Start Up No.1952: the catfishing networks of ‘lonely women’, EV v ICE prices come closer, Bing’s AI gets it wrong, and more

After years of dominance, Intel suddenly looks vulnerable, and even its giant cash reserves might not save it. CC-licensed photo by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Chip in. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

‘Please acknowledge the dick’: those “lonely women” are a catfishing network • Vice

Jasper Jackson, Chrissie Giles and Niamh McIntyre:


Remote workers often get a message when they log on. But the ones at “fantasy-based text network” Texting Factory are a little different.



– if a customer shares a photo of it, pay it a compliment
– if they mention their size in inches, say something positive
– if they bring it up, encourage them to show you it

The worst thing that you can do is ignore the dick pic


Once operators have read and digested this popup – and then skipped past reminders about the best times to be online – they are dropped into their first chat of the day. 

The first job is to write a response as “alonneagain”, a 26-year-old whose profile indicates her “real” name is Julie, with pictures suggesting she likes to pose outdoors in a bikini. Her bio reads: “I’m looking for a regular fling. I need a hot man who knows how to put the moves on me and my body. I am horny and don’t think I can wait any longer, please come and release me, ASAP.”

The problem is, Julie isn’t real. Today, “alonneagain,” is actually a 37-year-old man in London, working undercover to investigate the platform in a joint investigation for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and VICE World News.


You might have suspected this, but the team here have confirmed it solidly.
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Electric vehicles could match gasoline cars on price this year • The New York Times

Jack Ewing:


More quickly than seemed possible a few months ago, sticker prices for electric vehicles are falling closer to the point where they could soon be on a par with gasoline cars.

Increased competition, government incentives and falling prices for lithium and other battery materials are making electric vehicles noticeably more affordable. The tipping point when electric vehicles become as cheap as or cheaper than cars with internal combustion engines could arrive this year for some mass market models and is already the case for some luxury vehicles.

Prices are likely to continue trending lower as Tesla, General Motors, Ford Motor and their battery suppliers ramp up new factories, reaping the cost savings that come from mass production. New electric vehicles from companies like Volkswagen, Nissan and Hyundai will add to competitive pressure.

The battery-powered version of GM’s Equinox crossover, for example, will start around $30,000 when it arrives this fall, the carmaker has said. That is $3,400 more than the least expensive gasoline-fueled Equinox. But factoring in government incentives, the electric Equinox should be cheaper. Like all electric vehicles, the car will need less maintenance, and the electricity to power it will cost less than the gasoline used by its combustion engine equivalent.


This is of course for the US, but one could hope to see the same effects in Europe and the UK not long after.
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Stick a fork in them • Digits to Dollars

Jay Greenberg has come to bury Intel’s execs, not to praise them:


Intel is not the giant of the industry. Intel’s total share of industry capacity is around 10%, they are not a giant who has stumbled, they are a niche player and have been for years. Admittedly, they occupy a high-value, high-price niche, but it is a niche nonetheless.

The best analogy we can think of here is automobiles. Mercedes sells around 10% of cars in the US, just as Intel has about 10% of industry capacity. Now imagine if Mercedes somehow lost its brand – maybe a massive recall or a series of high profile vehicle-caused accidents. They would not only lose market share but also all their brand value, causing a long term downward sales trend that would be very expensive to dig their way out. Intel is the luxury brand of semis and suddenly their cars do not move fast. We have tortured that analogy enough. The point is that Intel really does not occupy the strategic high ground we all thought it did.

After their last set of results, especially their guidance for 2023, we are increasingly of the opinion that Intel is out of options. They forecast they are going to burn $15bn in cash next year, a huge amount even for a company with $34bn of net cash on their balance sheet. After their disastrous roadmap event last month, we have to call in to question the company’s ability to accurately forecast their business. We actually have many more examples of systematic flaws in their forecasting abilities, but none as public as that event. So we have little confidence in the company’s $15bn forecast, it could easily be much higher. Add to that the need to continue to fund their manufacturing needs and their cash needs are immense.

