Start Up No.1832: why black investors lost out worst from crypto’s crash, languages for the web, the sand battery, the China hack, and more

The Large Hadron Collider has been up to its tricks again, and found more quarks. They matter in ways nobody’s quite explained sufficiently. CC-licensed photo by Mark Hillary on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Resigned to it. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Crypto collapse reverberates widely among black American investors • Financial Times

Taylor Nicole Rogers:


The widespread losses caused by the cryptocurrency crash are even broader among black investors.

A quarter of black American investors owned cryptocurrencies at the start of the year, compared with only 15% of white investors, according to a survey by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab. Black Americans were more than twice as likely to purchase cryptocurrency as their first investment.

The value of those investments has imploded. The total market capitalisation of cryptocurrencies has plunged below $1tn from more than $3.2tn last year. The fall in digital assets comes alongside a bear market in US stocks.

Black Americans’ higher exposure to cryptocurrencies has left them more vulnerable to the financial downturn, even as their households on average hold less wealth.

The attraction of building wealth, amplified by marketing, drew many black investors into cryptocurrencies. The dollar price of bitcoin rose 9,300% in the five years to its peak in November.

Jefferson Noel, 27, said he gained his first exposure to crypto in January 2019 when he accidentally invested $5 in bitcoin while using Cash App, a payment service.

“I had no idea what it was, and I don’t even remember doing it,” he said.

By last May his unintentional investment was worth $70. The astronomical gain inspired him to take a friend’s advice to plough $20,000 of his savings into other cryptocurrencies, such as dogecoin, over more traditional investments such as index funds.

“[Black Americans] do not want to be left behind again,” Noel said. “As far as I can tell, the black community sees crypto as a way to even the playing field and get in the game before the gatekeepers prevent others from participating.”


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‘Sand battery’ could solve green energy’s big problem • BBC News

Matt McGrath:


Right now, most batteries are made with lithium and are expensive with a large, physical footprint, and can only cope with a limited amount of excess power.

But in the town of Kankaanpää, a team of young Finnish engineers have completed the first commercial installation of a battery made from sand that they believe can solve the storage problem in a low-cost, low impact way.

“Whenever there’s like this high surge of available green electricity, we want to be able to get it into the storage really quickly,” said Markku Ylönen, one of the two founders of Polar Night Energy who have developed the product.

The device has been installed in the Vatajankoski power plant which runs the district heating system for the area. Low-cost electricity warms the sand up to 500C by resistive heating (the same process that makes electric fires work). This generates hot air which is circulated in the sand by means of a heat exchanger.

Sand is a very effective medium for storing heat and loses little over time. The developers say that their device could keep sand at 500C for several months. So when energy prices are higher, the battery discharges the hot air which warms water for the district heating system which is then pumped around homes, offices and even the local swimming pool.

The idea for the sand battery was first developed at a former pulp mill in the city of Tampere, with the council donating the work space and providing funding to get it off the ground. “If we have some power stations that are just working for a few hours in the wintertime, when it’s the coldest, it’s going to be extremely expensive,” said Elina Seppänen, an energy and climate specialist for the city. But if we have this sort of solution that provides flexibility for the use, and storage of heat, that would help a lot in terms of expense, I think.”


Things of which there are a lot: sand.
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Vast cache of Chinese police files offered for sale in alleged hack • WSJ

Karen Hao and Rachel Liang:


The cache allegedly includes billions of records stolen from police in Shanghai, containing data on one billion Chinese citizens, according to a post advertising its availability that was published on Thursday by the hacker on a popular online cybercrime forum. The post, which began circulating on social media over the weekend, put the price for the leak at 10 Bitcoin, or roughly $200,000.

Cybersecurity experts say the claimed hack is alarming not just for its alleged size—which would rank among the biggest ever recorded and the largest known for China—but also because of the sensitivity of the information contained in the government database.

