Start Up No.1982: the stitches that show wound infection, PC shipments crash, exit Twitter Europe?, bitcoin burning, and more

Would you have guessed that Google has too many staplers? But according to its CFO, that’s one place where economies are needed. CC-licensed photo by Eric E Castro on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Fewer staples too? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

This high schooler invented colour-changing sutures to detect infection • Smithsonian Magazine

Theresa Machemer:


Healthy human skin is naturally acidic, with a pH around five. But when a wound becomes infected, its pH goes up to about nine. Changes in pH can be detected without electronics; many fruits and vegetables are natural indicators that change colour at different pH levels.

“I found that beets changed colour at the perfect pH point,” says [Iowa City West High School pupil Dasia] Taylor. Bright red beet juice turns dark purple at a pH of nine. “That’s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So beets is where it’s at.’”

Next, Taylor had to find a suture thread that would hold onto the dye. She tested ten different materials, including standard suture thread, for how well they picked up and held the dye, whether the dye changed colour when its pH changed, and how their thickness compared to standard suture thread. After her school transitioned to remote learning, she could spend four or five hours in the lab on an asynchronous lesson day, running experiments.

A cotton-polyester blend checked all the boxes. After five minutes under an infection-like pH, the cotton-polyester thread changes from bright red to dark purple. After three days, the purple fades to light gray.

Working with an eye on equity in global health, she hopes that the colour-changing sutures will someday help patients detect surgical site infections as early as possible so that they can seek medical care when it has the most impact. Taylor plans to patent her invention. In the meantime, she’s waiting for her final college admissions results.

“To get to the Top 40, this is like post-doctoral work that these kids are doing,” says Maya Ajmera, the president and CEO of the Society for Science, which runs the Science Talent Search. This year’s top prizes went to a matching algorithm that can find pairs in an infinite pool of options, a computer model that can help identify useful compounds for pharmaceutical research and a sustainable drinking water filtration system.


This is utterly brilliant.
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Global PC shipments suffered a drop of 33% in Q1 2023 • Canalys


The first quarter of 2023 brought further turmoil to the global PC market, with total shipments of desktops and notebooks declining 33% to 54m units, representing the fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit annual declines. The weak holiday season toward the end of 2022 extended into the new year as demand for PC remained muted and the channel pushed forward with inventory clearance as a key priority. Of the product categories, notebook shipments suffered a large decline, falling 34% year-on-year to 41.8m units. Desktop shipments performed slightly better, undergoing a 28% decline to 12.1m units.

…39% of partners surveyed by Canalys in January 2023 reported having more than five weeks of PC inventory, with 18% reporting nine weeks or more. Meanwhile, demand across all customer segments remains dampened, with more pressure arising from further interest rate increases in the US, Europe and other markets, where reducing inflation is a top priority.


Nine weeks of inventory heading into a 12-week quarter means you’re carrying a lot of baggage. Canalys reckons that Apple’s sales dropped 45%, more than any other PC maker. Which is possible, but Apple sells a lot through its own stores rather than third parties. We’ll only know when the financial results come out later this month.

Oddly, the analysts rush to publish PC numbers as soon as the quarter ends, but always wait for the financials before publishing their smartphone sales estimates.
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Apple shifts headset production from Pegatron to Luxshare • Apple Insider

Malcolm Owen:


Apple’s production partner for the long-rumored VR and AR headset has changed, with long-time AirPods assembler Pegatron out in favor of Luxshare.

Apple was expected to introduce its AR/VR headset during WWDC, but at the end of March, it had reportedly pushed back the mass production schedule by one or two months. It now seems that the delay is due to changes in assembly partner.

According to DigiTimes, Apple was going to employ Pegatron as the exclusive assembly partner of the headset. However, Apple allegedly asked Pegatron in March to give up manufacturing duties and the assembly operations to Luxshare.

It is believed that the change occurred due to Pegatron shifting its production capacity away from China into other regions. Moves said to trigger the shift include selling a manufacturing facility in Shanghai to Luxshare.


Ah, so the headset is “delayed” already? My anticipation for something not happening at WWDC is even greater.
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SIG Sauer P320, a popular handgun with police, is firing on its own • The Washington Post

Champe Barton and Tom Jackman:


The P320 is one of the nation’s most popular handguns. A variant of the weapon is the standard-issue sidearm for every branch of the U.S. military. Since the gun’s introduction to the commercial market in 2014, manufacturer SIG Sauer has sold the P320 to hundreds of thousands of civilians, and it has been used by officers at more than a thousand law enforcement agencies across the nation, court records show.

