Start Up No.2010: bitcoin in divorces, ChatGPT for press releases, the angry orcas, Google rival closes, Ukraine’s solar answer, and more

The skyscrapers in Manhattan are literally weighing the island down and sinking it into the sea. CC-licensed photo by Hugh Llewelyn on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Buy stocks in wetsuits. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

A husband hid $500,000 in bitcoin during a divorce — and got busted by a crypto hunter • CNBC

MacKenzie Sigalos:


A few months into her divorce proceedings, Sarita thought it was suspicious that her spouse, who earned $3 million annually, didn’t have many assets. After spending half a year on discovery and enlisting the help of a forensic accountant, the New York housewife eventually tracked down 12 bitcoins
— then worth half a million dollars — in a previously undisclosed crypto wallet.

Sarita, who was married for a decade and asked to use a pseudonym to protect herself from retaliation, said she felt blindsided by her husband’s cryptocurrency investment.

“I know of bitcoin and things like that. I just didn’t know much about it,” Sarita said. “It was never even a thought in my mind, because it’s not like we were discussing it or making investments together. … It was definitely a shock.”

The world of financial infidelity has become increasingly sophisticated, as investors “hop” coins across blockchains and sink their cash into metaverse properties. An NBC News poll found that 1 in 5 Americans have invested in, traded or used cryptocurrency, with men between the ages of 18 and 49 accounting for the highest share of all demographic groups.

CNBC spoke with divorce attorneys from Florida, New York, Texas and California, blockchain forensic investigators, financial advisors, as well as spouses who were either hunting down virtual coins or the crypto holders themselves. Most agree that the law can’t keep up with all the new ways that people earn and safeguard digital assets that largely exist outside the reach of centralized intermediaries such as banks.

Family and marital law attorney Kim Nutter said she first dove into the crypto vernacular in 2015 but that the state of Florida, where her practice is based, only recently inserted “cryptocurrency” into the standard request for production of documents — a key part of establishing the couple’s marital property during the discovery process.

“I really still think the law is trying to catch up with this novel form of currency, even though it’s been around for quite a while,” Nutter said.


Move aside, Swiss bank accounts, there’s a new (more traceable) kid in town.
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A new PR tech company just launched that uses OpenAI to take on giants like PR Newswire and Business Wire • Business Insider

Ryan Joe:


Writing and distributing press releases is time consuming and expensive.

“It’s about $5,000 every time, with some additional fees,” said Lesley Klein, senior vice president of strategy and brand marketing at the travel company Priceline. “I also think about the business cost — hours and hours of laborious drafting, editing, reviewing, and alignment across all levels of the organization.”

That cost also makes it difficult for smaller businesses that don’t have the same resources as big companies like Priceline to draft and distribute press releases.

PR tech startup EZ Newswire launched in beta on Wednesday to remove these challenges and give smaller businesses the ability to cheaply write and distribute press releases. The company hopes to massively disrupt the press release distribution space and steal share from its two legacy stalwarts: PR Newswire, owned by PR tech giant Cision, and Business Wire, owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

Users input information like what type of company they have and the key details they want to cover. Then, EZ Newswire uses a combination of its own algorithm and OpenAI’s large language model to automatically write press releases, said company cofounders and co-CEOs Caitlin Kelly and Neel Shah.

ChatGPT alone isn’t good enough to write press releases on its own yet, said Klein.

“ChatGPT is okay for some things, but isn’t there yet in terms of delivering a practical document with the sophistication and pragmatic application that we’d need in a press release,” Klein added.


Utterly inevitable. But PR Newswire and Business Wire don’t write the press releases (to my understanding, but I’m prepared to be corrected) – they’re a distribution system. So ChatGPT is only half of the work here, though probably the harder work intellectually.
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Australian stock exchange says software overhaul won’t involve blockchain • Reuters

Byron Kaye:


Australia’s stock market operator said it will no longer attempt to rebuild its software platform with blockchain-based technology, one of the highest-profile repudiations of the once-feted concept best known for powering cryptocurrency.

ASX Ltd frustrated market participants in November by “pausing” a rebuild of its all-in-one trading, settlement and clearing software based on the decentralised computing concept, after an external review found it had to be largely reworked after seven years of development.

The company has since said it is considering options for another attempt at the rebuild of the 30-year-old software, but at a meeting with participants this week it said it would not involve blockchain or related “distributed ledger technology” (DLT).

