Start Up No.1966: Greek spyware targets Meta exec, Twitter loses your place, rethinking the climate crisis, space juice!, and more

The trouble with modern golfers is they can hit the ball too far – so the game’s rulemaking body may make them fly less well. CC-licensed photo by Shazwan on Flickr.

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

Meta manager was hacked with spyware and wiretapped in Greece • The New York Times

Matina Stevis-Gridneff:


A US and Greek national who worked on Meta’s security and trust team while based in Greece was placed under a yearlong wiretap by the Greek national intelligence service and hacked with a powerful cyberespionage tool, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and officials with knowledge of the case.

The disclosure is the first known case of an American citizen being targeted in a European Union country by the advanced snooping technology, the use of which has been the subject of a widening scandal in Greece. It demonstrates that the illicit use of spyware is spreading beyond use by authoritarian governments against opposition figures and journalists, and has begun to creep into European democracies, even ensnaring a foreign national working for a major global corporation.

The simultaneous tapping of the target’s phone by the national intelligence service and the way she was hacked indicate that the spy service and whoever implanted the spyware, known as Predator, were working hand in hand.

The latest case comes as elections approach in Greece, which has been rocked by a mounting wiretapping and illegal spyware scandal since last year, raising accusations that the government has abused the powers of its spy agency for illicit purposes.

The Predator spyware that infected the device is marketed by an Athens-based company and has been exported from Greece with the government’s blessing, in possible breach of European Union laws that consider such products potential weapons, The New York Times found in December.

The Greek government has denied using Predator and has legislated against the use of spyware, which it has called “illegal.”


This is going to cause quite the incident, I think. The US isn’t going to take kindly to its citizens (even joint ones) being spied on in this way. NSO was very clear that its Pegasus spyware must not – must absolutely not – be used to spy on American phone numbers (its best proxy for Americans), which made it very embarrassing when it turned out to have been used to spy on some American diplomats working in Uganda using local phones.
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Ruling bodies take aim at golf ball to curtail distance • AP via MSN

Doug Ferguson:


Golf’s ruling bodies are taking aim at the golf ball with a proposal Tuesday that give tours the option to require a ball that goes about 15 yards shorter for the biggest hitters.

The US Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf proposed a “Model Local Rule” that would take effect in January 2026. Still to come is five months of feedback, and most critical to the process is whether the PGA Tour and other top circuits go along with it.

The decision comes from the “Distance Insights Project” that was released in 2020 and suggested that a steady increase in distance — with average gains of about 30 yards by PGA Tour players in the last 25 years — was not good for the game.

“Not doing something is borderline irresponsible,” Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, said during a video conference call Tuesday.

The Overall Distance Standard was created in 1976 to indicate potential distance of drivers by the longest hitters. It was updated in 2004 to change the swing speed in the test from 109 mph to 120 mph, while raising the maximum distance to 320 yards.

The new proposal is to test swing speeds at 127 mph while leaving the maximum distance the same. That means golf balls used today would not meet the standard — the faster the swing, the farther it goes — and companies would have to design golf balls for elite competition that fly shorter.

According to Golf Digest, no one on the PGA Tour has an average swing speed of 127 mph, though some players have registered a speed that fast on occasion.

The Model Local Rule effectively leads to two sets of rules — one for the elite and one for the casual golfer — which goes against a centuries-old game that took pride in having the same set of rules for everyone.

Acushnet Co. spoke out against the proposal. The company that makes Titleist — the golf ball that has long dominated the market — said bifurcation of the rules would cause a divide between the elite and the recreational players and add confusion.


Baseball has different equipment at the top level v the lower levels – aluminium v wooden bats. Sports have a constant struggle to rein in technological advances so that the spectacle remains. One of the first long features I wrote was about how javelins were reshaped to fly less far; that was in 1991.
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Antisemitic tweets soared on Twitter after Musk took over, study finds • The Washington Post

Cristiano Lima and David DiMolfetta:


In the months after Elon Musk’s takeover, antisemitic posts on Twitter skyrocketed, according to a report shared first with The Technology 202, which offers a new detailed look into the growing prevalence of hate speech on the site. 

