Start Up No.1819: Musk wants a billion Twitter users, Apple’s £750m “throttling” charge, satellites on pause, M2 Air v Mac Pro, and more


If your house burnt down with all your devices inside, how easily or quickly would you be able to recreate your digital life including all your old accounts and data? CC-licensed photo by Ada BeAda Be on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Musk says he wants one billion users on Twitter • The New York Times

Mike Isaac, who listened in to the call:

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In an hourlong question-and-answer session in the morning with Twitter’s 8,000 or so employees — the first time Mr. Musk has spoken with them since he agreed to buy the social media company in April — the world’s richest man opened up about his plans for the service. In an effusive and at times rambling address, he touched on topics as varied as growth, potential layoffs, anonymity, Chinese apps, the existence of alien life-forms and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.

“I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization where we better understand the nature of reality,” Mr. Musk said in the meeting, which was livestreamed to Twitter employees and which The New York Times listened to.

The 50-year-old added that he hoped the service could help humankind “better understand the nature of the universe, as much as it is possible to understand.”

The meeting, which Mr. Musk participated in from his cellphone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested that he was set on closing the blockbuster acquisition.

…On Thursday, he emphasized that he wanted to make Twitter as inclusive a platform as possible, mostly by gaining more users, adding that he would not allow criminal acts to be carried out on the network. He said that he also didn’t want to make people use their real names on Twitter and that there was utility in using pseudonyms to express political views on the service.

Some Twitter employees, who have pointed to Mr. Musk’s reputation as an innovator, said they felt heartened after Thursday’s meeting. Mr. Musk was not hostile and seemed to have a vision for the product, despite not being able to enunciate it clearly at times, they said. Others said he had not addressed their questions, with one employee writing in an internal Slack message, which was viewed by The Times, that “if you took a drink each time he answered a question, you’d be painfully sober at the end of this.”

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Also written up at The Verge, WSJ, CNN and FT. Take your pick.
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Claim for £750m against Apple launched over alleging battery ‘throttling’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Apple is facing a multimillion-pound legal claim that could reimburse millions of iPhone owners over a secret decision to slow down older phones in January 2017.

An undocumented battery management system, released in a software update in January that year, slowed down the performance of older iPhones in order to stop them shutting down without warning. But Apple didn’t give users the option to disable the setting, and did not warn them that their phones were being “throttled” deliberately.

Justin Gutmann, a consumer rights campaigner, has launched a claim against Apple over the decision at the Competition Appeals Tribunal. If he wins, the company could be forced to pay damages of more than £750m, spread out between the approximately 25 million people who bought one of the affected phones. The claim relates to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X models.

Gutmann argues that Apple’s decision to throttle the phones wasn’t disclosed to users at the time, and was introduced to disguise the fact that older iPhone batteries were unable to cope with the new demands placed on them. Rather than introduce a battery recall or replacement programme, or admit that the latest software update was unsuitable for older devices, Apple pushed users to install the update knowing it would worsen their devices’ performance, he says.

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I don’t know the detail of what Gutmann will have to prove, but I’d have expected it would be that people who installed the update somehow suffered harm as a result. Apple introduced it because phones with clapped-out or cold batteries might shut down abruptly if given processor-intensive tasks. The update reduced the processor demands so the phone stayed on, but worked less rapidly. Is the suggestion seriously that people concluded that their phone, which had previously gone off or run down rapidly, was now staying on but more slowly, needed an upgrade?

But Apple’s previously paid out on this (without admitting responsibility) in the US, to the tune of $310m, or about $30 per person. Depending on the standards of proof, maybe it’ll be on the hook similarly here.
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I’ve locked myself out of my digital life • Terence Eden’s Blog

Note that the following is fiction, but the problems could well be real:

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Imagine…

Last night, lightning struck our house and burned it down. I escaped wearing only my nightclothes.

In an instant, everything was vaporised. Laptop? Cinders. Phone? Ashes. Home server? A smouldering wreck. Yubikey? A charred chunk of gristle.

This presents something of a problem.

In order to recover my digital life, I need to be able to log in to things. This means I need to know my usernames (easy) and my passwords (hard). All my passwords are stored in a Password Manager. I can remember the password to that. But logging in to the manager also requires a 2FA code. Which is generated by my phone.

The phone – which now looks like a charred chunk too.

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It’s a good point that our digital lives tend to rely on devices which are fragile and hard to replace quickly. (The journalist James Ball was mugged recently, and his phone – unlocked – stolen – which led to the converse of the problem, of wanting to lock all his accounts as quickly as possible.) Eden’s house remains unstruck, happily.
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Sanctions and satellites: the space industry after the Russo-Ukrainian war • War on the Rocks

Jeremy Grunert:

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If you were hoping to launch a satellite in 2022, good luck. As private companies and national and international space organizations shift their launch contracts to non-Russian launch providers, there are few short-term “winners” from the Russo-Ukrainian War’s space fallout. Nearly all available 2022 commercial space launches are already booked, with added strain in the European launch market arising from the upcoming retirement of the heavy-lift Ariane 5 booster.

