Start Up No.1874: Google’s new AI questioned, Queen’s funeral stops planes, eSIMs aplenty, who’s got it in for Patreon?, and more


The world of tennis will soon wave goodbye to Roger Federer and his beautiful, fluid backhand. CC-licensed photo by Frédéric de Villamil on Flickr.


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A selection of 10 links for you. Topspun. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Did GoogleAI just snooker one of Silicon Valley’s sharpest minds? • Gary Marcus

Gary Marcus:

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Winoground is a novel task and dataset [of 1,600 items] for evaluating the ability of vision and language models to conduct visio-linguistic compositional reasoning. Given two images and two captions, the goal is to match them correctly—but crucially, both captions contain a completely identical set of words/morphemes, only in a different order.

To show evidence of compositionality [understanding how the elements of a sentence relate to each other] on this task, a system needs for example, to tell the difference between “some plants surrounding a lightbulb” and “a lightbulb surrounding some plants”. This should be a piece of cake, but for currently popular systems, it’s not.

When Thrush and colleagues applied their benchmark to a set of recent models, the results were brutal: not one of the many models they tested did “much better than chance”. (Humans were at 90%)

But we all know how these things go; fans of neural networks are always pointing to the next big thing, racing to shot that this or that wall has been conquered. Word on the street is that Google’s latest, Imagen, has licked compositionality. Google would love that, “shock and awe” to frighten competitors out of the field, but, well …talk is cheap. Do they really have the goods?

A bona fide solution to compositionality in the context of systems that could learn from data on a massive scale, would certainly be big news; a real step forward in AI.

But many people have claimed over the years to solve the problem, and none of those systems have proven to be reliable; every proposed solution has been like Clever Hans, working in dim light, leveraging large databases to some degree, but falling apart upon careful inspection; they might get 60% on some task, but they never really master it. Notwithstanding the rumors about Google Imagen, nobody has yet publicly demonstrated a machine that can relate the meanings of sentences to their parts the way a five-year-old child can.

Because so much is at stake, it is important to trace out rumors. In that connection, I have repeatedly asked that Google give the scientific community access to Imagen.

They have refused even to respond.

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Marcus is extremely AI-sceptical, which makes this an important post to read: if you can’t refute it, maybe you are too.
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2004: Martina Navratilova on Roger Federer • The Guardian

The woman who won nine Wimbledon singles titles on the guy who, then, had just two:

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Federer would still be a magician even with a wooden racket. He’s got a very compact swing but he generates so much speed, and while he doesn’t look that strong, he has so much wrist action on the ball and gives it a little bit of extra spin.

Other guys are playing well against him, too, and he’s making them look silly. Players have no idea what’s coming because he can spin the ball this way and that; he can hit the ball flat; he can serve and volley, ghost in when you’re not expecting him or he can stay back. He’s got it all.

He’s like Martina Hingis with more power and more spins. I don’t know what it is about the Swiss, but they seem to produce some fantastic players.

I was lucky enough to play mixed doubles with him in Hong Kong at an exhibition in January this year. When they asked me if I wanted to play doubles with Roger, I asked, “great, how much do I have to pay you?”. It was a real treat because he was simply a joy to be on the court with. Then he asked me to practise with him and I got to hit for 45 minutes just one on one, which was phenomenal because I really got to feel how he hits the ball.

When he hits his forehand he can hook it so that he can go cross-court or down the line, tailing away from you because of all the topspin. He can hit a forehand cross-court so that it jumps at your body, which is effective on any surface but particularly on grass because it’s almost as though he’s inducing a bad bounce because he makes the ball jump differently and that’s what his kick-serve does as well.

He’s got spin on everything, he’s got a heavy slice that stays low, he can float the ball so that it stays low and just dies on the court so you have to create all the pace, or he can knife it so that it skids through. On his groundstrokes he can hit it harder or can hit a cross-court ball that looks like it’s going to be no problem until it suddenly takes off in the other direction after it bounces.

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It was reading this specific article that persuaded me to take an interest in tennis again, after I’d become bored by the crash-bang of Jim Courier (baseline) and then Pete Sampras (serve) for about 13 years. If Martina says someone is incredible, you listen to her. And no doubt: Federer had it all, including longevity because of the sumptuous biomechanical efficiency of his groundstrokes and movement. Now he’s retiring, after one last tournament next week. Nobody’s going to be as good to watch; he was the best since McEnroe, but Federer played a power game and made it look beautiful, not like someone battling a punchbag.
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Queen’s funeral: Heathrow cancels flights on Monday • BBC News

Katy Austin:

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Heathrow Airport has said about 15% of its schedule will be altered on Monday during Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral. This is to ensure the skies over London fall quiet during the events, it said.

There will be flight cancellations as a result, including 100 British Airways flights and four Virgin Atlantic flights. Separately, tens of thousands of passengers are set to be affected by a French air traffic control strike on Friday.

Among the cancelled flights will be many that fly over France, not just to and from the country.

Heathrow said that all takeoffs and landings on Monday will be delayed for 15 minutes before and after the two-minute silence at the end of the funeral. Following that, there will be no arrivals between 13:45 BST and 14:20 BST during the procession of the hearse, and no departures between 15:03 BST and 16:45 for the ceremonial procession via the Long Walk to Windsor Castle. Between 16:45 BST and 21:00 BST, departures will be reduced to support the committal service at St George’s Chapel.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued guidance which means that air passengers whose flights are cancelled or badly delayed on Monday because of Heathrow’s changes will not legally be entitled to financial compensation. That is because these are likely to be deemed extraordinary circumstances. However, airlines are offering customers refunds or re-bookings.

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Can you imagine how furious you would be if you’d got a holiday or similar booked for huge amounts and now you were being told a funeral had screwed it up and you weren’t actually entitled to any compensation at all? The idea that flights have to be outright cancelled, not delayed, astonishes me.
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The women starting unauthorized Shein boutiques across Mexico • Rest of World

Daniela Dib:

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In a small street in Chipilo, in the Mexican state of Puebla, rows of dresses, accessories, leggings, and bodysuits are neatly placed on the walls of a store run by Alejandra Précoma and her daughter Fátima. Though the store looks a bit like a thrift shop, all of the clothing on sale is brand-new, purchased from the Chinese fast fashion e-tailer Shein, a brand which also features in the name of the Précomas’ brick-and-mortar store: Shein Chipilo.

“We set up shop about a year ago and we’re getting there and doing quite well, thank God,” Précoma told Rest of World.

Précoma is not alone: all over Mexico, particularly in working-class areas, entrepreneurs are capitalizing on Shein’s cult-like following in the country, despite the company not having any official, permanent physical stores. They have built a network of shops dedicated to bulk buying, warehousing, and selling Shein products. By gaming a competitive fast fashion e-commerce industry that has put traditional retailers out of business worldwide, Mexico’s Shein boutiques are capitalizing on the lack of trust in digital businesses and low connectivity rates in large parts of the country.

Four Shein boutique in-store customers in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca told Rest of World why they prefer the in-store experience, even with the hassle of adding an extra step to an already streamlined delivery service: when in doubt about a particular item, or when having to deal with issues with a purchase, they all preferred to deal with a human rather than a faceless app.

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Not at all shocking, but nice to be reminded that people are still people after all.

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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review: noise cancellation domination • The Verge

Chris Welch:

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Bose has built its entire brand and reputation on noise cancellation technology. The company has been in this game for decades, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by how soundly the new QuietComfort Earbuds II outperform the competition in the ANC department. But after several days of testing them, that’s exactly where I find myself.

Until now, the original QuietComfort Earbuds, Sony’s WF-1000XM4, and Apple’s AirPods Pro were all within a stone’s throw of each other — and all very good. But Bose’s new $299 earbuds have raised the bar again — substantially. In various everyday situations, these are as good or better than over-ear noise-canceling headphones, and they’re obviously far more compact and portable.

The QuietComfort Earbuds II are still missing some increasingly important amenities like multipoint, and even wireless charging is absent. These oversights can make the high price harder to rationalize. But sound quality is excellent, and in addition to class-leading noise cancellation, Bose has managed to equal the natural, lifelike transparency mode of Apple’s AirPods Pro.

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The implication is that they’re great for airplane trips, though when I used to fly on planes I preferred over-the-ear headphones. More comfortable. The review makes clear though that this is a really competitive market now.
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Use eSIM while traveling abroad with your iPhone • Apple Support

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eSIM offers many benefits while you travel abroad. It’s more secure than a physical SIM because it can’t be removed if your iPhone is lost or stolen. With eSIM, you don’t need to obtain, carry, and swap physical SIM cards (which can also be lost), or wait for them to arrive by mail.

On your iPhone, you can store eight or more eSIMs, which will be there whenever you need them. You can have two eSIMs active on supported iPhone models at the same time. This could, for example, include one eSIM for your home and another eSIM for the place you’re visiting. You can swap which of your stored eSIMs are active simply by changing your selections in Settings. This might be helpful if you travel regularly to the same places.

Your carrier might also offer the ability to manage your eSIM plan digitally and add more data as needed.

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That’s pretty good: eight eSIMs. You can use at least one eSIM as well as a physical nano-SIM on any phone from the XS (2018) onwards. (Sorry, I don’t know how it goes for Android.) As I’m going to be on holiday in a place where my present network doesn’t do (cheap) roaming, this suddenly seems attractive.
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False allegations on social media • Patreon Blog

An unsigned writer at Patreon:

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Dangerous and conspiratorial disinformation began circulating on social media recently, alleging that Patreon has hosted child sexual abuse material (CSAM). We want to let all of our creators and patrons know that these claims are unequivocally false and set the record straight.

The disinformation stemmed from a single fraudulent claim on a job posting site, which onlookers inaccurately linked to small-scale staffing changes we made last week to our security organization. This has led to a conspiracy that Patreon knowingly hosts illegal and child-exploitative material.

First, let us be crystal clear: Patreon has zero tolerance for the sexualization of children or teenagers. We strive to keep our community safe on all fronts. We unequivocally forbid creators from funding content dedicated to non-consensual or illegal sexual themes and regularly review creators’ accounts to ensure creators behind adult campaigns are over the age of 18. We work with law enforcement globally and partner with world-class organizations including THORN and Safer technology, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and INHOPE because we are committed to keeping the Internet safer.

Second: The important responsibility of monitoring for illegal content in accordance with Patreon’s Community Guidelines lies with our Trust & Safety team, who takes that job very seriously. The security organization, in contrast, focuses on ensuring the safety of things like user and payment data on the platform. Recent changes we made to our security organization were designed to bolster security efforts through relevant in-house and partner expertise. Those vital efforts are completely unrelated to the Trust & Safety Team’s charter to keep the platform safe from harmful and illegal content.

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The “job posting” site seems to be Glassdoor? Though there’s a lot of stuff on Glassdoor too. However I’m not going to link to it, because the names don’t seem authentic. Something peculiar is going on.
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Netflix estimates ad-supported tier will reach 40 million viewers by late 2023 • WSJ

Suzanne Vranica and Sarah Krouse:

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Netflix estimated that an advertising-supported version of its streaming service would reach about 40 million viewers globally by the third quarter of 2023, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that Netflix shared with ad buyers.

Executives from Netflix and its advertising partner, Microsoft, have met with ad buyers in recent weeks, seeking to lock in deals ahead of a planned launch later this year.

In preliminary projections, Netflix told ad executives it expects to have 4.4 million unique viewers worldwide at the end of the year, with 1.1 million coming from the US. The company estimated that would grow to over 40 million unique viewers by the third quarter of 2023, with 13.3 million from the US.

Netflix’s projections for advertisers covered a dozen launch markets, including Brazil, Mexico, Japan, the UK, France, Germany, Korea, Spain, Italy, Australia and Canada.

The metric the company has shared, “projected unique viewers,” is expected to be higher than the number of subscribers for the advertising-supported Netflix plan, since more than one person in a subscribing household will likely be able to watch the service.

“We are still in the early days of deciding how to launch a lower priced, ad supported tier and no decisions have been made,” a Netflix spokeswoman said in a statement.

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Presently on 220 million subscribers (should guess that means 330-440 million viewers?). So it might add 10% to its global viewership. Is it going to do the same to its revenues, though? That’s not explained. And this is the first time I’ve seen the UK mentioned as one of the launch countries for advertising.
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Liz Truss to ditch Boris Johnson’s energy overhaul plans to focus on driving down cost of household bills • The i

Paul Waugh and Hugo Gye:

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Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, told officials on Monday that he planned to effectively put on hold the Energy Bill currently going through the House of Lords, multiple sources said.

The legislation, part of Boris Johnson’s last Queen’s Speech, was wide-ranging and would have overhauled everything from carbon dioxide transport to carbon capture and civil nuclear power production.

But the bill, which is still at an early stage of its parliamentary process, now faces being scrapped or dramatically reworked after Downing Street stressed the Prime Minister wanted to prioritise capped bills and urgent reform of electricity markets.

No 10 is understood to be pushing for two big reforms. First, decoupling electricity prices from the global gas price – not least as renewable energy is now nine times cheaper than gas. [I think this means “gas is 10 times more expensive than renewable energy.”-CA]

The second change would be a move to “locational pricing” to incentivise the private sector to build extra capacity. The National Grid has argued that the switch would ease congestion in the UK’s transmission networks from energy-rich Scotland to energy-hungry England. Critics say a better solution is to invest in better infrastructure linking the two countries’ electricity networks.

…Mr Rees-Mogg surprised some industry sources last week when he signalled in a meeting that he wanted renewable energy rolled out at speed. One Government insider said: “He wants to go full throttle on the best prospects for renewable… offshore wind will be the biggest focus but supply needs to be increased everywhere.”

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The price decoupling essentially reverses part of the privatisation of the electricity generation/supply sector: rather than marginal pricing (the price of every unit is the price of the most expensive unit generated at that point), it might move to average pricing (the price of every unit is the average of all units being generated at that time).

Interesting too if Rees-Mogg, the Member for the 18th Century, has been persuaded of the benefits of renewables. Only need to fill in the gap with housing insulation.
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My former tutorial partner is now Prime Minister. Here’s my advice to her • Tim Harford

The aforesaid Harford:

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I don’t remember much about Liz Truss from studying mathematical logic alongside her at Oxford. I was too busy wrestling with Peano’s axioms; I suspect she felt the same. And I doubt she trembled to read the recent revelation in The Economist that, while the Conservative grassroots venerate her, the Liberal Democrats are targeting “the Tim Harford voter”. Truly, the narrative arc of my life story has taken a disturbing twist.

But what on earth does the Tim Harford voter actually want? After a few weeks of chewing it over, I’ve realised that if anyone is in a position to speculate, it must be me. Perhaps the best I can come up with is that the Tim Harford voter is worried that the very foundations of British policymaking seem to be shallow and prone to crack. The bad policies are just the clumsy fondant icing; it’s the cake itself that is rotting away.

Consider Brexit. It’s a foolish policy, to be sure, but much more than that. It was enabled by a vaguely worded referendum that was introduced by a prime minister who crossed his fingers and forbade preparation for the outcome. It was sold to the British people on false pretences. A member of parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered during the campaign. Three of the prime ministers leading the project — Cameron, May and Truss — voted against it, and the other, Johnson, was notoriously ambivalent. Ever since the vote, the process has been mired in vitriol, contempt and denial. One does not have to be a diehard Remainer to look at the entire decision-making process and fear that the British polity is not really up to the grown-up job of running a country.

What does the Tim Harford voter want when they look at this? First, a trivial-seeming thing: calm. We live in an age of outrage, sometimes justified and sometimes manufactured. But nobody ever thought more clearly because they were angry. Nor is outrage the only way to succeed at the political game. Proven winners from Blair to Merkel to Obama have thrived while trying to set a constructive tone.

Truss has been trying to provoke outrage, but judging from her infamous rant about how cheese imports are a disgrace, she is not very good at it. Perhaps she will decide that calm problem-solving suits her better.

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If you’ve ever heard Harford presenting the BBC’s More Or Less program, or his Cautionary Tales podcast, you’ll be familiar with his calm, inquiring voice. This whole blogpost is best heard with that voice in mind. (He does have an excellent presenting voice.)
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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: in passing, here’s what Stable Diffusion/Diffusion Bee produced for the text prompt “roger federer holds the gold trophy for winning the tennis title at Wimbledon“. No idea why there are two of him. Also, hands remain difficult. Plus, dig that watch!
Federer 4

Start Up No.1873: Google cuts more projects, Patreon cuts staff, Apple’s silicon struggle, why seek dirt on Mudge?, and more

China AI blocks political content prompts
The new Chinese AI illustrator blocks prompts for “political” content such as “Tiananmen Square”. (Illustration* by Diffusion Bee.)

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Sufficient unto the day. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


No Tiananmen Square in ERNIE-ViLG, the new Chinese image-making AI • MIT Technology Review

Zeyi Yang:

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There’s a new text-to-image AI in town. With ERNIE-ViLG, a new AI developed by the Chinese tech company Baidu, you can generate images that capture the cultural specificity of China. It also makes better anime art than DALL-E 2 or other Western image-making AIs.

But there are many things—like Tiananmen Square, the country’s second-largest city square and a symbolic political center—that the AI refuses to show you.  

When a demo of the software was released in late August, users quickly found that certain words—both explicit mentions of political leaders’ names and words that are potentially controversial only in political contexts—were labeled as “sensitive” and blocked from generating any result. China’s sophisticated system of online censorship, it seems, has extended to the latest trend in AI.

It’s not rare for similar AIs to limit users from generating certain types of content. DALL-E 2 prohibits sexual content, faces of public figures, or medical treatment images. But the case of ERNIE-ViLG underlines the question of where exactly the line between moderation and political censorship lies.

The ERNIE-ViLG model is part of Wenxin, a large-scale project in natural-language processing from China’s leading AI company, Baidu. It was trained on a data set of 145 million image-text pairs and contains 10 billion parameters—the values that a neural network adjusts as it learns, which the AI uses to discern the subtle differences between concepts and art styles.

That means ERNIE-ViLG has a smaller training data set than DALL-E 2 (650 million pairs) and Stable Diffusion (2.3 billion pairs) but more parameters than either one (DALL-E 2 has 3.5 billion parameters and Stable Diffusion has 890 million). Baidu released a demo version on its own platform in late August and then later on Hugging Face, the popular international AI community. 

