Start Up No.1841: Twitter went easy on Trump, has the US hit the EV tipping point?, UK wind costs a quarter of gas, and more


Rising fuel prices in the US have prompted some people to hack the pumps to fill up for free. The cause? Defaults and easy hacks. CC-licensed photo by Robert Geiger on Flickr.

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


Donald Trump tweets incited Capitol violence, Twitter employee tells January 6th Committee • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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In testimony, the [anonymous former] Twitter employee [who worked on platform and content moderation] explained that platform was wary of the former president’s presence on the platform as early as September 2020 when Trump urged members of the violent far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate.

“My concern was that the former president, for seemingly the first time, was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives,” the employee said of the September debate statement. “We had not seen that sort of direct communication before, and that concerned me.”

Despite the concerns, the employee said that Twitter refused to ban Trump in response to the statements. “If former President Donald Trump were any other user on Twitter, he would have been permanently suspended a very long time ago,” the employee told investigators.

Asked to explain the reluctant moderation approach, the employee described a symbiotic relationship between the platform and President Trump. “I believe that Twitter relished in the knowledge that they were also the favourite and most used service of the former president,” the employee said, “and enjoyed having that sort of power within the social media ecosystem.”

Trump was banned from Twitter two days after the storming of the Capitol, a decision that remains both contested and controversial. In a policy statement announcing the ban, Twitter said the action was necessary “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” citing two tweets posted in the days following the event.

Responding to Tuesday’s testimony, Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy told The Verge “We are clear-eyed about our role in the broader information ecosystem in regards to the January 6th attack on the US Capitol.”

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So if you ever wondered even for just a minute whether Trump got kid glove treatment: yes, he did. And it continues: Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the nuttiest members of the US Congress, has tweeted a number of things which are being left on the platform “because of her position”. This is a terrible way to run a platform, where the rules shift all the time and favour the most prominent. Derek Powazek, who used to run online community systems, has an excellent thread about it, especially this: “The core mistake Twitter is making is they think that newsworthy figures shouldn’t have to follow the rules you and I follow, but they’re wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite. Famous (or infamous) people should be held to a HIGHER standard because their use will be mirrored.”

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Hack the pump: rising prices lead to more reports of gas theft • NBC News

Kevin Collier:

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Len Denton, a fuel industry veteran and the founder of Guardian Payment Solutions Corp., a startup that makes security products for gas stations, said that gas station owners and law enforcement officials have told him of a rush of theft complaints from station owners and police since March. [US fuel stations require people to pay, or insert a credit card, before the pump will work.]

Most American gas stations use pumps from one of two manufacturers: Wayne Fueling Systems or Gilbarco Veeder-Root. Besides thieves simply arriving in off hours and stealing gas in bulk from underground storage tanks, gas hackers primarily steal using one of two methods, one for each of the two companies, Denton said. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

The first exploits the fact that many Wayne fuel dispensers have a remote control option to allow station owners and fuel inspectors to easily access them. Those remotes are not regulated, though, and NBC News found many of them for sale online on places including eBay. Ebay did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Wayne’s gas dispensers require remote users to enter a key code to access its controls, many station owners never change it from the default setting, Denton said.

John Clark, a police officer at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department North Division in North Carolina, said a suspect he arrested in March used a remote control to access a Wayne pump at a Charlotte gas station then sold the gas. The suspect, who is still awaiting trial, put the pump into a setting designed for technicians to test gas, which allows them to dispense fuel without payment, Clark said.

“You can just pump as much as you want. The easy solution to prevent this from happening is to change that code when pumps are installed, but for whatever reason, whether apathy or lack of knowledge, some of these owners aren’t.”

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In Britain it’s a lot simpler: people fill their tanks and drive off. But then their numberplate goes on to a national system shared between huge numbers of fuel stations, and they’ll never be able to fill up at a mainstream fuel station again.
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Ignore the chaos. Britain’s system is working • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:

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whenever Britain emerges from one of its political upheavals, calls emerge for the country to codify its constitution in a single, intelligible document like the United States’. Britain may have escaped this time, the argument goes, but it is still far too reliant on the “good chap” theory of politics—that in the end, good chaps in power do the right thing.

Over and over, Britain finds itself in this mess. Even today, Britain’s constitution seems entirely absent when it comes to the matter of who will replace [Boris] Johnson as prime minister. Over the summer, 160,000 or so Conservative Party members will choose their next leader, and therefore the country’s prime minister, based on rules drawn up by something called the 1922 Committee, a Conservative grouping in Parliament that has no constitutional basis at all.