Arianespace, SpaceX, and others have begun attempting to re-manifest upcoming launches to accommodate at least some of the Soyuz cancellations, but between the sheer number of stranded satellites and an expected “exponential rise” in launch demand from Western companies, experts have predicted a near-term “capacity crunch” in launch services.

In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s embargo, some suggested Indian launch options might make up for the loss of commercial Soyuz launches. Although India’s annual number of launches remain small and its private commercial launch industry is latent, there may be some truth in this prediction: At least one company affected by Russia’s embargo, the ill-treated OneWeb, has already contracted with the commercial arm of India’s space agency to complete the launch of its planned constellation of satellites.

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The ideal position for rocket launches is at or near the equator, which means there are limited options for takeoff sites. The price of everything is going up.
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NFTs as crypto homeopathy • Medium

Steve Jones on why NFTs aren’t a guarantee of anything:

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Rather than using a digital image (right-click, save as) I’m going to say that an NFT represents a real-world piece of art.

Suppose the artist “Bob” sells me the painting via a $10,000 NFT on Ethereum (the artist isn’t very environmentally friendly), the smart contract of which entitles him to 10% of any future sale of that NFT which will be transacted automatically via Ethereum.

Two years later Bob gets famous. His early works are now worth millions so I want to sell it. I also don’t want Bob to get his 10%, because I’m a tight arse.

Scenario 1: I’ve got a buyer who wants the painting for $10m, they don’t care about the NFT. So I sell them the painting in a USD cash transaction, and I keep the NFT. Bob gets nothing.

Scenario 2: I’ve got a buyer who wants the painting for $10m and they want the NFT. I sell them the painting for $9,999,900 and the NFT for $100, Bob gets $10.

Ah! Someone says, but in the second scenario Bob could block the sale of the NFT as it is too low. Which means that Bob is implementing DRM, when did DRM suddenly become a good thing? But no worries, I’ve got a solution for that.

Scenario 3: The buyer wants the painting and the NFT, I explain the issue, they really are insistent that they need the rights to the NFT, so I agree to create a new NFT, this time on Solano as I don’t hate the environment, which references the NFT on ETH (that I own, and have the rights to) and says that the owner of the Solano NFT owns the rights to the ETH NFT. So I get all of the $10m and Bob gets nothing, future transactions can now take place on Solano without Bob getting anything.

The latter case is a slight variation on just creating an NFT for something you don’t own, which has already been done, but in this case I’m treating the NFT as an actual asset, therefore something that an NFT can be created for itself. The ETH NFT is the original, but the Solano one is perfectly valid, indeed if ETH crashes its something you might have to do when NFTs need to be ‘moved’ to a more thriving blockchain.

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As he says, it’s a sort of homeopathy: insisting it works when there’s no evidence at all it does.
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13-Inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip outperforms base model Mac Pro despite costing nearly $5,000 less • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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In an apparent Geekbench 5 result that surfaced on Wednesday, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro achieved a multi-core score of 8,928, while the standard Mac Pro configuration with an 8‑core Intel Xeon W processor has an average multi-core score of 8,027 on Geekbench 5. These scores suggest the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299, has up to 11% faster multi-core performance than the base model Mac Pro for $5,999.

Higher-end Mac Pro configurations are still able to outperform the M2 chip, such as the 12-core model, but at the cost of $6,999 and up.

Given the Mac Pro has other benefits like expandability, configurable GPU options, larger built-in SSD storage capacity options, and much larger RAM options, this certainly isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but the benchmarks are nevertheless a testament to the impressive performance of Apple silicon chips in more affordable Macs.

A sample of average Geekbench 5 multi-core scores for various Macs:

• Mac Studio with M1 Ultra: 23,366
• Mac Pro with 28-core Intel Xeon W: 20,029
• 14in and 16in MacBook Pro with M1 Max: 12,162 to 12,219
• Mac Pro with 12-core Intel Xeon W: 11,919
• 13in MacBook Pro with M2: 8,928 (based on a single result)
• Mac Pro with 8-core Intel Xeon W: 8,027
• 13in MacBook Pro and MacBook Air with M1: 7,395 to 7,420

The Mac Pro and the high-end Mac mini are the only Intel-based Macs remaining in Apple’s lineup.

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The Mac Pro came out in December 2019. To be supplanted by the lowest-end product in mid-2022 is quite a thing. To have that sort of drop in price is even more dramatic. Are people finding things to do with that extra power, though?
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Over 100m Americans urged to stay indoors over extreme heat and humidity • The Guardian

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More than 100 million Americans are being warned to stay indoors if possible as high temperatures and humidity settle in over states stretching through parts of the Gulf coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.

The National Weather Service Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said on Monday 107.5 million people will be affected by combination of heat advisories, excessive heat warnings and excessive heat watches through Wednesday.

