Start Up No.1853: Germany’s nuclear pause, Truss’s solar farm madness, California’s mega-drought, Intel in trouble, and more

Textbooks are expensive, but also resaleable. Now Pearson thinks NFTs can somehow solve the problem. Do you? CC-licensed photo by Patrick on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Hypertextual. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Nuclear power plants could stay open, says Germany • WSJ

Bojan Pancevski and Georgi Kantchev:


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said for the first time that his government could postpone the planned closure of its remaining nuclear reactors, as he criticized a decision by Russia to constrain gas flows to Germany—a move that could deal a severe blow to Europe’s largest economy.

Last month, Russia shut down for maintenance its giant Nord Stream pipeline, which connects Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea and is operated by Russian state-owned energy producer Gazprom PJSC.

After the maintenance ended, Gazprom restored the flow, but only to 40% of the pipeline’s capacity. It has since cut that to 20%, saying it couldn’t maintain normal flow without a turbine that had been undergoing maintenance in Canada. On Wednesday, Mr. Scholz rejected that explanation, saying Russia refused to take delivery of the turbine.

The looming gas shortage has forced the government to trigger emergency measures, raising the specter of gas rationing over the winter that could force factories to shut down and push Europe’s powerhouse economy into a recession.

On Tuesday, the chancellor broke with a longstanding policy and said for the first time that it “could make sense” to keep Germany’s last three nuclear reactors online. They are due to be shut down in December as part of the country’s transition to renewable energy.


A “transition to renewable energy” that involves opening new coal-fired power stations. It’s ridiculous, and the Greens who 20 years ago pushed to close them should hang their heads in shame.

Alternate headline: Germany re-engages with reality.
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‘Our fields shouldn’t be full of solar panels’: Truss vows to crackdown on renewables development • BusinessGreen News

Cecilia Keating:


Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss has fuelled concerns the UK’s onshore renewables sector could face further barriers to development in the coming weeks, after the frontrunner to become the next Prime Minister promised to “change the rules” to ensure farming is prioritised over new solar projects.

Speaking at Conservative leadership husting held [on Monday] in Exeter, the Truss also outlined her support for domestic fossil fuel extraction, promising to “exploit all the gas in the North Sea”, and reiterated her pledge to suspend ‘green levies’ on energy bills, arguing the proposed reforms would bolster domestic energy supplies and ease the cost-of-living crisis for households.

In her address to attendees at the event, the Foreign Secretary said she would allow fracking in locations “where communities supported it” and back the maximum extraction of the UK’s offshore fossil gas resources.

“I will also make sure we exploit all of the gas in the North Sea and make sure we use that to bolster our domestic energy supply,” she said. “I’ll move forward faster with nuclear, including major nuclear stations but also small modular reactors which are produced in Derby and a major a major opportunity for our country as well.”

Commercial small modular reactors do not currently exist, although the government is providing significant financial support for the nascent sector in the hope that it could play a role in the transition to a net zero emission energy system.


These people are idiots. They think there will be magical technological solutions (as they thought would happen for Northern Ireland’s trade barrier with the UK/Europe; didn’t happen). And they value a field more highly than future generations.
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California’s megadrought is worse than you think • E&E News

Anne C. Mulkern:


Nearly three-quarters of California is in either extreme or exceptional drought, considered worse than severe, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It’s so bad that scientists say the ongoing drought in the western United States marks the region’s driest 22-year stretch in more than 1,200 years.

The conditions have affected a broad swath of regions and industries. California wells are going dry. Farmers are either paying a premium for water or letting their fields sit empty. And there is growing concern that water exports from the Colorado River could come to a halt.

“We are dealing with a changed climate in California that demands we reimagine not just how we use water, but how we capture, store and distribute it throughout the state,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week as he addressed local water leaders.

Scientists pin a large share of the blame for the megadrought on climate change. UCLA climate scientist Park Williams, whose recent work flagged the ongoing Western drought as a historical anomaly, said about 40% of its severity is due to climate change. The study looked at California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and southwest Montana.

