Start Up No.1861: Greenland ice melt will raise seas, the challenge for Apple’s AR glasses, WhatsApp supercharges, and more

There’s a simple way to tell if a picture of an Apple product is an official one, but you may not have noticed it before. CC-licensed photo by ajay_sureshajay_suresh on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Are you OOO if you WFH? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Greenland ice sheet melt set to trigger nearly a foot in sea level rise – The Washington Post

Chris Mooney:


Human-driven climate change has set in motion massive ice losses in Greenland that couldn’t be halted even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, according to a new study published Monday.

The findings in Nature Climate Change project that it is now inevitable that 3.3% of the Greenland ice sheet will melt — equal to 110 trillion tons of ice, the researchers said. That will trigger nearly a foot [30cm] of global sea-level rise.

The predictions are more dire than other forecasts, though they use different assumptions. While the study did not specify a time frame for the melting and sea-level rise, the authors suggested much of it can play out between now and the year 2100.

“The point is, we need to plan for that ice as if it weren’t on the ice sheet in the near future, within a century or so,” William Colgan, a study co-author who studies the ice sheet from its surface with his colleagues at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, said in a video interview.

“Every study has bigger numbers than the last. It’s always faster than forecast,” Colgan said.

One reason that new research appears worse than other findings may just be that it is simpler. It tries to calculate how much ice Greenland must lose as it recalibrates to a warmer climate. In contrast, sophisticated computer simulations of how the ice sheet will behave under future scenarios for global emissions have produced less alarming predictions.

A one-foot rise in global sea levels would have severe consequences. If the sea level along the US coasts rose by an average of 10 to 12 inches by 2050, a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found, the most destructive floods would take place five times as often, and moderate floods would become 10 times as frequent.


And yet the likely next British Prime Minister isn’t that keen on green energy and thinks we should do more fracking. Sometimes you wonder where they get their information.
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The End of the Age of Abundance (and the Beginning of the Age of Scarcity) • Eudaimonia and Co

umair haque:


What does once-in-a-millennium flooding in Pakistan have to do with you, the rich Westerner? Am I asking you to shed a tear for some poor drowned kids? You should. But mine isn’t (just) a moral point. Flooding in Pakistan has everything to do with you, because you might not know it, but many of your clothes and textiles are made there.

Just like those jeans I was perusing at Weekday, Pakistan’s a major, major global textile exporter. Why is that? Because it has fields upon fields of cotton, and cheap labour to boot. It’s a perfect recipe for becoming a global center for everything from cotton to “cashmere,” aka…Kashmir.

But now things are changing. This once-in-a-millennium flood — this monster monsoon — is likely to hit every year, maybe every two or three, if the country’s lucky, because of levels of global warming so rapid they’re shattering every worst forecast. And as it does, guess what? All those cotton fields and textile mills and cheap labour — they’re in serious trouble. The extreme weather will cause crop failures, whether it’s the unsurvivable heat or the flooding, the cheap labour will have to migrate, and the mills will have to shutter, at least many of them.

And the price of all that stuff that you didn’t even know was made in Pakistan — because, well, who really looks at a label? It’s going to skyrocket. That effect of course is already what’s behind much of the global inflationary wave rocking the world.


Haque is never what you’d call a ray of sunshine, but the question one should always ask is: what if he’s right? About everything?
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Why are all Apple products photographed at 9:41 a.m.? An Apple insider reveals the answer •

Minda Zetlin:


I hadn’t noticed it myself. Maybe you hadn’t either. But every single Apple product in every promotional photo is set to 9:41 a.m. MacBook, iPad, iPhone, it really doesn’t matter. With one big exception (which we’ll get to), for every Apple product in the world, it was exactly 9:41 a.m. at the time of its photo shoot.

Random coincidence? Obviously not. But why 9:41? Turns out it was a carefully made choice. Also, it wasn’t the original choice. Earlier on, Apple products were apparently photographed with a time of 9:42 a.m.

What is this craziness? Australian iOS developer Jon Manning wanted to know too. And he happened to be at the first iPad launch, where he saw Scott Forstall, then senior vice president of iOS software at Apple and leader of the original iPhone and iPad software development team. Manning had noticed that early products had been set to 9:42 in their photos, but that changed to 9:41. Brimming with curiosity, he asked Forstall what was going on.