Nor is it clear if 2024 will be any better. At heart, we have always argued that the company has one task before it and that is an existential task – it has to catch up in manufacturing. The earliest they forecast achieving that is late 2024, which means it will likely not factor into results until 2025. By that time the company’s bank balances will be dangerously low.


The key point being that CPUs won’t be as important (in data centres) in coming years as they have been. Bad news for Intel.
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Bing AI can’t be trusted • DKB Blog

Dmitri Brereton took the trouble to look at Bing’s publicity in detail:


Let’s go buy a pet vacuum!

Let’s look at the Bing results for “What are the pros and cons of the top 3 selling pet vacuums?” According to this pros and cons list, the “Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Handheld Vacuum” sounds pretty bad. Limited suction power, a short cord, and it’s noisy enough to scare pets? Geez, how is this thing even a best seller?

Oh wait, this is all completely made up information. Bing AI was kind enough to give us its sources, so we can go to the hgtv article and check for ourselves.

The cited article says nothing about limited suction power or noise. In fact, the top amazon review for this product talks about how quiet it is. The article also says nothing about the “short cord length of 16 feet” because it doesn’t have a cord. It’s a portable handheld vacuum. I hope Bing AI enjoys being sued for libel.

Let’s go to Mexico!

Let’s look at the Bing results for “Where is the nightlife?” after asking for a Mexico City trip itinerary. Bing AI generated a five-day trip itinerary for Mexico City, and now we’re asking it for nightlife options. This would be pretty cool if the descriptions weren’t inaccurate.

…Primer Nivel Night Club is an absolute mystery. There’s one TripAdvisor review from 2014, and the latest Facebook review is from 2016. There are no mentions of it on TikTok, so I seriously doubt “it is popular among the young crowd”. Seems like all the details about this place are AI hallucinations.

El Almacen *might* be rustic or charming, but Bing AI left out the very relevant fact that this is a gay bar. In fact, it is one of the oldest gay bars in Mexico City. It is quite surprising that it has “no ratings or reviews yet” when it has 500 Google reviews, but maybe that’s a limitation with Bing’s sources.

El Marra is a vibrant and colorful bar, though the hours may be wrong. There are so many ratings of this place online that it’s once again surprising that there are “no ratings or reviews yet”.

Guadalajara de Noche is the first one that seems like an accurate description. Good job Bing AI, you got something right! I’m so proud of you. What’s that? You want to try reading financial statements? What could go wrong…


It’s even worse on financial statements. I still don’t understand why anyone sets any store in getting facts out of these things. They hallucinate so much it’s like they’re powered by LSD.
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Netflix now at 600,000 ‘monthly active users’ for its ad option • Television News Daily

Wayne Friedman:


Netflix has told media agencies it now has 600,000 “monthly active users” for its three-month old advertising option – three times the level it launched with in November, according to executives contacted by Television News Daily.

“All our deals are delivering at or near 100% now,” says one media agency executive. “They are reporting that 99% or more of their deals are currently delivering.”

This follows a report from The Information that Netflix doubled the number of “subscribers” for its ad option. Netflix launched its ad option, “Basic With Ads,” in November for $6.99/month.

Netflix representatives did not respond to inquiries by Television News Daily by press time.

Around the time Netflix launched its ad option, executives touted initial subscriber estimates for the service at around 1.75 million.

In November, an estimated 9% of new Netflix sign-ups in the US went to its Basic with Ads option — the least popular Netflix plan during the month, according to research by Antenna, a measurement and analytics company.

Netflix currently has a total of 73.4 million subscribers in the US and Canada.


Too early to say if this is success or failure, but at least it’s a data point. Who’d have thought even so there were so many people happy to go back to ads. I’d have thought that once you’d experienced TV without it, you’d hunger for it forever.
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Stable Diffusion Frivolous · Because lawsuits based on ignorance deserve a response

A group of “tech enthusiasts” – unidentified, unless I missed something – have responded to the lawsuit filed against Stable Diffusion with a thorough fisking:


While one can certainly have sympathy for artists who are faced with change in their industry – as has happened many times in the past, to great resistance, such as with the advent of photography, and later, of digital tools like Photoshop – the simple facts are, the rights of creators are not unlimited. That’s literally what fair use is.

