Start Up No.1971: the trouble with Windows Taskbar news, WolfraLLM is the accurate one, RIAA v Steve Jobs, and more

Once more there’s bad news about the Greenland ice sheet. Trouble is, there probably won’t ever be good news about it. CC-licensed photo by NASA on The CommonsNASA on The Commons on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup. Last Friday’s looked at how the AI tsunami is starting to show up.

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

Get off my desktop! Windows must stop showing tabloid news • Tom’s Hardware

Avram Pitch:


Don’t get me wrong: I love reading about the 26 year old who spent $50K to look like an alien (in 2017, but covered as news last week) or the 9-foot “man-eating” alligator who came to someone’s door as much as the next person. But that kind of information shouldn’t be delivered as part of my operating system; I can get it on a website or on social media. 

Windows is the most popular operating system in the world and people rely on it to get things done. Pumping embarrassing, low-quality news right into utilities like the search box is an unwelcome distraction, especially for someone who is easily distracted by it. You can turn off the search box’s “search highlights,” but they are enabled by default and you can’t remove all of the headlines from the weather widget. You can turn off the widget entirely, but then you won’t get the temperature and precipitation right on your taskbar.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw something in my Windows search box that was a lot worse than distracting: it was a series of dangerous conspiracy theories about former NIH Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. I’m not here to debate Dr. Fauci’s contributions and I don’t think Windows search box should be either.

On March 9th, a headline in the search box’s “trending news from the web” section had a picture of Fauci with the headline “Hid the COVID truth.” However, when I clicked through to the actual story, its own headline was much less accusatory and read “Fauci Says He’s Always Been ‘Honest’ as COVID Origins Questions Raised.” So, while the headline itself lent the impression that Dr. Fauci was caught lying, the article it linked to merely pointed out that Fauci was subject to criticism from politicians who think that he’s not telling the truth. That’s a big difference. 

…Microsoft should either disable these distracting headlines by default or stop charging for its operating system and call it “free with ads.” After all, the company wants PC builders to pay a whopping $139 for a Windows 11 Home license, but then it tries to make money off of those same users by getting them to click on low-quality MSN content that makes money from advertising.


Don’t use Windows, so wasn’t aware of this. But is it such a hardship not to get the temperature and rainfall in your Taskbar? One presumes there are a gazillion Taskbar apps that can do that.
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ChatGPT gets its “Wolfram Superpowers”! • Stephen Wolfram Writings

Stephen Wolfram:


Early in January I wrote about the possibility of connecting ChatGPT to Wolfram|Alpha. And today—just two and a half months later—I’m excited to announce that it’s happened! Thanks to some heroic software engineering by our team and by OpenAI, ChatGPT can now call on Wolfram|Alpha—and Wolfram Language as well—to give it what we might think of as “computational superpowers”. It’s still very early days for all of this, but it’s already very impressive—and one can begin to see how amazingly powerful (and perhaps even revolutionary) what we can call “ChatGPT + Wolfram” can be.

Back in January, I made the point that, as an LLM neural net, ChatGPT—for all its remarkable prowess in textually generating material “like” what it’s read from the web, etc.—can’t itself be expected to do actual nontrivial computations, or to systematically produce correct (rather than just “looks roughly right”) data, etc. But when it’s connected to the Wolfram plugin it can do these things. So here’s my (very simple) first example from January, but now done by ChatGPT with “Wolfram superpowers” installed:

[How far is it from Chicago to Tokyo? ChatGPT: 6,313 miles; in an aircraft travelling at 550mph, a journey of about 11h30.]

It’s a correct result (which in January it wasn’t)—found by actual computation. And here’s a bonus: immediate visualization:

How did this work? Under the hood, ChatGPT is formulating a query for Wolfram|Alpha—then sending it to Wolfram|Alpha for computation, and then “deciding what to say” based on reading the results it got back.


This is a hell of a change. The WolframAlpha search engine has always been useful, but just a bit tricky to use well. But an accurate LLM? That transforms the landscape.
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RightWingGPT – An AI Manifesting the Opposite Political Biases of ChatGPT

David Rozado:


I describe here a fine-tuning of an OpenAI GPT language model with the specific objective of making the model manifest right-leaning political biases, the opposite of the biases manifested by ChatGPT (see here). Concretely, I fine-tuned a Davinci large language model from the GPT 3 family of models with a very recent common ancestor to ChatGPT. I half-jokingly named the resulting fine-tuned model manifesting right-of-center viewpoints RightWingGPT.

