Start Up No.1836: UK energy prices set to rocket in winter, iPad beta so-so, alt-right spins Musk exit, Uber’s whistleblower, and more

Reinfections make up a bit less than a third of Covid cases in the UK – but the BA.5 subvariant is not able to escape vaccine immunity better than its parent. CC-licensed photo by Mike Finn on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. So infectious you’ll pass them on. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Is BA.5 the ‘reinfection wave’? • The Atlantic

Ed Yong:


the consequences of reinfections are still unclear. It’s unlikely that each subsequent bout of COVID is worse for an individual than the previous one; this idea has proliferated because of a recent preprint, which really only showed that getting reinfected is worse than not being reinfected. Nor should people worry that, as one viral news article recently suggested, “it is now possible to be reinfected with one of Omicron’s variants every two to three weeks.” [The newly rising Omicron subvariant] BA.5 is different from its forebears but not from itself; although someone could catch the new variant despite having recently had COVID, they’d be very unlikely to get infected again in the near future.

Though previous immunity has been dialed down a few notches, since BA.5 showed up, it hasn’t disappeared entirely. “We’re seeing that new infections are disproportionately people who haven’t been infected before,” Meaghan Kall, an epidemiologist at the U.K. Health Security Agency, told me. About 70% of those who currently have COVID in England are first-timers, even though they account for just 15% of the country’s population. This clearly shows that although reinfections are a serious problem, the population still has some protection against catching even BA.5.

The degree to which the new variant escapes immunity is also a shadow of what we saw last winter, when Omicron first arrived. For comparison, antibodies in vaccinated people were 20 to 40 times worse at neutralizing BA.1 than the original coronavirus. BA.5 reduces their efficiency threefold again—a small gain of sneakiness on top of its predecessor’s dramatic flair for infiltration.


So BA.5 is essentially carrying out a mopping-up operation – infecting the people who until now have evaded infection. This isn’t over, by any means. And 30% of infections being reinfections is a lot of reinfections in the grand scheme of people getting ill with Covid. Anecdotal reports say it takes a long time to clear, and leaves people feeling wiped.
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iPadOS 16 preview: jack of all trades, master of some • The Verge

David Pierce, now that the public beta of iOS 16 and Mac OS Ventura has come out:


If you’re the kind of person who uses an iPad as your main workhorse, iPadOS 16 is for you. Just the ability to plug in an external monitor and use it as a second screen is a game-changer for anyone who spends hours a day doing work on their iPad. The process is pretty seamless: you can buy a specific USB-C to HDMI cable, but my USB-C hub worked well, too, and as soon as I plugged it in, it popped up a second screen with its own dock ready to go.

The iPad assumes the second screen is above it by default, so you drag windows up from your iPad onto your second screen. (You can tweak this in Settings.) Most apps just treat the monitor as a really big iPad with no touchscreen, which works well enough, but a few get crazy with it: Netflix played everything turned 90 degrees to the right, for instance, and YouTube expanded into some deeply broken layout I’ve never seen before. These are all solvable problems, and are why betas exist, but this actually isn’t an easy fix for everyone. Should apps actually treat it like a big iPad and give you 30-plus inches of a 10-inch app? Some apps are already built to be responsive and resize nimbly as you move them around, but no iPad developer has had to reckon with screens this size — or this many different sizes, period — before.

Stage Manager is the other thing that’s going to cause developers headaches. It’s also likely to be the most controversial thing about iPadOS 16: a new tool for multitasking designed to make it easier to quickly switch between a lot of apps. Once you turn on Stage Manager — it’s actually off by default, so you have to actively decide to use it before it appears — it puts four “piles” of apps onto the left side of your screen, like a dock of your various screen configurations.

…We’ll reserve full judgment for our review this fall, but so far, I hate Stage Manager. The piles take up too much room on the screen, and it takes way too much work to place the app windows just so.


Bit of an asterisk on this: you need an M1 iPad. Otherwise you just get mirroring on the second screen. Meanwhile, another Apple windowing manager added to the pile. Should have just stuck with Exposé.
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Energy bills to rise more than predicted, says Ofgem boss • BBC News

Kevin Peachey:


Domestic energy bills will rise faster this winter than previously forecast by the energy regulator Ofgem, its chief executive has admitted to MPs.

Jonathan Brearley said in late May that a typical household would pay £800 a year more from October. But, while giving evidence to MPs, he said it was “clear” that estimate for winter bills now looked too low.

The original figure was used by ministers when deciding how much to pay in direct assistance this winter. One industry analyst has predicted a rise of more than £1,200 a year in October. Cornwall Insight said that the typical domestic customer was likely to pay £3,244 a year from October, then £3,363 a year from January.

The typical bill at present is about £2,000 a year. In itself, this was a rise of £700 a year in April, compared with the previous six months.

