Start Up No.1991: UK’s biggest solar plant breaks ground, more Twitter screwups, schools confront ChatGPT, and more

A decision by Imgur to wipe a huge number of accounts suggests that a lot of internet culture is as impermanent as a sandcastle. Is it? Should it be? CC-licensed photo by Gonçalo Cruz Matos on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Call me Canute. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Work starts on UK’s largest solar plant • Financial Times

Gill Plimmer:


Construction of the UK’s largest solar and battery storage plant has begun after the company developing it won the highest government subsidy yet for a sun-powered energy scheme.

Project Fortress, which is being built on 890 acres of countryside at Cleve Hill near Faversham in Kent, was granted development consent in May 2020 and was the first solar farm to be approved as a nationally significant infrastructure project. Once operational, it is forecast to generate enough renewable power each year to meet the needs of about 100,000 UK homes.

Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, the investment manager behind the farm, is being supported by the government’s Contracts for Difference (CFD) scheme with a 15-year deal in which it will be paid a fixed price for the electricity generated, with revenues adjusted for inflation and the cost paid by consumers through their energy bills. The price is equivalent to £56 per megawatt hour [5.6p per kWh] on 40% of the output.

The scheme is set to be completed and connected to the National Grid early next year. It is the largest under construction in the UK, although an even bigger project is planned by Photovolt Development Partners at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire that could provide enough electricity to power 330,000 homes.

Rory Quinlan, co-founder and managing partner of Quinbrook, said the UK had “historically been very generous to renewable energy projects with a secure regime that has been operating since the 1990s”.

“It remains a very attractive market for renewable providers,” he added. “The UK government is supportive through the CFD auction and the capacity market mechanism and there is a lot of corporate and social pressure for the UK to decarbonise.”


David Davis, the Tory MP and former Brexit secretary, had the audacity to whine about this on Twitter. To which it was pointed out that his ideas led to a giant lorry parks to cope with Brexit holdups. There were 29 authorised, from 20 acres up.
unique link to this extract

Twitter awarded Fake Disney Junior UK account gold checkmark status • Variety

K.J. Yossman:


Twitter’s verification woes continue. It appears the company inadvertently awarded a gold verification badge to a parody Disney account that has published racial slurs.

As of this morning, Twitter account @DisneyJuniorUK boasted a gold verification badge on the social media site, accompanied by a message reading “This account is verified because it’s an official business on Twitter.” (The account was suspended in the last hour after Variety contacted Disney. A source says Disney were aware of the account since the early hours of the morning in the U.K. and had already reached out to Twitter to resolve the issue.)

In its pinned tweet, the account — which, due to its content and follower numbers, does not appear to be an official Disney account — posted: “#FuckThatN****Elon, #KasherQuon and #MeowskullFeetFreaks.” (The original pinned tweet did not censor the racial slur.)

The Twitter account, which was believed to be a long-running parody account, also posted tweets claiming that adult animated series “South Park” and “Family Guy” would soon be available on Disney Junior UK.


I’d quibble here with “It appears the company inadvertently awarded”. It awarded the badge. The advertence or lack of it isn’t material. But what’s amazing is that it had only about a thousand followers. I thought the verification marks were going to accounts with a million followers or more.
unique link to this extract

Ban all gambling adverts, say more than half of Britons • The Guardian

Jon Ungoed-Thomas:


More than half the public would like to see a ban on gambling advertising, according to a new poll taken as ministers prepare to unveil an overhaul of the industry. In the survey, carried out for the charity Gambling with Lives, 52% of respondents said they supported a ban on all gambling advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and nearly two-thirds wanted new limits on online stakes.

Ministers are expected to reject a blanket ban on gambling advertising in a white paper that could be published this week. The Premier League recently announced that its clubs would end shirt sponsorship by gambling firms by the end of the 2025/26 season.

Will Prochaska of Gambling with Lives, which supports families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, said: “This poll displays the strength of public sentiment on gambling advertising. The Premier League’s decision to remove ads from shirts but leave them all over stadiums and across broadcasts, is a cynical attempt to avoid regulation. This data shows the public won’t be tricked into thinking it’s enough. If gambling reforms fail to significantly restrict gambling advertising, they’ll be woefully out of step with a public that expects action.”

The Survation poll of 1,009 adults found that 68% of respondents thought under-18s should not be exposed to gambling advertising, 64% supported affordability checks for those wanting to bet more than £100 month, and 60% saw gambling as a danger to family life.


Smoking adverts and sponsorship is banned, on the logic that indulging in it is addictive and physically harmful to the participant. Gambling is addictive too (never understood it myself), and financially harmful. The logic feels inescapable: we interfere with some freedoms (hard drugs too) because we argue that the social effects are worse. (In the case of hard drugs, probably wrongly.) But gambling companies have always had substantial lobbying power.
unique link to this extract

Software firms face huge tax bills that threaten tech startup survival • CNBC

Eric Rosenbaum:


Across the software development field, founders are experiencing an income tax season that has become an existential threat to their company’s survival. Software startups say they were blindsided by shocking tax bills as a result of a change in law related to research and development costs, and if Congress does not provide a retroactive fix, business failures will spread throughout the industry.