A sample of the data posted by the hacker, who claimed it included 750,000 records, contained individuals’ personal names, national ID numbers, phone numbers, birthdays and birthplaces, as well as detailed summaries of crimes and incidents reported to the police. The cases ranged from incidents of petty theft and cyber fraud to reports of domestic violence, dating as far back as 1995 to as recently as 2019.

While the scope of the data leak remains unconfirmed, The Wall Street Journal verified several of the records in the leak by calling people whose numbers were listed. Five people confirmed all of the data, including case details that would be difficult to obtain from any source other than the police. Four more people confirmed basic information such as their names before hanging up.

One woman, alarmed at the accuracy of the leaked details, asked whether the information about her had come from the iPhone that she had reported stolen in her case file in 2016.


The flip side of surveillance.
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‘Algospeak’ is changing our language in real time • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz:


Algospeak refers to code words or turns of phrase users have adopted in an effort to create a brand-safe lexicon that will avoid getting their posts removed or down-ranked by content moderation systems. For instance, in many online videos, it’s common to say “unalive” rather than “dead,” “SA” instead of “sexual assault,” or “spicy eggplant” instead of “vibrator.”

As the pandemic pushed more people to communicate and express themselves online, algorithmic content moderation systems have had an unprecedented impact on the words we choose, particularly on TikTok, and given rise to a new form of internet-driven Aesopian language.

Unlike other mainstream social platforms, the primary way content is distributed on TikTok is through an algorithmically curated “For You” page; having followers doesn’t guarantee people will see your content. This shift has led average users to tailor their videos primarily toward the algorithm, rather than a following, which means abiding by content moderation rules is more crucial than ever.

When the pandemic broke out, people on TikTok and other apps began referring to it as the “Backstreet Boys reunion tour” or calling it the “panini” or “panda express” as platforms down-ranked videos mentioning the pandemic by name in an effort to combat misinformation. When young people began to discuss struggling with mental health, they talked about “becoming unalive” in order to have frank conversations about suicide without algorithmic punishment. Sex workers, who have long been censored by moderation systems, refer to themselves on TikTok as “accountants” and use the corn emoji as a substitute for the word “porn.”

As discussions of major events are filtered through algorithmic content delivery systems, more users are bending their language. Recently, in discussing the invasion of Ukraine, people on YouTube and TikTok have used the sunflower emoji to signify the country. When encouraging fans to follow them elsewhere, users will say “blink in lio” for “link in bio.”


As she notes, this predates the internet, and was used early on in the internet’s life similarly to bypass word filters in chatrooms.
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From aardvark to woke: inside the Oxford English Dictionary • New Statesman

Pippa Bailey:


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has served as a lexical record of the world’s most widely spoken language – and its culture – since it was founded in the mid-19th century. “Post-truth”, for example, was the dictionary’s word of 2016, the year of Brexit and Trump, while in 2020 it elected not to choose one – because no single word could sum up the pandemic experience. Last year, “police brutality”, “deadname”, “cancel culture” and “anti-vaxxer” entered the dictionary for the first time; previous years gave us “fake news” (2019), “Silent Generation” (2018) and “woke” (2017).

The June 2022 update includes several terms that reflect our changing understanding of sexuality and gender: “multisexual”, “pangender”, “gender expression”, “gender presentation” and “enby” (derived from “NB”, meaning “non-binary”), as well as Terf. But this wasn’t, McPherson says, a conscious decision; rather, these additions organically came together as their usage grew. The team decided against labelling Terf “offensive”, instead explaining in a usage note that it might be considered so; it was felt that this “was a bit more nuanced than just slapping on ‘derogatory’ or ‘chiefly derogatory’”.

[50-year-old lexicographer Fiona] McPherson, who has an easy laugh and a melodic Scottish lilt, is part of a team that has been revising the OED since 1993, their progress published quarterly. Outdated entries are revised, new words are added and those that pass from use will be marked “rare” or “obsolete”; changing sensibilities mean that others will be labelled “offensive” or “derogatory”. It is an enormous task, and one in which I have a professional as well as a personal interest: part of my role at the New Statesman involves maintaining our style guide, enforcing the rules of grammar and excising cliché. The decisions McPherson and her colleagues make filter into these pages; on questions of spelling and meaning, the team of sub-editors I lead defers to Oxford dictionaries.