The main difference between ERNIE-ViLG and Western models is that the Baidu-developed one understands prompts written in Chinese and is less likely to make mistakes when it comes to culturally specific words.

…When the ERNIE-ViLG demo was first released on Hugging Face, users inputting certain words would receive the message “Sensitive words found. Please enter again (存在敏感词,请重新输入),” which was a surprisingly honest admission about the filtering mechanism. However, since at least September 12, the message has read “The content entered doesn’t meet relevant rules. Please try again after adjusting it. (输入内容不符合相关规则,请调整后再试!)” .

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The technology changes, but the CCP remains intractably the same.
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Google cancels half the projects at its internal R&D group Area 120 • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai, speaking at the Code Conference last week, suggested the tech company needed to become 20% more efficient — a comment some in the industry took to mean headcount reductions could soon be on the table. Now, it seems that prediction may be coming true. TechCrunch has learned, and Google confirmed, the company is slashing projects at its in-house R&D division known as Area 120.

The company on Tuesday informed staff of a “reduction in force” that will see the incubator halved in size, as half the teams working on new product innovations heard their projects were being canceled. Previously, there were 14 projects housed in Area 120, and this has been cut down to just seven. Employees whose projects will not continue were told they’ll need to find a new job within Google by the end of January 2023, or they’ll be terminated. It’s not clear that everyone will be able to do so.

According to Area 120 lead Elias Roman, the division aims to sharpen its focus to only AI-first projects, as opposed to its earlier mandate to fuel product incubation across all of Google.

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A more focussed Google has to be a good thing. Tough on the people who have been part of its untrammeled recent growth, of course.
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Patreon is laying off 17% of its workforce and closing offices • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:

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Patreon is laying off 80 people, around 17% of its workforce, and closing offices in Dublin and Berlin. A post from CEO and co-founder Jack Conte says that the cuts are happening because the company is changing its plans after trying to rapidly grow during the pandemic. It’s reducing the size of its teams in charge of “operations, recruiting, and other internal support functions” as well as its budget for sales and marketing.

The layoffs are hitting Patreon’s go-to-market, operations, finance, and people teams. Workers in the US will receive three months’ severance pay as well as two extra weeks per half year of tenure they have beyond their first year at the company. European workers get a similar deal, with three months of healthcare coverage, whereas Americans will get COBRA through the end of 2022. Conte says he’ll be hosting “multiple Q&A sessions” to address the decision.

Part of a larger trend of companies laying off employees they hired during the pandemic
In addition to the layoffs, Patreon is closing two of its European offices and giving nine engineers in Ireland the option to relocate to the US.

Tuesday’s changes come after Patreon laid off its five-person security team last week. At the time, the company’s US policy head Ellen Satterwhite told The Verge the change would “have no impact on our ability to continue providing a secure and safe platform for our creators and patrons.”

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Another Peloton/Zoom? When everyone was sitting at home they signed up for Patreon stuff, and now they’re cancelling? Either that, or Patreon has done everything it needs to do and all its systems are tickety-boo.
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The iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Series 8 expose Apple’s surprising silicon struggles • Macworld

Jason Snell:

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How do you market new products that aren’t so new?

Last year, Apple started focusing its iPhone speed claims by comparing their phones to “the competition” rather than the previous year’s iPhone models. From a marketing standpoint, this was a brilliant move. Why compete with yourself when you don’t have to? Apple’s processors are years ahead of the competition, so disqualifying older iPhone processors gives Apple much larger numbers to crow about.

This year’s iPhone 14 announcement was extra tricky because there was no “last year’s model” to compare it to. The iPhone 14 uses the same A15 processor Apple used in the iPhone 13–albeit the variant from the iPhone 13 Pro that had an extra GPU core enabled. A casual observer would assume that the announcement was normal, but it was anything but–instead, Apple had to do a lot of sleight of hand in order to make it seem like the iPhone 14 revision was business as usual.

Now, next year things will resume their normal pattern. The iPhone 15 will presumably get this year’s A16 processor, and the iPhone 15 Pro will get next year’s A17. This year, Apple’s going to have to take its lumps–but it’s not going to welcome comparisons to last year’s iPhone if it can avoid it.

The pace of advancement on the Apple Watch has also slowed. Though its system-in-package got updated to the S8, including some fancy new sensors, the CPU at the core of the latest watch models hasn’t changed in three generations. So rather than claim speed boosts, Apple focuses on other areas.

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Snell’s suggestion is that Apple has been held up by TSMC not being able to come up with its 3nm process. I suspect it’s more that it’s trying to do chip development on multiple fronts: Watch, iPhone, Mac, AirPods all demand slightly different chips. Not to mention the unannounced products, such as the augmented reality headset. So the chip team must be stretched to breaking point.
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The search for dirt on the Twitter whistleblower • The New Yorker

Ronan Farrow:

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As the inquiries proliferated, the group of ex-Stripe employees began to believe, Wasserman told me, “that multiple different sources, multiple different people, multiple different companies, were all basically trying to dig up dirt on [former Twitter head of computer security] Mudge, all seemingly at the same time.” The firms, Provos surmised, were “trying to get information that could further discredit Mudge,” an effort that “seemed incredibly shady.” Jonathan Kaltwasser, Stripe’s former chief information security officer and a member of the Slack group, quickly alerted Zatko.

“My family and I are disturbed by what appears to be a campaign to approach our friends and former colleagues under apparently false pretenses with offers of money in exchange for information about us,” Zatko told me. “These tactics should be beneath whoever is behind them.”

On Tuesday, Zatko is expected to did testify before Congress and may reveal new details about what he has said are glaring data-security lapses by Twitter. [He didn’t, to be honest.]

He is also expected to play a key role in a trial set to begin next month in a Delaware courtroom, during which Musk will seek to be released from his agreement to acquire Twitter. Musk’s attorneys have subpoenaed Zatko, and a judge ruled last week that Musk could amend his countersuit to include Zatko’s allegations. A Twitter spokesperson, Rebecca Hahn, told me, “We look forward to presenting our case in Court beginning on October 17th and intend to close the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Mr. Musk.”

Sources close to three of the firms—Farallon, Mosaic, and G.L.G.—suggested that they were simply trying to obtain information about Zatko to guide stock trades involving Twitter and maximize profits.

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It really seems like there’s some smart money trying to figure out what’s going to happen to Twitter’s stock. There was an abrupt selloff on the morning of the 13th – quickly balanced by an equally big rise after Mudge had testified. That passed, and now it’s back where it was a day ago. All that effort, for nothing.
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US PC shipments fell 23% in Q2 2022 amid waning consumer demand • Canalys

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US shipments of desktops, notebooks and workstations fell by 23% year on year in Q2 2022 to 19.8m units. Notebook shipments declined 27% following the unprecedented success of the Chromebook market a year ago and the further weakening of consumer demand.

Desktops continued to perform well, growing 10% as the category has returned to shipment levels comparable to before the pandemic. Meanwhile, tablet shipments faced a relatively modest decline of 4%, reaching 10.9m shipments. The overall market avoided a larger decline thanks to a resilient commercial sector, which maintained demand despite the looming threat of recession and high inflation figures, growing 11% in Q2. 

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After briefly discovering a new growth spurt, the market has settled back in its long-saturated state. Chromebooks in particular haven’t continued their growth, instead falling back (though there must now be a bigger installed base of them to be replaced over time).

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Asda limits sales of Just Essentials budget range • BBC News

Daniel Thomas:

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Asda has temporarily limited purchases of its new budget range Just Essentials, blaming soaring demand.

The supermarket said customers would be limited to buying three items at most of each product until further notice. It launched Just Essentials in May, promising an expanded line of low-cost products to help shoppers with the cost of living. That came after food poverty campaigner Jack Monroe criticised Asda for cutting back its budget ranges in some stores.

But on Wednesday, the supermarket said demand was outstripping availability, with sales growing almost 20% faster than the market average. “Just Essentials is proving very popular with customers and we are working hard to improve availability across the range,” a spokesman said. “To ensure as many customers as possible can buy these products, we are temporarily limiting purchases to a maximum of three of each product for a short period of time. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.”

It comes as the price of food soars, with consumers paying a record £571 more on average for their groceries than last year, according to data from research firm Kantar.

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Does this count as rationing? It certainly feels a bit like it, though it’s because of demand rather than supply.
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Patagonia founder gives away the company to fight climate change • The New York Times

David Gelles:

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A half century after founding the outdoor apparel maker Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, the eccentric rock climber who became a reluctant billionaire with his unconventional spin on capitalism, has given the company away.

Rather than selling the company or taking it public, Mr. Chouinard, his wife and two adult children have transferred their ownership of Patagonia, valued at about $3bn, to a specially designed set of trusts and nonprofit organizations. They were created to preserve the company’s independence and ensure that all of its profits — some $100m a year — are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe.

The unusual move comes at a moment of growing scrutiny for billionaires and corporations, whose rhetoric about making the world a better place is often overshadowed by their contributions to the very problems they claim to want to solve.

At the same time, Mr. Chouinard’s relinquishment of the family fortune is in keeping with his longstanding disregard for business norms, and his lifelong love for the environment.
“Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people,” Mr. Chouinard, 83, said in an exclusive interview. “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.”

Patagonia will continue to operate as a private, for-profit corporation based in Ventura, Calif., selling more than $1bn worth of jackets, hats and ski pants each year. But the Chouinards, who controlled Patagonia until last month, no longer own the company.

«

Amazing. The main intent seems to be on “nature-based climate solutions”, not technology. Though it was climbing technology that really got him started: first, steel pitons, then (because they damaged the cracks in the rock) aluminium chocks that could be placed and removed, thus not harming the rock. Environmentalism at the small scale and the big scale.
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Microsoft was right all along • The Verge

Monica Chin:

»

If you’ve been following the laptop space over the past two or so years, you’ve probably noticed that the detachable laptop is on the rise. Several high-profile models that were previously traditional 2-in-1s (that is, an old-school-looking laptop that can also bend backward) have slowly but surely been converted to detachable keyboard form factors.

This is in no way a new idea — the Surface Pro has been a thing for years on end. But as more and more companies add the form factor to their premium lines, it seems like the space in general is warming up to the idea that Microsoft was right all along.

…I’ve asked a couple companies about this decision over the past year, and the answers have all been variations of what you might expect: customers just aren’t really interested in traditional 2-in-1s. And as someone who’s used a ton of them, it’s not hard to see why.

There are traits inherent to the laptop form factor — especially with the direction it’s going these days — that run contrary to what you’d want from a good tablet. One example: weight. In general, laptops that are over three pounds or so are just too heavy to comfortably hold and carry around as a tablet. (I suspect this is part of the reason that 15-inch convertibles, which some companies were pushing in the late 2010s, have largely petered out.) There’s also the fact that holding a convertible as a tablet often means holding the keyboard (which feels a bit weird) or pressing the keyboard into the ground (which can lead to scratches and dirty it in general).

«

Have to say, the bend-it-backward design always struck me as a bit bonkers, even when it was brand new in 2001.
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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: * the prompt used was “China’s most advanced AI image generator already blocks political content”. 30 steps, guidance 7.5.

Start Up No.1872: Google nixes Pixelbook, Instagram can’t catch TikTok, climate tipping points near, no port iPhone?, and more

Record levels of solar power, as seen by Diffusion Bee
Record levels of solar power this summer saved the EU from burning huge amounts of gas. Picture imagined by the AI illustration program Diffusion Bee. (Hands are hard to draw.)

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Now we’re a centaur! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Guest post: solar power saved the EU €29bn this summer • Carbon Brief

Paweł Czyżak:

»

In a tough summer for Europe that brought record-high energy prices and sweltering heatwaves, solar power has provided some much-needed relief.

Our analysis published today reveals that record levels of solar power across the EU this summer avoided the need for 20bn cubic metres (bcm) of gas, which would have cost €29bn (£25bn) to import.

The success of solar could help shine a pathway out of the energy and climate insecurity that the EU is currently facing.

Many EU countries have already increased renewables targets in the wake of soaring gas prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, looking to replace expensive gas imports. Upcoming EU-wide policy discussions could mean that solar plays a much bigger role in the future EU electricity system.

Europe is currently facing an energy crisis of unprecedented proportions. Russia’s squeeze on fossil fuel supplies is pushing electricity prices into all-time highs, with additional stress caused by nuclear reactor unavailability in France and drought impacting hydroelectricity generation in many European countries.

At the same time, solar has delivered record-high generation across the summer of 2022, helping keep the lights on and reducing the EU’s now critical gas consumption.

As the chart [in the story] shows, EU solar generation increased by 28% in summer 2022 (May-August), compared with the same period a year earlier.

«

Quicker to deploy than pretty much any other source of energy. Why would you not.
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Google’s next Pixelbook Chromebook is cancelled • The Verge

Alex Heath and David Pierce:

»

Google has cancelled the next version of its Pixelbook laptop and dissolved the team responsible for building it. The device was far along in development and expected to debut next year, according to a person familiar with the matter, but the project was cut as part of recent cost-cutting measures inside of Google. Members of the team have been transferred elsewhere inside the company.

As recently as a few months ago, Google was planning to keep the Pixelbook going. Ahead of its annual I/O developer conference, Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh told The Verge that “we are going to do Pixelbooks in the future.” But he also acknowledged that the Chromebook market has changed since 2017 when the original (and best) Pixelbook launched. “What’s nice about the category is that it has matured,” Osterloh said. “You can expect them to last a long time.” One way Google might be thinking about the ChromeOS market is that it simply doesn’t need Google the way it once did.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, has been saying for months that he intends to slow down hiring and cut some projects across the company. “In some cases, that means consolidating where investments overlap and streamlining processes,” he wrote in a July memo. “In other cases, that means pausing development and re-deploying resources to higher priority areas.” The Pixelbook team and the Pixelbook itself were casualties of that consolidation and redeployment.

«

Chromebook sales have slowed down dramatically since the pandemic ended, though Pixelbooks were meant to be top-end devices. Maybe there isn’t a top end for Chromebooks after all.

More generally, though, this conforms to John Gruber’s recent observation that Google just doesn’t seem to focus on hardware, especially consumer hardware, for any sustained period. How long has the Google Pixel got?

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Review: ‘The Chaos Machine,’ by Max Fisher • The New York Times

Tamsin Shaw:

»

In Max Fisher’s authoritative and devastating account of the impacts of social media, “The Chaos Machine,” he repeatedly invokes Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The 1968 movie, in which a supercomputer coldly kills astronauts on a ship bound for Jupiter, was in Fisher’s thoughts as he researched the book. Its stark, ambiguous aesthetic is perfectly poised between the utopian and the dystopian. And as a story about trying to fix a wayward technology as it hurtles out of control, it is beautifully apt.

The cinematic opening to Fisher’s book cuts from the shining halls of Facebook’s headquarters to a view of Earth from contemplative heights. We see “far-off despots, wars and upheavals. … A sudden riot, a radical new group, widespread belief in some oddball conspiracy.” The way the book connects these dots is utterly convincing and should obliterate any doubts about the significance of algorithmic intervention in human affairs.

Fisher, a New York Times journalist who has reported on horrific violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, offers firsthand accounts from each side of a global conflict, focusing on the role Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube play in fomenting genocidal hate. Alongside descriptions of stomach-churning brutality, he details the viral disinformation that feeds it, the invented accusations, often against minorities, of espionage, murder, rape and pedophilia. But he’s careful not to assume causality where there may be mere correlation. The book explores deeply the question of whether specific features of social media are truly responsible for conjuring mass fear and anger.

«

Interesting topic to examine. If only there were a snappy phrase for the effect.
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Instagram stumbles in push to mimic TikTok, internal documents show • WSJ

Salvador Rodriguez, Meghan Bobrowsky and Jeff Horwitz:

»

Meta’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is betting the social-media giant’s near-term future on Instagram Reels, the short-video feature he is touting as the company’s answer to TikTok.

The company’s internal research shows that Meta has a lot of catching up to do.

Instagram users cumulatively are spending 17.6 million hours a day watching Reels, less than one-tenth of the 197.8 million hours TikTok users spend each day on that platform, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that summarizes internal Meta research.

The document, titled “Creators x Reels State of the Union 2022,” was published internally in August. It said that Reels engagement had been falling—down 13.6% over the previous four weeks—and that “most Reels users have no engagement whatsoever.”

One reason is that Instagram has struggled to recruit people to make content. Roughly 11 million creators are on the platform in the U.S., but only about 2.3 million of them, or 20.7%, post on that platform each month, the document said.

Meta spokeswoman Devi Narasimhan characterized the data about viewing hours as outdated and not global in scope, but declined to disclose other numbers. She said Reels engagement currently is up, on a month-to-month basis.

«

Classic Facebook PR effort: make denying noises, but don’t offer anything useful. If Instagram is cooked, then Meta is really in trouble: it’s just going to be running on inertia.
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Grandmother recreated by AI talks to mourners at her own funeral • Daily Telegraph

Justin Stoneman and Victoria Ward:

»

When Marina Smith MBE died aged 87 in June, her grieving loved ones thought all they had left was their memories.

In fact, the leading Holocaust campaigner returned to them from beyond the grave in the form of an artificial intelligence-powered hologram, able to answer their questions and reveal family secrets.

Mrs Smith was one of the first adopters of new technology, available in the UK from this week, that enabled her to appear at her own funeral in Babworth, Notts.

The “holographic conversational video experience” came courtesy of StoryFile, an AI-powered video platform.

The brainchild of her Los Angeles-based son, Stephen Smith, it allowed her to deliver a brief speech about her life and spirituality and respond to questions from those who attended the ceremony, creating the illusion of a real-time conversation.

StoryFile combines the latest studio technology – a bank of 20 synced cameras to capture the subject in hologram-specific detail – advanced artificial intelligence and expert psychological evaluation to create a digital clone that allows people to talk to the dead.

“Mum answered questions from grieving relatives after they had watched her cremation,” Mr Smith said.

“The extraordinary thing was that she answered their questions with new details and honesty. People feel emboldened when recording their data. Mourners might get a freer, truer version of their lost loved one.”