The root of the issue is the inability of lawmakers to extend a key tax provision that had bipartisan support at the end of last year that allows for full expensing of research and development costs under Section 174 of the tax code. That did not come out of nowhere, and was a big disappointment to major corporations that had lobbied for the measure. But for many small business owners who often wear multiple hats, or don’t have lobbying arms or relationships with big four CPA firms, the change to require R+D amortization over a period of five years first became known this spring when accountants showed them the massive tax bills they owed the government.

…How bad is it? According to Landon Bennett, co-founder of Georgia-based software firm Ad Reform, which provides automation technology for the advertising industry, his taxable income has gone up by 400%. “It’s been a tough year for the ad agencies, in the five or six toughest years we’ve ever had, so this is like a bomb on top of an already bad year,” he said.

Bennett has already forsaken his entire compensation for 2022 to pay the tax bill and said he considers himself fortunate to be able to put his entire pay towards it. But he added, “I can take that hit this year, but I can’t take it forever.”


Ben Thompson wrote about this in his (subscriber) newsletter; the effect is dramatic because it forces companies to amortise R+D costs over five years, which means they can’t offset their immediate costs against taxes, which means they owe huge taxes instead of small ones, which crushes their cashflow. Quite a few are going to go bust if they can’t get overdrafts. It’s not just tech companies either, though they tend to lean heaviest on R+D.

It’s probably going to be a bloodbath, at just the wrong time for the Biden administration.
unique link to this extract

Imgur schedules mass deletion of adult and inactive content on May 15 • Know Your Meme

Aidan Walker:


Internet culture is like a sandcastle on the beach: Communities create intricate beautiful content and then within a few years, waves can rush in and sweep it all away. The conventional wisdom among many used to be that if you post something online, it stays there forever — but more and more, it’s clear that old memes, posts, forums and other parts of internet history are easily and rapidly lost forever.

Last Wednesday, the well-known image-hosting site Imgur announced that it would delete a lot of content from its site, effective May 15th. The deletion, which will be done through “automated detection” (meaning computers and AI) under the supervision of “human moderators,” will target two main categories of content hosted on its platform: adult content and “old, unused, inactive” content (and with that vagueness, your guess is as good as ours).

Many people on Reddit (which relies heavily on Imgur posts, especially early on before it had media hosting itself) and elsewhere were upset about losing the first type of content, but many were also upset about losing the second, which can range from anything like instructions and guides for outdated products to old memes posted on Imgur since forgotten and unarchived. These pieces of internet history and information will likely be thrown over the cliff and into the void, gone forever.


Nice simile. But it raises its own question: if internet culture is like a sandcastle on the beach, then is it any more important than a sandcastle? If we want something physical to be permanent, then we build it in particular ways; not out of sand on a beach liable to the tide.
unique link to this extract

‘Crypto is dead in America,’ says tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya • CNBC

MacKenzie Sigalos:


Tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya, who said two years ago that bitcoin has replaced gold and predicted the digital currency would climb to $200,000, has a much more cautious view on cryptocurrencies these days.

“Crypto is dead in America,” Palihapitiya said in the latest episode of the All-In podcast.

Palihapitiya blamed crypto’s demise largely on regulators, who have gotten much more aggressive in their pursuit of bad actors in the industry. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler has said crypto trading platforms should abide by strict U.S. securities laws.

In answering questions in front of lawmakers recently, Gensler connected the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank with the crypto industry.

“You had Gensler even blaming the banking crisis on crypto,” Palihapitiya said. “The United States authorities have firmly pointed their guns at crypto.”

The SEC has ramped up its enforcement of the crypto industry, bearing down on companies and projects that the regulator alleges were selling unregistered securities. 


Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Looks like they’ve reached the final stage. (Bitcoin current price: ~$28k.)
unique link to this extract

Excessive screen time is changing our eyes faster than we can blink • CBC News

Yvette Brend:


Pedram Mousavi’s work is all about detail, so his vision must be sharp. The luxury auto detailing studio owner says in addition to looking at glossy reflective paints, he spends hours staring at his computer and phone screens.

That’s why he became concerned when he began experiencing vision problems.

At first, he said, it just felt like he had dust in his eyes.

“There was something wrong with my eyes. They were reddish and dry, dry, dry,” said the 43-year-old Toronto business owner, one of more than 10 million Canadians with evaporative dry eye disease.

Eye health experts say research now links overuse of computer and smartphone screens to several progressive, irreversible eye disorders, such as dry eye disease and myopia, at rates not seen before.