The answer had to do with Steve Jobs and his very carefully crafted product launch presentations, Forstall explained. “We design the keynotes so that the big reveal of the product happens around 40 minutes into the presentation,” he said. “When the big image of the product appears on screen, we want the time shown to be close to the actual time on the audience’s watches. But we know we won’t hit 40 minutes exactly.”

Preferring to be early rather than late, the team literally gave themselves an extra couple of minutes and set the devices to 9:42 a.m. in product photos. But as Jobs practiced his presentation, it seemed he would unveil the first iPhone at 9:41 a.m. and so the image of the phone was set for 9:41. And it worked like a charm. When Jobs introduced the original iPhone at MacWorld 2007, the first image of the phone with its screen turned on appeared on the giant screen behind him with the time set to 9:41 a.m. at 9:41 a.m.


Sure you can figure out what the exception is, but: what time do you think that is set to?
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Apple AR glasses: a next big thing candidate • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:


At least two cameras are needed, one to capture the outside world, and another to track your eye movements so the AR engine knows how to render the image that it lays on top of reality. Add to that the cycles needed to deal with messages and other communication traffic, and one thing is sure: Apple’s AR Glasses will require substantial computing power. And all of this power must be packed into a small form factor that includes a battery that won’t be too heavy — or too hot — to wear for hours at a time.

As a point of reference, an iPhone 13 weighs between 5 and 6.1 ounces (141 to 174 grams) and does substantially less than a pair of Apple Glasses would need to do. The bottom line, as I perceive it, is that Apple Glasses would require a substantial jump in the economy of hardware complexity, computing power, and battery consumption. Johny Srouji’s team, to whom we owe Apple Silicon breakthroughs, is familiar with the struggle to produce more computing power with fewer watts, but Glasses takes the battle to a new level.

Then there are the software obstacles. A veteran engineer reminds me of the latency challenge. Movies feel natural because they provide fresh images every 40 milliseconds (24 images/second). The AR engine would need to update your “screen” every 40 milliseconds so that when you turn your head, the scene doesn’t fracture. And it needs to juggle more tasks than our phones or desktops, all in apparent real time, no pauses, no “beachball”.

…The first iPhone, shipped late June 2007, didn’t offer cut and paste, nor did it have an SDK (Software Development Kit), with Steve Jobs blithely promoting Web apps, fully knowing the missing SDK was a few months away. And let’s not forget the $499 price, high for the time, and 2G cellular connectivity Verizon and others were happy to lambaste.

Fifteen years later, Apple is an immensely more powerful company…but AR Glasses are orders of magnitude more complicated than the 2007 Jesus Phone. I’ll be really interested in seeing what Apple finally™ introduces and the story company execs tell about their infant Apple Glasses.

Back to our premise: Are Apple Glasses the much-fantasied about Next Big Thing, the new Apple Mother Lode?

I have my doubts.


Looking more and more like these will be niche (though perhaps a wished-for niche, because of price). Will they be announced on September 7, though?
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WhatsApp’s JioMart shopping integration is the latest in its super app rollout plan • The Verge

David Pierce:


WhatsApp users in India can now do their grocery shopping without ever leaving their messaging app. Meta announced a new integration with JioMart today, through which users can text “Hi” to a certain number and be taken to an in-app shopping experience. The shopping experience looks fairly familiar, akin to what Instacart and other delivery services have been designing for years. But here, there’s no other app. And for WhatsApp, that’s a big deal.

Meta is convinced that business messaging is a big part of how WhatsApp will make money going forward. (Well, that and ads, but the ads thing is causing WhatsApp some trouble.) “Business messaging is an area with real momentum and chat-based experiences like this will be the go-to way people and businesses communicate in the years to come,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post announcing the partnership. The JioMart integration is part back-and-forth chat, part in-app browser, but contains everything from selection to payment to delivery within WhatsApp.