“The turn-of-the-twenty-first-century drought would not be on a megadrought trajectory in terms of severity or duration without” human-caused climate change, the study said.

But others are saying elected officials such as Newsom aren’t doing enough to respond to the historic conditions. Some argue the state needs to impose mandatory cutbacks, limits on commercial water use and more storage options.

Andrew Fahlund, senior program officer at the Water Foundation, a California nonprofit, said it would have been helpful to take steps to conserve water “earlier in the drought cycle.” But “it is a little too late to do that this time around,” he said.


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Equifax sent lenders inaccurate credit scores on millions of consumers • WSJ

Andrew Ackerman and AnnaMaria Andriotis:


Equifax provided inaccurate credit scores on millions of U.S. consumers seeking loans during a three-week period earlier this year, according to bank executives and others familiar with the errors.

Equifax sent the erroneous scores on people applying for auto loans, mortgages and credit cards to banks and nonbank lenders big and small—including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc., the people said. The scores were sometimes off by 20 points or more in either direction, the people said, enough to alter the interest rates consumers were offered or to result in their applications being rejected altogether.

The inaccurate scores were sent from mid March through early April, the people said. The company began disclosing the errors to lenders in May, they said.

Equifax said it has since fixed the error, which the company described as a “technology coding issue.” The glitch didn’t alter the information in consumers’ credit reports, the company said.

…The percentage of incorrect scores provided to lenders varied, the people said. At one big bank, for example, 18% of applicants during the three-week period had incorrect scores, with an average swing of 8 points, one of the people said.

Equifax told one large auto lender that about 10% of applicants during the three-week period had inaccurate scores, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of those, several thousand saw a change of 25 points or more on their credit score, the person said. In a small number of cases, applicants went from having no credit score at all to a score in the 700s—or vice versa, the person said.


One thing Equifax is noticeably not doing in this story: offering to make good where it screwed up. Equifax, you might recall, is the company that was hacked on a colossal scale back in 2017 because it had failed to make a crucial security patch. The hackers were inside for 76 days. Lawsuits are ongoing.

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Pearson says NFT textbooks will let it profit off secondhand sales • The Verge

Adi Robertson:


Textbook publisher Pearson suggests blockchain tech could let it take a cut of secondary textbook sales, capturing a section of the book market that’s so far escaped it. As quoted by Bloomberg, Pearson CEO Andy Bird believes non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, could help publishers make money off textbook resales, although he stopped short of describing concrete plans.

“In the analog world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” said Bird after the company announced its latest quarterly earnings this week. “The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life.” Bloomberg suggests this would mean letting buyers resell ebooks, something that’s so far been a rarity in the publishing world.

It’s not clear how, when, or if NFTs might show up in Pearson’s catalog. But they could mark a new stage in a long-standing publishing war. Thanks to legal concepts like the first-sale doctrine, physical book buyers typically own the media they’ve purchased outright, and they’re allowed to sell it without the original publishers making money. But ebooks have complicated that calculus. Any digital transfer creates a new “copy” of the work, and third-party secondhand ebook sales (along with other secondhand digital media sales) have faced serious legal challenges as a result.

That’s historically given physical books a built-in advantage for students, who can buy or sell them secondhand to defray their often extraordinary upfront costs — without the publishers taking any of that money. Allowing ebook resales could make that advantage less dramatic.

As with many mainstream crypto applications, NFTs don’t bring an obvious technical innovation to this question.


Not surprised that there weren’t concrete plans. I bet a lot of people would be delighted if Pearson tried to attach NFTs to its textbooks, since it’s hard to see that being any obstacle to copying, or resale of a physical object.
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Inside a mechanical watch • Bartosz Ciechanowski

Bartosz Ciechanowski:


What you see here is known as the movement – the inner part of a mechanical watch that’s usually enclosed in a metal case. In this article I’m focusing on a watch movement itself, since beautiful watch cases merely hide the intricate mechanisms which are the real stars of the show.

