Start Up No.1852: Twitter demands Musk details, TikTok’s moderator hell, another giant crypto hack, EV sounds, and more

Is the explanation for men’s liking for pricey watch that they like fiddly things? Or collections? CC-licensed photo by Mohammad Fahmi Mohd Shah on Flickr.

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

Elon Musk associates named in Twitter subpoena • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Faiz Siddiqui:


In a subpoena Twitter issued on Monday, its legal team asked for information about a who’s who of Silicon Valley elite, including investors Chamath Palihapitiya, David Sacks, Steve Jurvetson, Marc Andreessen, Jason Calacanis and Keith Rabois, among others. Some of the figures have not been previously named as having any involvement in the deal, suggesting the breadth of Twitter’s search for information to support its legal attempt to force Musk to go through with his deal to buy the company.

Twitter declined to comment. Palihapitiya, Sacks, Calacanis, Jurvetson and Rabois did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Musk and two of his attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A flood of document requests issued over the weekend and into Monday marks the latest twist in the contentious and fast-evolving court case between the social media service and Musk, who is trying to pull out of his bid to take over the company.

After Musk said he was exiting the deal last month — accusing Twitter of not being forthright about the amount of spam and bots on its service — Twitter sued Musk in a Delaware business court, known as a Chancery Court. Musk in turn countersued Twitter on Friday. Twitter also issued subpoenas over the weekend to a group of banks involved in the deal, including Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.

The subpoena obtained by The Post includes extensive requests for communications, including “checklists, timelines, presentations, decks, organizational calls, meetings, notes, recordings” related to the deal’s financing.


The discovery of Musk’s planning is going to be wonderful. He may not have quite realised what this was going to entail. (The trial isn’t until October, so lots of time for discovery.)
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A factory line of terrors: TikTok’s African content moderators review horrific videos • Business Insider

Rosie Bradbury and Majd Al-Waheidi :


It was only a few hours into her shift when the horror streamed through her screen. Imani, 25, a content moderator for TikTok in Morocco, saw a young man throw a cat into the air before impaling it on a sword. The moderator, who worked out of a small one-bedroom house in Casablanca, was shocked.

“I love cats,” she said. “I’d never imagined I’d see such a scene in real life. It’s not a movie. It’s not a joke. It’s real,” she continued.

Two years later, the video is still etched in her mind, she said. Whenever she thinks of it, she tries to distance herself from the memory. “I created a wall between my job and my life. I didn’t think about my job outside my shift. I had a baby to take care of,” she said.

Imani worked for TikTok’s growing Middle East and North Africa division through Majorel, an outsourcing firm in Luxembourg, and was tasked with reviewing some of the most gruesome content on the platform, including suicides and child-abuse material.

Though she had a bachelor’s degree in English, she struggled to find work during the first months of the pandemic. Imani and her husband, a technician, could barely support their infant daughter. In September 2020, when she was offered the job at Majorel, despite the meager pay of $2 an hour, she thought it was a godsend. The ability to work remotely also meant she could take care of her child.

Imani didn’t know then that the work would be so psychologically damaging, she said, and she still feels the effects of the job today.

But she isn’t alone. Nine current and former content moderators in Morocco who worked on Majorel’s TikTok contract described experiences of severe psychological distress as a result of their jobs.


The whole job of human content moderation will surely be seen in the near future as a form of paid abuse. If ever there was a job that cried out to be automated all the way, it’s this one.
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Nomad crypto bridge loses $200 million in ‘chaotic’ hack • The Verge

Corin Faire:


After a few quiet months, it’s happened again: another blockchain bridge hack with losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nomad, a cryptocurrency bridge that lets users swap tokens between blockchains, is the latest to be hit after a frenzied attack on Monday, which left almost $200 million of its funds drained.

The hack was acknowledged by the Nomad project’s official Twitter account on Monday, August 1st, initially as an “incident” that was being investigated. In a further statement released early Tuesday morning, Nomad said that the team was “working around the clock to address the situation” and had also notified law enforcement.

In another Twitter thread, samczsun — a researcher at the crypto and Web3 investment firm Paradigm — explained that the exploit was made possible by a misconfiguration of the project’s main smart contract that allowed anyone with a basic understanding of the code to authorise withdrawals to themselves.

“This is why the hack was so chaotic,” samczsun wrote. “[Y]ou didn’t need to know about Solidity or Merkle Trees or anything like that. All you had to do was find a transaction that worked, find/replace the other person’s address with yours, and then re-broadcast it.”

A further post-mortem from blockchain security auditing firm CertiK noted that this dynamic created its own momentum, where people who saw funds being stolen using the above method were able to substitute their own addresses to replicate the attack. This led to what one Twitter user described as “the first decentralized crowd-looting of a 9-figure bridge in history.”


Why does this keep happening, ask people in only industry where this keeps happening.
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Why are men obsessed with watches? • The Guardian

Jeremy Langmead, in 2009:


It wasn’t so long ago that your father would hand you a gold-plated watch on your 21st birthday and that would be that. It never crossed a man’s mind that he might need to add another two or three by the time he hit 30. And it certainly never crossed his mind that when he reached 40 he might be grateful to receive a smart wooden box with different felt-lined compartments in which to keep his “collection” of watches.