About 23 million households in England, Wales and Scotland have their bills governed by the energy price cap. That limits the amount suppliers can charge per unit of energy, and the standing charge, and is set every six months. From this winter, it is expected that this will change to a three-month period.

Mr Brearley said in May that a typical household gas and electricity bill on the price cap would increase to £2,800 a year, owing to continued volatility in gas prices. But on Monday, he told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that it was “clear”, given the current “pricing dynamics” and the ongoing war in Ukraine, that “prices are looking higher than they did when we made that estimate”.

However, he would not be drawn on exactly how much higher bills would be ahead of the official announcement in the coming weeks.


The next Prime Minister is in for a world of hurt.
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A G7 energy tariff on Russia would be better than a price cap • Centre for European Reform

Elisabetta Cornago:


A tariff on Russian oil imports would be preferable to a complex price cap in multiple ways. First, a tariff raises [government] revenues, while a price cap does not. Forcing the exporter to sell at a maximum price set by the cartel of buyers, the price cap destroys part of Russia’s fossil fuel revenues. But with a tariff, the EU would extract at least some of those revenues, and could use them in the short term for income support for poorer households facing high energy bills, and in the long term for reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.

Second, enforcing a price cap would be difficult: importers willing to pay more than the price cap could try to offer a higher price ‘behind doors’ to obtain priority access to Russian oil. Third, if many countries applied a price cap, demand for Russian oil would spike. Because refiners of Russian oil would compete with refiners of higher-priced oil from elsewhere, retail prices of fuel at the pump would follow the higher global oil price instead of the capped purchase price of Russian oil. This means that consumers would not see any benefits in terms of lower prices at the pump.

What about the spike in gas prices? While the EU aims to cut imports of Russian oil into the EU by 90% by the end of the year, Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas is still the elephant in the room: following the lengthy, difficult negotiations leading to the partial oil embargo, no EU leader is particularly keen to embark on gas sanctions. Further, given Russia is increasingly cutting its exports to Europe, some may wonder whether it is worth the EU attempting any sanctions on gas at all.

But redirecting gas supplies away from Europe and towards other markets is even harder for Russia, and it would not be as profitable. For this reason, Russia would bear the brunt of a tariff on gas: European gas demand is more flexible than Russian gas supply. The EU should use this as an advantage.


Seems like a sensible idea, well-argued, which of course means that it won’t happen. All the momentum is towards the less good idea, of a price cap, and nobody’s going to want to be the person – or country’s leader – who admits they’re heading in the wrong direction. Maybe the euro falling to parity with the dollar over European recession fears will concentrate some minds.
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The Uber whistleblower: I’m exposing a system that sold people a lie • The Guardian

Paul Lewis, Harry Davies, Lisa O’Carroll, Simon Goodley and Felicity Lawrence:


Mark MacGann, a career lobbyist who led Uber’s efforts to win over governments across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has come forward to identify himself as the source who leaked more than 124,000 company files to the Guardian.

MacGann decided to speak out, he says, because he believes Uber knowingly flouted laws in dozens of countries and misled people about the benefits to drivers of the company’s gig-economy model.

The 52-year-old acknowledges he was part of Uber’s top team at the time – and is not without blame for the conduct he describes. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, he said he was partly motivated by remorse.

“I am partly responsible,” he said. “I was the one talking to governments, I was the one pushing this with the media, I was the one telling people that they should change the rules because drivers were going to benefit and people were going to get so much economic opportunity.

“When that turned out not to be the case – we had actually sold people a lie – how can you have a clear conscience if you don’t stand up and own your contribution to how people are being treated today?”

The senior role MacGann held at Uber between 2014 and 2016 put him at the heart of decisions taken at the highest levels of the company during the period in which it was forcing its way into markets in violation of taxi-licensing laws. He oversaw Uber’s attempts to persuade governments to change taxi regulations and create a more favourable business environment in more than 40 countries.


Pretty strong story for day 2. And a remarkable thing to do by MacGann.
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North Korean operatives are trying to infiltrate US crypto firms • CNNPolitics

Sean Lyngaas:


Devin, the founder of a cryptocurrency startup based in San Francisco, woke up one day in February to the most bizarre phone call of his life.

The man on the other end, an FBI agent, told Devin that the seemingly legitimate software developer he’d hired the previous summer was a North Korean operative who’d sent tens of thousands of dollars of his salary to the country’s authoritarian regime.

Stunned, Devin hung up and immediately cut the employee off from company accounts, he said.
“He was a good contributor,” Devin lamented, puzzled by the man who had claimed to be Chinese and passed multiple rounds of interviews to get hired. (CNN is using a pseudonym for Devin to protect the identity of his company).