«

The whole world is turning into a Black Mirror episode. And we’re embracing it.
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World on brink of five ‘disastrous’ climate tipping points, study finds • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

»

The climate crisis has driven the world to the brink of multiple “disastrous” tipping points, according to a major study.

It shows five dangerous tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1C of global heating caused by humanity to date.

These include the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, eventually producing a huge sea level rise, the collapse of a key current in the north Atlantic, disrupting rain upon which billions of people depend for food, and an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost.

At 1.5C of heating, the minimum rise now expected, four of the five tipping points move from being possible to likely, the analysis said. Also at 1.5C, an additional five tipping points become possible, including changes to vast northern forests and the loss of almost all mountain glaciers.

In total, the researchers found evidence for 16 tipping points, with the final six requiring global heating of at least 2C to be triggered, according to the scientists’ estimations. The tipping points would take effect on timescales varying from a few years to centuries.

“The Earth may have left a ‘safe’ climate state beyond 1C global warming,” the researchers concluded, with the whole of human civilisation having developed in temperatures below this level.

«

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A portless iPhone? Please, Apple, don’t go there • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»

The first big problem with a portless iPhone is that it would be harder to charge.

You may well have charging pads in the kitchen, in the office, in your car, and perhaps even on the nightstand by your bed. You need to charge your phone elsewhere, though: at the airport, in a rental car, at your friend’s house, in a college lecture hall, at a conference. Hauling around the necessary charger and cable for your “wireless” charging is even worse than carrying an ordinary wired charger.

Sure, some venues now have them built in, including coffee shops and airports, but you don’t want to roll the dice on availability. Chances are good, you’d lose.

Wireless chargers also are more expensive, often bulkier and can be finicky about phone placement, even with Apple’s MagSafe technology to align your phone better. On several occasions I’ve woken up in the morning or driven for hours and discovered that wireless charging didn’t work.

Wired charging also is faster, wastes less energy and doesn’t leave my phone piping hot.

If Apple ever dumps its now archaic Lightning port and embraces USB-C port on iPhones, as I expect it will, its charging and data port becomes more useful. I already use USB-C to charge my MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, Framework laptop, Sony noise-canceling earphones, Pixel 6 Pro phone, Pixel Buds Pro earbud case, and Nintendo Switch game console and controllers. When I’m traveling, I always have a USB-C charger with me, and I expect USB-C ports to become more common in airports, planes, hotels, cars and cafes. Don’t hold your breath for a wireless charging pad jammed into an economy class seat.

“There is no question that USB-C is long overdue on an iPhone especially given it is on iPad and Mac,” Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said. “It is not always possible to do wireless or MagSafe.”

«

All the signs are that Apple is heading that way – both USB-C in the medium term, and portless in the longer term.
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Why is Intel’s GPU program having problems? • SemiAccurate

Charlie Demerjian:

»

Intel is usually pretty good at [software] drivers [to run its GPUs, codenamed DG2] but this time around things are quite uncharacteristic. Intel offered a few reasons for this on their Q2/22 analyst call which boiled down to, ‘this is harder than we thought’ but that isn’t actually the reason. If that was it, the SemiAccurate blamethrower would have been used and refueled several times already so what really caused this mess?

The short version is to look where the drivers are being developed. In this case Intel is literally developing the DG2 drivers all over the world as they do for many things, hardware and software. The problem this time is that key parts of the drivers for this GPU, specifically the shader compiler and related key performance pieces, were being done by the team in Russia. On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine and the west put some rather stiff sanctions on the aggressor and essentially cut off the ability to do business in the country.

Even if businesses decided to stick with Russia, it would have been nearly impossible to pay the wages of their workers due to sanctions on financial institutions and related uses of foreign currencies. In short Intel had a key development team cut off almost overnight with no warning. This is why SemiAccurate say it isn’t their fault, even if they saw the war coming, they probably didn’t see the sanctions coming.

Note: One tech CEO SemiAccurate talked to recently said they should have seen it coming but we didn’t have time to dig in to why they had that viewpoint.

Note 2: SemiAccurate has known about this problem for several weeks and did not write this story, especially the following portion, until we knew certain things were completed and no one would be put in harm’s way by this disclosure. We are satisfied that our story will not cause harm to innocent people at this point, something we could not have said with certainty a month ago. That said we will still omit some details, sorry.

Intel did undertake a large and rather extraordinary effort to get their staff, and some say their families, out of Russia. Multiple sources say this was a bit of a mess, especially early on when the effects of the war were not clear to anyone and the pundits were all proclaiming it would be over soon. Many engineers were relocated, some chose not to go, and some changed their minds during the process. Things like this are never easy and some of the tales SemiAccurate heard only enhance that impression.

The next problem was where to move these engineers to?

«

Globalisation and multi-country working is a great idea, until it isn’t. (Note that SemiAccurate tends to live up to its name, but Intel has longstanding R+D sites in Russia.)
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Extreme California heat knocks key Twitter data center offline • CNN Business

Donie O’Sullivan, Brian Fung and Sean Lyngaas:

»

Extreme heat in California has left Twitter without one of its key data centres, and a company executive warned in an internal memo obtained by CNN that another outage elsewhere could result in the service going dark for some of its users.

Twitter, like all major social media platforms, relies on data centres, which are essentially huge warehouses full of computers, including servers and storage systems. Controlling the temperature in those centers is critical to ensuring the computers don’t overheat and malfunction. To save on cooling costs, some tech companies have increasingly looked to place their data centres in colder climates; Google, for example, opened a data centre in Finland in 2011, and Meta has had one centre in northern Sweden since 2013.

“On September 5th, Twitter experienced the loss of its Sacramento (SMF) datacenter region due to extreme weather. The unprecedented event resulted in the total shutdown of physical equipment in SMF,” Carrie Fernandez, the company’s vice president of engineering, said in an internal message to Twitter engineers on Friday.

Major tech companies usually have multiple data centres, in part to ensure their service can stay online if one centre fails; this is known as redundancy.

As a result of the outage in Sacramento, Twitter is in a “non-redundant state,” according to Fernandez’s Friday memo. She explained that Twitter’s data centres in Atlanta and Portland are still operational but warned, “If we lose one of those remaining datacentres, we may not be able to serve traffic to all Twitter’s users.”

The memo goes on to prohibit non-critical updates to Twitter’s product until the company can fully restore its Sacramento data centre services. “All production changes, including deployments and releases to mobile platforms, are blocked with the exception of those changes required to address service continuity or other urgent operational needs,” Fernandez wrote.

The restrictions highlight the apparent fragility of some of Twitter’s most fundamental systems, a problem Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security who turned whistleblower, had raised in a disclosure sent to lawmakers and government agencies in July.

«

The more we learn about Twitter’s internals, the more ramshackle it sounds. Sounds like the Edit button is delayed for a bit, anyway. And hot systems will be an ongoing problem.
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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: some people wondered in what sort of surgery you’d use obsidian scalpels. Some research suggests it’s where bones and cartilage aren’t nearby (because the blade can break easily from transverse force, which would leave obsidian flakes in the patient). Which means parts such as the eyes and earlobes. And yes, they are fine in autoclaves. Those are only steam, and obsidian has survived volcanic temperatures.

And yes, fine, glass is not a liquid, it’s a supercooled solid.

Start Up No.1871: why everything’s a subscription now, art communities ban AI, Peloton’s Wi-Fi trouble, iOS 16!, and more


Obsidian provides some of the sharpest possible edges: useful in the Stone Age, still useful now. CC-licensed photo by jessie essex on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Pomp and circumstance. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The other “MoviePass economy” • The Diff

Byrne Hobart:

»

Why is it that every company that makes money on transactions seems to be crunching the numbers and concluding that it’s time to launch ThatCompany+, ThatCompany Prime, or ThatCompany One, often at $9.99 per month? Is the future of consumer spending going to be dozens of 5% discounts every month, and a thousand dollars a year of subscription fees to pay for access to them?

The increasing prevalence of subscriptions represents three trends, both of which are tied to the increasing maturity of the tech sector and of tech-enabled retail.

First, as markets get more competitive, the challenge moves from altering customer behavior to winning share among customers who engage in a particular behavior. There was a time when “hail a cab with your phone” was a weird idea, and when “buy it online even if you need it tomorrow” was a ludicrous proposition. Some of these behavioral changes were gradual—the first time I ordered Seamless while working late, instead of just leaving the office to grab some fast food, it felt like the height of decadence. Then it got routine.

Once there are fewer customers to be gained by radically changing habits, there are more customers to be lost from slight shifts in habit, like using a different app to perform the same function. Covid was a massive push towards adopting new consumption habits, especially habits that involved delivery. This has partly receded, but it’s meant that there’s no longer a meaningful population that isn’t at least considering alternatives to brick-and-mortar stores.

Economically, part of what you’re doing when you sign up for an app subscription is that you’re buying your consumer surplus upfront. David Friedman’s Hidden Order has a chapter on exactly this: he imagines a demand curve for cookies such that a price discrimination strategy—buy your first six cookies for $0.70 each and any further cookies for $0.50 apiece—leads to more gross profit per customer.

He then extends this to a more fine-grained price discrimination, with a sliding scale price for each cookie. And then, the magic trick: sell the customer a subscription, price each cookie for subscribers at marginal cost, and the producer captures the entire economic surplus; the supply/demand graph looks like perfect price discrimination applied down to the crumb.

«

The war between buyer and seller goes on. Explains perfectly why you’re continually being upsold something for just that little bit of money.
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Online art communities begin banning AI-generated images • Waxy.org

Andy Baio:

»

On Sunday, popular furry art community Fur Affinity announced that AI-generated art was not allowed because it “lacked artistic merit.” (In July, one AI furry porn generator was uploading one image every 40 seconds before it was banned.) Their new guidelines are very clear:

»

Content created by artificial intelligence is not allowed on Fur Affinity.

AI and machine learning applications (DALL-E, Craiyon) sample other artists’ work to create content. That content generated can reference hundreds, even thousands of pieces of work from other artists to create derivative images.

Our goal is to support artists and their content. We don’t believe it’s in our community’s best interests to allow AI generated content on the site.

«

Last year, the 27-year-old art/animation portal Newgrounds banned images made with Artbreeder, a tool for “breeding” GAN-generated art. Late last month, Newgrounds rewrote their guidelines to explicitly disallow images generated by new generation of AI art platforms

«

The number of AI image generators is starting to grow too fast to keep a handle on. And now people are starting to ban it? That’s going to create a lot of tension.
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Nikola founder faces securities-fraud trial over promises about electric trucks • WSJ

Corinne Ramey and Ben Foldy on the impending trial over a collapsed EV-promised company:

»

[Trevor] Milton was an unconventional executive. He said he didn’t finish high school or college but was a serial entrepreneur who started several companies before Nikola. Those ventures often ended up with disputes, litigation and disappointed investors, according to former employees, customers, investors and documents.

…The trial could largely hinge on what Mr. Milton said in television interviews and podcasts and on social media.

On a podcast in 2020, Mr. Milton said that until Nikola came on the market, hydrogen was about $16 a kilogram. “Now Nikola is producing it well below $4 a kilogram,” he said. Prosecutors said that Nikola had never produced hydrogen, at any price.

Mr. Milton also said in interviews that the Badger was a “fully functioning vehicle inside and outside.” When he was asked on Twitter when the first prototype would be produced, he wrote, “Already.” Prosecutors said Nikola had only renderings of vehicles and concept sketches.

In one tweet, Mr. Milton wrote that the Badger would have a drinking fountain using the water created by the truck’s hydrogen fuel cell. Days later, Mr. Milton typed “can you drink water from a fuel cell?” into an internet search, prosecutors alleged.

The rapid climb in Nikola’s shares made Mr. Milton a multibillionaire, based on his holdings. Before stepping down from Nikola, he purchased a $32.5m ranch, the most expensive home in Utah at the time, and a Gulfstream jet.

«

Among Milton’s other tricks was showing a truck apparently moving under its own steam. (Well, hydrogen. Haha.) In fact it was rolling down an incline.
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Diffusion Bee is the easiest way to run Stable Diffusion locally on your M1 Mac. Comes with a one-click installer. No dependencies or technical knowledge needed • Github

Divam Gupta:

»

Diffusion Bee is the easiest way to run Stable Diffusion locally on your M1 Mac. Comes with a one-click installer. No dependencies or technical knowledge needed.

Runs locally on your computer no data is sent to the cloud (other than request to download the weights and checking for software updates).

If you like Diffusion Bee, consider checking https://Liner.ai , a one-click tool to train machine learning models

«

Less than two weeks ago, when Stable Diffusion still needed all sorts of packages and command line high jinks, I wondered how soon we’d have a single-app download for MacOS: I thought it would be the end of September. Well, two weeks off. Pile in. Once I’ve had a few moments I’ll see what it generates for The Overspill. Let’s ride the tsunami together!
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How obsidian Stone Age knives still cut it in surgery • CNN

Peter Shadbolt:

»

Even today, a small number of surgeons are using an ancient technology to carry out fine incisions that they say heal with minimal scarring.

Dr. Lee Green, professor and chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, says he routinely uses obsidian blades. “The biggest advantage with obsidian is that it is the sharpest edge there is, it causes very little trauma to tissue, it heals faster, and more importantly, it heals with less scarring,” he said. “It makes for the best cosmetic outcome.”

He explained that steel scalpels at a microscopic level have a rough cutting edge that tears into tissue, a function of the crystals that make up the metal. Obsidian, meanwhile, cleaves into a fine and continuous edge when properly cut.

Green said he once helped documentary makers produce a program on surgical technology in ancient Egyptian, setting up a blind test on the cutting power of obsidian.

Using cultured-skin burn dressing, a substance composed of skin cells, he made an incision with a modern scalpel and a parallel incision with an obsidian scalpel.

The host of the program was then invited to look at the cuts under a video microscope and tell the difference.

“It wasn’t hard to tell the difference at all. As soon as he turned around, everyone in the studio was like ‘Ohhh,’ ” Green said. “Under the microscope, you could see the obsidian scalpel had divided individual cells in half, and next to it, the steel scalpel incision looked like it had been made by a chainsaw.”

«

Glass really is remarkable stuff. The sharpest material.. and yet a liquid.
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New Wi-Fi data shows why Peloton is in trouble • Protocol

Janko Roettgers:

»

Home workouts are so 2021: as people leave their pandemic cocoons, they’re increasingly ditching their Peloton classes, according to new data from Wi-Fi networking startup Plume Design.

During the first six months of this year, the average amount of data streamed to at-home fitness bikes was down 23% when compared to the same time span a year ago, Plume revealed as part of its IQ Smart Home Market Report released [last] Wednesday.

It’s the single biggest contraction among home Wi-Fi devices that Plume was able to measure. Fitness bikes were followed by media players (Blu-ray players, iPods and similar devices), which saw a decline of 14%, and PCs, which were down 7% year-over-year. The picture looks notably different for modern home entertainment devices. Smart TVs saw data consumption increase by 34% year-over-year, with smart speaker data usage up 27% year-over-year.

The bleak picture for Peloton comes after the company announced plans to lay off 780 employees and close a yet-to-be-determined number of stores earlier this month. Last week, Peloton told investors it had losses of $1.2bn during the most recent quarter, with revenues down 28% year-over-year.

Peloton also saw its member numbers decline by 2% quarter-over-quarter and added close to zero new connected fitness subscribers in its most recent quarter. What’s more, even subscribers who are sticking with the company aren’t working out nearly as much as they used to. The number of average monthly Peloton workouts per subscriber was down 26% year-over-year.

Plume’s data not only corroborates those trends but also shows that connected fitness as a whole is still a pretty small phenomenon when compared to other types of entertainment.

«

Surprised that smart TVs and speakers saw such a large increase: I’d have expected that it would have held steady compared to last year, or even fallen slightly as people spent more time out of home. Overall, this is only a proxy for activity. (I haven’t looked at the report, so it might contain more wrinkles.)
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AI read my movie script (and hated it) • Trung Phan

Trung Phan:

»

I sent Bergquist my really, really funny script and [AI analyser] Corto put it through a multi-step process:

• Ingest and analyze: Corto analyzes and tags script variables including narrative types, emotional tones, character arcs, topics and more. Once the “narrative DNA” of my script is defined, Corto compares it to a database of what Bergquist says is more than 700,000 TV and film titles.

• Generate list of comps: Corto identifies the best matches based on “narrative DNA.” (I was happy to find the classic Southeast Asia comedy “The Hangover II” among the comps.)

• Social media analyses: Corto picks the top 10 closest comps that have grossed at least $50 million and pulls the social media engagement (via Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok) around these titles. 

• Extract audience segments: Corto examines the commercial potential of my project based on the appeal of the comps to different demographics (age, gender) and which communities to target to help the project go viral. Marvel fans, for instance, are good at getting different communities in their projects; could [Phan’s screenplay] “The Lose” have somehow been marketed to these crowds?

The analysis showed that my film ranked poorly on two scoring systems: uniqueness (how similar was the “narrative DNA” to comps?) and interestingness (did the script have a large character set with a wide range of archetypes?).

The conclusion: Only a star — Corto recommended Chris Pratt — could make my formulaic film successful.

«

Why stop at Pratt? Go the whole hog – get Tom Cruise to film it. He’s box office platinum. But then he adds:

»

According to Bergquist, several major film studios are already using the process I just described via Corto’s web-based platform.

«

Not sure if it’s good or bad that machines are now helping on whether to greenlight stuff.
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What scientists have learnt from COVID lockdowns • Nature

Dyani Lewis:

»

Some researchers argue that countries could have avoided blunt all-of-society lockdowns, especially after the measures taken early in 2020. Among them is Mark Woolhouse, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who advised the Scottish government during the pandemic. He argues that it might have been possible to avoid the closing of schools and cooping-up of younger people — who were at lower risk of COVID-19 — while focusing efforts on protecting vulnerable and older people as soon as high-risk individuals and settings were identified. “This pandemic was crying out for [a] precision public-health response, because the risks associated with the public-health threat with the virus were so focused on a small minority, and the harms done by things like lockdown were not focused on the same people,” he says.

