Start Up No.1831: Japan ruling endangers algorithms, why this crypto crash is different, the barcode stamps, and more

You may have wondered how easy it is to open an aircraft door while it’s in flight. A pilot can tell you. CC-licensed photo by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Don’t touch that dial! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Japanese court ruling poised to make Big Tech open up on algorithms • Financial Times

Shotaro Tani and Eri Sugiura:


Japanese legal experts have said an antitrust case related to a local restaurant website could change how large internet platforms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon operate in the country, forcing them to reveal the inner workings of their secret algorithms.

Last month, a Tokyo court ruled in favour of Hanryumura, a Korean-style BBQ restaurant chain operator in an antitrust case brought against, operator of Tabelog, Japan’s largest restaurant review platform.

Hanryumura successfully argued that had altered the way user scores were tallied in ways that hurt sales at its restaurant outlets. While has been ordered to pay Hanryumura ¥38.4mn ($284,000) in damages for “abuse of superior bargaining position”, the internet company has appealed against the decision.

Japanese legal experts said the outcome may have far-reaching implications, as the court requested to disclose part of its algorithms.

While the restaurant group is constrained from publicly revealing what information was shown to it, the court’s request set a rare precedent. Big Tech groups have long argued that their algorithms should be considered trade secrets in all circumstances.

Courts and regulators across the world have begun to challenge that position, with many businesses having complained about the negative impact caused by even small changes to search and recommendations services.


Where Japan leads, will others follow? Even if it’s just restricted to Japan, that’s a big country in terms of impact.
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What if somebody opens a door during flight? • Ask The Pilot

Patrick Smith:


It seems that a week can’t go by without hearing the latest story about a passenger who went cuckoo and tried to yank open an emergency exit, only to be tackled and restrained by those around him, who thought they were on the verge of being ejected into the troposphere.

While the news never fails to report these events, it seldom mentions the most important fact: you cannot –- repeat, cannot — open the doors or emergency hatches of an airplane in flight.  You can’t open them for the simple reason that cabin pressure won’t allow it. Think of an aircraft door as a drain plug, fixed in place by the interior pressure.  Almost all aircraft exits open inward. Some retract upward into the ceiling; others swing outward; but they open inward first, and not even the most musclebound human will overcome the force holding them shut. At a typical cruising altitude, up to eight pounds of pressure are pushing against every square inch of interior fuselage. That’s over eleven hundred pounds against each square foot of door. Even at low altitudes, where cabin pressure levels are much less, a meager 2 p.s.i. differential is still more than anyone can displace — even after six cups of coffee and the aggravation that comes with sitting behind a shrieking baby.  The doors are further held secure by a series of electrical and/or mechanical latches.

So, while I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you enjoy being pummeled and placed in a choke-hold by panicked passengers, a person could, conceivably, sit there all day tugging on a door handle to his or her heart’s content. The door is not going to open (though you might get a red light flashing in the cockpit, causing me to spill my Coke Zero). You would need a hydraulic jack, and the TSA doesn’t allow those.


Raises the question of why cabin crew get so excited and indulge in a struggle when someone tries to do this. The cool thing would be to watch the passenger wrestle until they were tired out and then take them aside, exhausted, for restraint. (Via John Naughton.)
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Why this crypto crash is different • Coindesk

Frances Coppola:


The crypto ecosystem has tethered itself firmly to the traditional financial system, and the dollar dominates crypto markets just as it does traditional financial markets. And as crypto markets have grown, so has the dollar value of the cryptocurrency industry.

But these dollars aren’t real. They exist only in the virtual space. They are not, and never were, guaranteed by the only institution in the world that can create real dollars, namely the Fed[eral Reserve in the US]. The Fed has no obligation whatsoever to ensure that those who have made life-changing amounts of these “virtual dollars” can actually exchange them for real dollars. So when the crypto bubble bursts, the “virtual dollars” simply disappear. If you can’t exchange your virtual dollars for real dollars, your wealth is an illusion.

The only real dollars in the cryptocurrency industry are those paid by new entrants when they make their first cryptocurrency purchases. The rest of the dollar liquidity on crypto markets is provided by dollar-pegged stablecoins. These fall into two groups: those that have actual dollars and/or dollar-denominated safe liquid assets backing them, and those that don’t. There aren’t enough of the former to enable everyone to cash out into real dollars, and there’s no guarantee that the latter can be cashed out into real dollars at all. So, in effect, the entire crypto industry is fractionally reserved.

There’s now a race on to exchange cryptocurrencies for the few real dollars still available. As is always the case in unregulated markets, the law of the jungle applies. Those with the biggest teeth get the dollars. Perhaps “whales” is the wrong name for them. Crocodiles might be more like it.


The number of crypto lenders and exchanges which are suddenly “restructuring” and “restricting withdrawals” is growing by the day. Bitcoin’s price (which I’ve given up trying to understand) is still bumping along under $20k. As people try to cash out, it’ll probably go lower.
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Army’s YouTube and Twitter accounts hacked • BBC News


The British Army says it is investigating after its Twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked.