Devin’s encounter is just one example of what US officials say is a relentless, evolving effort by the North Korean government to infiltrate and steal from cryptocurrency and other tech firms around the world to help fund Kim Jong Un’s illicit nuclear and ballistic weapons program.

…The FBI, Treasury and State departments issued a rare public advisory in May about thousands of “highly skilled” IT personnel who provide Pyongyang with “a critical stream of revenue” that helps bankroll the regime’s “highest economic and security priorities.”

It’s an elaborate money-making scheme that relies on front companies, contractors and deception to prey on a volatile industry that is always on the hunt for top talent. North Korean tech workers can earn more than $300,000 annually — hundreds of times the average income of a North Korean citizen — and up to 90% of their wages go to the regime, according to the US advisory.

“(The North Koreans) take this very seriously,” said Soo Kim, a former North Korea analyst at the CIA. “It’s not just some rando in his basement trying to mine cryptocurrency,” she added, referring to the process of generating digital money. “It’s a way of life.”


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Here’s how the right is spinning Elon Musk’s Twitter withdrawal as a victory • Motherboard

David Gilbert:


For the right-wing media, lawmakers, and talking heads who were banned or had abandoned the platform—and who had spent weeks celebrating a deal they believed would herald their triumphant return to tweeting—Musk’s withdrawal was a devastating blow.

But rather than going into mourning, they’ve managed to twist logic to the point where they now claim that Musk planned to scupper the deal all along—and it’s actually a really good thing.

And what better way to show their contempt for Twitter than by sharing their views on Twitter.

“Holy shit. The party is really over here. The purge is coming,” Dave Rubin, a conservative political commentator tweeted after news of Musk’s withdrawal was announced.

The main gist of the argument from the right is that Musk was correct to pull out because he had successfully exposed the level of spam accounts on the platform.

“Elon musk is terminating his agreement to buy Twitter: So basically Twitter has a huge amount of spam accounts—way more than they let on—and has gotten busted for it,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. “As I said weeks ago spam accounts are probably 50% not 5% of Twitter users.”


Except, as Matt Levine points out in his newsletter, if spam accounts (and how exactly do you define that? Show your working), then that means that Twitter is monetising fantastically well on its humans, who actually look at ads, so Twitter is fabulously valuable and Musk should buy it after all. It’s a self-defeating argument to claim there are too many bots.

Also: thread about how Musk is likely to lose if he lets it all get to court.
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Passenger deployed slide to exit moving plane at LAX! • Mentour Pilot

Spyros Georgilidakis:


A passenger on a United Express flight deployed an evacuation slide on a moving aircraft at LAX! The individual was the only one to suffer some injuries.

The airline operating the flight was SkyWest. This was flight UA5365, operating last Friday (25th of June). The aircraft would fly from Los Angeles (KLAX) to Salt Lake City (KSLC). The crew pushed back from gate 82 in Los Angeles at 6:55pm local time. Five-six minutes later, a passenger started behaving erratically, standing up in the cabin. Eventually, he would deploy an evacuation slide.


Well now. Seems that we have an empirical test of “can you open the aircraft door while the aircraft is taxiing?” Hope you’re all satisfied. (Please don’t attempt to submit this data to replication.)
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Why business is booming for military AI startups • MIT Technology Review

Melissa Heikkiläarchive:


Companies that sell military AI make expansive claims for what their technology can do. They say it can help with everything from the mundane to the lethal, from screening résumés to processing data from satellites or recognizing patterns in data to help soldiers make quicker decisions on the battlefield. Image recognition software can help with identifying targets. Autonomous drones can be used for surveillance or attacks on land, air, or water, or to help soldiers deliver supplies more safely than is possible by land. 

These technologies are still in their infancy on the battlefield, and militaries are going through a period of experimentation, says Payne, sometimes without much success. There are countless examples of AI companies’ tendency to make grand promises about technologies that turn out not to work as advertised, and combat zones are perhaps among the most technically challenging areas in which to deploy AI because there is little relevant training data. This could cause autonomous systems to fail in a “complex and unpredictable manner,” argued Arthur Holland Michel, an expert on drones and other surveillance technologies, in a paper for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research

Nevertheless, many militaries are pressing forward. In a vaguely worded press release in 2021, the British army proudly announced it had used AI in a military operation for the first time, to provide information on the surrounding environment and terrain. The US is working with startups to develop autonomous military vehicles. In the future, swarms of hundreds or even thousands of autonomous drones that the US and British militaries are developing could prove to be powerful and lethal weapons.


It was 2006 when I commissioned a piece about uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs, aka drones) and how keen the US Army had been to use them since 2004. Now they’re commonplace in the Ukraine war. These systems can take a while to feed through, but once they’re ready, they’re used. AI is going to be exactly the same. One more war? Two?
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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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