Ultimately, Meta wants WhatsApp to be a WeChat-style super app, the one app users need to run their whole lives. WeChat users can pay their rent in the app, buy concert tickets in the app, pay for food in the app, and much more. Any platform that can consume that much of people’s lives is basically guaranteed to make a fortune in the process, through payment processing fees, premium features, and — you guessed it — ads.

No other platform has come anywhere close to achieving WeChat’s level of dominance, but with more than 2 billion users, WhatsApp has a better chance than most. India is its most popular market, too, with roughly 400 million users in the country. WhatsApp is free, it doesn’t take much data, and it runs on phones at practically all prices.


First India, then Brazil? Then Europe?
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Will this be the first country bankrupted by crypto? • Rolling Stone

Daniel Alvarenga:


To date, [El Salvador president Nayib] Bukele claims to have purchased 2,400 bitcoin tokens at more than $100m. Due to market fluctuations, the government’s bitcoin holdings have lost 60% of their value. The issuance of the bitcoin-backed volcano bonds are intended to save the country from defaulting but have reportedly been delayed likely due to a lack of investors. Meanwhile, El Salvador’s national debt is $23bn, $800m of which needs to start being paid to the IMF by 2023.

There are also environmental factors to consider in the construction of Bitcoin City. Bukele has been touting the use of geothermal energy from the country’s volcanoes to harness clean energy for bitcoin mining. However, geothermal energy only supplies about 27% of El Salvador’s energy, and the country still has to import 25% of its electricity to meet demand. It’s still a really expensive source of energy, says Cuéllar: “It requires a lot of capital investment to build out that infrastructure. And so the cheap resource is still fossil fuels.”

Building another geothermal plant could strain the country’s resources because it requires a lot of groundwater in a country that is already experiencing water shortages. “Salvadorans need water because it’s running dangerously low in a country where in a generation or two, most water will be imported,” Cuéllar says. More than 600,000 Salvadorans lack access to clean water, and it’s predicted that El Salvador could run out of water within 80 years. Addressing the population’s dire need for water has taken a back seat to promoting cryptocurrency in the country.

Bitcoin is still an impractical solution for the average person in El Salvador, where using bitcoin is akin to gambling with your next meal. In order to invest in bitcoin, “one must have income above what is necessary to survive, which is not what occurs in the majority of the Salvadoran population,” explains economist Carmen Tatiana Marroquín. Folks with little disposable income cannot afford to lose any of it if the price if bitcoin dips, like when it did by 50% in January, and then 19% again in May.


A quite amazing set of misaligned incentives. The national debt/loan repayment problem is the most obvious problem that bitcoin absolutely doesn’t solve.
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How a retired MI6 boss, his Brexiteer friends and a celebrity Marxist became targets in Russia’s war on Ukraine • POLITICO

Emilio Casalicchio:


In the disinformation drive around the war in Ukraine, even eccentric academics lunching with their grandsons can become collateral damage.

At first glance, Gwythian Prins, a professor at the London School of Economics, seems an unlikely target for Russian hackers seeking to discredit the British government. Yet the faceless hackers who broke into and published Prins’ personal emails revealed not only harmless discussions of his day-to-day life — including family lunches in rural England — but also extraordinary claims about an establishment plot to control the British government.

The hackers’ real target, it seems, was Prins’ retired friend and supposed co-conspirator, Richard Dearlove, with whom he frequently exchanged encrypted emails. Dearlove, an ardent Brexiteer, is a former boss of MI6, the top British spy agency made famous by the James Bond movie franchise.

Further attacks on prominent British political figures have followed. Suspected Russian hackers also targeted the Marxist activist Paul Mason, a former economics journalist on British TV news, and now a well-known political commentator who has urged fellow left-wingers to back British efforts to face down Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both hacks are now subject to intensive investigations by the British security services, POLITICO can reveal.


Email hacking! We’re six years on from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and the Democratic committee getting hacked by Russians, but this most insecure of messaging systems is still the target of continual attacks.

Just take it to WhatsApp or Signal, people. More secure in so many ways.
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Why YouTube decided to make its own video chip • Protocol

Max Cherney:


Google’s self-designed YouTube chips [for video transcoding] are part of a growing trend among the tech giants. Amazon has built its Graviton server processors, Microsoft is working on Arm-based server processors, Facebook has a chip design unit — the list goes on.