But many researchers have pushed back against the idea that a more targeted approach was ever possible. Klimek says that roughly one-third of the population in wealthy nations was vulnerable because of underlying health conditions, so targeted measures would have been difficult to implement. And the virus has caused not only deaths but also post-infection illnesses such as long COVID — which has emerged as a health burden even for people who had mild disease.

Another targeted option for governments considering how to reopen societies might have been to keep only high-risk locations closed — restaurants and bars, say, or even neighbourhoods with high population mobility, says Serina Chang at Stanford University in California, who worked with colleagues to identify such places using cellphone data14. But shutting down neighbourhoods would probably disproportionately affect socially disadvantaged communities. “Fairness is such an important question here,” she says.

Woolhouse says there was scant effort to debate the scale of potential harms caused by lockdowns, meaning that policymakers were unable to weigh up costs and benefits properly. Indeed, early on, many countries adopted a ‘save lives at any cost’ approach, he says.

«

The TL;DR is “it’s complicated, and they don’t really agree, and if something like it happens again they won’t know again.”
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iOS 16 review: unlocking the lock screen • The Verge

David Pierce:

»

The lock screen is the true star of iOS 16. Apple has reconceived its purpose altogether, shifting it from just a clock and a bunch of notifications to something much more like a second homescreen. Lock screen widgets were an instant upgrade to my phone life: I can now see my calendar without unlocking my phone or even swiping right to get to that page of widgets everyone always forgets about, and I have a tiny widget that launches a new note in my notes app.

My favorite iOS 16 widget comes from the habit tracking app Streaks. I have “take 5,000 steps” as a daily goal (we’re still in a pandemic, I work from home, and 5,000 steps feels like an accomplishment some days now) and a widget on my lock screen with a meter that slowly fills up as I approach that number. It’s a subtle reminder every single time I look at my phone that I probably need to go outside and touch grass.

The iPhone has never been good at these kinds of light-touch interactions. Before iOS 16, most things required you to pick up your phone, unlock it, swipe to the right homescreen, and open an app. Apple has tried to shrink that process through Siri voice commands, and part of the Apple Watch’s whole appeal is easier access to simple tasks. But “put a bunch of them on your lock screen” might be Apple’s best solution yet. And when you pair it with the always-on displays on the iPhone 14 Pro, the iPhone becomes a fountain of useful information without requiring a single tap.

«

iPadOS 16 is delayed (because Stage Manager is a mess, it seems). Not sure quite how useful lock screen stuff will be if you don’t have an always-on screen, but certainly better than nothing. It feels like every year we get asymptotically closer to nothing new – Zeno’s OS.
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Goldman’s Apple Card business has a surprising subprime problem • CNBC

Hugh Son:

»

Lenders deem bad loans “charge-offs” after a customer misses payments for six months; Goldman’s 2.93% net charge-off rate is double the 1.47% rate at JPMorgan’s card business and higher than Bank of America’s 1.60%, despite being a fraction of those issuers’ size.

Goldman’s losses are also higher than that of Capital One, the largest subprime player among big banks, which had a 2.26% charge-off rate.

“If there’s one thing Goldman is supposed to be good at, its risk management,” said Jason Mikula, a former Goldman employee who now consults for the industry.  “So how do they have charge-off rates comparable to a subprime portfolio?”

The biggest reason is because Goldman’s customers have been with the bank for less than two years on average, according to people with knowledge of the business.

Charge-off rates tend to be highest during the first few years a user has a card; as Goldman’s pool of customers ages and struggling users drop out, those losses should calm down, the people said. The bank leans on third-party data providers to compare metrics with similar cards of the same vintage and is comfortable with its performance, the people said.

Other banks also tend to be more aggressive in seeking to recover debt, which improves competitors’ net charge-off figures, the people said.

But another factor is that Goldman’s biggest credit product, the Apple Card, is aimed at a broad swath of the country, including those with lower credit scores. Early in its rollout, some users were stunned to learn they had been approved for the card despite checkered credit histories.

“Goldman has to play in a broader credit spectrum than other banks, that’s part of the issue,” said a person who once worked at the New York-based bank, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about his former employer. “They have no direct-to-consumer offering yet, and when you have the Apple Card and the GM card, you are looking at Americana.”

«

Wonder if some people took advantage to get Apple stuff on the cheap with no intention of paying back.
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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

Start Up No.1870: how Britain’s papers responded to the Queen’s death, Russia routed on Ukraine fronts, text to AI video?, and more


Does the answer to Britain’s lagging productivity lie in Legoland? Tim Harford went to find out. CC-licensed photo by Brooks Duncan on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Veiled. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Inside British newsrooms on the day Queen Elizabeth II died: secret codes, chaos and black ties • British GQ

Chris Stokel-Walker:

»

[On Thursday just after midday] A folded-up piece of paper was passed along both [Parliamentary] front benches, and the country knew something was up by the looks on the faces of those who read the note. “It was fucking weird because as soon as the note went round everyone kind of knew and was going: ‘She’s dead,’ right,” says one Whitehall correspondent for a national newspaper. (Like all those quoted in this story, they were given anonymity in order to speak freely.) “Then it’s been waiting and knowing without knowing, writing other stuff under the pretence it’s not all going to be scrapped.”

To honor your privacy preferences, this content can only be viewed on the site it originates from.
The correspondent was told by editors to write on the major political stories of the day – an unfunded promise to limit energy bills, the settling in of a new prime minister and the creation of her government – that they knew would never be read.

Thirteen minutes after the note came the tweet. “Following further evaluation this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision,” wrote Buckingham Palace. “The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.”

“When the statement dropped about her health it was obvious, and suddenly no MPs would talk,” the Whitehall correspondent says. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs stopped responding to messages.

Across at what was once known as Fleet Street, time stopped.

Unlike the April 2021 death of the Duke of Edinburgh, which was announced out of the blue, says one BBC journalist, the announcement that the Queen was “comfortable” but doctors were “concerned” was a coded message: get ready. “She obviously didn’t look well on Tuesday with Truss,” says the BBC journalist. “No idea it was imminent though. They gave us a six-hour run up with the ‘comfortable’ announcement, which is preferable to just dropping on wires like they did with the Duke of Edinburgh.”

«

Excellent piece. A good friend of mine, who isn’t a journalist, texted me when the note was passed in Parliament to say “I think the queen has just died”. So it wasn’t exactly un-obvious to the alert observer.
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As Russians retreat, Putin is criticized by hawks who trumpeted his war • The New York Times

Anton Troianovski:

»

Even as Moscow celebrated, [the pro-Russian blogger] wrote, the Russian Army was fighting without enough night vision goggles, flak jackets, first-aid kits or drones. A few hundred miles away, Ukrainian forces retook the Russian military stronghold of Izium, continuing their rapid advance across the northeast and igniting a dramatic new phase in the war.

The outrage from Russian hawks on Saturday showed that even as Mr. Putin had succeeded in eliminating just about all of the liberal and pro-democracy opposition in Russia’s domestic politics, he still faced the risk of discontent from the conservative end of the political spectrum. For the moment, there was little indication that these hawks would turn on Mr. Putin as a result of Ukraine’s seemingly successful counteroffensive; but analysts said that their increasing readiness to criticize the military leadership publicly pointed to simmering discontent within the Russian elite.

“Most of these people are in shock and did not think that this could happen,” Dmitri Kuznets, who analyzes the war for the Russian-language news outlet Meduza, said in a phone interview. “Most of them are, I think, genuinely angry.”

The Kremlin, as usual, tried to minimize the setbacks. The defence ministry described the retreat as a decision “to regroup” its troops, even though the ministry said a day earlier that it was moving to reinforce its defensive positions in the region.

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One wonders if this is one of those “gradually and then suddenly” situations.
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Russian army collapses, and revolution near-certain as Russia loses war; when/where harder to predict • Real Context News

Brian E. Frydenborg:

»

Russia’s self-defeating stupidity truly knows no bounds. A great way to help its imperial project work would be to invest in seriously training the Luhansk and Donetsk rebels well, equipping them well, and treating them and the people it was occupying well. This did not happen; indeed, the Russians instead are conscripting many people there against their will, are barely giving them any good equipment or training. Almost like they are insulting the very people they claim to be liberating, they are giving some of them World War II-era, or even tsarist [1800s]-era , rifles and are cruelly using these people as “cannon fodder” to feel out enemy positions, including against artillery. Instead of winning people over to their cause or maintaining levels of support where Russia already had relatively high levels of support before February 24, the Russians are steadily alienating the very people at the center of their propaganda and their claims to being the good guys in this conflict. If the goal is to make these places part of Russia over the long run, mistreating the people you are going to “liberate” is only going to sow the seeds of your own failure.

In this case, it even doubtful that many of the original tens of thousands of Donetsk and Luhansk separatist militia troops allied with Russia are left standing, and it is certain that the replacement conscripts from there would not be terribly good or motivated fighters, especially given how they have been treated by Russia (indeed, it seems plenty are resisting conscription or are deserting). Their morale was already low and Russia was earlier having problems getting them to fight. Add to that the fact that some of the best Russian troops in the east were redeployed to the south, and the quality-level of Russian and separatist troops in the east right now is probably the lowest of any sector of fighting.

«

Ukraine’s armed forces have made multiple breakthroughs over the past week, which has caught everyone – including observers – by surprise. If the well-equipped Ukrainian armed forces advance on a rag-tag bunch of separatists abandoned by the Russians, things will be ugly.
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Books are physically changing because of inflation • The Economist

»

The industry is currently experiencing another period of shortage, and war is once again a cause (along with the pandemic). In the past 12 months the cost of paper used by British book publishers has risen by 70%. Supplies are erratic as well as expensive: paper mills have taken to switching off on days when electricity is too pricey. The card used in hardback covers has at times been all but unobtainable. The entire trade is in trouble.

Not every author is affected: a new thriller by Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling, is a 1,024-page whopper—and this week reached the top of the bestseller lists in Britain. But other books are having to change a bit. Pick up a new release in a bookshop and if it is from a smaller publisher (for they are more affected by price rises) you may find yourself holding a product that, as wartime books did, bears the mark of its time.

Blow on its pages and they might lift and fall differently: cheaper, lighter paper is being used in some books. Peer closely at its print and you might notice that the letters jostle more closely together: some cost-conscious publishers are starting to shrink the white space between characters. The text might run closer to the edges of pages, too: the margins of publishing are shrinking, in every sense.

Changes of this sort can cause anguish to publishers. A book is not merely words on a page, says Ivan O’Brien, head of The O’Brien Press in Ireland, but should appeal “to every single sense”. The pleasure of a book that feels right in the hand—not too light or too heavy; pages creamy; fonts beetle-black—is something that publishers strive to preserve.

…at the heart of the publishing industry lies an unsayable truth: most people can’t write and most books are very bad. Readers who struggle with a volume often assume that the fault is theirs. Reviewers, who read many more books, know it is not. George Orwell, who worked as a reviewer, considered that fewer than one book in ten was worth reviewing, and that the most honest reaction to most was: “God, what tripe!”

«

Not a whisper that the internet is having any effect, or could be a solution – because, indeed, physical books are still the medium that people look for.
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Runway teases AI-powered text-to-video editing using written prompts • Ars Technica

Benj Edwards:

»

artificial intelligence company Runway teased a new feature of its AI-powered web-based video editor that can edit video from written descriptions, often called “prompts.” A promotional video appears to show very early steps toward commercial video editing or generation, echoing the hype over recent text-to-image synthesis models like Stable Diffusion but with some optimistic framing to cover up current limitations.

Runway’s “Text to Video” demonstration reel shows a text input box that allows editing commands such as “import city street” (suggesting the video clip already existed) or “make it look more cinematic” (applying an effect). It depicts someone typing “remove object” and selecting a streetlight with a drawing tool that then disappears (from our testing, Runway can already perform a similar effect using its “inpainting” tool, with mixed results).

The promotional video also showcases what looks like still-image text-to-image generation similar to Stable Diffusion (note that the video does not depict any of these generated scenes in motion) and demonstrates text overlay, character masking (using its “Green Screen” feature, also already present in Runway), and more.

Video generation promises aside, what seems most novel about Runway’s Text to Video announcement is the text-based command interface. Whether video editors will want to work with natural language prompts in the future remains to be seen, but the demonstration shows that people in the video production industry are actively working toward a future in which synthesizing or editing video is as easy as writing a command.

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Text prompts for text; text prompts for pictures; text prompts for video. Anything left?
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China oil demand may shrink first time since 2002 as COVID-19 curbs bite • Reuters via The Globe and Mail

Muyu Xu:

»

Oil demand in China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, could contract for the first time in two decades this year as Beijing’s zero-COVID policy keeps people at home during upcoming holidays and reduces fuel consumption.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese who typically hit the roads and domestic flights during the Mid-Autumn Festival – falling on Sept. 10 this year – and early October’s Golden Week holidays are expected to stay home to avoid being ensnared by sudden lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Lockdowns in key cities such as financial hub Shanghai already hurt China’s oil demand in the second quarter while recovery for the rest of the year is expected to be slow as China sticks to its zero-COVID policy. This could cap intake of the world’s top crude oil importer and dent global oil prices.

China’s demand for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel could fall by 380,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 8.09m bpd in 2022, which would be the first contraction since 2002, said Sun Jianan, an analyst from Energy Aspects, calling it a “watershed moment.”

In comparison, demand rose 450,000 bpd, or 5.6%, in 2021.

«

So.. actually it would still be higher than 2020. So often in economics a “contraction” is more like a continuation of the status quo.
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UK energy bills inflated by failure to implement EU power cables deal • Financial Times

Gill Plimmer:

»

Britain has seven interconnectors — high-voltage power cables that connect the country to Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway — which provided almost 9% of the UK’s electricity last year.

These cables, which are owned by private companies, including National Grid, lie along the seabed and are used to export surplus electricity when supplies are plentiful and import it when they are scarce.

The UK had been part of the EU’s Internal Energy Market regime, which created a single price, automatically balancing the needs between countries using computer algorithms to match bids and offers.

But since leaving the EU single market in January 2021, the UK has moved to a backup system that involves running daily auctions. Traders — which may be part of large suppliers such as SSE, E.On or EDF, or independent commodity and power businesses — are being required to purchase or sell energy separately in each geographical market, adding to the complexity and cost of the system.

According to Baringa’s analysis of wholesale market prices, the loss of the integrated market added as much as £250m to wholesale electricity costs in 2021 and is expected to add up to £440m by the end of this year. This adds roughly 0.7% to the overall wholesale electricity cost, according to the consultancy.

Duncan Sinclair, partner at Baringa, said: “A side effect of Brexit is a temporary step backwards in the way electricity flows between us and our neighbours. The system is now less efficient — leading to higher costs — at a time when concerns around rising costs and energy security are paramount.”

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OK, it’s not a gigantic cost. But small inefficiencies add up: someone has to run the auction system, someone has to make sure it doesn’t go horribly wrong, effort has to be diverted into it. Still seeking those Brexit benefits. Still piling up the drawbacks.
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How criminals are using jammers, deauthers to disrupt Wi-Fi security cameras • WXYZ

Kiara Hay:

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A new warning is being issued for anyone who uses wireless security cameras like [Amazon’s] “Ring” to protect their home.

A Detroit woman said her Ring camera didn’t capture the moment her car was stolen from the front of her house, and one local expert said it’s because crooks are becoming more tech-savvy.

Earlier this month, the woman said her car was stolen from her driveway, and when she went to review her Ring camera footage, she realized hours were missing.

Chris Burns, the owner of Techie Gurus, said security cameras that use Wi-Fi to record are more about convenience than security. That’s because Wi-Fi can easily be disrupted, preventing the camera from capturing who is around your home, and criminals are catching on.

“If you’re relying on wireless as a security thing, you’re looking at it wrong,” Burns said. “Wireless signals are easy to jam or block.”

Those crooks can use this like a Wi-Fi jamming device, or a deauther, which can be the size of an Apple Watch.

A deauther will overwhelm a Wi-Fi system, forcing the Wi-Fi camera to stop recording if you stand close enough. The accessory only costs about $10-$50. A jammer on the other hand will cost anywhere between $150 to $1,000.

They’re also highly illegal, so jammers are more difficult to find, but a powerful jammer can prevent an entire street from recording on Wi-FI security cameras with the switch of a button.

«

Worthwhile investment of course if you’re looking to steal a car worth multiple thousands. The countermeasure: plug the camera into Ethernet. Which rather takes the “ease of setup” bit away.
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How can the UK improve its productivity? I went to Legoland to find out • Tim Harford

Tim Harford:

»

Productivity is one of those things that you can’t have too much of, like competent politicians or pleasant weather, and which the UK lacks more than most. Output per hour has been lacklustre in many countries since the financial crisis, but the UK has stagnated more than its peers. So how can the UK improve its productivity? I didn’t expect to find the answers at Legoland, but I did hope that it would help me to ask better questions.

First, where are the bottlenecks? For Legoland, the key constraint is the capacity of the rides. If (hypothetically) 20,000 people buy tickets to spend the day at the park, but Legoland’s attractions can only deliver 10,000 rides an hour, then one way or another visitors will have to wait two hours between each ride. That isn’t likely to prove sustainable.

The most obvious way to improve capacity is to invest in new attractions. Legoland does this, but Helen Bull, the boss of the Legoland Windsor resort, told me that there is a cycle of investment in the resort: a year or two of high investment will be followed by years with lower capital spending. As Legoland opened its fancy new Sky Lion ride last year, this implies that we may be waiting for a while before the next big attraction is built.

Could British businesses invest more? The Bank of England certainly thinks so; in 2017, it found that UK businesses persistently aimed for (and achieved) a nominal return on capital investment of 12%, despite the fact that the cost of debt fell after the financial crisis from around 6% to 3%. When a business can borrow at 3% to earn 12%, one has to wonder what is stopping it from borrowing and investing a little more.

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I enjoy Harford’s little aside digs (competent politicians). And the British productivity puzzle is one that remains endlessly puzzling.
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Paying for YouTube makes sense. But Facebook? • The Washington Post

Parmy Olson, analysing proposals by Facebook to charge for something:

»

Facebook has meanwhile been throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks, and very little does. In just the last few months it has closed down a gaming division, a live shopping tool and a neighborhood feature to compete with Nextdoor Holdings Inc. It is also scaling back a newsletter platform. 

