Start Up No.1842: Musk v Twitter set for October, heat burns cloud services, showrunners’ gripes about streaming, and more

Hackers are, predictably, lining up to bypass BMW’s scheme to charge a subscription for heated seats in some new models. CC-licensed photo by Michael on Flickr.

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

Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover trial set to start in October • The Verge

Elizabeth Lopatto:


a Delaware court ruled that Twitter’s lawsuit against Elon Musk for attempting to back out of his acquisition of the company will be heard in October. This is a win for Twitter, which asked for a shorter timeframe than Musk.

Musk agreed to buy Twitter for $44bn in April but then appeared to get cold feet about the deal. Despite having waived his ability to do “due diligence,” or research on the company he was planning to acquire, he claimed that Twitter had too many bots. He then tried to terminate the agreement. In response, Twitter sued to hold him to the purchase.

During oral arguments before the judge, Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, Twitter claimed that Musk’s bot arguments were bad-faith attempts to back out of the deal due to an acute case of buyer’s remorse. Twitter originally wanted a date in September; Musk asked for February. The trial will be five days — longer than Twitter asked for but shorter than Musk did. The exact dates haven’t yet been scheduled.

In court, Twitter’s counsel said that Musk’s conduct was “inexcusable.” Musk has held up an employee retention plan, and is engaging in “needless value destruction.” In response, Musk’s lawyers suggested that Twitter was giving Musk the run-around with bot data. Both teams agreed that Musk’s team has run millions of queries on Twitter’s firehose, a real-time feed of Tweets as they are sent. Musk’s lawyers also indicated The New York Times got a copy of Twitter’s lawsuit before they did.


Not looking good for Musk, at least on the basis of the pretrial hearing. The sensible move for him would now be to settle in some way, because the way the pretrial judge treated his arguments was pretty brutal.
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Google, Oracle cloud servers suffer outage in UK heatwave • The Register

Katyanna Quach:


Cloud services and servers hosted by Google and Oracle in the UK have dropped offline due to cooling issues as the nation experiences a record-breaking heatwave.

When the mercury hit 40.3ºC (104.5ºF) in eastern England, the highest ever registered by a country not used to these conditions, datacenters couldn’t take the heat. Selected machines were powered off to avoid long-term damage, causing some resources, services, and virtual machines to became unavailable, taking down unlucky websites and the like.

Multiple Oracle Cloud Infrastructure resources are offline, including networking, storage, and compute provided by its servers in the south of UK. Cooling systems were blamed, and techies switched off equipment in a bid to prevent hardware burning out, according to a status update from Team Oracle.

“As a result of unseasonal temperatures in the region, a subset of cooling infrastructure within the UK South (London) Data Centre has experienced an issue,” Oracle said on Tuesday at 1638 UTC. “As a result some customers may be unable to access or use Oracle Cloud Infrastructure resources hosted in the region.

…Google acknowledged the downtime at 1615 UTC. This outage has, for one thing, brought down WordPress websites hosted by WP Engine in the UK, which were powered by Google Cloud.


Damn, the heatwave’s taking out (bits of) the internet? Is nothing sacred?
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The true costs of inflation in small-town Texas • The New Yorker

Rachel Monroe:


When I was in Sabinal, the lunch regulars started coming in around eleven, hanging their hats on a rack by the door with an easy familiarity. The regulars agreed that inflation was killing them, although they seemed to relish the opportunity to complain about the President. One regular, a farmer and feed-lot owner named George, told me that a fertilizer he uses had gone from a $166 a ton in January, 2021, to more than $700. “You either don’t grow a crop or you spend a lot of money to grow a crop,” he said.

Falkenberg, the man who made the horseshoe sculpture, mows lawns and does landscaping for people around town. He said that he lives alone, and used to come in to the restaurant regularly, for the chitchat and the lunch specials. Now, with his customers’ lawns drying up and gas prices what they are, it was hard to justify going out to eat. “Today’s the first day I’ve been here in a while, and I used to come every day,” he said. Another patron, Stephanie Cedillo, told me that she used to visit her sister in San Antonio nearly every weekend. “She wanted me to visit today,” Cedillo said. “But I thought about the gas—going to San Antonio, and then back. I can’t do it. I used to go out. Now I go straight home from work. That’s it.”