The fact that men are still buying and cherishing quality timepieces is of great comfort to an industry that, in the early 1970s, thought its time, if you will excuse the pun, had come. The invention of the quartz watch (in analog or digital form) in 1967 might initially have been hailed a great technological achievement, but it wasn’t long before it was also seen as the biggest challenge the traditional timepiece had faced since the wristwatch first became popular at the end of the first world war. The fact that a cheap Casio with a flashing LED time display was what every young hipster soon craved, coupled with the economic doldrums in which the world found itself in the 1970s, spelled disaster.

It took a few years of navel-gazing and re-evaluating what a watch was truly for before, in the mid-1980s, a few forceful and inventive characters in the industry came back with a design philosophy and marketing programme that brought the sector back from the brink. These horological pioneers decided that watches would not merely be timekeepers, they would be mini-masterpieces that showcased extreme craftsmanship, represented tradition, incorporated technology and embraced innovation. They would effectively be a Savile Row suit, Ferrari sports car, Mayfair member’s club and Nasa spaceship rolled into one package that could sit neatly on your wrist.


Langmead also comments that “A watch is a Porsche that you can take to meetings – and it doesn’t harm the planet either.” Readers offered lots of commentary to my question yesterday about why the hell it is that (some) men will spend wild amounts of money. It seems to be a combination of completionist nerdery, jewellery (this piece was categorised under “Men’s jewellery” in The Guardian’s system).

There’s also sentimental value, as this Hodinkee piece suggests. Particular thanks to Serge, JFC and Chris for their input.
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What should a nine-thousand-pound electric vehicle sound like? • The New Yorker

John Seabrook:


for pedestrians distracted by their phones, [vehicle] engine sounds are everyday lifesavers, as the tiger’s distant roar was for napping early humans. Except that the predators are motor vehicles—and the new ones are virtually silent.

In response to this threat, Congress passed the 2010 Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, a law that few Americans paid attention to at the time, and that took almost 10 years to implement. As a result of the legislation, every electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid manufactured since 2020 and sold in the US must come equipped with a pedestrian-warning system, also known as an acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS), which emits noises from external speakers when the car is travelling below 18.5mph. (Similar regulations apply in Europe and Asia.)

Automakers have enlisted musicians and composers to assist in crafting pleasing and proprietary alert systems, as well as in-cabin chimes and tones. Hans Zimmer, the film composer, was involved in scoring branded sounds for BMW’s Vision M Next car. The Volkswagen ID.3’s sound was created by Leslie Mándoki, a German-Hungarian prog-rock/jazz-adjacent producer. The Atlanta-based electronic musician Richard Devine was brought in to help in making the Jaguar I-Pace’s voltaic purr.

Some automakers cooked up sounds entirely in-house. The Porsche Taycan Turbo S has one of the boldest alerts: you’re in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab as he flips the switch to animate the monster. Engineers in the Audi Sound Lab made the lower frequencies of the Audi E-Tron GT Quattro’s alert by algorithmically mixing different tones produced by recording an electric fan through a long metal pipe; the full alert references the sumptuous soundscapes of the film “Tron” and its sequel.


I think the sounds must explain the quiet, eerie whooshing and wheezing that I sometimes hear from (the surprisingly large number of) EV/hybrids in the town where I live as they tootle along.

The (long) article doesn’t mention how loud AVAS have to be, so I checked: between 56 and 75 decibels, which is between “moderate rainfall” and “a dishwasher in operation”.
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Open data in the water industry • Ofwat


Open data means making data freely available to everyone to access, use and share, unless there’s a really strong justification for not doing that. Data and the people, processes and technology that support it – are important assets – like  water pipes and treatment works.  

Data is essential for developing insight, making informed decisions and improving services. The use of open data could transform water and wastewater service delivery by increasing transparency, increasing efficiency, enhancing customer experience, and stimulating innovation. 

Working alongside the water industry, consumer groups and the Open Data Institute, Ofwat has sought to understand the benefits of open data and how it could be used to help address some of the challenges the water sector faces: climate change, the need to protect the environment, responding to changing customer demands and protecting the most vulnerable.  


Ofwat is the UK’s regulator for the privatised water industry. It’s calling this scheme, seeking more open data from the water industry, H2Open. Full marks for the naming, though the fact that it began this initiative 15 years after Michael Cross and I began the Free Our Data campaign at Guardian Technology, which sought to get exactly this sort of scheme everywhere, is a teeny bit dispiriting. (Lots of other public bodies got on board within a few years.) But better late than never.
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Why there are no nuclear airplanes • The Atlantic

Christian Ruhl:


The Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi had introduced the idea of nuclear flight as early as 1942, while serving on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. As World War II drew to a close, the United States began work to realize Fermi’s dream of nuclear-powered flight. From 1946 until 1961, vast teams of engineers, strategists, and administrators toiled in a whirl of blueprints, white papers, and green bills in an attempt to get the idea off the ground.