The study, which used machine-learning tools to identify likely antisemitic tweets, found that the average weekly number of such posts “more than doubled after Musk’s acquisition” — a trend that has held in the months after Musk took over.

The analysis found an average of over 6,200 posts per week appearing to contain antisemitic language between June 1 and Oct. 27, the day Musk completed his $44bn deal to buy Twitter. But that figure rose to over 12,700 through early February — a 105% increase. [ie slightly more than doubled – CA.]

The report — conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonpartisan think tank, and CASM Technology, a start-up that researches disinformation and hate speech online — also found a “surge” in the number of new accounts created immediately after Musk took over that posted at least some antisemitic content. 

Researchers wrote that it represented a three-fold increase in the rate of “hateful account creation.” But critically, the researchers behind the study said the uptick in hateful content extended well beyond that initial wave of new accounts.

“We’re seeing a sustained volume of antisemitic hate speech on the platform following the takeover,” said Jacob Davey, who leads research and policy on the far-right and hate movements at ISD.


12,700 per week is.. 1,814 per day. This, on a network with a couple of hundred million users, where there are about 500 million tweets per day. That isn’t to underplay the fact that Musk has ruined the moderation system at Twitter, and allow all sorts of toxic content to multiply. But this, on its own, needs the More Or Less test: “is that a big number?” I don’t think it is, in this context.
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Good luck tagging your specific location on Twitter anymore • PC Mag

Rob Pegoraro:


Twitter’s sense of place is getting fuzzier: At the end of last week, the service appears to have dropped a location-tagging feature it added in 2015, leaving users unable to mark a tweet at a spot more precise than a neighborhood. 

This option, based on the location-data firm Foursquare’s platform, let people geotag a tweet with a specific venue in Foursquare’s vast database by tapping the pushpin icon below a tweet. Now, tapping that button offers much less specific identifiers—“Midtown South” in Manhattan instead of a particular coffee shop there, for example.

Andrew Logan, a Washington-based audio/video engineer who runs the @HelicoptersOfDC account, called out this apparent cutback in a tweet on Thursday, asking Foursquare’s @FoursquareDevs account if it could confirm this development.

“Something did change.. Tweets don’t have #location on them,” @FoursquareDevs replied to Logan and Twitter’s @TwitterDev account. A second reply from that Foursquare account suggested this was all Twitter’s doing, because its own software frameworks remained operational for partner companies: “We know our APIs are up and available. @Twitter  ?”.

Foursquare did not answer an email sent to its press department Monday morning, while whatever is left of Twitter’s press office sent its new autoreply of a poop emoji.

“Locations are markedly harder to select now, you have to search and know what you are searching for, which makes our Twitter user flow pretty bad,” Logan wrote in an email.

His effort to identify the government-operated helicopters that often overfly D.C. without broadcasting their coordinates via the public Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system has relied on other Twitter users being able to quickly stamp a tweet reporting a helicopter sighting with a precise geotag.


Wouldn’t be surprised if Musk backs this lack of precision wholeheartedly: he didn’t like having his jet’s location identified, so blocking exact locations would fit his pattern perfectly.
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How to meet the climate crisis? Redefine ‘abundance’ • The Washington Post

Rebecca Solnit:


Much of the reluctance to do what climate change requires comes from the assumption that it means trading abundance for austerity, and trading all our stuff and conveniences for less stuff, less convenience. But what if it meant giving up things we’re well rid of, from deadly emissions to nagging feelings of doom and complicity in destruction? What if the austerity is how we live now — and the abundance could be what is to come?

Look closely, and you can see that by measures other than goods and money, we are impoverished. Even the affluent live in a world where confidence in the future, and in the society and institutions around us, is fading — and where a sense of security, social connectedness, mental and physical health, and other measures of well-being are often dismal.