Twitter’s data-licensing business is a decent diversification effort, bringing about 11% of revenue, or $570m, last year, but its reliance on user data makes it not that much different from the ad model.

YouTube has managed to shift away from ads far more successfully, in large part because they are among the most annoying on the internet. The four-second or longer ad countdown at the start of many popular videos can feel like an eternity. Its commercials noticeably take up our time and not just space on our screens. Trawl through some tweets about YouTube Premium and many are about how refreshing it is to use the website without being forced to watch ads for toothpaste or web-design companies. “I got YouTube Premium (no ads) and I can confidently say I’m *never* going back,” one user said recently.

…In the Verge report, Facebook said it would keep ads for future subscribers. That sounds crazy considering how well the opposite has worked for YouTube, but Facebook has become a victim of its own success in advertising. Its vast data-collection practices mean that its ads are so well targeted and personalized, so well camouflaged in newsfeeds, that many of its users probably wouldn’t mind having to continue scrolling past them.

That points to a looming problem. Social media firms like Facebook, which derives 97.5% of its revenue from ads, reached lofty valuations because of the seemingly unstoppable growth of digital advertising. But that growth will decelerate in the next few years, to roughly 7% in 2026 from almost 16% this year, according to a recent forecast from eMarketer Inc., a market-research firm. So wedded are Facebook and Snap to the ad model that they have little choice but to diversify. 

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Ads are a problem? Such a strange situation we find ourselves in.
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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

Start Up No.1869: higher temperatures mean angrier tweets, apocalypse Watch, TikTok’s unfair billions?, how Keffals won, and more


New iPhones sold in the US won’t have a SIM card tray; they’ll use eSIMs. Which is fine, but what if you travel abroad and want local service and there’s no eSIM offering? CC-licensed photo by MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Edged in black. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Hateful tweets multiply in extreme temperatures, US analysis finds • The Guardian

Arthur Neslen:

»

Hateful tweets multiply dramatically as temperatures become more extreme, an analysis of 4bn geo-located tweets in the US has found.

Scientists logged rises of up to 22% in racist, misogynist and homophobic tweets when temperatures rose above 42ºC, and increases of up to 12% when the mercury fell below -3ºC, according to a study by The Lancet Planetary Health.

Annika Stechemesser, its lead author and a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), said: “We found that both the absolute number and the share of hate tweets rise outside a climate comfort zone. People tend to show a more aggressive online behaviour when it’s either too cold or too hot outside.”

The research used machine-learning algorithms to identify around 75 million English-phrased hate tweets – around 2% of the sample – in 773 US cities between 2014 and 2020.

These volumes of hate speech were then logged and statistically evaluated against variations in local temperatures by the PIK team.

They found that the lowest number of abusive messages occurred when temperatures were between 15-18ºC but when thermometers fell below 12ºC or rose above 21ºC, hate tweets began to rise – most dramatically at climatic extremes.

«

Hang on, this isn’t how social warming is meant to work. Surprising if people are able to do anything useful with temperatures above 42ºC – though maybe it’s fuming at the electricity company failing to supply power. (Thanks Adrian M for the link.)
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The new Apple Watch and iPhone 14 are perfectly designed for the apocalypse • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopoulos:

»

Usually, Apple product launches paint a rosy portrait of what the life of an aspirational Apple Man looks like: taking photos of your beautiful friends, biking along a trail with a view of the Pacific Ocean, sharing photos of your beautiful children.

But something was very different this time, something sort of, uh, unsettling. Instead of suggesting a gleaming world where everything is only getting better, instead, today we saw Apple’s vision of a future where everything is literally trying to murder us, and death lurks around every ring-closing outdoor jog. And frankly, it’s turning me into an iPrepper.

The event opened with a video montage of people describing moments where the Apple Watch’s ability to call 911 without a phone nearby had saved their lives: a small airplane crash, someone falling through ice, and — horrifically — a sanitation worker who accidentally fell into the back of a trash compactor truck (congrats on a new nightmare you had never thought about!).

…Although the [Ultra] watch seems like it’s a fun device for a weekend hobbyist, it’s just as practical for survival in a post-climate-apocalypse. Droughts, tsunamis, avalanches, blackouts, outrunning roving gangs of cannibalistic bandits…this is the Apple Watch Ultra’s time to shine.

…there’s something eerie about the most exciting feature of the latest iPhone being “it might help if you’re about to die of exposure while lost in the woods.” We’re used to new tech products hinting at dystopia in more sci-fi ways: surveillance in our homes, algorithms running our lives, companies dry-humping our personal data. This hints at Old Testament dystopia: floods and plagues and wandering alone through the desert for 40 days.

«

Tim Cook should have just signed off with “let’s be careful out there“. (I guess it fits with the narrative that Apple Is Doomed. Because We’re ALL Doomed.)
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TikTok’s secret to explosive growth? ‘Billions and billions of dollars’ says Snap CEO Evan Spiegel • Forbes

Alexandra Levine:

»

“The reason why this has been so challenging for companies to respond to in the United States, but also around the world, is the scale of TikTok’s investment,” said Spiegel of Snap, which recently laid off some 20% of its own workforce [speaking at Code Conference in Los Angeles].

“What nobody had anticipated in the United States was the level of investment that ByteDance made into the US market, and of course in Europe, because it was just something that was unimaginable — no startup could afford to invest billions and billions and billions of dollars in user acquisition like that around the world,” Spiegel said Wednesday night. “It was a totally different strategy than any technology company had expected before because it wasn’t an innovation-led strategy; it was really about subsidizing large-scale user acquisition.”

That large user base is what has enabled TikTok’s recommendation algorithm to become so strong, Spiegel added. “TikTok got this great lead early on by really aggressively expanding, spending a huge amount of money to do that, so that people can train the algorithm and ultimately end up with a much more personalized feed that’s harder to get on a new service,” he explained.

Spiegel said Snap will compete with TikTok by continuing to focus on connections with family and friends, rather than strangers — an approach that he said has been core to Snap’s success. (TikTok opens to the “For You” page, which shows videos from users you may not follow that have been recommended by the app’s algorithm.)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also pointed to TikTok as one of his company’s newest, biggest rivals — particularly with regards to YouTube. He said in a Code interview Tuesday that “competition in tech is hyper-intense,” and that some of that heat, like from TikTok, has come seemingly out of nowhere.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is leading tech antitrust legislation targeting the power of Google, Apple, Amazon and Meta, warned that TikTok, too, could soon be part of that mix. “There could well be legislation on TikTok,” the Minnesota senator told Swisher on Tuesday. She said that while that could be legislation related to national security, her antitrust bill would also crack down on TikTok if the company’s U.S. arm were to reach the size of the American tech giants. “If TikTok reached the gatekeeper status… then they would also be included.”

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A startup able to spend billions and billions of dollars on user acquisition? Unimaginable.
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Apple removes SIM card tray on all iPhone 14 models in US • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

Apple today announced that all iPhone 14 models sold in the U.S. do not have a built-in SIM card tray and instead rely entirely on eSIM technology.

Tech specs on Apple’s website confirm the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max are not compatible with physical SIM cards and instead have dual eSIM support, allowing for multiple cellular plans to be activated on a single device.

An eSIM is a digital SIM that allows users to activate a cellular plan without having to use a physical nano-SIM card. eSIM availability is rapidly expanding, but the technology is still not available in all countries, which explains why iPhone 14 models will remain available with a SIM card tray outside of the US for now.

Apple’s website has a list of carriers that support eSIM technology around the world. In the U.S., this includes AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, Boost Mobile, H2O Wireless, Straight Talk, C Spire, and some others.

«

Only one in the UK (EE, owned by BT), though others are expected to follow. In theory, more secure because it can’t just be lifted out, plus you can have multiple eSIMs in a single phone – so you might have one for different countries that you’re travelling to.

Raises the question: what will American iPhone 14 users who go to a different country and want to use a local network that doesn’t offer an eSIM do?
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Apple to appeal Brazil sales ban of iPhone without charger • Reuters

Peter Frontini:

»

Apple Inc (AAPL.O)said on Tuesday it will appeal a Brazilian order banning it from selling iPhones without a battery charger, pushing back on claims that the company provides an incomplete product to consumers.

The Justice Ministry fined Apple 12.275 million reais ($2.38m) and ordered the company to cancel sales of the iPhone 12 and newer models, in addition to suspending the sale of any iPhone model that does not come with a charger.

In the order, published on Tuesday in the country’s official gazette, the ministry argued that the iPhone was lacking a essential component in a “deliberate discriminatory practice against consumers.”

The authorities rejected Apple’s argument that the practice had the purpose of reducing carbon emissions, saying there is no evidence that selling the smartphone without a charger offers environmental protections.

Apple said it would continue to work with Brazilian consumer protection agency Senacon in order to “resolve their concerns,” while saying it would appeal the decision.

“We have already won several court rulings in Brazil on this matter and we are confident that our customers are aware of the various options for charging and connecting their devices,” Apple said.

«

Apple charged with not charging COME ON HEADLINE WRITERS
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Hands-on with the Apple Watch Ultra and AirPods Pro • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

»

We had an opportunity to hold and photograph all three Watch models briefly at the Steve Jobs Theater. While there wasn’t an opportunity to try out the major new features, even an eyes-on experience with the Ultra reveals it’s a new kind of Apple Watch.

It’s not the first rugged smartwatch on the market, of course, and depending on your needs, it may not even be the best. But it’s the first foray into that world from a company that has otherwise dominated the smartwatch market for years.

The Ultra is noticeably bulkier than its siblings—we’d even go so far as to say it has a whole new aesthetic. The screen rises loudly out of the titanium case rather than folding smoothly into the sides like in other models. And the large, new action button is hard to miss.

The SE looks slightly different from its predecessor, but it’s subtle. The Series 8, on the other hand, is indistinguishable from the Series 7 at a glance.

AirPods Pro: We also enjoyed a quick demo of the new AirPods Pro. Apple promised improved noise canceling, and we happened to have the previous generation with us for comparison. The show floor was loud, and though we can’t exactly claim it felt like it was twice as good, as Apple claimed during the event, it was a noticeable difference.

On the other hand, we didn’t test one of the other big new features: the ability to scan your head and ear with the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera to improve spatial audio. That will have to wait for a later review.

«

Sounds as though the Ultra will be favoured by people who want to announce to the world that they do Rugged Activities In A Gritty Way. (Look, I’m not saying I won’t buy one at some point. Though it does look pretty gigantic.) The AirPods Pro had a couple of neat additions – in particular the fact they’ll charge from an Apple Watch magnetic charger. That’s neat.
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Inside Keffals’ battle to bring down Kiwi Farms • Vice

David Gilbert:

»

[Clara] Sorrenti found out that someone inspired by the thread on Kiwi Farms had posted a picture of themselves standing outside [Sorrenti’s friend in Belfast, fellow Twitch streamer Ellen] Murray’s apartment while holding a threatening message. Moments later the police arrived, and told her that someone had reported a shooting at the apartment. No one had been shot, but it was another “swatting” attempt employed to harass and unnerve harassment targets, or even provoke a dangerous encounter with armed police.

The incidents last week were the culmination of a six-month long campaign by users of Kiwi Farms, a transphobic far-right forum that has long been home to some of the more vile hate speech on the internet. Users of the forum have engaged in doxing campaigns, death threats, harassment, and against people around the world like members of the LGBTQ community, women, and other groups.

Sorrenti has led a vocal campaign to deplatform the forum, and the threats have only intensified. Sitting in a hotel in Belfast two days later after the most recent swatting event, Sorrenti is still shaken. She’s worried about the target on her back, and worried that her campaign to bring down Kiwi Farms might fail.

“If I don’t win this campaign, the rest of my life is going to be hell,” Sorrenti said. “I’ve made myself a significantly larger target for them now, and if the groundswell of support goes away, there’s not a lot I can do about it.”

«

The incredible levels of harassment – far worse than any MP has suffered, for example – show that Cloudflare’s insistence that it’s just neutral has to be judged in context. When you’re enabling a site which extremism researchers have warned journalists against covering, because it would make the site more popular and thus more dangerous for those targeted, you’re defending the wrong people.

And note what sort of people the Kiwifarms denizens targeted. If you wanted a definition of “toxic masculinity”, its users would fit perfectly.

Plus: Sorrenti has shown astonishing levels of bravery. Though for her, what was the alternative?
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Liz Truss set to dilute online safety bill over free-speech concerns • Financial Times

Daniel Thomas, Jim Pickard and Cristina Criddle:

»

The groundbreaking draft legislation is being watched closely by regulators around the world and has been vigorously opposed by tech companies that could end up facing huge fines if they breach the new law.

Truss confirmed on Wednesday that she would dilute the plans when the delayed bill returns to the House of Commons in the current parliamentary session.

“What I want to make sure is we protect the under-18s from harm, but we also make sure free speech is allowed, so there may be some tweaks required,” she said.

Officials have been working to change the definition of what is deemed “legal but harmful” under the proposed legislation, the Financial Times has learnt, in order to give greater scope to say online what would be acceptable in person even if someone deems it offensive.

Former Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch, who is now international trade secretary, over the summer attacked the bill as “legislating for hurt feelings”, while senior backbencher David Davis has said that there was the risk of the “biggest accidental curtailment of free speech in modern history”, given rules on social media companies to restrict such “legal but harmful” content.

One official said the outcome of these changes would be to make it a simpler bill aimed more at keeping children safe on the internet, rather than limiting what adults can legally say and do online.

Truss told a Tory leadership campaign event this summer that “where it’s about adults being able to speak freely, they absolutely should be, and it should be the same online as offline”.

«

Nadine Dorries, the outgoing culture secretary, insisted in her resignation letter that “when I arrived in the department, the Online Safety Bill had been kicked into the long grass”. Despite her best efforts, it looks like it’s going to get kicked about some more yet.
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Spreading the disease and selling the cure • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs, writing back in January 2015:

»

Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science at George Mason University, said the number of these DDoS-for-hire services has skyrocketed over the past two years. Nearly all of these services allow customers to pay for attacks using PayPal or Google Wallet, even though doing so violates the terms of service spelled out by those payment networks.

“The main reason they are becoming an increasing problem is that they are profitable,” McCoy said. “They are also easy to setup using leaked code for other booters, increasing demand from gamers and other customers, decreasing cost of attack infrastructure that can be amplified using common DDoS attacks. Also, it is relatively low-risk to operate a booter service when using rented attack servers instead of botnets.”

The booter services are proliferating thanks mainly to free services offered by CloudFlare, a content distribution network that offers gratis DDoS protection for virtually all of the booter services currently online. That includes the Lizardstresser, the attack service launched by the same Lizard Squad (a.k.a. Loser Squad) criminals whose assaults knocked the Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation networks offline on Christmas Day 2014.

The sad truth is that most booter services probably would not be able to remain in business without CloudFlare’s free service. That’s because outside of CloudFlare, real DDoS protection services are expensive, and just about the only thing booter service customers enjoy attacking more than Minecraft and online gaming sites are, well, other booter services.

The Web site crimeflare•com [now defunct – CA], which tracks abusive sites that hide behind CloudFlare, has cataloged more than 200 DDoS-for-hire sites using CloudFlare. For its part, CloudFlare’s owners have rather vehemently resisted the notion of blocking booter services from using the company’s services, saying that doing so would lead CloudFlare down a “slippery slope of censorship.”

«

I’m starting to get the feeling that Cloudflare’s free tier is not actually helping the situation, though its debating tactics haven’t changed in the past seven years. (Thanks Tony F for the link.)
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No, I am not a pole dancer • The Guardian

Gina Davies:

»

I know we’ve only just met, but I feel it’s important to get through to you before I see that knowing glint in your eye as I introduce myself – I AM NOT A POLE DANCER.

Some people would dream about being mistaken for a famous person – think Chanelle from Big Brother pinning her future on emulating Posh Spice.

But what if you shared the name with a fictional character and were stereotyped by whatever the author saw fit to write about said character?

If you Googled me, chances are you would come across pages of book reviews: “Gina Davies, 26-year-old pole dancer who becomes a prime suspect in a murderous plot after spending the night with an attractive stranger.” It’s not exactly what I’d like my mother to come across, never mind my boss.

But thanks to Richard Flanagan – best selling author of The Unknown Terrorist, in which my name so strongly features – visitors to my web page prefer to believe this information rather than trawl through to find the real me.

«

This was back in August 2007, which only goes to show that the problem of “what the internet casually thinks it knows about me” hasn’t really changed between then and now; only the messenger. Then it was Google, now it is (or can be) GPT-3, as we saw yesterday.

(She’s now Gina Clarke. Let’s hope that generates better hits.)
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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

Start Up No.1868: Cloudflare accused anew, Apple Watch Ultra, is GPT-3 an investigative journalist?, and more


How do thieves break into locked gym lockers and then into security-protected phones and apps? London women want to know. CC-licensed photo by lee on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Not phoney. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


I ran the worlds largest DDoS-for-Hire empire and CloudFlare helped • Rasbora

“Rasbora”:

»

As the infrastructure provider for over 20% of all www traffic traversing the internet today, CloudFlare is in a position to enforce its beliefs on a global scale. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, lots of nefarious websites try to take advantage of the services CloudFlare offers and are rightfully kicked off. The problems arise in a small category of websites that blur the line. Is it okay to revoke access to a website promoting hate speech and violence? Who interprets what qualifies as hate speech? Should a single forum post in a sea of thousands disqualify an entire website? Who makes the decision on how these criteria are defined?

CloudFlare’s answers to these questions has historically been: nothing. They have repeated again and again that because they are an internet utility they remain neutral on these topics and leave it up to the hosting providers to answer these questions. However CloudFlare is not a neutral utility, they are a publicly traded company and have shareholders to report to, can any fire department in the world say the same?

As a young cyber miscreant I operated dozens of booter (“DDoS-for-Hire”) services throughout my teenage years, and every single one of them used CloudFlare to protect my websites from rival DDoS attacks. Without CloudFlare’s “neutral” security service offerings I couldn’t have facilitated millions of DDoS attacks. It’s hard to stress just how instrumental CloudFlare is in the success of a booter services operation, booters that didn’t have protection from CloudFlare would not remain online very long.