Asked if the next attempt would “go down the more conventional route, that is without the focus on DLT (or) blockchain”, exchange project director Tim Whiteley told the meeting that “while we continue to explore all the options, certainly we will need to use a more conventional technology than in the original solution in order to achieve the business outcomes”.

ASX supplied Reuters with a recording of the May 17 meeting.

The statement signals the end of what was to be one of the world’s most prominent use cases of the concept that promises to accelerate online transactions by processing them securely in multiple locations.


Ah, fine, it’ll just be a database. Nice and simple. I think that we’re going to see “blockchain” head off into the sunset just as AI gets its sunrise.
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When Wizz Air wrecked the immigration stats • Financial Times

Tim Harford:


In 2003, József Váradi co-founded Wizz Air, a budget airline that followed the well-established model of flying people inexpensively to smaller regional airports.

Not long afterwards, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and seven other countries joined the EU, giving their citizens the right to live and work anywhere in the union. Many of them decided to settle in the UK, and thanks to Wizz Air, they would often arrive at an airport such as Leeds or Luton.

This was good news for anyone looking to hire workers in the UK, but proved the undoing of the International Passenger Survey (IPS), the mainstay of immigration and emigration estimates in the UK for many years. The IPS is a bit like an opinion poll: IPS surveyors politely stop a sample of people in ports and airports and ask them if they’d be willing to answer a few questions. (Remarkably, almost everyone agrees.)

These questions vary from “How much did your plane ticket cost?” to “How long are you planning to stay?” Many of the IPS questions are really about tourism, but the survey generated enough data to estimate migration into and out of the country . . . barely. The problem, explains Georgina Sturge in her excellent book Bad Data, is that while hundreds of thousands of people are interviewed for the IPS, most of them are tourists and only a few thousand are migrants. The number from any particular country will often be tiny.

It is perilous enough to extrapolate from this small sample, but what really confounds any survey is an unnoticed change that flips the sample from being fairly representative of the background population to not representative at all. Wizz Air delivered that unnoticed change. To oversimplify a little, the IPS enumerators were standing at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, while the people looking forward to making a new life in Britain were arriving at Luton.


Because of this, actual migration numbers were found to be nearly half a million higher in 2011. And then things really got bad. Migration numbers will be in the news this week with the 2022 numbers.
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Orcas have sunk 3 boats in Europe and appear to be teaching others to do the same. But why? • Live Science

Sascha Pare:


Orcas have attacked and sunk a third boat off the Iberian coast of Europe, and experts now believe the behaviour is being copied by the rest of the population.

Three orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as killer whales, struck the yacht on the night of May 4 in the Strait of Gibraltar, off the coast of Spain, and pierced the rudder. “There were two smaller and one larger orca,” skipper Werner Schaufelberger told the German publication Yacht. “The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side.” 

…Reports of aggressive encounters with orcas off the Iberian coast began in May 2020 and are becoming more frequent, according to a study published June 2022 in the journal Marine Mammal Science. Assaults seem to be mainly directed at sailing boats and follow a clear pattern, with orcas approaching from the stern to strike the rudder, then losing interest once they have successfully stopped the boat.

Most encounters have been harmless, López Fernandez told Live Science in an email. “In more than 500 interaction events recorded since 2020 there are three sunken ships. We estimate that killer whales only touch one ship out of every hundred that sail through a location.”

The spike in aggression towards boats is a recent phenomenon, López Fernandez said. Researchers think that a traumatic event may have triggered a change in the behavior of one orca, which the rest of the population has learned to imitate.

“The orcas are doing this on purpose, of course, we don’t know the origin or the motivation, but defensive behavior based on trauma, as the origin of all this, gains more strength for us every day,” López Fernandez said.

Experts suspect that a female orca they call White Gladis suffered a “critical moment of agony” — a collision with a boat or entrapment during illegal fishing — that flipped a behavioral switch. “That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,” López Fernandez said.


Like the premise for a Netflix movie. We’re meant to sympathise with the orcas, right?
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Neeva, once a promising competitor to Google Search, is shutting down • The Verge

David Pierce:


Neeva, which for a while looked like one of the startups with a real chance to challenge the supremacy of Google Search, announced on Saturday that it is shutting down its search engine. The company says it’s pivoting to AI — and may be acquired by Snowflake, The Information reported — but mostly seems to believe it failed.