A common assumption is that big tech companies are getting into chipmaking because it’s an obvious way to save money. Most chip companies operate with a gross margin north of 50%, so by moving the chip design process in-house, tech companies can theoretically save an enormous amount of money.

But that’s not the case, according to Jay Goldberg, principal at D2D Advisory. For one thing, the economics don’t make sense — it’s not worth the massive effort to hire and nurture chip designers to save a few dollars on the margin front. A new advanced chip can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to simply build a prototype, which can then cost tens of millions of dollars to perfect.

“Our focus is not really on saving money,” Silver said. “We like saving money, but what we really want to do is deliver an as-good — if not a better — quality experience for viewers.”

The motive is actually pretty simple: The big tech companies are designing their own chips to create a strategic advantage.

“Typically what that means is you have some software that you want to tie to the chip, and you get a big performance gain,” Goldberg said. One of the earliest and best-known examples is Google’s TPU, which it developed to tackle AI tasks in its data centers.

For certain workloads, “the TPU reduces the number of data centers they have to build by 50%,” Goldberg said. “At $1 billion a pop, that’s a lot of savings.” While saving money on data center construction, it also gave Google Cloud something it could offer that Microsoft Azure and AWS didn’t have at the time.


The article calls them “self-built” custom chips, but of course they’re self-designed; someone else actually makes them.
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Walmart lists a 30TB portable SSD for $39. It is, naturally, a scam • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham:


It feels like high-capacity SSDs are getting cheaper all the time, but in the words of a security researcher known as Ray Redacted on Twitter, there are still some deals that are too good to be true. In the spirit of discovery, he bought a “30TB” external SSD from AliExpress for $31.40, which also happens to be listed on Walmart’s website for $39 (I am linking it for educational and entertainment value, please do not buy it).

On the inside, this “SSD” looks like two small-capacity microSD cards hot glued to a USB 2.0-capable board. This board’s firmware has been modified so that each of these cards reports its capacity as “15.0TB” to the operating system, for a total of 30TB, even though the actual capacity of the cards is much lower. This is another giveaway; Windows reports drive capacities in gibibytes (1,024 mebibytes) or tebibytes (1,024 gibibytes), while drive manufacturers use gigabytes (1,000 megabytes) and terabytes (1,000 gigabytes). This is why a 1TB drive normally only has a reported capacity of 930-ish GB, rather than a nice round number.

The drive is even more clever when it comes to tricking people into thinking it’s working. It preserves the directory structure of whatever you’re copying, but when it’s “copying” your data, it just keeps writing and rewriting over the tiny microSD cards. Everything will look fine until you go to access a file, only to find that the data isn’t there.

Replies to Ray Redacted’s thread are full of alternate versions of this scam, including multiple iterations of the hot-glued microSD version and at least one that hid a USB thumb drive inside a larger enclosure.


There’s a non-trivial amount of electronic and software effort in making these; plus the process of producing them, presumably in some spare factory line time. (Which is maybe more available given lockdowns and so on.) The guide price for a terabyte of external SSD: around $/£100.
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Blood abnormalities found in people with Long Covid • Science

Jennifer Couzin-Frankel:


An ambitious study of people with Long Covid, the mysterious, disabling symptoms that can trail a SARS-CoV-2 infection, has turned up a host of abnormalities in their blood. The clues add to a body of evidence hinting at drivers of the condition and potential treatments worth testing. They also suggest that, as many scientists and patients have suspected, Long Covid shares certain features with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), another condition thought to follow an infection.

The new study, posted as a preprint last week, was modest in size, examining just 99 people with Long Covid. “But it went very deep, it went into granular aspects of the T cells, the antibody response,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who was not involved in the work. “This is exploratory, but it’s the foundation for much bigger studies.”

The Long Covid patients, most of them struggling with intense fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms, had low levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that helps the body control inflammation, glucose, sleep cycles, and more. Features of their T cells indicated their immune system was battling unidentified invaders, perhaps a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 or a reactivated pathogen such as Epstein-Barr virus.


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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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