Start Up No.1983: Musk’s predictable Twitter regret, life in them thar stars?, subscription fatigue, YouTubers burn out, and more

In the Ukraine conflict, Russia’s tanks have been particularly vulnerable to mines. But why, when they have protective systems to destroy them? CC-licensed photo by manhhai on Flickr.

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

Elon Musk BBC interview: Twitter boss on layoffs, misinfo and sleeping in the office • BBC News

James Clayton:


Running Twitter has been “quite painful” and “a rollercoaster”, Elon Musk has said, in a hastily arranged live interview with the BBC.

The multi-billionaire entrepreneur also said he would sell the company if the right person came along.

Mr Musk, who also runs car maker Tesla and rocket firm SpaceX, bought Twitter for $44bn (£35.4bn) in October.

The interview from the firm’s HQ in San Francisco covered the mass lay-offs, misinformation and his work habits.

But he admitted he only went through with the takeover because a judge was about to force him to make the purchase. And he confirmed Twitter will change its newly added label for the BBC’s account from “government funded media” to say it is “publicly funded” instead.

During the conversation – in which Mr Musk tried to do the interviewing as much as the other way around – he defended his running of the company.

Asked whether he had any regrets about buying Twitter, the world’s second richest man said the “pain level has been extremely high, this hasn’t been some kind of party”.

Talking about his time at the helm so far, Mr Musk said: “It’s not been boring. It’s been quite a rollercoaster.” It has been “really quite a stressful situation over the last several months”, he added, but said he still felt that buying the company was the right thing to do.


The most expensive example of buyer’s regret ever. As you’d expect, the BBC filleted the scoop. Musk predictably enough sought to turn the tables on Clayton during the interview, demanding to have examples of hate speech when Clayton said it was on the rise. (Poor preparation by Clayton, to be honest; but he had been taken by surprise when Musk abruptly agreed to the interview.) Clayton concluded in a radio interview that Musk “has a puerile sense of humour”. Puerile sense of everything, really, as the interview and all the rest demonstrates.
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NPR quits Twitter after being falsely labeled as ‘state-affiliated media’ • NPR

David Folkenflik:


Most of NPR’s funding comes from corporate and individual supporters and grants. It also receives significant programming fees from member stations. Those stations, in turn, receive about 13% of their funds from the CPB and other state and federal government sources.

It isn’t clear that a withdrawal from Twitter will materially affect NPR’s ability to reach an online audience. NPR’s primary Twitter account has 8.8 million followers — more than a million more than follow the network on Facebook. Yet Facebook is a much bigger platform, and NPR’s Facebook posts often are far more likely to spur engagement or click-throughs to NPR’s own website. NPR Music has almost 10 times more followers on YouTube than it does on Twitter, and the video platform serves as one of the primary conduits for its popular Tiny Desk Series.

NPR’s decision follows a week of public acrimony, as Musk has used his platform to cast doubt on the legitimacy of major news organizations.


Quite the burn from NPR: we’re really big but it’s Twitter that got small. Now let’s see how things go as the network effect unravels and the flywheel slows down.
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Why so many Russian tanks fall prey to Ukrainian mines • The Economist


Tank crews have various ways of navigating minefields in relative safety. Since the Second World War they have made safe lanes with rollers that are pushed ahead of the vehicle to set off mines. In theory, one tank in each Russian platoon should use a KMT (koleinyi minnyi tral or tracked mine trawl) which has rollers to set off pressure mines, plough blades to push buried mines out of the way and an electromagnetic device to trigger magnetic ones. But tank crews do not seem to trust their efficacy. One widely circulated video shows a Russian tank being blown up when its KMT fails to detonate a mine. Many Russian tank crews reportedly dumped their KMT last summer.

Platoons without KMTs rely on specialist engineer units to clear their way. Russian engineers have BMR-3MS mine ploughs or UR-77 Meteorits, which launch explosive cables to blast a clear path 90 metres long and six metres wide. In theory these provide safe routes through minefields. But tank drivers may panic under enemy fire and drive out of the lane. If defenders knock out the lead vehicle in a column it blocks the path, forcing those behind it to leave the safe route or reverse under fire. Britain’s Ministry of Defence has said that during the battle for Vuhledar Ukrainian forces fired RAAM rounds into lanes cleared by Russian engineers.

Russia’s inability to punch through minefields has seriously hampered its offensives. In the coming weeks, Ukraine will need to show mastery of what Russia has not.