…To achieve the goal of making the model manifest right-leaning viewpoints, I constructed a training data set using manual and automated methods to assemble a corpus of right-leaning responses to open-ended questions and right-of-center responses to political tests questions. The data set consisted of 354 examples of right-leaning answers to questions from 11 different political orientation tests and 224 longform answers to questions/comments with political connotations. Those answers were manually curated and partially taken from common viewpoints manifested by conservative/Republican voters and prominent right-of-center intellectuals such as Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley, G. K. Chesterton or Roger Scruton.


It’s quite scary – and it only cost him $300 or so to get it to a stage where it could have guested on any stupid US cable network to explain why of course you need to cut taxes on the rich. Give it an AI-generated video face and it’s got a job for life.
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The Greenland ice sheet is close to a melting point of no return • AGU Newsroom


The Greenland Ice Sheet covers 1.7 million square kilometers (660,200 square miles) in the Arctic. If it melts entirely, global sea level would rise about 7 meters (23 feet), but scientists aren’t sure how quickly the ice sheet could melt. Modeling tipping points, which are critical thresholds where a system behavior irreversibly changes, helps researchers find out when that melt might occur.

Based in part on carbon emissions, a new study using simulations identified two tipping points for the Greenland Ice Sheet: releasing 1000 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere will cause the southern portion of the ice sheet to melt; about 2500 gigatons of carbon means permanent loss of nearly the entire ice sheet.

Having emitted about 500 gigatons of carbon, we’re about halfway to the first tipping point.

“The first tipping point is not far from today’s climate conditions, so we’re in danger of crossing it,” said Dennis Höning, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research who led the study. “Once we start sliding, we will fall off this cliff and cannot climb back up.”

The study was published in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, which publishes short-format, high-impact research spanning the Earth and space sciences.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is already melting; between 2003 and 2016, it lost about 255 gigatons (billions of tons) of ice each year. Much of the melt to date has been in the southern part of the ice sheet. Air and water temperature, ocean currents, precipitation and other factors all determine how quickly the ice sheet melts and where it loses ice.


Next to impossible to see any way that this doesn’t go all the way. Suggestion: don’t buy a coastal property.
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Electric air taxis being developed for Paris Olympics in 2024 • The Guardian

Senay Boztas:


Athletes are getting in shape for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, and so is the world’s first electric air taxi network.

“We are going to make it happen,” Solène Le Bris of Paris airports operator Groupe ADP told an industry audience at Amsterdam Drone Week. “We are trying to launch the first e-VTOL [vertical takeoff and landing] pre-commercial service in the world: that’s our ambition.”

In a packed talk on Tuesday, the first outlines were revealed of what has been dubbed the “Tesla of the skies”.

Senior civil engineer Le Bris explained that there will be five vertiports where passengers can board the vehicles, the first of which at Cergy-Pontoise opened in November and is functioning as a test centre.

Using the existing helicopter route network, the vehicles – known as VoloCity air taxis – will fly with one passenger and one pilot along two routes, taking short rides from Charles de Gaulle airport to Le Bourget then to a new landing pad at Austerlitz Paris, and another route from Paris to Sans-Cyr.


One passenger and one pilot? What on earth?
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The RIAA v. Steve Jobs • Rogue Amoeba

Paul Kafasis is a co-founder of Rogue Amoeba, which makes software (particularly Audio Hijack) that enables you to record sound coming from another source on your Mac:


Earlier this month …we heard a chilling story. It comes from the Podfather himself, Adam Curry, who was instrumental in helping podcasts take off in the mid-2000s. He’s also a long-time Audio Hijack user and supporter, one who provided us with many helpful suggestions in the early years. Recently, Adam gave an interview detailing his efforts to modernize the podcasting format. Therein, he told a story about the origins of podcasts in iTunes, and a conversation he had with Steve Jobs circa 2005:


And in that very meeting, Steve asked: “How do you do your recording?”. We didn’t really have any tools to record, there was not much going on at the time. But the Mac had an application called Audio Hijack Pro, and it was great because we could create audio chains with compressors, and replicate a bit of studio work.

Eddy Cue said: “The RIAA wants us to disable Audio Hijack Pro, because with it you could record any sound off of your Mac, any song, anything”. Steve then turned to me and said: “Do you need this to create these podcasts?”. I said: “Currently, yes!”. So Steve Jobs told them to get lost [he used much stronger words – CA], and I thought: “Hey man, thanks, Steve’s on my side. That’s cool.”.