But here’s the thing: Britain does not escape its various political crises despite its constitution. Britain escapes these crises because of it.

Britain did not need a set of written instructions to get rid of Johnson. Even though he won the biggest Conservative majority since 1987, he lost power within three years because a majority in Parliament decided he was no longer fit for office. America’s written constitution failed to get rid of Donald Trump despite the fact that he tried to blackmail Ukraine and then incited an attempted insurrection to steal an election. In France, a written constitution did not stop Charles de Gaulle from essentially taking power in a coup in 1958.

…which system has actually shown itself to be more adaptable: the British or the American? Today, the U.S. Constitution is worshipped almost as a sacral text, as if people have forgotten it was a messy and at times deeply immoral political compromise between a bunch of 18th-century British radicals, slave holders, and secessionists. It took a civil war to introduce the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery. And today, despite yet another wave of violent gun attacks, the Second Amendment appears unreformable. Over this same period, the British monarchy has essentially lost all its power.

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For a Briton, reading this is refreshing: a reminder that the reason our constitution works so well is because it isn’t written down. Trump’s reign (the word’s appropriate) was laced with moments of “that breaks a law, doesn’t it?” which then demonstrated that the laws being broken carried no effective penalties.
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Why we can’t have an air source heat pump • Terence Eden’s Blog

The ecological Mr Eden:

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As part of our quest to make our house more efficient, we’ve installed solar panels, a battery, insulation, and all the other stuff you’re supposed to do. The next step is working out if we can reduce our dependency on gas.

Octopus Energy (join and we both get £50!) offered to send an engineer around for free to assess our property for suitability for an Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP).

The engineer was friendly, knowledgeable, professional, thorough, and just full of bad news!

Here’s a short summary of the issues they found:

• Siting of the ASHP. It can’t be in view of the road, so it needed to be in our back garden.

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There are quite a few others, but this one infuriates me. Why can’t it be in view of the road? “Planning regulations”. Do they stop gas flues or chimneys being visible from the road? No. The planet’s on fire, but look, at least when the aliens come along and excavate our civilisation they’ll be impressed by how pretty our buildings are. At least when viewed from the road.
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Bloomberg says US has hit electric car tipping point • CleanTechnica

Steve Hanley:

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In the tech world, people like to talk about the S Curve, a graphical (and somewhat mythical) symbol that purports to predict when new technology will go mainstream. In theory, once a new, new thing hits 5% market penetration, the rate of acceptance goes up exponentially before tailing off at the end. Think of the smartphone. At first, people thought it was a fad, then everyone had to have one. Today, there are a few holdouts who are rocking flip phones, but they are by far the minority.

CBS News reports that the United States is the most recent addition to a growing list of nations where fully electric cars make up 5% of new vehicle sales, a threshold that opens the gate to mass adoption, based on the latest findings from Bloomberg. During the last 6 months, the US moved past that tipping point, following 18 other countries. If prior trends continue, a quarter of new car sales could be electric by the end of 2025, Bloomberg predicts.

When it comes to electric cars, 5% seems to be the magic number at which the early adopters are joined by most of the rest of a country’s population. Bloomberg found the scenario had played out in Norway after its first 5% quarter in 2013, with China following suit in 2018 and then South Korea last year. Canada, Australia, and Spain are among the other major car markets nearing the tipping point this year.

Every country that has crossed the mark has a program of federal incentives and pollution rules in place. That goes for the US too, with the White House last year calling for EVs to make up half of new cars by 2030, including hybrids. The US should hit that target several years ahead of schedule, Bloomberg says.

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The S curve, aka the “diffusion curve“, isn’t mythical. It’s been demonstrated again and again. The curves tend not to be tidy, sure, but it’s a very useful approximation.
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Analysis: record low price for UK offshore wind is a quarter the price of gas • Carbon Brief

Simon Evans:

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A UK government auction has secured a record 11 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity that will generate electricity four times more cheaply than current gas prices.

The projects are all due to start operating within the next five years up to 2026/27 and have agreed to generate electricity for an average price of £48 per megawatt hour (MWh) in today’s money. This is less than a quarter of the price of the £196/MWh current cost of running gas-fired power stations.

Most of the new capacity – some 7GW – will be offshore wind. Notably, for the first time, these projects were cheaper than the 1.5GW of onshore wind or 2.2GW of solar.

Once the pre-approved projects are built, Carbon Brief estimates they will generate 42 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year, enough to meet around 13% of current UK demand.