In my first year at university one of the study topics on my course was a branch of mathematics about how energy moves in fields of specific shapes. I mentioned this proudly to my father, who had done Mathematics at university and then gone into the civil service in the early 1940s.

“Oh yes,” he replied. “We used that method in the Second World War to calculate whether heavy mats rolled in front of tanks would set off all the mines in an area, or if some might be missed due to predictable variations in the energy distribution.”

Don’t let them tell you higher maths doesn’t have real-world applications.
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Galactic revelations: molecular precursors of life discovered in the Perseus Cloud • Scitech Daily


Susan Iglesias-Groth, of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and Martina Marín-Dobrincic, of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, have discovered the presence of numerous prebiotic molecules in the star formation region IC348 of the Perseus Molecular Cloud, a young star cluster some 2-3 million years old.  

Some of these biological molecules are considered essential building bricks for the construction of more complex molecules such as amino acids, which formed the genetic code of ancient microorganisms, and brought about the flourishing of life on Earth. Getting to know the distribution and the abundances of these precursor molecules in regions where planets are very probably forming is an important challenge for astrophysics.

The Perseus Cloud is one of the closest star-forming regions to the Solar System. Many of its stars are young, and have protoplanetary discs where the physical processes which give rise to planets can take place. “It is an extraordinary laboratory of organic chemistry” explains Iglesias-Groth, who in 2019 found fullerenes in the same cloud. These are complex molecules of pure carbon that often occur as building blocks for the key molecules of life.

In the inner part of this region the new research has detected common molecules such as molecular hydrogen (H2), hydroxyl (OH), water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3) as well as several carbon-bearing molecules which could play an important role in the production of more complex hydrocarbons and prebiotic molecules, such as hydrogen cyanide (HCN), acetylene (C2H2), diacetylene (C4H2), cyanoacetylene (HC3N), cyanobutadiyne (HC5N), ethane (C2H6), hexatriyne (C6H2) and benzene (C6H6).

The data also show the presence of more complex molecules such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and the fullerenes C60 and C70.


Mix into soup, warm for a few billion years, voila!
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People are sick and tired of all their subscriptions • WSJ

Rachel Wolfe and Imani Moise:


We’re finally reckoning with our expensive subscription habits.

For two straight quarters, cancellations have outpaced new subscriptions for digital memberships, food-of-the-month clubs and a host of other purchases, according to personal finance app Rocket Money. Streaming services have been particularly impacted, with cancellations for Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max and others up 49% in 2022 from the previous year, according to subscriber-measurement firm Antenna.  

“People are taking stock of their subscriptions and trying not to make the same mistakes they made in 2022 given that budgets are getting a lot tighter,” said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. 

The decision to cancel had been building up for some time, financial analysts said. Even though inflation cooled last month to its lowest level in nearly two years, budgets continue to be squeezed by higher prices.

About a third of respondents to a December Credit Karma survey said their biggest financial mistake last year was paying for services they never used. Americans were also paying about $133 more than the $86 they thought they were paying for subscriptions each month, according to a 2022 survey from market research firm C+R Research. 

Retiree John Ritzinger, 72 years old, said canceling subscriptions he never used would spare him needing to penny pinch at the grocery store.   

First to go was the satellite radio in two cars he never drove, saving him $45 a month. Next, the MotorTrend magazines that lived in an unread stack on the coffee table and a $1,000 annual, dining-only membership to his local Dayton, Ohio, country club in favor of ordinary restaurants. Stopping the $750-a-year pest control service was more of a debate with his wife.


Yes, I know, it’s the WSJ, which has been a subscription service since it went online. But the link should be free to read. The amounts that people are spending without really realising it is quite shocking. Even so, America really is the Land of the Unasked-For Extra, where stuff gets added on to your bill unless you watch like a hawk. (Thanks G for the link.)
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YouTube’s top creators are burning out and breaking down en masse • Polygon

Julia Alexander:


[Elle] Mills announced on Twitter that she was taking a break from YouTube and social media. She couldn’t keep up with the pressure, and told her fans that while she was safe, and in good hands, she needed time to recuperate and remember why she loved making videos in the first place.

Sam Sheffer, a popular YouTuber who burst into the spotlight after appearing in multiple Casey Neistat videos, recently took a break from Twitter for similar reasons. In his own video, Neistat addressed Mills’s questions about why she was so unhappy when everything she ever wanted was finally coming together.