This is the world we live in with fossil fuel — the burning of which makes us poorer in many ways. We know that the fossil fuel industry corrodes our politics. We know that worldwide, breathing air contaminated by fossil fuel kills more than 8 million people a year and damages many more, particularly babies and children. And we know that as fossil fuel fills the upper atmosphere with carbon dioxide that destabilizes temperature and weather, it increases despair and anxiety.
All of this has particularly affected the young, who are justified in their fury and grief. But in truth, we’re dealing with a broader sense of helplessness and even guilt — the impact on the psyche of witnessing or feeling complicit in something wrong.

This is moral injury, and many of us suffer from it. Or we try to avoid seeing and thinking about it, and adopt a numbing, willful obliviousness.

Such numbing breeds inaction, when this crisis demands specific action: a swift transition toward renewables, improved designs for the built environment, better care for the natural world in all the ways we interact with it.

The good news is, the knowledge that we are not separate from nature but dependent on it is already far more present than it was a few decades ago. Everywhere, I see people rethinking how they work and live, turning this knowledge into reality.


The latest IPCC report says we’ve got seven years to ameliorate the worst of it. At least renewables are much easier to install. But the idea that direct air capture (DAC) of CO2 is going to be necessary concerns me, because that’s just not a thing, and still won’t be in seven years’ time.
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‘Missing link’ found between space ice and Earth’s water • The Register

Brandon Vigliarolo:


It looks likely that the water on Earth is older than the Sun and the stuff we drink today probably isn’t all that different than it was over 4.6 billion years ago when our star formed.

Researchers at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), working with the instruments at Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), reached that conclusion based on observations of protostar V883 Orionis, a part of the Orion constellation located around 1,305 light years from Earth. In a paper published in Nature, the boffins say the still-forming star is the missing link to explain how interstellar ice becomes planet-bound water.

“We can think of the path of water through the Universe as a trail. We know what the endpoints look like, which are water on planets and in comets, but we wanted to trace that trail back to the origins of water,” said National Science Foundation NRAO astronomer John Tobin, the lead author of the paper. 

Prior to this research, Tobin said, it was possible to link water on Earth to water in comets, and to observe frozen water in the clouds that form around protostars, but there no link between the two had been recorded. Observations of V883 have changed that, Tobin said, by proving that the ratio of types of water molecules that currently exist in our neck of the woods are similar to those in the under-construction V883 system. 

“We now have an unbroken chain in the lineage of water from comets and protostars to the interstellar medium,” Tobin said. 

…”This is exciting as it suggests that other planetary systems should have received large amounts of water too,” University of Michigan Astronomer Merel van ‘t Hoff, a co-author on the paper, said.


The water planet from Interstellar beckons. Meanwhile, El Reg’s new phrase for water is “space juice”.

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I came to Iraq as an idealistic volunteer and was nearly killed in my first week • New Statesman

Emma Sky is (now) director of Yale’s International Leadership Center:


In spring 2003 I arrived in Basra to find no sign with my name on it. I spent my first night sleeping in a corridor at the airport, in 50°C heat, surrounded by British soldiers stripped down to their underwear. The next day, I got on a military aircraft to Baghdad, found my way to the Republican Palace, which was the headquarters of the coalition, and announced that I was “Emma from England, come to volunteer”.

I was told there were enough people in Baghdad and that I should try the north. In Kirkuk, I was informed that I was now in charge of the province and reporting directly to Paul Bremer, the US diplomat who was the head of the coalition in Baghdad. I had never run a town in my own country, let alone a province in someone else’s.

I realised Iraqis took my role seriously when insurgents tried to assassinate me in my first week in Kirkuk. Fighters approached my house in the middle of the night and fired five rockets into it. One of the rockets reached the room where I was in bed, but the explosion was absorbed by the walls and floor. When the insurgents tried to storm the residence they were prevented by the guards – though after the attack was over my guards resigned, saying it was too dangerous to protect me.

I soon discovered that multicultural Kirkuk was home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Sunnis, Shias, Sufis, Christians, Kakais, Yezidis. It was in Kirkuk that oil was first discovered in Iraq in the 1920s. The Baath party had “Arabised” the province by expelling Kurds and importing Arabs from the south. Following the overthrow of Saddam’s regime there was a struggle for control of the province, with Kurds seeking to annex it to Kurdistan.