It looks like not much has changed throughout the years. Just like I took advantage of CloudFlare’s services many years ago, the first result on google for the search term “booter” is doing the same thing today. As long as CloudFlare doesn’t intervene in the operation of these websites, they are “avoiding” an abuse of power. Isn’t that convenient?

…CloudFlare is responsible for keeping booter websites online and operating, the very same websites who’s sole purpose is to fuel CloudFlare’s very own business model, selling DDoS protection. Dear reader please take a moment to reflect upon the last sentence.

CloudFlare is a fire department that prides itself on putting out fires at any house regardless of the individual that lives there, what they forget to mention is they are actively lighting these fires and making money by putting them out!

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Apple Watch Ultra is everything I wanted the Series 8 to be • Techradarvai msn.com

Loyd Coombes:

»

Being able to enter a low power mode in watchOS 9 is a great start, but the Apple Watch Ultra does offer a much larger battery, boosted from a meagre 18 hours to a hefty-in-comparison 36. Given that much smaller (and admittedly less powerful) fitness trackers like the Huawei Band 7 offers a two-week battery life, the Apple Watch Ultra’s 36 hours at least feels closer to catching up, and can be extended to 60 hours. 

Given the significant price jump from the Series 8 to the Apple Watch Ultra, you can likely expect to keep carrying your charging puck with you for the foreseeable.

Another big new addition is a second button, the Action button that’s programmable on the Apple Watch Ultra. Does the Apple Watch Series 8 need one? Probably not, but being able to make the existing side button more useful would be a result. the Action button is also designed for athletes to use on the fly, to pause or switch between workout modes.

At present, the Apple Watch side button opens the ‘dock’ which shows recent apps, but if you’re anything like me, you have the complications you use regularly on your watch face and flick through on the screen. That negates the need for a side button unless it was user-customizable. We’d love to be able to instantly pause music with it, or open a new note, or, well, anything.

So, while the new Series 8 looks great, it’d be fair to say that the Apple Watch Ultra is poised to take the limelight for a little longer.

«

If the Ultra is big, that’s not going to be a problem for the (mostly) men who’ll want it. The inclusion of a dive computer (for calculating how quickly to go on scura dive) is quite an extra. Though all the extras look like quite an extra.
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Why Britain is broken • POLITICO

James Snell is a senior adviser on Special Initiatives at the New Lines Institute:

»

the energy crisis is just part of Britain’s brokenness, which Liz Truss — the winner of the Conservative leadership contest — will face. Dysfunction, incompetence and poor planning are pervasive — from the National Health Service to restrictions on building to the country’s airports and courts. 

Here, one can wait forever to see a doctor. The number of patients who have waited more than a year for treatment has grown by 13 times, according to the British Medical Association,  and the consequence isn’t just prolonged suffering but untimely deaths. And a nation in poor health has a smaller and shrinking workforce, which is also present in British government statistics.

As with other basic government services, dentistry is in a state of slow collapse also, with dentists not taking on any new patients, including children. 

Meanwhile, current local authorities are unable to meet the responsibilities of municipal government. According to James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation think tank, over 90% of crimes aren’t being solved, and financial fraud is rampant and unstoppable. If someone drains your bank account, it’s not necessarily worth your while to call the police, he said.  

The breakdown of Britain’s largest aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales — which was meant to set off for a four-month tour of North America last week — seems fitting and symbolic. 

Kirkup argues, “The structural shortfall in public services arises from an awkward truth of British politics: we want to pay American taxes and expect European services.” But politics is broken too, and the hard choices that need to be made simply aren’t. Politics is now less the “art of the possible,” and more an extended game of fantasy role-play for those in power — and even for those in opposition who seek to replace them.

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Shutterstock has reverse engineered Google’s watermark-removal algorithm • The Next Web

Mix:

»

Only a week after Google released a paper detailing how its researchers built an algorithm that automatically removes watermarks from stock photos, Shutterstock has already put together an antidote.

Taking a cue from the internet giant’s tips on how to strengthen watermarks, the popular stock photo distributor managed to reverse engineer Google’s software in order to stop copyright thieves from editing out watermarks and using their images for free.

To pull this off, its engineers built a smart watermark technology that counteracts the algorithm by deliberately inserting minor inconsistencies in the watermark patterns. The solution purportedly uses machine learning to continuously confuse Google’s software.

“The challenge was protecting images without degrading the image quality,” said Shutterstock CTO Martin Brodbeck. “Changing the opacity and location of a watermark does not make it more secure, however changing the geometry does.”

The solution came not without a little help from the source itself.

“Google published a white paper [PDF] outlining a way of using computer vision technology to eradicate watermarks from stock image collections on a large-scale,” Brodbeck added. “Shutterstock was notified before the paper was published and quickly began working to address the areas highlighted.”

Thanks to this collaboration between the two companies, Shutterstock’s new technology introduced several variables to its watermarks structures to make it difficult for programs to identify recurring patterns.

«

A weird sort of arms race where one side helps you to stay up with it.
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How is a thief taking thousands from London gym-goers? • BBC News

»

A serial thief is targeting London gym-goers and emptying their bank accounts, a BBC Radio 4 investigation has found.

Journalist Shari Vahl from the You and Yours programme has spoken to a number of women with near-identical experiences – all of which included the loss of many thousands of pounds. Vahl shared her findings with the Met Police, which had previously closed a number of individual investigations, to show the cases could be linked. Now the force will reopen the inquiry.

The similarities in each of the cases appear striking – female victims who have put their belongings in a locker in a popular chain of gyms, only to return and discover their phones and cards have been taken. A number of high-value purchases have been made, at the same shops. The thief also treats themselves to a fast-food meal.
One victim, Alina, had her items stolen from a Virgin gym in Finchley Road last month. The thief spent about £10,000 in Harrods, and the Covent Garden Apple store. They tried to spend another £10,000 after Alina had blocked her cards. They used her money for food and taxis and withdrew cash from ATMs and changed the access to her accounts.

…Phones, of course, can be made inaccessible with the use of passwords and face or fingerprint unlocking. And bank cards can be stopped. But the thief has a method which circumnavigates those basic safety protocols.

Once they have the phone and the card, they register the card on the relevant bank’s app on their own phone or computer. Since it is the first time that card will have been used on the new device, a one-off security passcode is demanded.

That verification passcode is sent by the bank to the stolen phone. The code flashes up on the locked screen of the stolen phone, leaving the thief to tap it into their own device. Once accepted, they have control of the bank account. They can transfer money or buy goods, or change access to the account.

«

One of the women this happened to complained about her bank’s indifference on Twitter; people on Twitter insisted she must have left her phone unlocked, or used a PIN that was her birthday, or written it down (none true). In fact it’s much simpler than that. Changing the default SIM PIN (and turning the phone off when you go to one of these places!) solves a lot of these problems.
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This startup is setting a DALL-E 2-like AI free, consequences be damned • TechCrunch

Kyle Wiggers earlier in August, profiling the then-little-known Stability AI, maker of Stable Diffusion:

»

Already, testers in Stability AI’s Discord server are using Stable Diffusion to generate a range of content disallowed by other image generation services, including images of the war in Ukraine, nude women, an imagined Chinese invasion of Taiwan and controversial depictions of religious figures like the Prophet Muhammad. Doubtless, some of these images are against Stability AI’s own terms, but the company is currently relying on the community to flag violations. Many bear the telltale signs of an algorithmic creation, like disproportionate limbs and an incongruous mix of art styles. But others are passable on first glance. And the tech will continue to improve, presumably.

[CEO Emad] Mostaque acknowledged that the tools could be used by bad actors to create “really nasty stuff,” and CompVis says that the public release of the benchmark Stable Diffusion model will “incorporate ethical considerations.” But Mostaque argues that — by making the tools freely available — it allows the community to develop countermeasures.

“We hope to be the catalyst to coordinate global open source AI, both independent and academic, to build vital infrastructure, models and tools to maximize our collective potential,” Mostaque said. “This is amazing technology that can transform humanity for the better and should be open infrastructure for all.”

«

All fun and games until someone sues over an eye.
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What does GPT-3 “know” about me? • MIT Technology Review

Melissa Heikkilä:

»

It’s not an idle question. I’ve been paranoid about posting anything about my personal life publicly since a bruising experience about a decade ago. My images and personal information were splashed across an online forum, then dissected and ridiculed by people who didn’t like a column I’d written for a Finnish newspaper. 

Up to that point, like many people, I’d carelessly littered the internet with my data: personal blog posts, embarrassing photo albums from nights out, posts about my location, relationship status, and political preferences, out in the open for anyone to see. Even now, I’m still a relatively public figure, since I’m a journalist with essentially my entire professional portfolio just one online search away. 

OpenAI has provided limited access to its famous large language model, GPT-3, and Meta lets people play around with its model OPT-175B though a publicly available chatbot called BlenderBot 3. 

I decided to try out both models, starting by asking GPT-3: Who is Melissa Heikkilä? 

The response: “Melissa Heikkilä is a Finnish journalist and author who has written about the Finnish economy and politics.”

When I read this, I froze. Heikkilä was the 18th most common surname in my native Finland in 2022, but I’m one of the only journalists writing in English with that name. It shouldn’t surprise me that the model associated it with journalism. Large language models scrape vast amounts of data from the internet, including news articles and social media posts, and names of journalists and authors appear very often. 

And yet, it was jarring to be faced with something that was actually correct. What else does it know??

«

And now read on…
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How Minecraft’s NFT ban gutted a crypto empire • Rest of World

Neirin Gray Desai:

»

After interest in Axie Infinity collapsed, following a plummeting in-game economy and a $620m hack, many players moved to other play-to-earn games, including Critterz. 

Critterz hoped to address one of the primary criticisms Axie Infinity faced: that players were motivated much more by profit than by a desire to play the game itself, as the game alone simply wasn’t compelling enough. “We just had an idea, what if you can make an existing game play-to-earn?” Emerson Hsieh, a co-founder of Critterz, told Rest of World. “Minecraft is an established game that we know people want to play.” 

For a while, it worked. Some Critterz players told Rest of World that, at one point, they were earning more than $100 a day playing the game. At its peak, it had around 2,000 daily players, some of whom enlisted other players to help build their in-game empires for a cut of the crypto they earned. One U.S. player, who goes by “Big Chief,” described how his team, composed largely of young people in the Philippines, gathered building materials for him. He then paid professional Minecraft builders around $10,000 in crypto to turn those materials into a lavish casino.

“I have a lot of kids that play for me, and they play because they want to make extra money in a country that’s really just locking them down,” he said.

But, as with Axie Infinity, once the game became more popular, the value of its crypto token began to drop. Worth 85 cents at its peak in January, it had decreased to around 3 cents by May. But the depreciation was gradual, and many players continued playing and building.

Then, on July 20, 2022, in a post on the Minecraft website, developer Mojang Studios dropped a bombshell: Minecraft would not support integrations with NFTs.

«

At which point they were royally stuffed.
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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

Start Up No.1867: KiwiFarms gone (again), Putin’s war chip shortage, US stymies China chip plans, fake science’s paper mills, and more


What can you hide in a pair of socks? What about controls for a chess computer, so you can cheat? CC-licensed photo by star athena on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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


The chips are down: Putin scrambles for high-tech parts as his arsenal goes up in smoke • POLITICO

Zoya Sheftalovich and Laurens Cerulus:

»

Kyiv is acutely aware that the outcome of the war is likely to hinge on whether Russia finds a way to regain access to high-tech chips, and is out to ensure it doesn’t get them. In order to flag the danger, Ukraine is sending out international warnings that the Kremlin has drawn up shopping lists of semiconductors, transformers, connectors, casings, transistors, insulators and other components, most made by companies in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Taiwan and Japan, among others, which it needs to fuel its war effort.

The message is clear: Don’t let the Russians get their hands on this gadgetry.

POLITICO has seen one of the Russian lists, which is divided into three priority categories, from the most critical components to the least. It even includes the price per item that Moscow expects to pay, down to the last kopeck. While POLITICO could not independently verify the provenance of the list, two experts in military supply chains confirmed it was in line with other research findings about Russia’s military equipment and needs.

At first glance, Russia shouldn’t be able to acquire the most sensitive tech on the lists. With only very basic domestic technology, the Kremlin has relied on key players in the US, the EU and Japan for semiconductors as suppliers over the past years and these should be out of grasp thanks to sanctions. The difficulty would emerge in whether an intermediary country such as China were to buy technologies, then sell them on to Moscow. In extreme cases, Russians appear to be clawing chips out of household appliances like fridges.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stressed the war had come to an inflection point where the technological edge was proving decisive. “According to our information, Russians have already spent almost half … of their weaponry arsenal,” he told POLITICO.

He added that Ukraine estimated that Russia was down to just “four dozen” hypersonic missiles. “These are the ones that have precision and accuracy due to the microchips that they have. But because of sanctions imposed on Russia, the deliveries of this high-tech microchip equipment … have stopped and they have no way of replenishing these stocks.”

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As an ex-Uber executive heads to trial, the security community reels • The New York Times

Kashmir Hill and Kellen Browning:

»

it came as a shock to many in the community when [Joe] Sullivan was fired by Uber in 2017 [from his job as chief of computer security], accused of mishandling a security incident the year before. Despite the scandal, Mr. Sullivan got a new job as chief of security at Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure company.

But the investigation into the incident at Uber continued, and in 2020, the same prosecutor’s office where Mr. Sullivan had worked decades earlier charged him with two felonies, in what is believed to be the first time a company executive has faced potential criminal liability for an alleged data breach. Mr. Sullivan has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

…Chief information security officers, or CISOs, are responsible for ensuring that their companies’ data remains safe from hackers and fraudsters, a high-stakes job that has become increasingly tricky.
In the past year or so alone, T-Mobile, Planned Parenthood and the NFT marketplace OpenSea have been hacked. Perfect security is impossible, and now CISOs are wondering what happens if — or rather when — they fail. If Mr. Sullivan is convicted, they worry the outcome could set a precedent for who is at fault for a data breach. Could they be left holding the bag?

Mr. Sullivan learned that hackers had secured access to the personal data of about 600,000 Uber drivers and some personal information associated with 57 million riders and drivers. He’s accused of directing them to the company’s bug bounty program, handing out $100,000 in bitcoin and getting them to sign NDAs.

Ms. Guttmann, who is now an adviser to venture capital firms and startups, said Mr. Sullivan’s case had made her think more about the problem of ransomware, when hackers encrypt a company’s files and demand payment, usually in cryptocurrency, to release them. A 2021 survey indicated that many companies pay the ransom.

“Six years from now, will all of them be prosecuted?” she asked.

«

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4.2 gigabytes, or: how to draw anything – ⌨️🤷🏻‍♂️📷

Andy Baio, concluding a demonstration of how to use the Stable Diffusion package to generate an AI illustration:

»

4.2 gigabytes.

That’s the size of the model that has made this recent explosion possible.

4.2 gigabytes of floating points that somehow encode so much of what we know.

Yes, I’m waxing poetic here. No, I am not heralding the arrival of AGI, or our AI overlords. I am simply admiring the beauty of it, while it is fresh and new.

Because it won’t be fresh and new for long. This thing I’m feeling is not much different from how I felt using email for the first time – “Grandma got my message already? In Florida? In seconds?” It was the nearest thing to magic my child-self had ever seen. Now email is the most boring and mundane part of my day.

There is already much talk about practical uses. Malicious uses. Downplaying. Up playing. Biases. Monetization. Democratization – which is really just monetization with a more marketable name.

I’m not trying to get into any of that here. I’m just thinking about those 4.2 gigabytes. How small it seems, in today’s terms. Such a little bundle that holds so much.

How many images, both real photos and fictional art, were crammed through the auto-encoder, that narrower and narrower funnel of information, until some sort of meaning was distilled from them? How many times must a model be taught to de-noise an image until it understands what makes a tiger different from a leopard? I guess now we know.

«

And there’s a generation growing up for whom this will be the most natural thing in the world. This coming term’s university entrants never knew a world without Facebook or Instagram, for example.
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A website is a street corner • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick on the doubletalk around KiwiFarms:

»

In another blog post from last week, [Cloudflare CEO Matthew] Prince said that Cloudflare’s security services, many of which are free and are used by an estimated 20% of the entire internet, should be thought of as a utility. “Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” Prince wrote.

Which is a good line. I’m sure people who are old enough to remember when telephones weren’t computers love it. But I’m not really sure it works here. Telephones are not publishing platforms, nor are they searchable public records. Comparing a message board that has around nine million visitors a month to someone saying something racist on the telephone is, actually, nuts.

…Websites are not similar to telephones. They are not even similar to books or magazines. They are street corners, they are billboards, they are parks, they are shopping malls, they are spaces where people congregate. Just because you cannot see the (hopefully) tens of thousands of other people reading this blog post right now doesn’t mean they’re not there. And that is doubly true for a user-generated content platform. And regardless of the right to free speech and the right to assemble guaranteed in America, if the crowd you bring together in a physical space starts to threaten people, even if they’re doing it in the periphery of your audience, the private security company you hired as crowd control no longer has to support you. To me, it’s honestly just that simple.

«

I always enjoy how Broderick cuts through the junk and fluff. His Garbage Day email is essential reading.
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Latest US chip curbs deliver setback to China’s AI ambitions • WSJ

Liza Lin and Dan Strumpf:

»

US restrictions on sales of Nvidia Corp.’s high-end processors to China throw a wrench in Beijing’s ambitions to lead in artificial intelligence, as Chinese officials accused the US of monopolising advanced technologies.

The curbs cut off China’s biggest tech companies from some of the world’s most advanced chips. Nvidia’s affected customers include Alibaba Group, the internet giant that operates China’s largest cloud service business, and Tencent, the gaming and social media behemoth. Both sell cloud services powered by Nvidia chips that are capable of crunching huge amounts of data for advanced applications from autonomous factories to video processing.

“This is a big step by the US because it is targeting high performance processors that are mainly used for commercial applications,” said Handel Jones, chief executive of consulting firm International Business Strategies Inc.

Nvidia, the world’s largest chip maker by market value, said Wednesday that new US rules barring the sale without a license of the advanced chips to Chinese customers would cost it $400m in sales. It said it may have to transition some of its operations out of China.