The entire watch movement has a lot of parts, and in this blog post I’ll explain the purpose of each one. The world of watchmaking is jargon-heavy, so many of the components may have unfamiliar names, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to remember them – the names and parts will be color-coded for easy reference.

In a functioning watch many parts are in constant motion. By default all animations in this article are enabled, but if you find them distracting, or if you want to save power, you can globally pause all the following demonstrations.


I’ve heard this article referred to a couple of times, but hadn’t actually clicked through to it before. But since we’ve been pondering the attraction of mechanical watches, this seems apposite. (Thanks Giuseppe for the link.)

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I was on TikTok for 30 days: it is manipulative, addictive, and harmful to privacy • UX Collective

Luiza Jarovsky:


Videos must be short, fast, quickly awe-inspiring and preferably using soundtracks, filters, effects, descriptions, tags and content that are currently trending in the app. To thrive on TikTok, you must be fixated on it. You must use it frequently to know what is trending on the app, otherwise you will lose the timing — and timing is everything. There is a popular dance everybody else is doing? Stop what you are doing, get dressed, get your phone in the vertical position and start recording now. The path to TikTok success is joining micro-trends and mimicking successful videos highlighting your personal touch, in a bandwagon-compulsion style. If you are a teenager and you missed a trend, you lost a valuable opportunity of online popularity and social validation among your peers.

On this topic, teenagers have stated that their social lives currently revolve around TikTok: new trends, dances, viral videos, emerging stars, who is popular over there and who is not, what is cool and what is not. The power of TikTok’s algorithm over today’s youth is inconceivable. Getting together is an opportunity to attempt a TikTok viral, so get your phones ready.

Regarding the content available on TikTok: it is known that creators have 3 seconds to enchant the viewer, otherwise their video will be thrown into TikTok’s forgetfulness blackhole. In order to captivate in 3 seconds, the content must essentially be outstanding: either shocking, irreverent, socially awkward, scary, performing admirable abilities, showing exposed bodies and so on. There is no room for ordinariness.


Back in the days when writing stuff down at length was a significant challenge, people composed and memorised very long oral poems – Homer did well on this front. Now we can capture video at any time, we need to capture attention within three heartbeats. An observation, in passing.
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Michael Saylor steps down as MicroStrategy CEO, company takes $917m charge on bitcoin • Yahoo Finance

David Hollerith:


MicroStrategy announced on Tuesday its founder and CEO Michael Saylor will step down from the top job and take a new post as executive chairman, focused on the company’s bitcoin strategy.

Phong Le, the company’s president, will take over in the CEO role.

MicroStrategy reported quarterly results that were light of Wall Street estimates on Tuesday, with revenue coming at $122.1m against expectations for $126m. Losses in the quarter totaled $918.1m, with $917.8m attributable to the company’s bitcoin holdings.

In a statement, MicroStrategy said Saylor will focus primarily on, “innovation and long-term corporate strategy, while continuing to provide oversight of the Company’s bitcoin acquisition strategy.”

“As Executive Chairman I will be able to focus more on our bitcoin acquisition strategy and related bitcoin advocacy initiatives, while Phong will be empowered as CEO to manage overall corporate operations,” Saylor said in a statement.


OK, but what are Microstrategy’s corporate operations? What does it do? I’ve never seen an explanation, including in this story. The FT calls it a “habitually unprofitable software shop”: apparently it sells enterprise business intelligence application software. Employees seem to like it. It was founded in 1989.

Somehow it acquired a huge cash pile, Saylor (who owns 70% of the shares – don’t think he’s going away) decided bitcoin was a one-way bet, and, well, here we are.
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The changing face of compute • Digits to Dollars

Jay Greenberg:


Once upon a time chip companies all specialized on designing one type of chip: Intel made CPUs; Qualcomm made modems; Nvidia made GPUs; Broadcom (pre-Avago) made networking chips. That age is all over. The future of semis will be designing ever more specific chips for ever more specific uses. This change will take many years to play out, but the transition has already begun. This is going to upend the semis industry to the same degree that consolidation over the past 20 years has.