Videos on cryptocurrency using images of billionaire businessman Elon Musk appeared on the YouTube channel.
The Twitter feed appeared to retweet several posts related to NFTs – a type of electronic artwork for investment.
The Army confirmed the “breach”, saying it took information security “extremely seriously” and was resolving the issue. Both accounts have now been restored.

An Army spokesperson added: “Whilst we have now resolved the issue an investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further.” It is not clear who is behind the hacking incidents, which also saw the accounts renamed.

At one stage, the Twitter account name was changed to Bapesclan, accompanied by a profile picture featuring an ape-like cartoon figure with make-up mimicking a clown.


You’d tend to guess it was people pushing crypto, wouldn’t you? If it had been Russia or China you’d have thought they’d be either more circumspect, or more aggressive; not that they’d use it to push digital junk.

Does that make it worse or better though that a bunch of money-chasers were able to do this, and that the Army’s social accounts had such terrible security?
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Delta is trying personalized flight information boards called Parallel Reality • Quartz

Anne Quito:


Forget puzzling over flight information display boards. Nevermind fumbling with your phone to access another app. Imagine a future where every directional sign at the airport pointed you to your gate.

This week, Delta passengers at the Detroit Metro Airport saw a glimpse of this ideal with a technology called Parallel Reality. At the McNamara terminal is a new 21 ft. x 6 ft digital board that’s capable of simultaneously displaying the unique travel itinerary for up 100 passengers. This means that a hundred people can look at the same sign and see something different.

Developed by the California-based start-up Misapplied Sciences, a Parallel Reality display is comprised of pixels that can project millions of light rays in different directions. Digital ID systems such as facial recognition technology then pairs those rays to a specific person. 

Greg Forbes, who oversees airport experience at Delta, tells Quartz that Parallel Reality is a pinnacle moment in the company’s quest to improve flight information boards.

With more and more commercial flights each day—over 1,000 in Detroit alone and around 115,000 globally—the information on those schedule boards tends to get really dense, says Forbes. Delta has tried to improve them over the years by installing higher-definition screens, adjusting font sizes and colors to improve legibility, and stripping away unnecessary details on the boards. But better graphic design can only do so much, says Forbes.

“All of it was meant to cut down on the clutter but I would say that we have hit the limits of what we can do to make flight information displays more user-friendly,” he explains.


The GIF showing how the same board can be showing different people different content is remarkable. Of course, to each person the board remains the same. That’s quite remarkable.
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‘Eventually it will just be a barcode, won’t it?’ Why Britain’s new stamps are causing outrage and upset • The Guardian

Simon Usborne:


In February, Royal Mail introduced a new design for its standard stamps, which have changed so little since the launch of the Penny Black in 1840 that they are officially known as “definitives”. The new stamps – “plum purple” for first class, “holly green” for second – still feature the same regal profile introduced more than 50 years ago. But what is most bothering purists – and leading [philatelist Dinah] Johnson to the brink of direct action – is the addition next to the Queen of a digital barcode.

…David Gold, the head of public affairs and policy at Royal Mail Group, knew the coded stamps would create a stir. “Collectors, traditionalists and royalists feel a sense of ownership over stamps,” he says. It’s why the new stamps, the designs for which had to be approved by Buckingham Palace, include a fake perforation as a kind of dignity screen between code and Queen (who is also, notably, facing the other way).

Gold says the codes mean Royal Mail can track all letters, allowing it to better monitor, predict and respond to regional changes in demand, for example. He is also confident the unique codes will stop the fraudulent washing of postmark ink and resale of used stamps – a crime that he claims costs Royal Mail “tens of millions” of pounds a year.

Royal Mail says the codes contain only the identity of that stamp, and cannot include personal data. Gold also rejects the notion that the stamp is endangered. “Clearly the direction of travel is a reduction in the number of letters, but I think people are still fascinated and motivated by stamps,” he says.


But it turns out, via Twitter, that other countries are a long way ahead of this. In Holland, for example, you can buy a nine-digit code which works as a stamp once written on the envelope. Germany has similar. Perhaps inventing the stamp has held us back.
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Boris Johnson can’t (or won’t) do discipline • POLITICO

Emilio Casalicchio and Esther Webber:


The examples of Johnson’s leniency stretch back almost to the day he entered No. 10. The prime minister refused to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel after she was found to have bullied civil servants; tried to keep Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Cabinet after he broke COVID rules by conducting an extramarital affair in his government office; and didn’t flinch when Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was found to have broken the law when he approved a Conservative donor’s bid to build a lucrative housing estate.

In one memorable case, Johnson fought to keep his then-top political adviser Dominic Cummings after an infamous lockdown jaunt to a medieval castle to test — he claimed — whether his vision was good enough to drive.

On that occasion — as with most of the others — Johnson’s loyalty caused him enormous political damage, for little obvious gain. Cummings departed under a cloud, eight months later.