“Building search engines is hard,” Neeva co-founders Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan wrote in a blog post announcing the shutdown. (Ramaswamy in particular is part of the reason Neeva seemed promising — as the longtime head of Google’s ad business, few people are better equipped to know how to build and monetize search than he is.) But Neeva did it, they said. It built a good, competitive search engine. It was actually well ahead of Google in some respects, like swapping 10 blue links for a more visual page and emphasizing human-created information.

But building the search engine was actually the easy part. “Throughout this journey, we’ve discovered that it is one thing to build a search engine, and an entirely different thing to convince regular users of the need to switch to a better choice,” Ramaswamy and Raghunathan continued.


The thing about Google, when it first arrived, was that it was enormously better than the search engines of the time: you asked for something and it delivered, magically. But Neeva? Looking different isn’t the answer. For me DuckDuckGo offers something different: privacy, and directly copyable links. The search results are pretty much the same.

Still, here comes the pivot to AI. Expect a stampede among cash-starved startups.
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Ukrainians are putting solar panels on hospitals to fight blackouts • The Washington Post

Michael Birnbaum:


Russian airstrikes on Ukraine’s power grid plunged many parts of the country into darkness last fall, but one water company was able to keep its pumps going. Its field of solar panels, installed as an environmentally friendly measure before the war, turned into a tool to resist the Kremlin’s attacks.

Now a growing number of Ukrainian hospitals, schools, police stations and other critical buildings are racing to install solar power ahead of what many expect will be another hard winter later this year.
A less carbon-intense, decentralized energy system is emerging as a key element of Ukraine’s reconstruction efforts. Seven months of Russian attacks on the energy grid have left it severely damaged. Ukrainian doctors, teachers and others have discovered that efforts to boost sustainability can also improve security by making it harder to knock power offline. Ukrainian policymakers, meanwhile, are setting ambitious clean energy goals, trying to shake off their prewar reputation as lagging on climate issues.

Ukrainian deputy energy minister Yaroslav Demchenkov said renewable energy, along with small modular nuclear reactors, are among the country’s priorities for its rebuilding effort. Both would help distribute power generation away from the heavily centralised system the country had before the war, making it more resilient in addition to lowering emissions.

Ukraine generated 11% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2020, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, although more than half of its electricity came from nuclear power plants that are also low emissions. The country’s goal is to build 30 gigawatts of clean power by 2030, which would cover about half of Ukraine’s needs.


Big advantage of microgeneration: nothing short of a direct hit is going to put you offline. Who would have thought that going green would also make you resistant to invasion?
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The e-sports world’s future is uncertain as growth stalls • The New York Times

Kellen Browning:


After years of fanfare, e-sports in the United States are giving way to economic realities. Unable to turn a profit, team owners are cutting costs by laying off employees and ending contracts with star players. In some cases, they are selling their teams and sometimes at a loss, offering a blunt reality check to people who believed e-sports could be the next big thing in entertainment.

Most alarming, some viewers seem to be losing interest. They watched 14.8 million hours of the 2023 spring season of the League Championships Series, the biggest U.S. e-sports league, down 13% from a year earlier and down 32% from 2021, according to estimates from the data firm Esports Charts.

“We’re at a point where everyone has a lot of soul searching to do,” said Rod Breslau, a gaming and e-sports analyst. “There has been way too much hype and too little of actual value.”

Just like in traditional sports, star e-sports players can earn seven-figure salaries and compete for championships, attracting sponsors and fans along the way. Investors over the last decade purchased stakes in teams that participate in professional leagues for games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Call of Duty.

The biggest of those is the League Championship Series, a 10-team league established in 2013 and run by Riot Games, the company that created League of Legends. In the league, teams go head-to-head in League of Legends, a fantasy-themed game, in matches that can draw millions of viewers and fill stadiums.

But the leagues have struggled to make money. Partnerships to broadcast e-sports tournaments on sites like YouTube and Twitch have dissipated, sponsors are slashing their advertising budgets, and owners are operating teams at a loss while paying huge salaries to e-sports players.


I’m going to make a wild suggestion: those 2021 figures were distorted by Covid lockdowns. But as the article makes clear, the problem runs all through e-sports wherever (big) money is involved.
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Tensions flare inside The Messenger, a fledgling news site • The New York Times

Benjamin Mullin:


“Who doesn’t like traffic to their news site?” [former Messenger politic editor Gregg Birnbaum, who quit less than a week after the site went live] said in an email. “But the rapacious and blind desperate chasing of traffic — by the nonstop gerbil wheel rewriting story after story that has first appeared in other media outlets in the hope that something, anything, will go viral — has been a shock to the system and a disappointment to many of the outstanding quality journalists at The Messenger who are trying to focus on meaningful original and distinctive reporting.”