In June, one of Rodriguez’s two cooks gave his two weeks’ notice, after five years of working at the restaurant. He didn’t offer a reason, but Rodriguez wondered whether it had to do with gas prices; the cook lived 20 miles away and didn’t drive, so his brother had to drop him off and pick him up every day. “I can only imagine what that was costing,” Rodriguez said. Now R-BBQ was down to one cook. Rodriguez briefly considered quitting his school job to work the griddle himself, but he had 14 years vested in his pension, and he was hoping to get to 20. Instead, he opted to close the restaurant on Tuesdays, too. But this meant that his remaining employees, who were already worried about their paychecks, would lose shifts. “My drive is to keep this going, because my dad sunk his savings into it,” Rodriguez said. “But there are days when I feel like, Why am I doing this?”


A very effective tale of how spiralling inflation on everything – energy, fuel, food – can wipe out a business. Although Monroe subtly de-emphasises the point that there are also two fast-food chains in the town, which presumably find a way to eat (ha) these costs. And, as a style note, what’s the New Yorker’s rule for when a writer can refer to themselves as “I”, and when they have to use tortured phrases like “On the day that a reporter visited..”
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‘I don’t know how my show is doing’: showrunners’ struggle with streaming services • Vulture

Kathryn VanArendonk and Josef Adalian:


For decades, television creators had a pretty good way of finding out if their show was a hit: They could look at the Nielsen ratings, an imperfect, universal system for measuring viewership. Now that question is a lot more difficult to answer because, according to showrunners [who direct the writing and arc of series] and producers, the platforms streaming their work share almost no data with them. Third-party measurement companies are springing up to fill the void, but without input from the platforms, they can’t tell the whole story. This means the people who made a show may have little idea how big its audience is and even less of an idea about whether the streamer is happy — right up until the moment the show is renewed or canceled.

…In a series of anonymous interviews, showrunners opened up about how it feels when your show’s fate is a black box. (The platforms themselves declined to comment on their data-sharing practices.) To some people, it’s liberating: They think tracking viewership isn’t a showrunner’s job anyway, and there was never a time when Hollywood decisions felt anything but arbitrary. But to others, the data void adds an extra dose of anxiety — it’s a lot harder to negotiate without numbers to back it up.


I loved this one, from the “showrunner of a concluded Apple TV+ series”:


Over the course of my time at Apple+, I was told two things: One is that shows did better when they were released weekly; the other was completion rates. But then it’s like, What does that metric mean to you? You never knew what their goals even were. Are their macro goals to sell iPhones?

You will never be approached with any information. If you choose to expend your social capital in such an ask, you will be politely handled, but you will not be given anything that has any kind of context to it. I’m not going to be the one who demands a Zoom meeting for them to share information that they literally would lose their jobs over if they ever shared. So I went off and developed this whole relationship with one of the people who work for an analytics company that estimates ratings. I paid money for a personal subscription, and I know I’m not the only person doing that. Our audience was pretty big. I found out the show had rabid fan bases in other countries, too.


Apple being very, extremely Apple-y.
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Below MSRP and only getting cheaper: the GPU deluge begins • Tom’s Hardware

Jarred Walton:


We’ve been watching GPU prices fall since the start of the year, but the past few weeks suggest things could get a lot worse — for the graphics card manufacturers and GPU vendors, that is — in the near future.

GPU prices dropped 15% in May, and we’ve seen similar 10–15% drops each month for the past several months. We saw the best graphics cards come back into stock (at retail) as GPU mining profitability has plummeted — and that was before Bitcoin and Ethereum crashed again, dropping Bitcoin from around $30,000 to the low $20,000s and Ethereum from around $1,900 to about $1,100. In the past week, Bitcoin’s value dropped over 30%, while Ethereum plunged by more than 40%.

This has happened before — back in 2018, when it resulted in a massive oversupply of many GPU lines. AMD’s Polaris GPUs, such as the RX 570 and RX 580, went from being wildly-popular mining GPUs to being cards you could pick up for a song. The low-end RX 560 cost almost as much as the RX 570 4GB, even though the latter offered more than twice the performance. And it’s not just retail prices that will threaten sales — used GPUs will start to flood the market as people abandon cryptocurrency mining.


Bitcoin and Ethereum are creeping up again, but not significantly. So pile in if you need a GPU.
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Apple reaches $50m settlement over defective MacBook keyboards • Reuters

Jonathan Stempel:


Apple Inc agreed to pay $50m to settle a class-action lawsuit by customers who claimed it knew and concealed that the “butterfly” keyboards on its MacBook laptop computers were prone to failure.

The proposed preliminary settlement was filed late Monday night in the federal court in San Jose, California, and requires a judge’s approval.

Customers claimed that MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro keyboards suffered from sticky and unresponsive keys, and that tiny amounts of dust or debris could make it difficult to type.