Johnson’s allies insist the PM was reluctant to dump [deputy whip Chris] Pincher because he wanted to see due process followed, and argues people should be innocent until proved otherwise.

“Often we hear that Boris Johnson will throw anyone under a bus to advance his own career or save his own skin,” one Cabinet minister said. “But when there are people in trouble and a proper process has to be followed, he does not rush to judgment.” The same person added: “You can’t have a kangaroo court and give people sanctions or punishments before the facts are known.”

A spokesman for the prime minister said he had not been aware of any specific allegations against Pincher and that he takes all allegations of wrongdoing seriously.

It doesn’t help the prime minister, however, that allegations about Pincher have circulated in Westminster for some time. The MP was investigated over another assault allegation in 2017, although cleared.

…The sense Johnson is a rule-breaker has followed him around throughout his career. He has felt the wrath of standards watchdogs numerous times, for example over Conservative donations to refurbish his flat; a gifted retreat on a private Caribbean island; and over the lockdown parties, for which he was slapped with a police fine.

His approach to standards in public life have won him a reputation for running a rogue administration. “There is more rigorous checking of the fire alarm system in No. 10 than there is of anything else,” said one government official.


The situation is positively Augean now; a cleansing is very, very overdue.
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Climate protection: CO2 turned into methanol • Vienna University of Technology [TU Wien]


where carbon dioxide occurs in maximum concentration – for example directly in the exhaust gas stream of large industrial plants – it can be used most efficiently. The idea of converting carbon dioxide into valuable products is not new. However, it is a difficult and complex task. Sometimes CO2 has to be enriched and separated beforehand, which causes additional costs and energy input.

“To convert carbon dioxide, catalysts based on copper have often been used so far,” says Prof. Karin Föttinger from the Institute of Materials Chemistry at TU Wien. “However, they have the major disadvantage that they are not robust. If there are certain other substances in the exhaust gas stream besides carbon dioxide, for example sulphur, the catalyst quickly loses its activity. It is said that the catalyst is poisoned.”

Karin Föttinger and her research group therefore set out to find a better material. “If you want to use such methods not only in the laboratory but also on a large scale in industry, then you need a catalyst that is perhaps a little less active, but robust, durable and reliable,” Föttinger explains. “You want to be able to process quite ordinary industrial waste gases without pre-treatment.”

The TU Wien research team was able to show that catalysts based on sulphur and molybdenum fulfil these requirements. Special additional elements, such as manganese, ensure that carbon dioxide, which is actually very unreactive, is activated and converted. By choosing such additional elements, the properties of the catalysts can be precisely adapted to the desired area of application. In this way, methanol can now be produced from waste gas containing CO2.

“Methanol is an attractive product. It is liquid at room temperature, so it can be stored without any problems. It is needed in industry; up to now it has normally been produced from fossil raw materials,” says Karin Föttinger. “But it is also possible to use our catalysts to produce other molecules, such as higher alcohols. We are currently still working on figuring out exactly how best to choose parameters like pressure and temperature to produce different products.”


Strange how sulphur poisons catalysts and/but then works as a catalyst.
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India’s green future, built on hydrogen • Fortune India

PB Jayakumar:


The ball was set rolling by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he unveiled the 25-year roadmap for hydrogen development in his address on India’s 75th Independence Day and announced the National Hydrogen Mission to meet the larger goal of self-reliance in energy production by the 100th Independence Day in 2047. “The thing that is going to help India with a quantum leap in terms of climate is green hydrogen. We have to make India a global hub for green hydrogen production and export,” he said.

Some years ago, government had launched a similar mission for solar power under which India is chasing 500 gigawatt (GW) capacity by 2030 and has achieved much success —100 GW, from less than 30 GW six years ago. Will hydrogen see a similar takeoff? It will, but with time. “Hydrogen will drive economies not now but in near future. Today’s electrolysers (used to separate hydrogen from water using cathode, anode and membrane) consume 40-50 units of electricity to split water and generate 30-35 units. Energy consumed is more than energy produced,” says M.V.S Seshagiri Rao, joint MD & group CFO of JSW Group.

For energy-starved India, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2070, the path to energy security goes through a mix of oil, coal, blended fuels, natural gas, renewables and electricity. At present India’s $3.12 trillion economy needs 1,650 billion units (BU) of power, made from nearly 400 GW of capacity. Of this, green electricity is only 17%. When the economy touches $5-7 trillion in the next decade, it will need at least 3,000-4,000 GW. Further, at current rate, the energy import bill will triple by 2040. The only way out of these massive challenges is tapping as many green and locally available energy sources as possible.

New Delhi-based climate and energy research firm, Council for Energy, Environment and Water Research (CEEWR) has estimated that net zero emissions by 2070 will require 5,630 GW solar capacity, 99% reduction in coal use between 2040 and 2060 and 90% fall in crude oil consumption between 2050 and 2070.


Ambitious. But at least it’s happening.
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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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