In his very critique of AI art “misappropriating” images, the attorney for the plaintiffs takes the images of various researchers straight from their papers, “with no consent” and with “no compensation”. And that’s fine, because, again, there are limits to the rights of creators, and the world is better for the existence of fair use. Indeed, while the images were taken in their entirety, AI image generators make use of on the order of a byte or so per image. An entire artist’s portfolio may be represented in a tweet or two. A Wikipedia page on an artist stores far more. Google thumbnails store vastly more, by orders of magnitude. If using a byte or so from a work, to empower countless millions of people to create works not even resembling any input, cannot be considered fair use, then the entire notion of fair use has no meaning.


There’s a lot more. On the whole, I side with the tech enthusiasts.
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Lesser-known Apple Watch workouts, Part II • Basic Apple Guy


With each update, Apple has added new workouts to its Fitness app. Far more than just runs and cycling workouts, Apple Watch now tracks everything from Badminton to Squash, Pickleball to Fencing. But as the diversity of workout categories continues to grow, there continue to be a few omissions. Here is Part II of my Lesser Known Apple Watch Workouts Series, covering the Months of October & November 2022.


Perhaps you remember the first set? This one has “moving day”, “doomscrolling”, “beer pong” and many more. Wonderful.
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‘As bad as it gets without body bags’ • Breaking The News

James Fallows:


Two days ago I wrote about the latest airline “close call.” It happened before dawn this past Saturday, in near zero-visibility conditions, at the Bergstrom Airport in Austin.

—A Boeing 767 flown by FedEx was cleared to land, on a “Cat III” approach that allows an airliner to touch down safely even if the pilots cannot see the runway. Meanwhile a Boeing 737 flown by Southwest was cleared to take off from that same runway, directly in the descending airplane’s path.

—It appears that quick action and situational awareness by the FedEx crew prevented a mass-casualty disaster.

I’m writing today to highlight two online assessments of the incident. The first one greatly clarifies what happened and how things went wrong. The second argues that this should be seen not as an isolated mishap but as a warning sign.


Reading this, it’s evident that this was an extremely close call; only the FedEx pilots stopped their own plane landing on top of the 737. It all happened in less than three minutes. A retired air traffic controller who looked at this event said it’s symptomatic of a growing problem at US airports. There have now been two near misses already this year. Just in case you wanted to know.
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NTSB issues investigative update on Ohio train derailment • US National Transportation Safety Board


On Feb. 3, at approximately 8:54 p.m., local time, eastbound Norfolk Southern Railway, general merchandise freight train 32N, derailed on main track 1 in East Palestine, Ohio. As a result of the derailment, 38 rail cars derailed and a fire ensued which damaged an additional 12 cars. There were 20 total hazardous material cars in the train consist—11 of which derailed. A list of what the derailed rail cars were carrying is available online. There were no reported fatalities or injuries.

…NTSB investigators have identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment. Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment. The wheelset from the suspected railcar has been collected as evidence for metallurgical examination. The suspected overheated wheel bearing has been collected and will be examined by engineers from the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

The tank cars are currently being decontaminated. Once the process is complete, NTSB investigators will return to Ohio to complete a thorough examination of the tank cars.

The vinyl chloride tank car top fittings, including the relief valves, were removed and secured in a locked intermodal container pending an NTSB examination. Once the fittings are examined by NTSB investigators, they will be shipped to Texas for testing, which will be conducted under the direction of the NTSB.

NTSB has obtained locomotive event recorder data, forward- and inward-facing image recording data and wayside defect detector data. NTSB investigators continue to review documentation, event recorder data and perform interviews. A preliminary report is expected to publish in two weeks.


Anyway, nothing to do with pneumatic brakes, as far as we know. But we’ll keep eyes on this one.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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