Nvidia shares fell more than 11% midday Thursday. Other chip makers also retreated. Shares in Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which said it was also affected by the license requirement though didn’t expect a material impact, were down more than 6%.

The US Commerce Department, which handles export restrictions, has declined to comment on changes to its policy but said the action was aimed at preventing China from acquiring American technology to advance its military.

«

The US is clearly very, very worried about China getting sufficiently advanced chipmaking capability that it doesn’t need TSMC. As Ben Thompson points out in Stratechery, once that happens then China can attack, invade or blockade Taiwan with impunity. Then things get very concerning, because it puts China ahead of the rest of the world. That’s what the US is looking to forestall.
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Cheating at chess with a computer for my shoes • Incoherency

James Stanley:

»

I have come up with a new way to win at chess: I have connected up a Raspberry Pi Zero in my pocket to some buttons and vibration motors in my shoes, so that I can surreptitiously communicate with a chess engine running on the Pi. The project is called “Sockfish” because it’s a way to operate Stockfish with your socks.

The feet are ideal for this sort of thing, because they’re the only part of your body that has any sensible degree of dexterity while still being invisible to casual observers.

There is prior art for phones taped to legs and some sort of TV remote control (?) and lots of cases of just going to the toilet and looking at chess positions on phones, but I think Sockfish may be the first hands-free method that does not require third-party assistance.

Each shoe insert has two force-sensing resistors and one vibration motor. The force-sensing resistors are used as buttons to allow me to input my opponent’s moves. The vibration motors are used for haptic feedback of accepted button presses, and to communicate the engine’s moves to me so that I can play them on the board.

On Tuesday evening I finally had a chance to deploy Sockfish in a real game against an unsuspecting opponent! Owen is quite a bit better at chess than I am. I talked him into playing a game with time control of 15 minutes per side, which is longer than the blitz & bullet that we normally play, but necessary to give me enough time to type the moves with my feet.

Owen was very confused about why it took me 20 seconds of intense concentration to decide on my very first move. He eventually surmised that I must have “revised” and was concentrating hard to make sure I remembered the theory. In actual fact I was concentrating very hard to make sure I understood Sockfish’s outputs correctly and gave my inputs correctly! I found that I concentrated much harder operating Sockfish than I do when I’m playing chess the hard way. Maybe I’d play better if I concentrated harder.

It was all going well until we reached a position where Sockfish was telling me to make an illegal move.

«

It’s quite weird (and clearly, difficult) but the fact that someone could cheat like this in a tournament is something to think about.
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The fight against fake-paper factories that churn out sham science • Nature

Holly Else and Richard Van Noorden:

»

When Laura Fisher noticed striking similarities between research papers submitted to RSC Advances, she grew suspicious. None of the papers had authors or institutions in common, but their charts and titles looked alarmingly similar, says Fisher, the executive editor at the journal. “I was determined to try to get to the bottom of what was going on.”

A year later, in January 2021, Fisher retracted 68 papers from the journal, and editors at two other Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) titles retracted one each over similar suspicions; 15 are still under investigation. Fisher had found what seemed to be the products of paper mills: companies that churn out fake scientific manuscripts to order. All the papers came from authors at Chinese hospitals. The journals’ publisher, the RSC in London, announced in a statement that it had been the victim of what it believed to be “the systemic production of falsified research”.

What was surprising about this was not the paper-mill activity itself: research-integrity sleuths have repeatedly warned that some scientists buy papers from third-party firms to help their careers. Rather, it was extraordinary that a publisher had publicly announced something that journals generally keep quiet about. “We believe that it is a paper mill, so we want to be open and transparent,” Fisher says.

The RSC wasn’t alone, its statement added: “We are one of a number of publishers to have been affected by such activity.” Since last January, journals have retracted at least 370 papers that have been publicly linked to paper mills, an analysis by Nature has found, and many more retractions are expected to follow.

«

China, Iran and Russia are fingered in this. Medical journals particularly, because getting published there is necessary for promotion, but physicians might not have the time to research or write the paper.
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The quantum computing bubble • Financial Times

Nikita Gourianov is a physicist at Oxford university who works with computational quantum physics:

»

Billions of dollars have poured into the [quantum computing] field in recent years, culminating with the public market debuts of prominent quantum computing companies like IonQ, Rigetti and D-Wave through 2021’s favourite frothy market phenomenon, special purpose acquisition vehicles (Spacs).

These three jointly still have a market capitalisation of $3bn, but combined expected sales of about $32mn this year (and about $150mn of net losses), according to Refinitiv.

The reality is that none of these companies — or any other quantum computing firm, for that matter — are actually earning any real money. The little revenue they generate mostly comes from consulting missions aimed at teaching other companies about “how quantum computers will help their business”, as opposed to genuinely harnessing any advantages that quantum computers have over classical computers.

The simple reason for this is that despite years of effort nobody has yet come close to building a quantum machine that is actually capable of solving practical problems. The current devices are so error-prone that any information one tries to process with them will almost instantly degenerate into noise. The problem only grows worse if the computer is scaled up (ie, the number of “qubits” increased).

A convincing strategy for overcoming these errors has not yet been demonstrated, making it unclear as to when — if ever — it will become possible to build a large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computer. Yet according to the evangelists, we are apparently in the middle of a Quantum Moore’s Law (aka “Rose’s Law”, after D-Wave founder Geordie Rose) analogous to the microchip revolution of the 1970s — 2010s.

Another fundamental issue is that it is unclear what commercially-useful problems can even be solved with quantum computers — if any.

«

Sure, you can try using them to factor large numbers (aka breaking cryptography), but, he points out, “the commonly forgotten caveat here is that there are many alternative cryptographic schemes that are not vulnerable to quantum computers.”

I’ve been following quantum computing for about 30 years. Like fusion, it’s one of those “big promise, little product” things.
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The Endless Drum Beating • KiwiFarms

Null (who operates KiwiFarms), writing on 5 September:

»

DDoS Mitigation: DDoS-Guard will drop us dropped us while I was writing this post. This meme about Russia being a free country is a joke. The US is a free country, but with no stewards to protect it. Without the US, there is no second best. I did not expect Cloudflare to crumple so quickly and I don’t have a Plan C for DDoS mitigation.

Resource Allocation: I own IP addresses. Our IP allocation is from APNIC. APNIC is one of the 5 private companies which allocate Internet resources around the world. APNIC happens to be based out of Australia, which recently passed draconian censorship laws. There is an effort to get our RIR to revoke our allocation. This would be unprecedented in the history of the Internet, and considering China is in APNIC’s region, an absolutely horrific standard which will echo throughout the upcoming decades. There is a non-zero chance of this happening.

Hosting: We have one host and I am looking at two more. It is likely that the host will give up too. The two hosts confident they can handle the Kiwi Farms are probably wrong. DDoS-Guard was confident they could handle the Kiwi Farms and said “bring it on” for less than 24 hours.

This is an organized attack. There is a coalition of criminals trying to frame the forum for their behavior. These criminals provide opportunities for professional victims to amplify their message. Journalists canonize the crimes as the behavior of the forum itself, which becomes the effective truth for the general public.

«

Just rummaging around here for the world’s tiniest violin – seems to have slipped down between the cushions. You run a forum that doxes and encourages harassment, and whose denizens have an absolute sense of self-righteousness about what they’re doing, and when the consequences come home you’re surprised?

He ends with “I do not see a situation where the Kiwi Farms is simply allowed to operate. It will either become a fractured shell of itself, like 8chan, or jump between hosts and domain names like [Nazi site] Daily Stormer.”

I’d call that a win for civilisation and society. (It’s also been removed from the Internet Archive.)
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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

Start Up No.1866: KiwiFarms really gone this time?, AI houses, who needs Apple’s Pro Watch?, Saudis use app to snitch, and more


The superconducting magnets at CERN use about a quarter of its peak of 200MW of power use – and might get turned off due to Russia’s war with Ukraine. CC-licensed photo by Ryan Bodenstein on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. In a whirl. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Europe’s energy crunch squeezes world’s largest particle collider • WSJ

Matthew Dalton:

»

Europe’s energy crisis is threatening to slow experiments into the fundamental forces of nature.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, is drafting plans to shut down some of its particle accelerators at periods of peak demand, said Serge Claudet, chair of the center’s energy management panel. CERN is also considering how it could idle the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest accelerator, if necessary, Mr. Claudet said.

“Our concern is really grid stability, because we do all we can to prevent a blackout in our region,” Mr. Claudet said.

…CERN sits on a sprawling complex that straddles the French-Swiss border and is one of France’s largest electricity consumers. At peak operation, it consumes nearly 200 megawatts of power, a third as much as the nearby city of Geneva.

…CERN is in discussions with its electricity supplier, state-controlled French power giant EDF SA, to receive a day’s warning that the center would need to consume less electricity, Mr. Claudet said. CERN would give priority to shutting down other accelerators besides the LHC, lowering the center’s electricity consumption by as much as 25%.

…Shutting down the LHC would save another 25%, with a catch: The collider relies on superconducting magnets cooled to -456 degrees Fahrenheit to bend the particle beam, requiring a significant amount of power even when the beam is turned off. Allowing the magnets to warm up could set back experiments at the LHC for weeks.

“It’s a voluntary action,” Mr. Claudet said. “You don’t want to break your toy.”

«

Except it’s not a toy. Quite how useful what it finds out, and what we will learn from it, is unknown; but if it never finds anything out because it isn’t running, we definitely can’t learn from it. The energy war has many casualties.
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Second web-hosting provider drops harassment site Kiwi Farms • Associated Press via The Independent

»

Web-hosting provider DDoS-Guard said Monday that it had stopped providing its services to Kiwi Farms, becoming the second provider in two days to abandon the stalking and harassment site and leaving it inaccessible on the public internet.

DDoS-Guard said it doesn’t have to decide whether sites violate laws, and it normally only restricts access to a site in cases such as receiving a court order to do so. The company said it acted this time, however, after receiving “multiple” complaints.

“Having analyzed the content of the site, we decided on the termination of DDoS protection services” for a version of the Kiwi Farms site with a Russian .ru domain name, the company said. The .ru site had been running intermittently after Cloudfare cut off services.

Kiwi Farms was previously cut off from services by Cloudfare. Both firms acted after Canadian transgender Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti launched an online campaign against the site.

Cloudfare CEO Matthew Prince said he was troubled by the decision, but that escalating targeted threats on the site created an “immediate threat to human life” that his company had never seen.

The site was created and operated by Joshua Conner Moon, 29, and became a forum for harassment of social media figures, especially transgender people, feminists and people of color.

«

So now it’s off the internet… isn’t it? Is this chapter of the internet finally over?

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This House Does Not Exist (by @levelsio)

You know the routine by now: AI-generated houses that look like the real thing, but aren’t. The ones I looked at seemed to mostly lean to minimalist angularity (in one case including a swimming pool in the living room).
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Thousands of Xcel customers locked out of thermostats during ‘energy emergency’ • Denver7 News

Jaclyn Allen:

»

During the dog days of summer, it’s important to keep your home cool. But when thousands of Xcel customers in Colorado tried adjusting their thermostats Tuesday, they learned they had no control over the temperatures in their own homes.

Temperatures climbed into the 90s Tuesday, which is why Tony Talarico tried to crank up the air conditioning in his partner’s Arvada home. “I mean, it was 90 [32ºC] out, and it was right during the peak period,” Talarico said. “It was hot.” That’s when he saw a message on the thermostat stating the temperature was locked due to an “energy emergency.”

“Normally, when we see a message like that, we’re able to override it,” Talarico said. “In this case, we weren’t. So, our thermostat was locked in at 78 or 79.” On social media, dozens of Xcel customers complained of similar experiences — some reporting home temperatures as high as 88º [31ºC].

Xcel confirmed to Denver7 that 22,000 customers who had signed up for the Colorado AC Rewards program were locked out of their smart thermostats for hours on Tuesday. “It’s a voluntary program. Let’s remember that this is something that customers choose to be a part of based on the incentives,” said Emmett Romine, vice president of customer solutions and innovation at Xcel.

Customers receive a $100 credit for enrolling in the program and $25 annually, but Romine said customers also agree to give up some control to save energy and money and make the system more reliable. “So, it helps everybody for people to participate in these programs. It is a bit uncomfortable for a short period of time, but it’s very, very helpful,” said Romine.

This is the first time in the program’s six year span that customers could not override their smart thermostats, Romine said. He said the “energy emergency” was due to an unexpected outage in Pueblo combined with hot weather and heavy air conditioner usage.

But Talarico said he had no idea that he could be locked out of the thermostat. While he has solar panels and a smart thermostat to save energy, he says he did not sign up to have this much control taken away.

«

This does seem to come out of the same place as complaints about the outcome of voting for the Leopards Eating Your Face party. OK, so you get the money, but they get to do the thing they said they might do? How unfair is that?
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Apple Watch Pro: an increasingly niche product • 9to5Mac.com

Chance Miller:

»

Over the last several days, we’ve seen a barrage of new details leak on Apple’s rumored Apple Watch Pro. The Apple Watch Pro will be officially unveiled during Apple’s “Far out” event on Wednesday, alongside the iPhone 14 lineup.

These new leaks, including our first look at the new design, show that Apple is sparing no expense on the Apple Watch Pro. With some exceptions, however, it’s becoming clear that the Apple Watch Pro isn’t for most people.

Earlier today, CAD images of the Apple Watch Pro leaked to give us our best look yet at the new design. These renders appear to have emerged from Apple’s supply chain, and they were also corroborated by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.

There are several important things that we can glean from these images ahead of seeing the official design on Wednesday.

First and foremost, the Apple Watch Pro is going to be big. Like, really big. We knew it would feature a larger 47mm casing and 1.99-inch screen, but these renders put those numbers into perspective. They also show another way the Apple Watch Pro will one even bigger.

On the right-hand side, the Apple Watch Pro appears to feature a bulge that houses a new Digital Crown as well as a side button similar to existing Apple Watch model. We’ll likely learn more about the reasoning for this design change on Wednesday, but the way the button and crown are now raised out of the edge has a significant impact on the size and appearance of the watch.

For context, most of the people in the so-called “watch industry” say that the existing Apple Watch Series 7 models are already pushing it in terms of size. This is particularly true of the 45mm model, which features a 1.77in screen.

«

Other watches – not smartwatches, though certainly Garmin watches – are hardly shrinking violets. The real question is how long the battery life will be, and how long is actually enough for whatever the target market is. (Also: “increasingly niche” is an odd phrase to use about a product that hasn’t actually launched yet.)
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Instagram owner Meta fined €405m over handling of teens’ data • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

»

Instagram owner Meta has been fined €405m (£349m) by the Irish data watchdog for letting teenagers set up accounts that publicly displayed their phone numbers and email addresses.

The Data Protection Commission confirmed the penalty after a two-year investigation into potential breaches of the European Union’s general data protection regulation (GDPR).

Instagram had allowed users aged between 13 and 17 to operate business accounts on the platform, which showed the users’ phone numbers and email addresses. The DPC also found the platform had operated a user registration system whereby the accounts of 13-to-17-year-old users were set to “public” by default.

The DPC regulates Meta – which is also the owner of Facebook and WhatsApp – on behalf of the entire EU because the company’s European headquarters are in Ireland.

The penalty is the highest imposed on Meta by the watchdog, after a €225m fine imposed in September 2021 for “severe” and “serious” infringements of GDPR at WhatsApp and a €17m fine in March this year.

The fine is the second largest under GDPR, behind the €746m levied on Amazon in July 2021.

A DPC spokesperson said: “We adopted our final decision last Friday and it does contain a fine of €405m. Full details of the decision will be published next week.”

Caroline Carruthers, a UK data consultancy owner, said Instagram had not thought through its privacy responsibilities when letting teenagers set up business accounts and had shown an “obvious lack of care” in users’ privacy settings.

«

Is it a sort of indifference in setting up the software to handle this, or such complicated systems that they just can’t do two things correctly at once? Account creation seems like the most basic thing to police correctly.
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Saudi citizens are using an app to rat out activists • Business Insider

Peter Guest:

»

For “Real,” a Saudi Arabian women’s-rights activist, anonymity is all that keeps her safe. Under that alias, she uses Twitter to advocate for victims of domestic violence in the kingdom, sending their stories trending in the country and overseas. Her work is fraught with risk.

“Every day we wake up to hear news, somebody has been arrested, or somebody has been taken,” Real told Insider, using a voice modulator to disguise her voice. “Today I’m here with you, sharing my story. Tomorrow I might be caught.”

Real, like other activists, is on edge after the price of speaking out online in Saudi Arabia was made clear this August. The academic Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was accused of “using the internet to tear Saudi Arabia’s social fabric” and sentenced to 45 years in prison. On August 16, Salma el-Shabab, a Ph.D. student, was sentenced to 34 years in jail for a handful of tweets in support of activists and members of the kingdom’s political opposition in exile.

El-Shabab was reported to the authorities via Kollona Amn, a mobile app available to download from the Apple App store and the Google Play store, which empowers ordinary citizens to snitch on their compatriots.

The Saudi regime has often encouraged citizens to inform on one another, but Kollona Amn, launched by the Saudi interior ministry in 2017, has made it possible to report comments critical of the regime or behavior deemed offensive by the conservative theocracy with a few clicks. Legal-rights activists say that over the past few years, they’ve witnessed a dramatic rise in court cases that reference the app, as the country’s current leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan — widely known by his acronym MBS — expands the use of technology to surveil, intimidate, and control its citizens at home and abroad.

«

East Germany would have loved this technology. The models of dictatorship remain the same; only the tools change.
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Liz Truss’ (net) zero sum game • POLITICO

Karl Mathiesen, Esther Webber and Noah Keate:

»

[Newly appointed Tory leader, not quite yet PM, Liz] Truss has indicated her desire to embrace home-grown supplies of all energy sources — except perhaps solar, which is currently nine times cheaper than gas, having plummeted in cost over the past decade to become, alongside wind, the cheapest form of power. Her proposals include ending a U.K.-wide moratorium on fracking — albeit with requirements for local community buy-in — which party insiders suggest could be one of her early moves in No. 10.

Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a shot across the bows of his would-be successor last week, warning fracking was “not going to be the panacea that some people suggest.”