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LHCb discovers three new exotic particles • CERN


Quarks are elementary particles and come in six flavours: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom. They usually combine together in groups of twos and threes to form hadrons such as the protons and neutrons that make up atomic nuclei. More rarely, however, they can also combine into four-quark and five-quark particles, or “tetraquarks” and “pentaquarks”. These exotic hadrons were predicted by theorists at the same time as conventional hadrons, about six decades ago, but only relatively recently, in the past 20 years, have they been observed by LHCb and other experiments.

Most of the exotic hadrons discovered in the past two decades are tetraquarks or pentaquarks containing a charm quark and a charm antiquark, with the remaining two or three quarks being an up, down or strange quark or their antiquarks. But in the past two years, LHCb has discovered different kinds of exotic hadrons. Two years ago, the collaboration discovered a tetraquark made up of two charm quarks and two charm antiquarks, and two “open-charm” tetraquarks consisting of a charm antiquark, an up quark, a down quark and a strange antiquark. And last year it found the first-ever instance of a “double open-charm” tetraquark with two charm quarks and an up and a down antiquark. Open charm means that the particle contains a charm quark without an equivalent antiquark.

The discoveries announced today by the LHCb collaboration include new kinds of exotic hadrons. The first kind, observed in an analysis of “decays” of negatively charged B mesons, is a pentaquark made up of a charm quark and a charm antiquark and an up, a down and a strange quark. It is the first pentaquark found to contain a strange quark.


Got that? I did hunt around for an article that would put this into better context, but came up blank. It does matter, though, because the new quark formations may help to explain the “strong force” that holds nuclei together. At present, the theory is that when quarks come closer together the force between them becomes weaker. So where’s the strong force? Maybe from these.
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Smart contact lens prototype puts a Micro LED display on top of the eye • Ars Technica

Scharon Harding:


In a blog post this week, Drew Perkins, the CEO of Mojo Vision, said he was the first to have an “on-eye demonstration of a feature-complete augmented reality smart contact lens.” In an interview with CNET, he said he’s been wearing only one contact at a time for hour-long durations. Eventually, Mojo Vision would like users to be able to wear two Mojo Lens simultaneously and create 3D visual overlays, the publication said.

According to his blog, the CEO could see a compass through the contact and an on-screen teleprompter with a quote written on it. He also recalled viewing a green, monochromatic image of Albert Einstein to CNET.

At the heart of the lens is an Arm M0 processor and a Micro LED display with 14,000 pixels per inch. It’s just 0.02 inches (0.5 mm) in diameter with a 1.8-micron pixel pitch. Perkins claimed it’s the “smallest and densest display ever created for dynamic content.”

Developing the contact overall included a focus on physics and electronics miniaturization, Perkins wrote. Mojo Lens developed its power management system with “medical-grade micro-batteries” and a proprietary power management integrated circuit.

The Mojo Lens also uses a custom-configured magnetometer (CNET noted this drives the compass Perkins saw), accelerometer, and gyroscope for tracking. The goal is that AR remains visible even as you move your eyes around, Perkins wrote. Eye movement is essential as there’s no gesture control, like some smart glasses, such as Ray-Ban Stories, have. There is voice control, a Mojo Vision rep told Ars Technica, but the user interface’s primary method of control is eye-tracking.

One of the biggest obstacles facing smart glasses is how cumbersome and odd they can look. Some devices, like Stories and Nreal Air, use a sunglass-like appearance to combat this.

A contact lens sounds like it has the potential to be even more discreet than AR headgear posing as regular Ray-Bans. But the current prototype uses a “relay accessory,” as Mojo Vision’s rep put it, worn around the neck. It includes a processor, GPU, and 5 GHz radio for sending and receiving data to and from the lens. According to CNET, the accessory also sends information “back to computers that track the eye movement data for research.” Perkins’ blog said this tech required custom ASIC designs.