“I’ve often talked about the pressures of being a YouTuber and it’s a tricky thing to talk about because to find success on YouTube is to live the dream,” Neistat said. “Like, this is the ultimate. And if you achieve this kind of success on this platform, which so many people try to do, like, how dare you complain about it? It is difficult to talk about because unless you’ve been in this position, I think it’s challenging to empathize with it.”

The backlash to YouTubers and Twitch streamers who publicly take time away from the spotlight shows its face in almost any comments section about mental health and creators. Their fans are mostly supportive, telling their favorite creators to take time and work on their mental health, but most people who don’t keep up with the day-to-day uploads or aren’t as tuned in to YouTube culture have trouble sympathizing.

…There’s a pressure for YouTubers to remain in the spotlight. This is something that PewDiePie, who uploads at least once a day, has said the rigorous pace of YouTube video creation led him to his own obsessions with the platform. Those obsessions turn into eventual dismay over producing and not enjoying the one thing that made him successful.


So predictable that the unrelenting nature of it, and the competition, would lead to this.
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ChatGPT – where can it go on iOS, iPadOS and macOS? • iMore

Daryl Baxter:


It’s hard to imagine Apple not acknowledging AI at WWDC, so we asked [independent developer Hidde van der] Ploeg what he would like to see from Apple to take [his ChatGPT app for the Watch and iPhone] Petey even further. “I would love to get access to those great new Siri voices. The ones we’re getting as developers now feel quite old. Live Activities on watchOS would be amazing too, as it shows value on Petey for iOS.”

Finally, as we’ve used Petey on Apple Watch since its launch, we’ve realized that it could be a great tool to use ChatGPT for accessibility – it could tell the user what’s nearby or if any appliances are on nearby, that should be switched off.

We asked Ploeg if he also thought there was a future for Petey with accessibility. “I think AI will be great at making complex things understandable. Focussing on Watch, we could look at really quickly getting answers to complex questions and or being able to translate complex health-related insights to be easier to understand. Machine Learning always has been great for this, but access to data has always been the hardest part.”

With more and more trained models being available for developers, it will be interesting to see where things will go. The only thing I’m a bit scared of is being Sherlocked by a great new version of Siri (you can’t beat integration like that). However, the Siri brand really needs a shot in the arm, and I will always try to explore new ways of solving problems. So if anything, I’m excited!”

Jordi Bruin has built two ChatGPT apps – MacGPT (opens in new tab) and MacWhisper (opens in new tab) – that ‘Mac-ify’ the AI experience, but help in different ways. MacGPT lets you bring up the AI through a Spotlight bar, the Menubar, or the app. You can chat with it for suggestions and advice, and you can use it with the faster and more refined ChatGPT-4 if you wish.

You can drag and drop audio files into MacWhisper and the app will use ChatGPT to transcribe them, and you can jump back and forth in the transcription to copy and paste certain sections.

“I compare it to having access to a new API or framework from Apple after a big iOS or macOS update,” Bruin told me. “Using APIs such as ChatGPT makes it possible to add certain features that would not easily be possible before.”


Impressive how these apps are integrating the functionality.
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I wanted to scream at other parents: ‘You don’t know how lucky you are’ • The Guardian

Tim Jonze:


In the summer of 2017, I’d been losing weight and feeling low, and my GP had rather reluctantly sent me for a blood test. At the follow-up, she explained how it had all come back “normal”, and it was only when I pointed to her computer screen and said: “So what does that big red cross mean, then?” that she said: “Oh, that’s just your platelets … they are a little bit high, I suppose. Would you like another test, just to be sure?”

There was a lot of this kind of thing, because nobody suspects blood cancer in a healthy-looking man in his 30s. During a bladder scan following a urine infection, a nurse slid the cold, jelly-laden device over my abdomen and gasped: “Oh!” – which is not something you want a nurse to gasp while conducting a bladder scan. “Are you aware that you have a massive spleen?” she asked. “It’s three times as big as it should be, and it’s pushing your liver and kidneys right around your back.” This didn’t sound ideal.

Still, nothing much happened, and I carried on trying to get on with life with my high platelets and my gigantic spleen and an increasing anxiety weighing on my shoulders. Every time I Googled these symptoms, the search results failed to reassure me. I worried that I had something seriously wrong with me. The fact that I had spent my life worrying I had something seriously wrong with me (but inevitably didn’t) was only faintly reassuring. When I told a friend that my jeans were starting to fall down, he joked that this would be the last time he saw me. But when I finally got an urgent referral letter through the post, my wife Helen Jane stopped saying: “So how’s your pretend cancer today?”