The heatwave, which set several high temperature records in the west, the south-west and into Denver during the weekend, moved east into parts of the Gulf coast and the midwest on Monday and will expand to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas, the National Weather Service said.

St Louis, Memphis, Minneapolis and Tulsa are among several cities under excessive heat warnings, with temperatures forecast to reach about 100F (38C), accompanied by high humidity that could make conditions feel close to 110F (43C).

In Jackson, Mississippi, residents braved temperatures reaching 95F (35C) on Monday to complete their chores.

…Many municipalities announced plans to open cooling centres, including in Chicago, where officials started alerting residents on Monday about where they could find relief from the heat.

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This is global heating. It’s all about how often it happens and how widely. The irony is that in order to deal with the heat, people will ramp up their air conditioning, and that will contribute to emissions. Which makes the heating worse. So people swelter, and then…
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TikTok: we’re an entertainment app, not a social network like Facebook • CNBC

Alex Sherman:

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TikTok is fully aware that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is retooling the Facebook and Instagram apps to be more like its own popular short video service. But TikTok has no interest in mimicking Facebook.

“Facebook is a social platform,” Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s president of global business solutions, told CNBC in an interview on Thursday. “They’ve built all their algorithms based on the social graph. That is their core competency. Ours is not.”

Chandlee, who spent 12 years at Facebook before joining TikTok in 2019, said his former employer will likely run into trouble if it tries to copy TikTok, and will end up offering an inferior experience to users and brands.

Facebook launched Instagram Reels in 2020 as its first real foray into the short-form video market. Last year, it brought the service over to its core Facebook app. “We are an entertainment platform,” Chandlee said. “The difference is significant. It’s a massive difference.”

…Chandlee said history is not on Zuckerberg’s side, and compares its current problem to the challenge that Google faced when it was trying to take on Facebook at its own game. “You remember when Google was creating Google+,” Chandlee said. At Facebook, “We had war rooms at the time. It was a big deal. Everyone was worried about it,” he said.

But no matter how much money Google poured into its social-networking efforts, it couldn’t compete with Facebook, which had become the default place for people to connect with friends and share photos and updates.

“It became clear Google’s value was search and Facebook was really good at social,” Chandlee said.

“I see the same thing now,” he added. “We’re really good at what we do. We bring out these cultural trends and this unique experience people have on TikTok. They’re just not going to have that on Facebook unless Facebook entirely walks away from its social values, which I just don’t think it will do.”

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The Digital Republic by Jamie Susskind: book review – how to tame big tech • The Guardian

I reviewed Susskind’s latest book:

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The problem facing Susskind, and us, is that there are three choices for dealing with these [social media and big tech] companies. Leave them alone? That hasn’t worked. Pass laws to control them? But our political systems struggle to frame sensible laws in a timely fashion. Create technocratic regulators to oversee them and bring them into line when they stray? But those are liable to “regulatory capture”, where they get too cosy with their charges. None is completely satisfactory. And we are wrestling a hydra; as fast as policy in one area seems to get nailed down (say, vaccine misinformation), two more pop up (say, facial recognition and machine learning).

Susskind suggests we instead try “mini-publics” – most often seen in the form of “citizen assemblies”, where you bring a small but representative group of the population together and give them expert briefings about a difficult choice to be made, after which they create policy options. Taiwan and Austria use them, and in Ireland they helped frame the questions in the referendums about same-sex marriage and abortion.

What he doesn’t acknowledge is that this just delays the problem. After the mini-publics deliberate, you are back at the original choices: do nothing, legislate or regulate.

Deciding between those approaches would require a very detailed examination of how these companies work, and what effects the approaches could have. We don’t get that here. A big surprise about the book is the chapters’ length, or lack of it. There are 41 (including an introduction and conclusion) across 301 pages, and between each of the book’s 10 “parts” is a blank page. Each chapter is thus only a few pages, the literary equivalent of those mini Mars bars infuriatingly described as “fun size”.

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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.1819: Musk wants a billion Twitter users, Apple’s £750m “throttling” charge, satellites on pause, M2 Air v Mac Pro, and more

  1. It’s not clear to me even how “mini-publics” would work for such contentious issues as “should a platform ban Trump?”, “is anti-vaccination advocacy permissible?”, “what’s acceptable topics for comedy and satire?”, and so on.

    I’m seeing quite a bit of somewhat centrist punditry these days where the writer seems to know they can’t really say anything meaningful about addressing an issue. Advocating any of the possible solutions will lead to them being heavily attacked over the inevitable flaws therein, with a pile-on of reflexive responses from other pundits. But the writer needs to put something in their material, because endless hand-wringing is pretty weak. Then the game becomes to find some vague proposal we should supposedly think about, which doesn’t really address the problem – but what it does do is fill space without generating angry replies.

    Note that any sort of majority-rule procedure is intrinsically dangerous to unpopular minorities. Similarly, many of the chattering class are absolutely terrified of direct democracy, because pure voting across a whole population can come to conclusions that are very much opposed to the values of urban intellectuals.

    But I must confess I have no solution myself.

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