According to reporting from the Times, Truss also wants to issue new licensing rounds for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. That prospect was immediately slammed by Greenpeace U.K.’s chief scientist Doug Parr as a “gift to the fossil fuel giants already making billions from this crisis.” 

These new licenses will be of limited assistance to the U.K.’s broader energy needs, however. The additional supply from new projects would take years to hit the market and be “relatively small in comparison to the overall level of energy demand,” said Josh Buckland, a former energy policy adviser to recent Conservative governments in No. 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and the business department.

“The biggest driver of the current energy challenge is obviously the availability of gas, and the price of gas,” he said. “So really, the key medium term question for the government is: how do you reduce your reliance on gas?”

«

How indeed. As the story points out later, a lot of rightwing wingnuts are pushing Truss to disown net zero, blaming it (incredibly) for the rise in energy bills. Turning climate action into a culture war issue is deeply stupid, and weird.
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An environmentalist gets lunch • Works in Progress

Hannah Ritchie:

»

My charts [for Our World In Data, where Ritchie works] might be plastered across posters about the environment, but I’ll never be a poster girl for environmental action.

Watching me make a meal looks like an environmental travesty. I almost exclusively use the microwave. I don’t take time to savour the process: a meal that takes longer than ten minutes is one that’s not worth having. It nearly always comes from a packet. My avocados are shipped over from Mexico, and bananas transported from Angola. It’s rare that my food is produced locally. Or if it is, I don’t check the label enough to notice.

This is the opposite of what seems sustainable. The image we have in our head of the ‘environmentally-friendly meal’ is one that’s sourced from the local market; produced on an organic farm without nasty chemicals; and brought home in a paper bag, not a plastic wrapper. Forget the processed junk: it’s meat and vegetables, as fresh as they come. We set aside time to cook them properly, in the oven. 

I know that my way of eating is low-carbon. I’ve spent years poring over the data. Microwaves are the most efficient way to cook. Local food is often no better than food shipped from continents away. Organic food often has a higher carbon footprint. And packaging is a tiny fraction of a food’s environmental footprint, and often lengthens its shelf-life.

Yet it still feels wrong. I know I’m doing the right thing for the environment, but there’s still a part of me that feels like a traitor. I can see the confusion on peoples’ faces when they hear about some of my decisions. I feel embarrassed that people might think that I’m being a ‘bad’ environmentalist.

This problem stems from the fact that what is ‘good’ for the environment often doesn’t line up with our intuitions. Ask people about what behaviours are most effective in reducing their carbon footprint, and they talk about recycling; replacing old lightbulbs; and eating local. They often miss the things that really do help. Surveys have shown this disconnect over and over.

«

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How Russia relies on old tech in weapons aimed at Ukraine • The New York Times

John Ismay:

»

The weapons are top of the line in the Russian arsenal. But they contained fairly low-tech components, analysts who examined them said, including a unique but basic satellite navigation system that was also found in other captured munitions.

Those findings are detailed in a new report issued Saturday by Conflict Armament Research, an independent group based in Britain that identifies and tracks weapons and ammunition used in wars around the world. The research team examined the Russian matériel in July at the invitation of the Ukrainian government.

The report undercuts Moscow’s narrative of having a domestically rebuilt military that again rivals that of its Western adversaries.

But it also shows that the weapons Russia is using to destroy Ukrainian towns and cities are often powered by Western innovation, despite sanctions imposed against Russia after it invaded Crimea in 2014. Those restrictions were intended to stop the shipment of high-tech items that could help Russia’s military abilities.

“We saw that Russia reuses the same electronic components across multiple weapons, including their newest cruise missiles and attack helicopters, and we didn’t expect to see that,” said Damien Spleeters, an investigator for the group who contributed to the report. “Russian guided weapons are full of non-Russian technology and components, and most of the computer chips we documented were made by Western countries after 2014.”

«

Which does make it easier to target the (western) manufacturers and restrict the supply. But this is all going to take a long time to work through the system. (Thanks G for the link.)
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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

Start Up No.1865: Twitter’s disinfo underfunding, Cloudflare drops KiwiFarms, will AI replace actors?, Truss’s promises, and more


The Rampion offshore wind farm got through planning, but antiquated laws mean many more don’t – and we all lose from that. CC-licensed photo by Mark on Flickr.

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


Mudge report shows how Twitter’s lack of resources shaped trouble • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Joseph Menn and Cat Zakrzewski:

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While [“Mudge”, proper name Peter] Zatko’s allegations of Twitter’s security failures, first reported last month by The Post and CNN, have received widespread attention, the audit on misinformation has gone largely unreported. Yet it underscores a fundamental conundrum for the 16-year-old social media service: in spite of its role hosting the opinions of some the world’s most important political leaders, business executives and journalists, Twitter has been unable to build safeguards commensurate with the platform’s outsized societal influence. It has never generated the level of profit needed to do so, and its leadership never demonstrated the will.

Twitter’s early executives famously referred to the platform as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” Though that ethos has been tempered over the years, as the company contended with threats from Russian operatives and the relentless boundary-pushing tweets from former president Donald J. Trump, Twitter’s first-ever ban of any kind of misinformation didn’t take place until 2020 — when it prohibited deep fakes and falsehoods related to Covid-19.

Former employees have said that privacy, security, and user safety from harmful content were long seen as afterthoughts for the company’s leadership. Then-CEO Jack Dorsey even questioned his most senior deputies’ decision to permanently suspend Trump’s account after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, calling silencing the president a mistake.

The audit report by the Alethea Group, a company that fights disinformation threats, confirms that sense, depicting a company overwhelmed by well-orchestrated disinformation campaigns and short on engineering tools and human firepower while facing threats on par with vastly better-financed Google and Facebook.

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The haphazard nature of Twitter is always apparent from time to time as some calamity or other overwhelms it. From the outside, one sees what seems like a well-funded company with a swishy San Francisco office (I’ve visited it a couple of times). In reality, there are fires all over the place, and a shortage of extinguishers. Social warming runs riot.
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The Air Force just survived a reply all email apocalypse • Gizmodo

Lucas Ropek:

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According to images of the email thread shared by the tipster, a “replyallcalypse” happened when a low-level clerical employee at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany sent out a query about a computer issue at the base, subject line “Logo appearing on our screern [sic].” She wrote, “Please help us !!!” about an ugly and outdated logo that would not quit the screens at Ramstein. She called it “this horrible green statement.”

Unfortunately, she accidentally added the “AF-All” address, which appears to have forwarded the query to droves of Air Force personnel stationed at different bases.

The recipients of the email thread were not pleased. One person, a Lt. Colonel Matthew S. Judd, of Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio, replied bluntly:

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Elizabeth,

Good Morning, I’m sorry to hear about your computer issue, I really have no idea what your issue is or have a good solution to the problem, but here’s a shot anyway:

Unplug device, head for the second story, open window and throw it out the window, should get rid of the green screen. I hope this helps.

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Others skipped the snark and went straight for anger and confusion. One person, replied:

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Mrs. Pritchard. I’m not sure why you put me on this string but I’d appreciate it if those who are involved in your issue would reply to you land [sic] not “all”.

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Yet another person, Lt. Colonel John Fesler, who is based in Washington DC, merely offered the following: “PLEASE stop using ‘Reply All’,” he wrote, which seems to imply that this sort of thing has happened before.

Others from bases in Texas, Florida, and New York all chimed in with annoyance and confusion. Gizmodo reached out to them about their feelings regarding their overloaded inboxes, but did not hear back.

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Happens to us all at some point.
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Cloudflare drops KiwiFarms • The Washington Post

Joseph Menn and Taylor Lorenz:

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Reversing course under growing public pressure, major tech security company Cloudflare announced Saturday that it will stop protecting the Kiwi Farms website, best known as a place for stalkers to organize hacks, online campaigns and real-world harassment.

Cloudfare chief executive Matthew Prince, who this past week published a lengthy blog post justifying the company’s services defending Kiwi Farms, told The Washington Post he changed his mind not because of the pressure but a surge in credible violent threats stemming from the site.

“As Kiwi Farms has felt more threatened, they have reacted by being more threatening,” Prince said. “We think there is an imminent danger, and the pace at which law enforcement is able to respond to those threats we don’t think is fast enough to keep up.”

Prince said contributors to the forum were posting home addresses of those seen as enemies and calling for them to be shot.

Kiwi Farms launched in 2013 and quickly grew into a popular internet forum for online harassment campaigns. At least three suicides have been tied to harassment stemming from the Kiwi Farms community, and many on the forum consider their goal to drive their targets to suicide. Members of the LGBTQ community and women are frequent targets.

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This really didn’t look tenable for a public company such as Cloudflare (although KiwiFarms may be able to find someone prepared to save it from DDOS attacks, as Cloudflare does). The post-justification that the content was getting “more threatening” doesn’t quite gel with the fact that KiwiFarms denizens had already driven a number of people to kill themselves through repeated harassment. (KiwiFarms has now moved to Russian servers.)

And: is there any difference between social media platforms deciding to remove users who incite violence or harassment, and hosting or DDOS-preventing providers ceasing to support sites whose users incite violence or harassment? You can decide now, or read the next item and decide.
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Libs of TikTok Twitter account blamed for threats on children’s hospitals • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Peter Jamison:

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Children’s hospitals across the US are facing growing threats of violence, driven by an online anti-LGBTQ campaign attacking the facilities for providing care to transgender kids and teens.

Twitter has left up the account inspiring the attacks, despite its employees voicing concerns in internal Slack channels that it’s “only a matter of time” before the posts lead to someone getting killed.

The campaign is led by Libs of TikTok, a Twitter account with more than 1.3 million followers run by a former Brooklyn real estate agent named Chaya Raichik, whose posts are frequently cited by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and other right-wing media figures.

After gaining a large Twitter following in the spring as she baselessly accused LGBTQ teachers of being paedophiles and “groomers,” Raichik began criticizing children’s health facilities earlier this summer, targeting a hospital in Omaha in June and another in Pittsburgh in August. The attacks resulted in a flood of online harassment and phoned-in threats at both hospitals.

Next came threats against children’s hospitals in Boston and Washington, D.C., after Raichik posted tweets targeting them.

Reached by Twitter direct messaging on Thursday, Raichik didn’t respond to a question about whether she felt responsible for the threats to the hospitals. “We 100 % condemn any acts/threats of violence,” she wrote.

Twitter declined to comment, but people familiar with internal discussions say Twitter executives face internal pressure from some employees to respond more aggressively to the account.

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Raichik will condemn the violence, but don’t actually discourage it. That’s the difference. The question of to what extent the platform is responsible for and should shut down users who do this is crucial now.
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Britain’s failure to build is throttling its economy • The Economist

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Building in Britain is never easy, often difficult and sometimes impossible. The country has become a vetocracy, in which many people and agencies have the power to stymie any given development. The Town and Country Planning Act, passed in 1947, in effect nationalised the right to build. Decisions about whether to approve new projects are made by politicians who rely on the votes of nimbys (“Not in my back yard”), notes (“Not over there, either”) and bananas (“Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything”).

Green belts, which were designed to stop suburban sprawl, have achieved precisely that. These enormous no-build zones enjoy Pyongyangesque levels of support among voters, who picture them as rural idylls rather than the mish-mash of motorways, petrol stations, scrubland and golf courses that they are in reality. Strict environmental laws protect many creatures, especially cute ones like bats. Judges strike down government decisions if they are based on a botched process because Britain respects the rule of law.

In isolation, each part of the planning system may seem unobjectionable. But the whole thing is a disaster. Britain’s failure to build enough is most pronounced when it comes to housing. England has 434 homes per 1,000 people, whereas France has 590. Its most dynamic cities can barely expand outwards, and are frequently prevented from shooting skywards as well.

But the problems extend well beyond housing. Britain has not built a reservoir since 1991 or finished a new nuclear-power station since 1995. hs2, a high-speed railway, is the first new line connecting large British cities since the 19th century. Even modest projects, such as widening the a66 road across northern England, take over a decade. The result is frustration and slower economic growth.

A truly bold government could transform the planning system. A proper land-value tax would weaken the perverse incentives to keep city centres underdeveloped and encourage landlords to build or sell up. Scrapping or shrinking the green belt is a no-brainer.

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Hard agree. The planning system is ridiculous and hidebound, and is one of the reasons why Britain lags other countries. Rip it up.
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Actors worry that AI is taking centre stage • Financial Times

Sarah O’Connor:

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A survey this year by Equity, the UK union for actors and other performing arts workers, found that 65% of members thought AI posed a threat to employment opportunities in the sector, rising to 93% of audio artists. This wasn’t just an amorphous fear about the future: more than a third of members had seen job listings for work involving AI and almost a fifth had undertaken some of this work.

A range of AI start-ups are developing tools for use in film and audio, from making actors look and sound younger to creating AI voices that can be used for marketing campaigns, consumer assistants or even audiobook narration. Audio is such a popular medium now that companies need lots of it, but human actors are expensive and nowhere near as flexible as an AI voice, which can be made to say anything at the push of a button. These companies typically hire actors to provide hours’ worth of audio which can then be turned into a voice-for-hire.

VocaliD, for example, offers a range of voices such as “Malik” (“warm, soothing, urban”) “Terri” (“educated, optimistic, sophisticated’‘) and “AI Very British Voice” (“trustworthy, warm, calm”.) Sonantic, another AI company which was just acquired by Spotify, creates voices that can laugh, shout or cry. Its voices are often used by video game companies in the production process so they can play around with different scripts.

They’re not as good as humans, but they don’t need to be. Industry experts say no one is going to use AI to narrate the audiobook of a bestselling novel, but there is still a market to be tapped in the vast number of lower-profile books that are published or self-published every year. Audiobook.ai, for example, says it can create an audiobook in 10 minutes with 146 voices to choose from in 43 languages.

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“Not as good as humans, but don’t need to be” is a phrase that I think we’re going to hear a great deal in the coming years. (Via Wendy G.)
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The Liz Truss manifesto • POLITICO

Noah Keate:

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Liz Truss has not published her plan for government, but this is the closest thing to it.

Over nearly eight long weeks of hustings, interviews, articles and debates, the two contenders for the Tory leadership have made their respective cases for why they should succeed Boris Johnson as U.K. prime minister. Among all the campaign jibes and blue-on-blue attacks have been scores of pledges and promises for how to deal with the urgent problems facing the country.

The result of the contest won’t be known for sure until September 5, but with Foreign Secretary Truss the runaway favorite, POLITICO has compiled every policy commitment she has made during over 40 hours of hustings, as well as countless interviews and articles on the campaign trail. It is in effect the 149 separate policy pledges that make up the Truss manifesto.

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I suspect she’s going to have to break many of these “pledges”, which will be a relief to many. Sticking to ideas (abolishing the monarchy, going against Brexit) has never been Truss’s style. And those to whom she made the pledges – the Conservative members – won’t remember them in any specific way anyway. Still, good to have them here so we can refer back at some future date and laugh quietly. Or weep.

But: you can watch this clip of comedian Joe Lycett utterly blowing up the political chatshow format after Laura Kuenssberg had interviewed Truss.
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How shady ships use GPS to evade international law • The New York Times

Anatoly Kurnamaev:

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The scrappy oil tanker waited to load fuel at a dilapidated jetty projecting from a giant Venezuelan refinery on a December morning. A string of abandoned ships listed in the surrounding turquoise Caribbean waters, a testament to the country’s decay after years of economic hardships and US sanctions.

Yet, on computer screens, the ship — called Reliable — appeared nearly 300 nautical miles away, drifting innocuously off the coast of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. According to Reliable’s satellite location transmissions, the ship had not been to Venezuela in at least a decade.

Shipping data researchers have identified hundreds of cases like Reliable, where a ship has transmitted fake location coordinates in order to carry out murky and even illegal business operations and circumvent international laws and sanctions.

The digital mirage — enabled by a spreading technology — could transform how goods are moved around the world, with profound implications for the enforcement of international law, organized crime and global trade.

Tampering this way with satellite location trackers carried by large ships is illegal under international law, and until recently, most fleets are believed to have largely followed the rules.

But over the past year, Windward, a large maritime data company that provides research to the United Nations, has uncovered more than 500 cases of ships manipulating their satellite navigation systems to hide their locations. The vessels carry out the deception by adopting a technology that until recently was confined to the world’s most advanced navies. The technology, in essence, replicates the effect of a VPN cellphone app, making a ship appear to be in one place, while physically being elsewhere.

Its use has included Chinese fishing fleets hiding operations in protected waters off South America, tankers concealing stops in Iranian oil ports, and container ships obfuscating journeys in the Middle East. A US intelligence official, who discussed confidential government assessments on the condition of anonymity, said the deception tactic had already been used for weapons and drug smuggling.

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Google Maps vs. Apple Maps: which navigation app is best? • Tom’s Guide

Tom Pritchard, with an in-depth look comparing the two services:

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Google’s practice of data collection is key to making Google Maps a superior service to Apple Maps. Or that’s one way of looking at it. Since Apple Maps is run with a focus on user privacy, Apple can’t utilize data to make improvements. So Google can offer real time updates showing how busy a store or train might be, that’s always going to be well out of Apple’s reach.

But at the same time using Google Maps means knowing everything you do, and everything you search for, is being collected and analyzed for Google’s own benefit. When it comes to GPS and your actual location, that’s going to be too much for the more privacy-conscious.

Discovering new places is easy on Google Maps, but only just. Apple just needs to offer a full list of categories, rather than just giving you what it thinks is the most relevant. Similarly Google Street View is more widespread, but it also had a 12-year head start that puts Apple’s Look Around at a clear disadvantage. Apple Maps does offer a cleaner design and simpler interface, which is much more appealing than Google Maps’ relatively cluttered approach.

Most of these comparisons are arbitrary in the long run. Google Maps may well have won more categories than Apple Maps, but numbers don’t tell us everything. The most important thing to consider is the actual navigation, and it turns out there isn’t really a wrong answer here.

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Apple Maps has improved so much. Worthy of special note: if you plan a cycling journey, it tells you how hilly it may be. Still lags around the edges compared to Google Maps, but the forthcoming addition of waypoints in iOS 16 is great, and Look Around (Apple’s version of Street View) is great.. where it’s available.
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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.


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