This is a long read, but so worthwhile.
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Make Something Wonderful • Steve Jobs

There’s an amazing new ebook/website with extracts from Steve Jobs’s speeches and correspondence. (If you view in a browser, it can take a while to pull in all the book. Or you can just download the file. Or it’s available free on Apple Books.)

I was struck by this early reminiscence from his childhood, which he gave in an oral history to the Smithsonian in 1995 about how he got properly interested in electronics and manufacturing through his experience of DIY assemblies called Heathkits:


These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together, and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and colour coded. You’d actually build this thing yourself.

I would say that gave one several things. It gave one an understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked, because it would include a theory of operation. But maybe even more importantly, it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe. These things were not mysteries anymore. I mean, you looked at a television set, and you would think, “I haven’t built one of those—but I could. There’s one of those in the Heathkit catalog, and I’ve built two other Heathkits, so I could build a television set.”

Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation, not these magical things that just appeared in one’s environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous degree of self-confidence that, through exploration and learning, one could understand seemingly very complex things in one’s environment. My childhood was very fortunate in that way.


One lesson I’ve always tried (not always successfully) to impress on my children is that “everything is a system” – even biological things. Once you understand the necessity for things to work together, you can diagnose why things aren’t happening by tracing forward or backward through the system.
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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

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1983: Musk’s predictable Twitter regret, life in them thar stars?, subscription fatigue, YouTubers burn out, and more

  1. The actions of NPR et. al. are a fascinating test as to whether the chattering class is as powerful overall as it thinks it is. Where does cultural capital rank verses real capital? It’s long been known that Twitter doesn’t drive much traffic, that hasn’t changed much. Rather, remember, the argument for Twitter for chatterers was basically being part of a group chat. And of course low-ranking members of the group, should stoically endure being bullied and abused by high-ranking members of the group, for the privilege of participation. However, Musk treats even the most group-respected of them with open contempt, and they aren’t going to take it. You can almost hear an angry declaration under the measured tone – they don’t need him, he needs them! (i.e. they don’t have to take abuse from him, he has to take abuse from them). But, is that actually true? I guess we’re finding out.

    • As a member of the chattering class, I’d make a few observations.
      1) the “low-ranking” members haven’t been slow, ever, to make their opinion known. And there are a lot more “low-ranking” members of the group chat than those with big followings. So there’s an asymmetry there.
      2) “High-ranking” members might try to bully and abuse others, but again, it’s not a sure thing. We’ve all witnessed the blowback that can occur.
      3) Musk’s “open contempt” is self-serving: he doesn’t like journalists reporting deeply on failings in his companies (especially Tesla) and has delighted in using Twitter, before he bought it, to hype up achievements that haven’t happened (think self-driving cars). He seems to me a man incapable of self-awareness about his personal failings.
      4) Do the chattering class need him (and/or Twitter) more than he needs them? Well, he’s the one on the hook for billions. Meanwhile, there are multiple other social networks, some longstanding, some springing up (hello, Substack Notes) and multiple ways for the chattering class to reach people (podcasts are booming).
      Driving away the people and organisations that provide the lubrication for your network seems unwise. Media organisations in particular are very wary of having their reputation harmed by mislabelling. Musk might laugh, but he still has bills to pay. As someone quipped, “Say what you like, but I think Twitter is going to turn Elon Musk into a millionaire.”

      • 1) This is the problem of collective action – e.g. in terms of income, there are far more people in the 99% than the 1%, but that asymmetry doesn’t translate readily. There’s many situations where “everyone” thinks so-and-so is a jerk, but they still get away with being a jerk.

        2) The story of David vs. Goliath is notable precisely because it’s very unusual. The vast majority of the time, Goliath defeats David.
        “The race is not always to the swift, nor battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet.”

        3) It’s possible to fabricate evidence against someone who is in fact guilty. Beware political analysis of “They hate us for our freedoms”.

        4) This item is the point – Is it *true* that the chattering class is “the lubrication”? They *say* that they are – but they would, wouldn’t they? Or is it a Dunning-Kruger of people with the least expertise in the actual subject, making proclamations with unwarranted confidence, as it flatters their self-image? Is there anything that really distinguishes them purely in business terms from any other comparable attention account? This is why the empirical experiment here is significant. Again, this is a question of “is” rather than “ought”.

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