It has also gruesomely injured scores of people who say the gun has a potentially deadly defect.
More than 100 people allege that their P320 pistols discharged when they did not pull the trigger, an eight-month investigation by The Washington Post and The Trace has found. At least 80 people were wounded in the shootings, which date to 2016.


Guns don’t kill people, people… no, actually, it really is the guns.
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The real-world costs of the digital race for bitcoin • The New York Times

Gabriel JX Dance:


In Texas, where 10 of the 34 mines are connected to the state’s grid, the increased demand has caused electric bills for power customers to rise nearly 5%, or $1.8bn per year, according to a simulation performed for The Times by the energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

The additional power use across the country also causes as much carbon pollution as adding 3.5m gas-powered cars to America’s roads, according to an analysis by WattTime, a nonprofit tech company. Many of the Bitcoin operations promote themselves as environmentally friendly and set up in areas rich with renewable energy, but their power needs are far too great to be satisfied by those sources alone. As a result, they have become a boon for the fossil fuel industry: WattTime found that coal and natural gas plants kick in to meet 85% of the demand these Bitcoin operations add to their grids.

…In some states, notably New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, Bitcoin operators’ revenue can ultimately come from other power customers. The clearest example is Texas, where Bitcoin companies are paid by the grid operator for promising to quickly power down if necessary to prevent blackouts.

…Many academics who study the energy industry said Bitcoin mining was undoubtedly having significant environmental effects.

“They’re adding hundreds of megawatts of new demand when we already face the need to rapidly cut fossil power,” said Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton professor who studies electrical grid emissions. “If you care about climate change, then that’s a problem.”


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What happens when ChatGPT lies about real people? • The Washington Post

Pranshu Verma and Will Oremus:


One night last week, the law professor Jonathan Turley got a troubling email. As part of a research study, a fellow lawyer in California had asked the AI chatbot ChatGPT to generate a list of legal scholars who had sexually harassed someone. Turley’s name was on the list.

The chatbot, created by OpenAI, said Turley had made sexually suggestive comments and attempted to touch a student while on a class trip to Alaska, citing a March 2018 article in The Washington Post as the source of the information. The problem: no such article existed. There had never been a class trip to Alaska. And Turley said he’d never been accused of harassing a student.

A regular commentator in the media, Turley had sometimes asked for corrections in news stories. But this time, there was no journalist or editor to call — and no way to correct the record.

“It was quite chilling,” he said in an interview with The Post. “An allegation of this kind is incredibly harmful.”
Turley’s experience is a case study in the pitfalls of the latest wave of language bots, which have captured mainstream attention with their ability to write computer code, craft poems and hold eerily humanlike conversations. But this creativity can also be an engine for erroneous claims; the models can misrepresent key facts with great flourish, even fabricating primary sources to back up their claims.


On its face this sounds like an easy case to make. Chatbot publishes something that’s untrue; untrue thing is libellous (in that anyone who reads it would have a lowered opinion of the person). Except: libel requires knowledge of what’s true and what isn’t. Chatbots don’t have that knowledge. And their operators didn’t put that data in. However, that doesn’t mean judges will take the same view.

Quite possibly the next step will be to stop using the names of live people in output. Can’t libel the dead.
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Google to save money on employee laptops, services and staplers • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:


In separate documents viewed by CNBC, Google said it’s cutting back on fitness classes, staplers, tape and the frequency of laptop replacements for employees.

One of the company’s important objectives for 2023 is to “deliver durable savings through improved velocity and efficiency.” Porat said in the email. “All PAs and Functions are working toward this,” she said, referring to product areas. OKR stands for objectives and key results.

The latest cost-cutting measures come as Alphabet-owned Google continues its most severe era of cost cuts in its almost two decades as a public company. The company said in January that it was eliminating 12,000 jobs, representing about 6% of its workforce, to reckon with slowing sales growth following record head count growth.

Cuts have shown up in other ways. The company declined to pay the remainder of laid-off employees’ maternity and medical leaves, CNBC previously reported.

In her recent email, Porat said the layoffs were “the hardest decisions we’ve had to make as a company.”

“This work is particularly vital because of our recent growth, the challenging economic environment, and our incredible investment opportunities to drive technology forward — particularly in AI,” Porat’s email said.

Porat referred to the year 2008 twice in her email.


Google staff are the first to suffer from AI taking people’s jobs: it’s so expensive they have to be sacrificed.

Also note that the paperless office definitely hasn’t happened. Staplers, eh.
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Before meeting with Elon Musk, top advertisers privately debate his “racist rhetoric” • Semafor

Max Tani:


[Elon] Musk is slated to speak on April 18 at the Possible conference from MMA Global, the premier digital marketing association. He’ll be interviewed by NBCU ad chief Linda Yaccarino and make the case that advertisers — who have abandoned Twitter because they don’t believe it’s a safe place to advertise — should return.