The advantages of nuclear-powered airplanes mirrored those of nuclear submarines. Nuclear submarines did not need to surface for fuel, and nuclear airplanes would not need to land. A 1945 proposal at the Department of War (now the Department of Defense) promised, “With nuclear propulsion, supersonic flight around the world becomes an immediate possibility.” A secret Atomic Energy Commission memorandum now held in the Eisenhower Presidential Library explained the promise of nuclear flight in a more measured tone. Nuclear energy “should make possible ranges of one or more times around the world with a single loading of the reactor.” The idea of a nuclear-powered bomber became a strategic dream for the military; it could stay aloft for days to cover any number of targets throughout the world, before returning to the United States without refueling.

…But nuclear power came with its own problems. The reactor would have to be small enough to fit onto an aircraft, which meant it would release far more heat than a standard one. The heat could risk melting the reactor—and the plane along with it, sending a radioactive hunk of liquid metal careening toward Earth.

The problem of shielding pilots from the reactor’s radiation proved even more difficult. What good would a plane be that killed its own pilots?

To protect the crew from radioactivity, the reactor needed thick and heavy layers of shielding. But to take off, the plane needed to be as light as possible. Adequate shielding seemed incompatible with flight.


Assume they solved the heat problem, but not the shielding/weight one. What smart solution did the USAF come up with in the late 1950s (before advanced autopilots) that could have made the Flying Nuke reality?
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Should Apple snoop on your iPhone? • The Spectator

Sam Leith on the backing that Apple’s “CSAM scanning before photos get uploaded to iCloud” proposal:


here’s where the practical, or instrumental, argument comes in. Would using AI to scan every iPhone photo album for illegal images not, at a minimal cost to privacy in principle, potentially achieve the tremendous good of catching some of the cruellest and most depraved users of child abuse images? Well, yes, it might. That’s not a trivial case.

But reluctant as I am to deploy a thin-end-of-the-wedge argument: this is the thin end of a wedge. First they came for the nonces, as Pastor Niemoller did not say. You could by the same token argue that any number of different crimes could be prevented by the simple expedient of giving the government (or, God help us, private companies) unlimited powers of surveillance. Most of us, at some point along this continuum, accept that the fact privacy can protect the guilty is a price we pay for its value in giving us freedom. I seem to remember God took roughly that view when he gave us all the capacity to choose between good and evil for ourselves.   

In his latest novel The Every, Dave Eggers imagines a tech company that programs its Alexa-type devices to listen to every domestic conversation – and if its AI detects phrases or tones of voice that are associated with domestic violence, to send the police round. Eggers, who is by bent against that sort of soft totalitarianism, is honest enough to admit that that case is the one ‘that keeps me up at night’: ‘The justification will be: there’s 10 million cases of domestic violence in the US each year,’ he said when I interviewed him about it. ‘Surveillance cameras would put a dent in that. How do you justify not having it? You could make an argument, well, OK, sure, domestic violence is catastrophic but privacy is more important. I don’t think it’s a powerful argument for most people.


Eggers excels at finding the reductio ad absurdum (or expansio ad absurdum?) scenario that makes you pause. Leith’s piece is neatly balanced; why, you might finish it thinking that technology can’t actually solve social questions on its own.
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Craig Wright wins ‘only nominal damages’ of £1 in bitcoin libel case • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:


For years Craig Wright has claimed that he is the mythical figure who created bitcoin. But a legal bid by the Australian computer scientist to defend his assertion that he is Satoshi Nakamoto resulted in a pyrrhic victory and a tarnished reputation on Monday.

A high court judge ruled Wright had given “deliberately false evidence” in a libel case and awarded him £1 in damages after he sued a blogger for alleging that his claim to be the elusive Nakamoto was fraudulent.

“Because he [Wright] advanced a deliberately false case and put forward deliberately false evidence until days before trial, he will recover only nominal damages,” wrote Justice Chamberlain.

Wright had sued blogger Peter McCormack over a series of tweets in 2019, and a video discussion broadcast on YouTube, in which McCormack said Wright was a “fraud” and is not Satoshi. The issue of Nakamoto’s identity was not covered by the judge’s ruling because McCormack had earlier abandoned a defence of truth in his case.

Wright claimed that his reputation within the cryptocurrency industry had been “seriously harmed” by McCormack’s claims. He said he had been invited to speak at numerous conferences after the successful submission of academic papers for blind peer review, but 10 invites had been withdrawn following McCormack’s tweets. This included alleged potential appearances at events in France, Vietnam, the US, Canada and Portugal.

…The judge noted that there was “no documentary evidence” that Wright had a paper accepted at any of the conferences identified in the earlier version of his libel claim, nor that he received an invitation to speak at them except possibly at one, and that any invitation was withdrawn.

…He concluded: “Dr Wright’s original case on serious harm, and the evidence supporting it, both of which were maintained until days before trial, were deliberately false.”


After Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney last week, this is the bitcoin version. Two judges, one in the US and now this one in the UK, have decided they’re deeply unimpressed by Wright’s testimony. The judgment is hilarious, especially in its nitpicking precision about how Wright tried to slalom around the facts about the academic papers.
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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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