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This is the price delta you really need. When it’s that much cheaper to build wind (and solar), there’s no reason not to. Total UK generating capacity is a little over 100GW, though the concern is that this new capacity won’t be replacing fossil fuel (CCGT, ie gas) generators, but instead nuclear plants reaching the end of their life.
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Tesla turns to California to build “world’s largest virtual power plant” • One Step Off The Grid

Joshua Hill:

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Californian utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Tesla invited roughly 25,000 PG&E customers with Powerwall home batteries to join a virtual power plant (VPP) pilot in the state, offering compensation for the energy they discharge to the grid.

The companies said this week that more than 3,000 customers had responded to the initial offer, while more than 1,500 customers officially entered the program within the first two weeks.

…The collaboration in California will see Tesla participate in PG&E’s Emergency Load Reduction Program (ELRP) pilot by enrolling and combining residential Powerwall home battery systems into a virtual power plant to discharge power back to the grid in California during times of high electricity demand.

In California, Tesla and PG&E hope to accelerate customer adoption of distributed energy resource technologies by helping to expand access to new customer programs and participation opportunities.

“VPPs are a valuable resource for supporting grid reliability and an essential part of California’s clean energy future,” said Aaron August, PG&E’s vice president for business development & customer engagement.

“Our customers’ home batteries offer a unique resource that can positively contribute to our state’s electric grid and will become more significant as our customers continue to adopt clean energy technology.

…The PG&E and Tesla VPP will see PG&E direct load managements events for participating customers which will direct their battery to discharge when there is high demand for electricity between 4pm to 9pm, specifically through May to October (the Northern Hemisphere’s warmer months).

Customers participating in the VPP will receive $2 for every incremental kilowatt-hour of electricity that their Powerwall discharges back into the grid during a load management event.

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Those kWh prices are impressive when you consider that PG&E charges $0.51 at peak for domestic users in the summer (if I’ve got the right tariff, which I might not.)
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Fake IPL in Gujarat village dupes Russian punters • Times of India

Ashish Chauhan:

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It’s not cricket, but a Gujarat village almost pulled off an elaborate con with a fake IPL [Indian Premier League of cricket] – complete with farm labourers masquerading as players, a Harsha Bhogle mimic and even an “official” Telegram channel to take punts – for a remote audience of Russian punters addicted to betting on the thrills and spills of T20 [the 20-overs-per-side, one-day cricket format].

The charade playing out in a remote farm at Molipur village of Mehsana district reached the “knockout quarterfinal” stage before the organisers of the “Indian premier cricket league” were caught out by the cops.

The gang of cons who set up “IPL” matches at a farm in a Gujarat village accepted bets from punters in Russian cities of Tver, Voronezh and Moscow. The cricket matches were broadcast live over a YouTube channel labelled “IPL” for over a fortnight.

What made the grand fraud even more audacious was that the fake matches started three weeks after the real IPL concluded.

All it took for the real-life con caper to be executed were 21 farm labourers and unemployed youths from the village, who took turns wearing jerseys of the Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Titans. They even did umpiring, flaunting a few walkie-talkies in front of five HD cameras. Crowd-noise sound effects downloaded from the internet made the ambience appear authentic to the audience sitting in Russia.

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Wicked clever. Reminds me of the terrible setup for the film The Grand Seduction, in which the Canadian doctor who is the plot’s lynchpin is fanatical about cricket, of all things, in a Newfoundland fisheries town.
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Low-background steel • Wikipedia

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Low-background steel is any steel produced prior to the detonation of the first nuclear bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. Typically sourced from shipwrecks and other steel artefacts of this era, it is often used for modern particle detectors because more modern steel is contaminated with traces of nuclear fallout.

Since the cessation of atmospheric nuclear testing, background radiation has decreased to very near natural levels, making special low-background steel no longer necessary for most radiation-sensitive applications, as brand-new steel now has a low enough radioactive signature that it can generally be used in such applications. However, some demand remains for the most radiation-sensitive applications, such as Geiger counters and sensing equipment aboard spacecraft, and World War II-era shipwrecks near in the Java Sea and western South China Sea are often illegally scavenged for low-background steel.

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Random but fascinating. Airborne background radiation hit 0.11 milliSieverts per year over natural background in 1963 (the year the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty came into force). Since then it’s fallen to 0.005 mSv/yr above background, a factor of 22 less.

Ideal, as it turns out, for neutrino experiments. But it’s not always entirely legitimately acquired.
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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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