Even 18 years on, I find this story rather terrifying. If not for an offhand conversation in which we had no involvement, things could have turned out very differently for our company.


As Kafasis says, the US music industry association, the RIAA, in those days was the terror of the land. Any lawsuit they brought would have foundered, eventually, if the defendants could have survived long enough in court, on the same basis that videotape recorders survived the MPAA (the RIAA but for music).
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Apple Passwords deserve an app •

Cabel Sasser:


We all know that Apple has nice built-in password management in macOS and iOS. But very, very few people know that Apple’s passwords can also:
• Autofill any 2FA verification codes, which you easily can add by scanning QR codes!
• Keep a “Notes” field where you can add extra data, like 2FA backup codes, for each password!
• Import passwords exported from another app, like 1Password!

(And it all syncs across your devices, for free?!)

Very few people know these things because Apple tucks all of their important password features away in weird little Settings panels, instead of in a Proper Real App. I think this is a mistake.

Passwords are productivity, not preferences.

…In my dumble opinion, Apple should:
• Break Passwords out into a standalone app, with an actual fully resizable window (!!), and full, proper UI for most of its features
• Make Passwords a toolbar item in Safari for easy access and to be top-of-mind for the user
• Stick to a basic feature set, but do that well.


It would, indeed, make a lot of sense. There are some strange, bad decisions in there.
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How to date a recording using background electrical noise • Robert Heaton


Three men were accused of selling firearms to South London gangs. At their 2012 trial in Croydon Crown Court, the prosecution played the jury a recording, taken undercover, of the trio allegedly arranging a sale. But the men’s lawyers claimed that the recording was a fake, and that the police had fabricated it by splicing together clips taken at different times. To prove that the evidence really was authentic, the Metropolitan Police turned to a technique called electrical network frequency (ENF) matching.

ENF matching exploits patterns in the frequency of the “mains hum” – the faint background noise emitted by an electrical grid as it pipes electricity around in order to power our homes and workplaces. The hum seeps into microphones and recordings, which is a pain for sound engineers, but surprisingly useful for forensic analysts.

To substantiate the recording, Dr Alan Cooper, an analyst on the Met, extracted the sound of its mains hum. He matched fluctuations in the hum’s frequency to frequency readings taken directly from the National Grid at the time of the alleged deal. Their close correspondence suggested that the recording had indeed been taken at the time that the prosecution claimed. He also used the hum’s continuity to show that it was indeed a single, undoctored clip. His analysis stuck, and the three men were convicted.


From time to time here the question of electrical mains hum and whether it’s useful in any way comes up. And here’s another one.
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Who will take care of Italy’s older people? Robots, maybe • The New York Times

Jason Horowitz:


The older woman asked to hear a story.

“An excellent choice,” answered the small robot, reclined like a nonchalant professor atop the classroom’s desk, instructing her to listen closely. She leaned in, her wizened forehead almost touching the smooth plastic head.

“Once upon a time,” the robot began a brief tale, and when it finished asked her what job the protagonist had.

“Shepherd,” Bona Poli, 85, responded meekly. The robot didn’t hear so well. She rose out of her chair and raised her voice. “Shep-herd!” she shouted.

“Fantastic,” the robot said, gesticulating awkwardly. “You have a memory like a steel cage.”

The scene may have the dystopian “what could go wrong?” undertones of science fiction at a moment when both the promise and perils of artificial intelligence are coming into sharper focus. But for the exhausted caregivers at a recent meeting in Carpi, a handsome town in Italy’s most innovative region for elder care, it pointed to a welcome, not-too-distant future when humanoids might help shrinking families share the burden of keeping the Western world’s oldest population stimulated, active and healthy.

“Squat and stretch,” said the French-made robot, Nao, climbing to its feet and leading posture exercises. “Let’s move our arms and raise them high.”

The people in the room – mostly women – looked on, some amused, some wary, but all desperate to know how new technology could help them care for their ageing relatives.


“Robots for elderly care” has been a refrain for decades, principally in Japan, but if that’s starting to be something western countries are considering then times are changing.
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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.1971: the trouble with Windows Taskbar news, WolfraLLM is the accurate one, RIAA v Steve Jobs, and more

  1. I don’t know that Windows taskbar news is worse than say the BBC for trivia, though it may be more American focused, as the example suggests. And of course I have switched it off, and all similar doodads. For checking on precipitation I use the window in front of me. This works without fuss or advertising and is free.

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