They also said Apple’s service program was inadequate because the Cupertino, California-based company often provided replacement keyboards with the same problems.

The settlement covers customers who bought MacBook, MacBook Air and most MacBook Pro models between 2015 and 2019 in seven US states: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

Apple denied wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.

…Lawyers for the customers expect maximum payouts of $395 to people who replaced multiple keyboards, $125 to people who replaced one keyboard, and $50 to people who replaced key caps.


Seems like Apple was paying to make this go away, since the amount is so comparatively piddling. Even so, the decision feels like vindication for the huge number of people who really, really didn’t like the butterfly keyboards.
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BMW wants to charge for heated seats. These grey market hackers will fix that • Vice

Joseph Cox and Aaron Gordon:


Last week, the internet dragged BMW for a proposal in which heated seats would become an $18/month subscription service. Now, a community of hackers who have been unlocking features in BMWs for years tell Motherboard they’re prepared to help owners unlock subscription-only features.

These companies say they perform vehicle “coding” to add additional features like Android screen mirroring or remove undesired programs like turning off annoying chimes and can also enable a feature on the European model of BMW’s older electric car that was disabled for regulatory reasons. They advertise their services through various enthusiast forums and popular shopping websites like eBay and Etsy. Long viewed as part of the enthusiast/modding culture, some of these modders say they could unlock subscription-based features too.

“We’re always listening to our customers and finding ways to offer the features they’re looking for. As long as BMW makes it possible to activate heated seats, we can look at offering it. If BMW doesn’t allow it, then the same feature could be added with a hardware retrofit, so in the end the driver is always going to be able to get what they want,” Paul Smith, content marketing specialist at Bimmer Tech, a BMW coding firm, told Motherboard in an email. 


What I predicted: “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”.

We’re on step 2.
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Amazon sues admins from 10,000 Facebook groups over fake reviews • TechCrunch

Taylor Hatmaker:


If the reviews of the last completely necessary and not at all superfluous thing you bought on Amazon looked like so much copypasta, there’s a good reason: Fake reviews abound and people are getting paid to post them.

Amazon filed a lawsuit Monday against the administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups that coordinate cash or goods for buyers willing to post bogus product reviews. The global groups served to recruit would-be fake reviewers and operated in Amazon’s online storefronts in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Japan and Italy.

If 10,000 Facebook groups sounds like a lot, it’s apparently the sum total of groups Amazon has reported to Facebook since 2020. The company notes that past legal action it’s taken has been effective and “shut down multiple major review brokers,” and yet here we are. They’ve been suing people for this stuff since all the way back in 2015.

The company named one group, “Amazon Product Review,” which boasted more than 40,000 members until Facebook removed it earlier in 2022. That one evaded detection through the time-honored, AI-eluding strategy of swapping a few letters around in phrases that would get it busted.

Amazon says that it will leverage the discovery process to “identify bad actors and remove fake reviews commissioned by these fraudsters that haven’t already been detected by Amazon’s advanced technology, expert investigators and continuous monitoring.”


Eversolongstanding problem that Amazon has, which has been noted here before. That’s a lot of Facebook groups, though, which suggests the problem is endemic.
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The psychology of Zoom fatigue • The Atlantic

Arthur C. Brooks:


The balance of evidence to date suggests that some people suffer a lot more from Zoom fatigue than others, but that for millions it likely deteriorates well-being, and for some—especially young people—this can be catastrophic for learning and mental health. For happiness and productivity, virtual interactions are better than nothing. But in-person interactions are better than virtual ones for life satisfaction, work engagement, and creativity.

Like most things, the right amount of virtual interaction is not zero. But for many of us, the amount we’re getting presently is too high. Each of us should think about virtual interaction more or less like nonnutritious food: In a pinch it’s okay, but we shouldn’t rely on it for regular social sustenance, because it will hurt our health.

Accordingly, employers, teachers, and friends should use the technologies as judiciously as possible, keeping virtual meetings, classes, and conversations short and to-the-point. And each of us should practice good Zoom hygiene by insisting on boundaries around our use of the technology. When possible, turn off your camera during meetings; use the old-fashioned phone with friends; agree with colleagues before meetings to an absolute, drop-dead end time, ideally after 30 minutes or less.

Also, pay attention to the creeping effects of Zoom fatigue, such as burnout and depression, and make sure you have regular breaks from the technology, such as no-Zoom weekends and a complete moratorium during your summer vacation, if you take one. Finally, on your Zoomiest days, program in some time with at least one real live human.


Or just head into the office! Just kidding.
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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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