Start Up No.1837: a remote worker’s remote death, Hive to cut some device support, how Musk made Twitter worse, and more

The car company BMW is now offering paid subscriptions to turn on the seat warmers. If you can believe that. CC-licensed photo by Car leasing made simple on Flickr.

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

Exclusive: Myanmar’s junta rolls out Chinese camera surveillance systems in more cities – sources • Reuters via MSN

Fanny Potkin:


Myanmar’s junta government is installing Chinese-built cameras with facial recognition capabilities in more cities across the country, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

In tenders to procure and install the security cameras and facial recognition technology, the plans are described as safe city projects aimed at maintaining security and, in some cases, preserving civil peace, said the people who are or have been involved in the projects.

Since the February 2021 coup, local authorities have started new camera surveillance projects for at least five cities including Mawlamyine – the country’s fourth-largest city – according to information from the three people who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals by the junta.

The new projects are in addition to five cities where camera systems touted as crime prevention measures were either installed or planned by the previous government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the sources and local media.

A junta spokesman did not answer Reuters calls seeking comment. None of the 10 municipal governments, all of which are controlled by the junta, answered calls seeking comment. Reuters was not able to review the tenders or visit the cities to verify the installation of the cameras.


It’s so sad how brief Myanmar’s period of democracy was: from around 2010 to the November 2020 election. The military junta just couldn’t bear to give up power. Now it’s using China’s tactics to clamp down further on the population.
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The ad risk for Netflix • Midia Research

Tim Mulligan:


The rationale for diluting Netflix’s well-known ad-free SVOD model can be effectively made to professional investors. Further, the clearly favourable response of the global ad ecosystem to the opportunities opening up also allows high value digital subscribers to be reached and underlines the business opportunity for Netflix as it moves into this new phase of its business evolution.

However, Netflix subscribers are likely to view the pivot less favourably. According to MIDiA Research’s Q1 2022 consumer survey, just over a quarter of all international Netflix subscribers do not want ads on any type of video service that they are currently paying for. This number rises to just under a third in the US, and both data points are above the weighted consumer average.

Netflix thus finds itself at an inflection point. It is confronted with the classic business dilemma of seeking to impose a business model upon consumers, of whom a significant minority are antagonistic towards being asked to pay for subscribing to an ad-supported service.

Of course, Netflix has publicly stated that that it is planning an ad-supported service that may or may not require a reduced paid subscription to access upon launch. Industry expectations are that it will be a free at-the-point-of-access tier (such as offered by rival D2C service Peacock Free). As such, ostensibly, Netflix will not be at risk of alienating its core subscriber base. However, it will undoubtedly be signalling to its wider userbase that it no longer has a differentiated service in the streaming marketplace.


Then again, pretty much everyone knows that there are loads of choices in the streaming marketplace. Arguably, too many.
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He lived alone and died suddenly: a work-from-home tragedy • Los Angeles Times

Kiera Feldman:


Dominic, who was single and lived alone, had started his position as an epidemiologist in September, joining the 41% of white-collar workers who were fully remote, spending their days at home in jobs that were more disconnected and isolating than ever.

At the beginning and end of each shift, Dominic sent his bosses a mandatory email clocking in and out.

But the next day, a Thursday, Dominic didn’t send his 8 a.m. email. He missed the 4:30 p.m. sign-out too. Friday also came and went with no sign of Dominic.

Dominic’s parents, Joseph and Jeannine Green, who lived in Michigan, didn’t hear from him over the weekend, but that was not unexpected; they were used to waiting for texts from their busy son. But by Monday, which was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they grew worried.

Joseph checked their family cellular plan and saw Dominic’s phone had been dark for five days. Jeannine checked their joint bank account and saw it too showed no activity.

By the time Dominic’s body was discovered in his apartment Monday night, he was unrecognizable and had to be identified by the few fingerprints still visible on his hands.


A carefully told story of an overlooked death that might never have happened if we were still using offices as we did three years ago.
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Hive to end support for variety of smart home gizmos in 2025 • The Register

Richard Speed:


Home automation platform Hive plans to terminate key products in its line, including the Hive View cameras, HomeShield, and Leak products.