But a private email thread among the organization’s board members, obtained by Semafor, suggests he will face a skeptical audience. Top advertisers, including McDonald’s and Colgate-Palmolive, are concerned that Musk’s comments about race and the platform’s openness to racist speech have rendered Twitter toxic.

“For many communities, his willingness to leverage success and personal financial resources to further an agenda under the guise of freedom of speech is perpetuating racism resulting [in] direct threats to their communities and a potential for brand safety compromise we should all be concerned about,” wrote McDonald’s chief marketing and customer experience officer, Tariq Hassan.  “Further, all of us who lead our brand’s investments across platforms were required to navigate a situation post-acquisition that objectively can only be characterized as ranging from chaos to moments of irresponsibility.”

Colgate-Palmolive’s vice president and general manager of consumer experience and growth, Diana Haussling, wrote to the group that she was “both excited for the success of the conference while also mindful of the harmful and often racist rhetoric of Elon Musk.”


Twitter is trying to set up private meetings between advertisers and Musk after his appearance, as you’d expect, but he may not be that good at playing the supplicant, particularly at a time when budgets are tightening.
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Musk’s Twitter on collision course with Europe, with exit possible •

Luca Bertuzzi:


According to a source involved in the Code of Practice, Twitter’s withdrawal from Europe would not be surprising since its engagement with the Code has been steadily fading, and its capacity to keep up with commitments is no longer guaranteed.

Whilst the Code is a voluntary agreement, it will become binding under the Digital Services Act (DSA), the EU’s brand-new content moderation rulebook. The landmark legislation will introduce a strict regime for very large online platforms, those with more than 45 million users in the EU, by this autumn.

Failing to comply with the EU law could lead to hefty fines, up to 6% of the company’s global annual turnover, or even a complete ban in case of repeated offences.

Musk and other senior company officers have kept a reassuring tone with EU officials, and Twitter has not contested the designation as a very large online platform. Still, the company has been moving in the opposite direction, dismantling the existing transparency and safety features.

“Sooner or later, Twitter will have to decide whether to comply with the DSA,” an EU official told EURACTIV.

That decisive moment might come later in the year when very large online platforms must publish their first risk assessment to be vetted by external auditors.

“Twitter has no capacity to start undertaking the required risk assessments. If they produce nothing, they are probably done in Europe,” Rebekah Tromble, director of the George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics, told EURACTIV.


Musk tweeted about having had a “good meeting” with Thierry Breton, one of the EU commissioners, back in January. We’ll see how that works out.
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Ice Ice MATRIX • YouTube


Welcome to the future, where anything is possible and you never know what to believe. On one hand, you may be convinced we somehow assembled the original cast of The Matrix along side the ghost of Wilford Brimley to record one of the greatest rap covers of all time. On the other hand, you may find it more believable that we’ve been experimenting with AI voice trainers and lip flap technology in a way that will eventually open up some new doors for how we make videos. You have to admit, either option kind of rules.


This is an amazing piece of deepfakery which also lets you hear the lyrics of Ice Ice Baby, now classified as a valuable historical document. Well, a historical document. (Via Benedict Evans.)
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Cardiff flat owner gets tax bills for 11,000 Chinese firms • BBC News


When Dylan Davies went to check his post last November, 580 brown envelopes fell to the floor.

Over the next six months he got tax bills for 11,000 Chinese companies after they fraudulently used his Cardiff address to register for VAT.

“It’s been horrendous,” said Mr Davies, who got letters from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) demanding tax amounting to £500,000.

HMRC admitted the situation did not raise alarm bells at the tax office.

“You’d think there’d be a systems with the technology today that would have picked it up immediately,” Mr Davies said. He told the police and HMRC but the brown letters just kept coming.

When letters from debt collection agencies started to arrive, he got even more worried that bailiffs may come “charging the door down” and feared that the amount of money involved meant his property could be taken.

He said HRMC only started to take notice when he took his concerns to BBC Wales consumer programme X-Ray.

The head of HMRC admitted the problem in a letter to the Commons public accounts committee.
Permanent secretary Jim Harra said: “2,356 of the businesses have a tax debt and we have acted to prevent any further contact with this address in relation to these debts.” Mr Harra said investigations “so far have found no evidence of fraud or fraudulent intent” and 70% of the businesses registered to Mr Davies’s address operated in online marketplaces.


Strange how they all chose his address: there must be something particular about it. And why all at once? Did one company in China decide to use his address, and lots of others followed suit quickly?
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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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