Editors met earlier in the week to discuss concerns about the company’s high-volume approach to publishing. The five journalists who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had grown frustrated with the company’s practice of assigning rewrites of competitors’ stories, a practice that was called out by media critics after the site debuted.

Dan Wakeford, The Messenger’s editor in chief, reassured employees during the meetings that it would take months for The Messenger to build credibility, and that they are taking “things out of context,” according to two of the five people. The company has landed an interview with former President Donald J. Trump and was the first to report the plan by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to campaign aggressively for the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa.

Though The Messenger has hired about 150 journalists — falling short of its initial target — the company is still on pace to hit its initial traffic goals, the two people said. A copy of The Messenger’s internal traffic dashboard from Friday reviewed by The Times shows that the company was close to exceeding 100,000 unique visitors for the day. One person familiar with the company’s recruitment efforts said the company was on pace to reach its goal of 175 employees within weeks.

The Messenger is expecting its traffic to grow in coming weeks as it rises through Google’s search ranking algorithm, one of the five people familiar with the company’s inner workings said.


It really does feel like Roman and Kendall Roy are behind it, winding the clockwork.
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Drag your GAN: Interactive Point-based Manipulation on the Generative Image Manifold • Upenn/Google

Multiple authors:


In this work, we study a powerful yet much less explored way of controlling GANs, that is, to “drag” any points of the image to precisely reach target points in a user-interactive manner, as shown in Fig.1 [top of the paper].

To achieve this, we propose DragGAN, which consists of two main components including: 1) a feature-based motion supervision that drives the handle point to move towards the target position, and 2) a new point tracking approach that leverages the discriminative GAN features to keep localizing the position of the handle points. Through DragGAN, anyone can deform an image with precise control over where pixels go, thus manipulating the pose, shape, expression, and layout of diverse categories such as animals, cars, humans, landscapes, etc. As these manipulations are performed on the learned generative image manifold of a GAN, they tend to produce realistic outputs even for challenging scenarios such as hallucinating occluded content and deforming shapes that consistently follow the object’s rigidity. Both qualitative and quantitative comparisons demonstrate the advantage of DragGAN over prior approaches in the tasks of image manipulation and point tracking. We also showcase the manipulation of real images through GAN inversion.


The demo is amazing: watch it here. Seamless video manipulation in a simple interface.
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New York City is sinking due to weight of its skyscrapers, new research finds • The Guardian

Oliver Milman:


New York City is sinking in part due to the extraordinary weight of its vertiginous buildings, worsening the flooding threat posed to the metropolis from the rising seas, new research has found.

The Big Apple may be the city that never sleeps but it is a city that certainly sinks, subsiding by approximately 1-2mm each year on average, with some areas of New York City plunging at double this rate, according to researchers.

This sinking is exacerbating the impact of sea level rise which is accelerating at around twice the global average as the world’s glaciers melt away and seawater expands due to global heating. The water that flanks New York City has risen by about 9in, or 22cm, since 1950 and major flooding events from storms could be up to four times more frequent than now by the end of the century due to the combination of sea level rise and hurricanes strengthened by climate change.

“A deeply concentrated population of 8.4 million people faces varying degrees of hazard from inundation in New York City,” researchers wrote in the new study, published in the Earth’s Future journal.

The authors added that the risks faced by New York City will be shared by many other coastal cities around the world as the climate crisis deepens. “The combination of tectonic and anthropogenic subsidence, sea level rise, and increasing hurricane intensity imply an accelerating problem along coastal and riverfront areas,” they wrote.

This trend is being magnified by the sheer bulk of New York City’s built infrastructure. The researchers calculated that the city’s structures, which include the famous Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, weigh a total of 1.68tn lbs, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of 140 million elephants.


A wonderful story, for a couple of reasons. Look at the first two paragraphs: they say the same thing, but the first is rather artless but factual – as if written to please a machine – where the second aims for a jauntiness that will please a human. Because that’s the point: the first is for SEO (probably written by a subeditor) and the second is almost surely the original intro (aka lede, American readers) by the writer.

And of course we need to know NYC’s weight in elephants.
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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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