A Hive spokesperson told The Register: “At Hive, we’ve got big plans to make… homes greener, so we’ve made the tough decision to discontinue our smart security and leak detection products. As a smart tech brand in the middle of a climate crisis, we know the focus needs to change and will instead be developing smart home tech that’ll help get us closer to achieving Net Zero.”

Users, some of whom have invested four figure sums in Hive products are less than impressed.

The indoor and outdoor cameras and HomeShield will be supported until August 1, 2025. The Leak sensors will work as normal until September 1, 2023, after which leak notifications and water usage graphs will dry up.

Once that August date is reached, the cameras will simply no longer function. Video playback subscriptions will last for “a minimum of two years.”


It’s basically giving up on everything apart from – I hope – its home temperature monitoring system, though who knows. The home security and similar products don’t seem related to its core mission – home energy supply – so maybe that’s where its focus will be. (Thanks Ken Tindell for this and the next link.)
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BMW starts selling heated seat subscriptions for $18 a month • The Verge

James Vincent:


BMW has slowly been putting features behind subscriptions since 2020, and heated seats subs are now available in BMW’s digital stores in countries including the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa. It doesn’t, however, seem to be an option in the US — yet.

We’ve asked BMW for the exact details of this roll-out, but it was unable to say when the subscriptions had been launched in which countries. It’s no surprise that BMW isn’t trumpeting the news, though. Since the company announced in 2020 that its cars’ operating system would allow for microtransactions on features like automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control, customers have decried the move as greedy and exploitative.

Carmakers have always charged customers more money for high-end features, of course, but the dynamic is very different when software, rather than hardware, is the limiting factor.

In the case of heated seats, for example, BMW owners already have all the necessary components, but BMW has simply placed a software block on their functionality that buyers then have to pay to remove.


Just astonishing. I suspect this is going to be hugely unpopular and that BMW will discover reverse gear, or else people will figure out how to get around the software block. That’ll invalidate something in their guarantee, and then it’ll go to court, and then the European Union will probably rule in favour of consumers (let’s hope).
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How Elon Musk left Twitter worse off than he found it • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Mike Isaac:


Of all the wreckage Mr. Musk is leaving at Twitter, the most prominent may be how brutally he exposed the company’s waning financial and business prospects. Twitter has operated at a loss for seven of the nine years it has been a public company. During deliberations over Mr. Musk’s offer, the company received no serious interest from other suitors, people with knowledge of the situation have said. Twitter’s board determined that Mr. Musk’s offer of $54.20 a share was the best it could obtain, suggesting it saw no way to reach that price on its own.
“The board’s lack of conviction in the company’s long-term future will linger over employees, partners and shareholders regardless of the outcome with Elon,” Mr. Goldman said.

In recent months, Twitter’s business has deteriorated. Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, said in a memo to employees in May that the company had not lived up to its business and financial goals. To address the issues, he pushed out the heads of product and revenue, instituted a hiring slowdown and began an effort to attract new users and diversify into e-commerce. In April, the company stopped providing a forward-looking financial outlook to investors, pending the acquisition.

That trajectory is unlikely to change as uncertainty over the deal discomfits advertisers, the main source of Twitter’s revenue.

“Twitter will have trouble in the near future reassuring skittish advertisers and their users that they’re going to be stable,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of the watchdog group Media Matters for America.


Now Twitter is suing him. All fun and games until someone loses an eye.
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Boris Johnson’s climate push loses its champion as Tories eye new leader • POLITICO

Karl Mathiesen and Eleni Courea:


As it purges Britain’s greenest Tory leader in years, Boris Johnson’s party is toying with ditching Britain’s political consensus on climate change.

Johnson, who last week bowed to Conservative pressure and promised to resign once a new leader is elected, set tough climate goals, relentlessly talked up the economic opportunities of cleaner energy and, alongside his climate czar Alok Sharma, delivered the COP26 U.N. conference in Glasgow.