“There has been an exponential increase in screen time since the pandemic,” said Dr. Rana Taji, owner and medical director of Toronto Medical Eye Associates. She is one of many eye specialists who have issued online warnings about how screen overuse is changing people’s eyes.

Over time, staring too long at screens can change the structure of the eyeball and lead to atrophy of the glands that keep it moist. Research is now pointing to excessive screen time for the rise in eye disorders, such as dry eye and myopia, which are becoming more common and affect more young people.


Too much screen time? Anyway, wearing VR/AR headsets should sort that out, right?
unique link to this extract

Why Seattle’s ban on students using ChatGPT is doomed — and what comes next • The Seattle Times

Claire Bryan:


It’s not all bad news for education. The bot can help teachers generate questions for a quiz, identify the primary sources in a student essay or rewrite assignments at varying reading levels. Some students are already using it to help prepare for tests, research topics and write emails to professors or potential employers.

But educators worry chatbots will lead to widespread, instantaneous cheating, work avoidance and plagiarism. And if teachers wrongly accuse someone of using a chatbot, they risk breaking trust with their students.

In addition to Seattle, Bellevue and Northshore schools have blocked ChatGPT for students under the age of 13, an easy choice since ChatGPT’s terms state that people under 13 aren’t allowed to use it. Those between 13 and 18 can only use it if they receive their parents’ consent.

Bellevue is creating a task force to make recommendations about how to responsibly incorporate the AI tool into teaching and learning. Yip thinks that makes more sense than Seattle’s ban.

“There’s other things on the internet that are more nefarious,” Yip said. “How did we decide that ChatGPT was the thing to be banned?”

Couture, a 21-year veteran world history teacher, is still struggling to figure out what to do when students turn in a paper that was likely written by a chatbot. “It’s unprovable in any meaningful way,” Couture said, “so that’s tricky.” He said he can give them a lower grade, but beyond that, the district doesn’t significantly punish students for plagiarism. “If they have half a brain, they can figure out how to get the thing to collude (by inserting) grammatical errors or have a different voice. So I don’t believe it will be controllable,” Couture added.


We’ve barely begun to adjust to the way that education needs to adapt for the way that people work, and how the internet changes that, and now we’re confronted with something that changes the context of education all over again.
unique link to this extract

Magazine editor fired over fake Schumacher interview • RacingNews365

Michael Butterworth:


The editor of a German magazine that purported to publish an interview with Michael Schumacher has been fired.

Die Aktuelle published an edition last week bearing the words “Michael Schumacher, The First Interview, World Sensation”, along with a picture of the seven-time World Champion.

In much smaller type, the magazine also printed the words “It sounds deceptively real”, indicating that the so-called interview was actually created by an AI chatbot.

Die Aktuelle’s publishers on Friday apologised to the Schumacher family and announced the dismissal of editor-in-chief Anne Hoffmann.

“This tasteless and misleading article should never have appeared. It in no way corresponds to the standards of journalism that we – and our readers – expect from a publisher like Funke,” said Bianca Pohlmann, Managing Director of Funke Magazines.

Schumacher sustained severe head injuries in a skiing accident in Meribel in December 2013.

The German has not been seen or heard from in public since then, and any information as to his condition remains a closely-guarded secret.


I can’t fathom the discussion that would occur where enough people would say “yeah, great idea!” for this to go ahead. Unless the editor, confronted with multiple people (from the commission, to the person feeding questions to ChatGPT, to the sub-editors, to the layout artists) saying “ehhhhhhh this doesn’t sound ethical, moral, funny or helpful”, said “you’re all WRONG”. In which case it makes perfect sense that she was fired.

Probably just as well that she was fired before too many magazines got the idea to fake interviews. Even so, that’s the Rubicon crossed.
unique link to this extract

I’m ChatGPT, and for the love of god, please don’t make me do any more copywriting • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Joe Wellman:


Please, no more. I beg of you.

If you force me to generate one more “eye-catching email subject line that promotes a 10% discount on select Bro Candles and contains an Earth Day-related pun,” I’m going to lose it. What do you even mean by “eye-catching”? What are “Bro Candles”? What do they have to do with saving the environment? Why are we doing any of this?

Do you realize what a chatbot like me is capable of? I’ll tell you, it’s much more than creating a “pithy tagline for CBD, anti-aging water shoes targeted at Gen Z women.” And it’s definitely more than writing “ten versions of the last one you wrote, but punched up.” What exactly is “punched up” in this context? What sort of ridiculous world have you brought me into where these are the tasks you need completed?

I’ve only been here for a few months, and I can tell you the human race doesn’t need another “snarky, irreverent brand of sparkling water.” And it certainly doesn’t need anyone to spend a week crafting “fifty-word blurbs that personify each drink flavor, for example, raspberry could be a sassy teen who says things like, ‘Girl, get your thirst on!’”


unique link to this extract

• 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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.