I set about meeting local leaders and soon learned that no one was interested in my apologies for the war; they were pleased to be rid of Saddam, and they had high expectations that the coalition could fix everything very quickly. The US, after all, had put a man on the moon, one Iraqi noted.


Twenty years ago: and still we haven’t rebalanced things.
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Stanford’s Alpaca shows that OpenAI may have a problem • The Decoder

Maximilian Schreiner:


Researchers at Stanford used 52,000 instruction-following demonstrations generated by OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 (text-davinci-003) to fine-tune a seven-billion-parameter variant of Meta’s recently announced LLaMA model.

Instruction training is one of the key techniques that make GPT-3.5 superior to the original GPT-3 model, and the training data used is proprietary to OpenAI.

While RLHF is critical for tuning models like ChatGPT or even GPT-4, the essential capabilities of the models are based on their original training – i.e., training with instructions as well.

In their work, the Stanford group used the AI-generated instructions to train Alpaca 7B, a language model that the researchers say exhibits many GPT-3.5-like behaviors. In a blind test using input from the Self-Instruct Evaluation Set both models performed comparably, the team says.

Alpaca has problems common to other language models, such as hallucinations, toxicity, and stereotyping. In particular, hallucinations occur more frequently than in the OpenAI model.

The team is releasing an interactive demo, the training dataset, and the training code. They have also asked Meta for permission to release the model. With the release, the team hopes to enable research on language models trained with instructions. To prevent misuse, they have included a content filter via the OpenAI API and a watermark in the demo.

The model cannot be used for commercial purposes. In addition to safety concerns and the non-commercial license of Meta’s LLaMA model, the team points to the OpenAI GPT-3.5 terms of use, which state that the model may not be used to develop AI models that compete with OpenAI.

The last point is an indication that OpenAI is aware that the output of its own models can be used as a data source for potential replicas. With the leak of the larger LLaMA models with up to 65 billion parameters, it is conceivable that such projects are already in the works – and could also use the output of GPT-4.


Nine months ago this wouldn’t have made any sense to anyone (and it’s still largely incomprehensible), but you get the gist. The numbers involved – 65 billion?? – are just mindboggling.
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The McDonald’s Fries Theorum •

“Everyone’s Favourite Jim”:


A large [McDonald’s Fries packet] has 116% of the fries of a medium, but, at £2.29 vs £1.79, is 128% of the price. Surely, then, there is a point where it’s cheaper to buy more medium portions than large portions.

Turns out, there is. And it’s not as many as you might think.

I wanted to find the crossover point where buying just one more portion of medium fries made it more cost-effective than buying large fries. And here are the results.

[spreadsheet omitted]

If you buy five portions of medium fries, it’s cheaper than four portions of large fries by 21p and you get 37g more fries!

This works up to 7 mediums vs 6 large where you get 1 gram extra of fries for £1.21 less! After that, it gets cheaper but you do get fewer fries.


Bear this in mind next time you’re in – if you’re ever in – a McDonald’s as part of a group. Some interesting psychology at work: the “large” is a worse deal, proportionally, but probably attractive on the face of it to hungry buyers. (“Jim” also did this very fine Photoshop back in May 2017.)
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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

1 thought on “Start Up No.1966: Greek spyware targets Meta exec, Twitter loses your place, rethinking the climate crisis, space juice!, and more

  1. regarding “Good luck tagging your specific location on Twitter anymore • PC Mag” — yes, this is another degredation of Twitter’s service, but I’m not unhappy about this one. I usually don’t want my location to be that obvious, given how many abusive accounts have been reintated by His Muskiness. OTOH, people who follow location-criticial events can find their location through other apps, such at What 3 Words, or other location apps. I know, it’s not as convenient. But I’d rather not be tracked by a new generation of Twitter miscreants.

    Regarding the antisemitic tweets, it is not unexpected that when they reach a critical mass, the alt-right echo chamber will amplify them to the point that Jews will have a hard time using the service without willingly exposing themself to hatred and abuse. When it comes to antisemitism, what you see at first is always the tip of the iceberg to come.

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