buick had abandoned the Graphic Control Center after drivers complained that every small adjustment to the car’s temperature or radio caused them to take their eyes off the road while they prodded a touch screen.

Thirty-two years later, touch screens are not only back but mostly standard. The complaints are the same: The screens are equally useless and enraging. Distracted, frustrated drivers, of course, are dangers to themselves and everyone else on the road.

The only difference now is that the evidence of the effects that glowing screens have on automotive safety is overwhelming. In 2017 the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that performing tasks on a car’s screen took a driver’s attention away from the road for more than 40 seconds.


As he says, the incentives are obvious for the car makers: touchscreens are cheap and easier to install than mechanical panels. Those incentives don’t work for drivers, though.
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The faces from China’s Uyghur detention camps • BBC News

John Sudworth:


Thousands of photographs from the heart of China’s highly secretive system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang, as well as a shoot-to-kill policy for those who try to escape, are among a huge cache of data hacked from police computer servers in the region.

The Xinjiang Police Files, as they’re being called, were passed to the BBC earlier this year. After a months-long effort to investigate and authenticate them, they can be shown to offer significant new insights into the internment of the region’s Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities.

Their publication coincides with the recent arrival in China of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, for a controversial visit to Xinjiang, with critics concerned that her itinerary will be under the tight control of the government.

The cache reveals, in unprecedented detail, China’s use of “re-education” camps and formal prisons as two separate but related systems of mass detention for Uyghurs – and seriously calls into question its well-honed public narrative about both.

The government’s claim that the re-education camps built across Xinjiang since 2017 are nothing more than “schools” is contradicted by internal police instructions, guarding rosters and the never-before-seen images of detainees.


Proof, if it were needed, that hacking can be a force for good. Expect that this will reveal much more about what has been happening. As with Tibet, the Chinese Communist Party flattens difference and demands obedience, and exacts the highest price for not obeying.
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Someone stole Seth Green’s Bored Ape and star of his new NFT show • Buzzfeed News

Sarah Emerson:


Actor and producer Seth Green was robbed of several NFTs this month after succumbing to a phishing scam that inadvertently threw a monkey wrench into the plan for his new animated series. The forthcoming show was developed from characters in Green’s expansive NFT collection, but in light of the recent hack, the project’s blatant crypto optimism has become a tragically ironic reminder of the industry’s shadier side.

On Saturday, Green teased a trailer for White Horse Tavern at the NFT conference VeeCon. A twee comedy, the show seems to be based on the question, “What if your friendly neighborhood bartender was Bored Ape Yacht Club #8398?” In an interview with entrepreneur and crypto hype man Gary Vaynerchuk, Green said he wanted to imagine a universe where “it doesn’t matter what you look like, what only matters is your attitude.”

Unfortunately for Green, what also matters is copyright law. And when the actor’s NFT collection was pilfered by a scammer in early May, he lost the commercial rights to his show’s cartoon protagonist, a scruffy Bored Ape named Fred Simian, whose likeness and usage rights now belong to someone else.

“I bought that ape in July 2021, and have spent the last several months developing and exploiting the IP to make it into the star of this show,” Green told Vaynerchuk. “Then days before — his name is Fred by the way — days before he’s set to make his world debut, he’s literally kidnapped.” Green did not respond to a tweet from BuzzFeed News regarding the show.

…If the current owner “wanted to cause trouble for Seth Green they probably could, because that person becomes the holder” of the commercial usage rights, said Daniel Dubin, an intellectual property attorney at Alston & Bird LLP.

NFT copyright law can be “a particularly thorny issue,” Dubin said, and has only begun to be tested in court.


Having watched some of the trailer, it’s hard not to think that the phisher has done us all a favour. But look, it’s hardly as if drawing a new, slightly different cartoon figure is beyond the wit of humans, is it? The whole thing is bonkers.
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2012: The Great Depression and the rise of the refrigerator • Pacific Standard

Matt Novak:


When I moved to Los Angeles and began my search for an apartment I was a little surprised by the fact that a refrigerator wasn’t included with most of the units I toured. In every other city where I’ve ever lived, the average apartment always included a refrigerator with the cost of rent. I was only looking for a one-bedroom apartment, but I was expecting that this was the norm everywhere for the most basic of apartments.

When I asked the manager of the apartment building I wound up renting from why there was no refrigerator, she explained that the property only supplies “the essentials.” When I pointed out that the building came with an underground parking space, she just stared at me blankly. It was in her silence that I came to understand a subtle difference between Los Angeles and the rest of the country: parking is essential, keeping perishable food fresh is not.