He achieved more on climate change than “any Conservative prime minister in the last 10 or so years,” said Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network. “So him going is a big moment.”

Johnson leaves behind a welter of unfinished climate business at home and abroad — and it’s not clear anyone else will pick up the baton. “There’s obviously still vastly more to do,” said Hall.

The stakes could hardly be higher. The next prime minister will be chosen through an internal Conservative Party election now underway amid a sweltering heat wave, which scientists say has been dialed up by climate change. Candidate Sajid Javid sweated profusely through his campaign launch event on Monday.

Whoever wins will need to deal with a huge gap between ambition and action if the country is to meet its goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In a progress report a fortnight ago, the U.K.’s Committee on Climate Change said the government only had credible plans to achieve two-fifths of its 2035 climate target — a legally binding staging post on the way to zeroing out emissions. Manufacturing, agriculture and buildings are the areas that have been most neglected.


This, honestly, is the (only) bad thing about Johnson going. His wife pushed the green agenda hard, and he didn’t disagree. None of the extremists going for the job shows any indication of understanding the gravity of the problem.
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Texas Bitcoin miners get paid to shut down, return power to grid in heat wave • Fortune

Eamon Barrett:


According to Lee Bratcher, president of the Texas Blockchain Council, “nearly all industrial-scale bitcoin mining” operations in Texas have shut down their rigs as of Monday, Bloomberg reports, freeing up 1,000 megawatts of electricity to be redistributed by the grid. Bratcher says that’s equal to 1% of Texas’s total grid capacity.

Texan bitcoin miners have powered down during previous crises, such as when a winter storm gripped the state in February. Reducing demand from power-hungry bitcoin mines freed up power supply for more life-giving services, like heating.

“We are proud to help stabilize the grid and help our fellow Texans stay warm,” Nathan Nichols, CEO of mining firm Rhodium, wrote on Twitter at the time.

But miners aren’t switching off their rigs just to be altruistic; economic incentives are driving that decision.

Grid operator the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) brokers “demand response” agreements that pay industries, including some bitcoin miners, to downsize operations during times of peak demand to provide more energy to the grid. For bitcoin miners, which can power operations on and off with the flip of a switch, taking ERCOT’s payout rather than continuing to mine bitcoin during times of tight power supply makes a lot of sense.

Bitcoin mines are only profitable so long as the cost of the energy they use remains below the value of bitcoin gained. That calculus is why miners seek out jurisdictions like Texas, where electricity prices are relatively low. But a weather-induced spike in demand across the grid inflates the cost of electricity and reduces profitability for miners.


Texas power prices spike absolutely enormously. It hasn’t of course figured out how to join the rest of the US grid, so people may have to suffer rolling blackouts. Bitcoin clearly isn’t a huge user (relatively) of the grid’s power. But 1% can be the difference between working and not working.
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Global PC shipments down 15% in Q2 2022 due to Chinese production crunch • Canalys


The second quarter of 2022 brought major disruption to the PC market, as COVID lockdowns in China stymied manufacturing. The latest Canalys data shows total shipments of desktops and notebooks fell 15.0% annually to 70.2 million units, the lowest level since a similar disruption occurred in Q1 2020. Demand headwinds, especially from consumers, have also ramped up as inflation remains unchecked in many of the world’s largest PC markets.

Notebook shipments fell 18.6% in Q2 2022 at 54.5 million units, down for a third consecutive quarter as education procurement remained muted compared with the same quarter a year ago. Desktops fared much better, posting modest growth of 0.6% to 15.6m units as the strength of commercial demand amid the further opening of economies helped spur investment in desktop refreshes and upgrades. The premium commercial segment will remain a bright spot for the overall PC market this year, despite mounting challenges in the global macroeconomic outlook. 


Perhaps surprisingly, Apple isn’t in the top five (Asus is fifth with 4.7m units shipped). That might be because it didn’t have any new models during the quarter, and everyone who know about these things was waiting for the M2 chip. Which is now shipping.

Tough times again for the PC market, though.
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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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