Having a neck-worn extra isn’t actually that much of a hardship, after all. Remember though when people with diabetes were going to have contact lenses that would monitor their blood sugar – first from Microsoft (2011), then from Google (2014), then actually er no (2018)? Fun times.
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The hilarious Polium One is a web3 console that will never, ever get released • Kotaku

John Walker:


The Polium One is the answer to a question no one has ever, nor will ever, ask. It is a “next-gen console for web3 gaming.” Which is to say, a render on a website for a fictional machine that I believe will absolutely will never get made. I dare them to prove me wrong.

To be clear from the start “web3”or “web 3.0” is the umbrella term for a series of transparently obvious scams, from the delusions of cryptocurrency to the embarrassment of NFTs. It doesn’t really mean anything, and if you see anyone using it, you know to steer very wide. So yes, the Polium One!

Polium, a company of such renown that it wasn’t even able to get the Twitter handle with just one underscore after the brand name, has announced its intention to create the first console designed for…for…the thingy. You know. The web3 stuff. Um, like, payments! Yes, the payments! You can pay for things on it using all sorts of crypto!

Seriously, that’s all it has. The hilarious website, suggesting a 2024 launch for backers, 2025 for the hoi polloi, has an FAQ that offers absolutely no answers, other than which bullshit payment networks it’ll accept. You, a nocoiner, might want to ask, “What games will be available at launch?” but you’ll only be told, “We are currently in talks with multiple game developers.” Meanwhile, a true believer will want to know that you can spend your pretend money via Ethereum, Solana, Polygon, BNB, Imm…

My favorite question in the FAQ is “What will be the specs?” And not just for that tortuous effort not to split the infinitive. Here’s the answer, in full: “We aim to build a high-performance console. The specs you see on the site are not confirmed until we have a functional prototype.”


I’d be worried about how the name makes me think of polonium. (Americans start here.) One lovely tweet about the not-a-product says “I’ve always wanted a console that can play Jack Dorsey’s first tweet.”
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I watched hundreds of flat-Earth videos to learn how conspiracy theories spread • The Conversation

Carlos Diaz Ruiz is an assistant professor at the Hanken School of Economics:


By studying how flat Earthers talk about their beliefs, we can learn how they make their arguments engaging to their audience, and in turn, learn what makes disinformation spread online.

In a recent study, my colleague Tomas Nilsson at Linnaeus University and I analysed hundreds of YouTube videos in which people argue that the Earth is flat. We paid attention to their debating techniques to understand the structure of their arguments and how they make them appear rational.

One strategy they use is to take sides in existing debates. People who are deeply attached to one side of a culture war are likely to wield any and all arguments (including truths, half-truths and opinions), if it helps them win. People invest their identity into the group and are more willing to believe fellow allies rather than perceived opponents – a phenomenon that sociologists call neo-tribalism.

The problem arises when people internalise disinformation as part of their identity. While news articles can be fact-checked, personal beliefs cannot. When conspiracy theories are part of someone’s value system or worldview, it is difficult to challenge them.

In analysing these videos, we observed that flat Earthers take advantage of ongoing culture wars by inserting their own arguments into the logic of, primarily, three main debates. These debates are longstanding and can be very personal for participants on either side.


We are starting to form coherent theories about how disinformation spreads. Good on them for watching the videos. Saves the rest of us doing it.
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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: Giuseppe, a reader, posed a question following yesterday’s link about how you can’t open an aircraft cabin door in the air because of the pressure differential: “One thing I’ve never managed to determine conclusively is if the door can be opened between taxing and pressurisation – in other words, if a passenger could open the door while taking off, when the pressure balance is still favourable, as pressurisation starts gradually as soon as the aircraft leaves the ground.”

In the interests of Finding Stuff Out, we asked a cabin crew member we know, who replied, after some discussion with colleagues: “We think yes.” You’re requested not to test this empirically.

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