The puzzle – in 2012, 2017 (when the article was updated) and now in 2022, when the LA Times has returned to the question – is why so many rental apartments in Los Angeles specifically don’t have refrigerators. The answer seems to be “because things just went that way”.
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Pong: the no-code video game : r/EngineeringPorn



The original Pong video game had no code and was built using hardware circuitry. Here’s the original schematics from Atari


Amazing. The logic is a few AND and OR and NOR and NAND gates. No stored program at all. (More details at, which takes you through each part of the system.) A fabulous piece of creativity.
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Making the metaverse: what it is, how it will be built, and why it matters • Medium

Nick Clegg:


The word ‘metaverse’ is actually a little misleading, as ‘verse’ implies you are transported to another ‘universe’. Of course, there is escapism inherent in using some of these technologies — like an immersive gaming experience. But the metaverse is much more than that. It’s ultimately about finding ever more ways for the benefits of the online world to be felt in our daily lives — enriching our experiences, not replacing them.

Imagine, for example, how useful it could be to wear glasses that give you virtual directions in your line of sight, or immediate translations of street signs in foreign languages. Or even make it possible for you to have a conversation with someone who is thousands of miles away as a three-dimensional hologram in your living room instead of a head and shoulders on a flat screen. And, as I will go on to explain in more detail, the potential societal benefits — particularly in education and healthcare — are vast, from helping med students practice surgical techniques to bringing school lessons to life in new and exciting ways.

As someone in their mid-50s who has spent most of my career in British and European politics rather than Silicon Valley, it wasn’t until I started using some of the early products that I started to properly grasp the potential. For several months now my close team has been meeting weekly in Meta’s Horizon Workrooms app, in which you interact with colleagues as avatars in virtual meeting rooms, complete with whiteboards, boardroom tables, wall art, and futuristic cityscapes visible through the windows. Yes, we are meeting as stylized representations of ourselves, but there really is something about the sense of place and space, and the directional sound in particular, that makes the meetings feel much more human than talking to thumbnail faces on a laptop.


Realising the “societal benefits” in education and healthcare would be very expensive: how much will it cost to equip a class, let alone a school? But Clegg’s only getting warmed up here – the article is very long (“31 min read”, says Medium). Something of a kitchen sink approach to the topic.
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How ‘Zuck Bucks’ saved the 2020 election — and fuelled the Big Lie • Protocol

Issie Lapowsky:


If Mark Zuckerberg could have imagined the worst possible outcome of his decision to insert himself into the 2020 election, it might have looked something like the scene that unfolded inside Mar-a-Lago on a steamy evening in early April.

There in a gilded ballroom-turned-theater, MAGA world icons including Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and former president Donald Trump himself were gathered for the premiere of “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.”

The 41-minute film, produced by Citizens United’s David Bossie, accuses Zuckerberg of buying the election for President Biden. Its smoking gun? The very public $419 million in grants Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated to local and state election officials in 2020 to help them prepare for the unprecedented challenge of pulling off an election in a pandemic. On the film’s poster, Zuckerberg is pictured smugly dropping a crisp Benjamin into a ballot box.

Suffice it to say, this was not exactly what Zuckerberg had in mind.

The Facebook founder had tried in vain to make his grand entrance into the election appear impartial. He didn’t plow tens of millions of dollars into a single candidate’s super PAC, like his buddy Dustin Moskovitz did for Biden. He didn’t spread his wealth between Senate campaigns, like his other buddy Peter Thiel is doing right now.

He did it the Zuckerberg way. The Facebook way. Instead of explicitly picking a party — God forbid he be the arbiter of anything — he threw open the vault to his vast fortune and said: Have at it, America. He offered grants to any election official who wanted one, so long as they spent it on what a lot of people would consider mundane essentials that make it easier and safer for everyone to vote: ballot sorters, drop boxes, poll workers and — because it was 2020 — hand sanitizer.


Beautifully reported piece of work, which goes to show that in the US in particular no good deed goes unpunished.
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The world’s car buyers are ready to go electric, new data shows • Axios

Joann Muller:


52% of respondents to Ernst & Young’s (EY) annual Mobility Consumer Index who are looking to buy a car want an EV, according to the survey of 13,000 people in 18 countries.

That’s a leap of 22 percentage points in two years, and the first time that EV interest exceeded 50%, the company said.

Buyers in Italy (73%), China (69%) and South Korea (63%) were the most interested. Consumers in Australia (38%) and the US (29%) showed less interest.

Government policies are probably driving consumer choices in many markets.
• The European Union, for example, plans to ban sales of conventional gas-powered vehicles by 2035
• China wants 40% of vehicles sold to be electric by 2030 and has used buyer subsidies and other policy measures to support the transition
• In the US, President Biden set a target for 50% of new cars to be electric by 2030. But with gas prices spiking, a proposal to boost tax credits for consumers who choose EVs is now getting congressional pushback
• For the first time in the poll, 34% of respondents identified rising penalties on conventional cars as a key factor in their purchase decision, E&Y found
• And 88% say they would pay more for an EV.

One issue that’s starting to fade: range anxiety, especially for second-time EV owners, the survey showed. As battery technology advances and access to charging infrastructure improves, such worries will disappear, said EY.


But of course the US, one of the biggest polluters from vehicles, would be getting “congressional pushback” against proposals that would encourage less pollution. We’d expect nothing less in a country that anyway shows less interest in EVs than pretty much anywhere else. The full report has other detail – notably that people don’t want to go back on public transport post-Covid.
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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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