There are many causes of this. This simplest is to just say Moore’s Law is slowing, so everyone needs to find a new business model. But that really does not explain much, so let’s unpack it.

…Once upon a time, data centers were essentially warehouses full of CPUs. Now they have to house GPUs, AI accelerators, funky networking loads and a bunch of FPGAs too. This is often called heterogenous compute, and it the opposite of that past CPU uniformity.

Nor are these changes only happening in data centers. The whole notion of “Edge Compute” looks increasingly to be an exercise in custom and semi-custom silicon popping up in all kinds of places – cars, factories and smart cities – to name just a few.

Ultimately, the major chip companies are going to have to decide how to address these changes. Building custom chips is not a great business, but designing semi-custom chips is full of risks not least picking the right designs, supporting them and hoping they land on target. Established companies are already starting to position themselves for this, and for the first time in a decade the door for start-ups is starting to open a crack.


Which suggests problems for Intel. Which brings us to…
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Intel? They are who we thought they were • Share Donors

Doug (mule):


Now they [Intel] expect PCs to be down 10% in volume, which is more in-line with market forecasts, compared to the clearly above market forecast last quarter. The part I don’t buy is that Q4 will magically start to improve inventory. I acknowledge the seasonal impacts, but we aren’t even firmly in a recession. Continuing to push out hopes that things turn around very specifically in Q4 feels contrived to me, especially when the second half of the year’s macro results could be much worse than right now. Intel moved down numbers, but this is not a kitchen sink. That’s the worrying part. Oh, speaking of which, how the hell did they not preannounce this?

They didn’t answer that question (weird), and then they also talked about other execution issues that they have been facing, namely Sapphire Rapids [a new CPU] volume delay. Pat [Gelsinger, the new Intel CEO] mentioned execution issues multiple times, and the proof is in the pudding; they are not executing well.

The infamously broken culture continues to hurt, and Pat saying that employees are engaged via surveys is not exactly assuaging my fears. In fact, given their GAAP net loss (maybe one of the few in the company’s history), the variable bonuses that engineers are receiving are one the lowest, if not the lowest, payouts in the company’s storied history. How will you turn around a culture when you keep losing and everyone’s making less money? Talk about negative momentum.


I hadn’t noticed, but Intel had an absolutely terrible quarter, with revenues and profits down, and longtime rival AMD passing it in market cap. Given that AMD doesn’t actually make chips, just designs them, that means that all of Intel’s multi-billion-dollar foundries are being written off as worthless by the market.

This is a very big shift. Intel has permanently lost a top-end customer (Apple) that bought about 5-10% of premium processors. The PC market is shrinking. Its rival is pulling ahead. Intel’s in a dive, and Gelsinger has a hell of a job to pull it out.
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Apple plans to delay launch of iPadOS 16 update by about a month • Bloomberg via MSN

Mark Gurman:


Apple Inc. expects to delay its next major iPad software update by about a month, taking the unusual step of not releasing it at the same time as the new iPhone software, according to people with knowledge of the matter. 

For the last several years, the tech giant has released major iPad and iPhone software updates, known as iPadOS and iOS, at the same time in September. This time around, Apple plans to put out iOS 16 during the usual period but not launch iPadOS 16 until October, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. 

The delay of the software is due, at least in part, to an ambitious effort to overhaul the iPad’s multitasking capabilities. The update includes a feature called Stage Manager that lets users operate several tasks at the same time, resize windows and bounce between different clusters of apps.

During beta testing, the system has drawn criticism from some developers and users for its bugs, a confusing interface and lack of compatibility with most iPads.


I’ve been trying iPad OS 16 on an older (2018?) iPad Pro, and it seems fine to me, but I’m not trying Stage Manager. (Doesn’t run on that model.) But a delay does mean that Apple is actually giving it the attention and focus it deserves as a separate platform.
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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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