About charlesarthur

Freelance journalist - technology, science, and so on. Author of "Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet".

Start Up No.1913: Coindesk for sale?, Bankman-Fried speaks up, Apple has still been advertising on Twitter, what if Gai?, and more


You think that ebooks last a long time? The physical version is more likely to be readable in 20 years’ time. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart 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.


On Friday there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 10 links for you. Very smoothly. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Online news site CoinDesk attracts suitors amid crypto crash • Semafor

Bradley Saacks and Liz Hoffman:

»

CoinDesk, the online news site whose story on cracks in Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire sparked an industry-wide meltdown, has attracted takeover interest as its owner tries to reassure investors, people familiar with the matter said.

One of the approaches suggested a $300m purchase price but it was considered too low, some of the people said. CoinDesk was making about $50m in annual revenue from a mix of traditional online advertising and its popular Consensus conference.

It is part of Barry Silbert’s privately held Digital Currency Group, a conglomerate that includes Grayscale Investments, which manages funds that own bitcoin, ether, and other coins, and Genesis, which lends against customers’ crypto holdings. That business is under pressure, as the collapse of Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange spreads chaos and contagion through cryptoland. Bankman-Fried is an investor in Semafor.

There’s no formal sales process for CoinDesk, but it has attracted interest from a broad set of potential buyers, including private equity firms, family offices, rival publications including Blockworks, and hedge funds that hunt for distressed assets, the people said.

«

I’d take that “$300m was offered but it was too low” bit with a pinch of salt. Very much “someone offered to buy my car for a huge price, you wouldn’t know them, they live in another town”. And the $50m from ads and a conference? Could be, given the madness around crypto. Though that isn’t profit, of course. Running a conference (especially amid Covid) wouldn’t have been the easiest thing.

But the irony of the news site that yanked apart the crypto mess being up for sale to make up for the crypto mess is too rich.
unique link to this extract


Live: Sam Bankman-Fried speaks at the DealBook Summit • The New York Times

Lauren Hirsch, Ryan Mac and others:

»

SBF’s overall defence, the narrative that he is trying to build, is that the losses were FTX’s customers’ accounts — money that those clients had lost on margin, and that FTX was required to cover. He’s not denying that he, or FTX, used clients’ deposits to cover FTX, and Alameda’s losses. In fact, he’s saying he was allowed to cover one client’s losses with the money from others. That’s a more sophisticated argument, but it still may not be legal.

«

There’s a ton of this stuff, including the fact that he’s talking against the advice of his lawyers. He strikes me as someone whose trading smarts (which he does have; it’s how he made his money originally) make him think he’s smarter than everyone all the time. He isn’t, and his business wasn’t, and the implosion is coming.
unique link to this extract


Crypto lenders’ woes worsen as bitcoin miners struggle to repay debt • Bloomberg via Yahoo

David Pan:

»

Beleaguered crypto lenders are being dealt another blow from Bitcoin miners as they weather the aftermath of the FTX collapse.

Miners, who raised as much as $4bn from mining-equipment financing when profit margins were as high as 90%, are defaulting on loans and sending hundreds of thousands of machines that served as collateral back to lenders. New York Digital Investment Group, Celsius Network, BlockFi, Galaxy Digital, and the Foundry unit of Digital Currency Group were among the biggest providers of funding to finance computer equipment and build data centers.

The liquidity crunch hitting digital-asset markets after FTX failed comes as low Bitcoin prices, soaring energy costs and more competition weigh on miners. Loans backed by the computer equipment, known as rigs, had become one of the industry’s most popular financing tools. Many lenders are now likely facing substantial losses since they can’t seize any other assets besides the machines, whose value has dropped by as much as 85% since last November.

“People were pouring dollars into the mining space,” said Ethan Vera, chief operations officer at crypto-mining services firm Luxor Technologies. “Miners ended up dictating a lot of the loan terms, so the financiers moved ahead with a lot of the deals where only the machines were collateral.”

«

Not going to see that money again. Lots of overheated mining rigs going cheap real soon now. (Bitcoin’s price, meanwhile, is gyrating around the $17,000 mark: money seems to be moving back into it, though these days, who knows.
unique link to this extract


Editor’s note: a review of criticisms of a ProPublica-Vanity Fair story on a COVID origins report • ProPublica

Stephen Engelberg:

»

On Oct. 28, ProPublica and Vanity Fair published a story about an interim report on the origins of COVID-19 released by the Republican oversight staff of a Senate committee. The interim report was the product of a far-reaching investigation into the question of how the pandemic began, and we wanted to give readers an inside view of the team’s work and share independent experts’ views of its findings.

The debate over COVID-19’s origins has been contentious from the start, and the report’s conclusion that the pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident” triggered criticism. Scientists, China observers and others questioned the Senate team’s findings and our reporting about them.

Over the past several weeks, reporters and editors at both publications have taken a hard look at those criticisms.

Our examination affirms that the story, and the totality of reporting it marshals, is sound.

«

They really weren’t going to walk it back, but even the “Chinese translation experts” they called in don’t really agree with them. This was a terrible story, with no sensitivity to bureaucratic Chinese phrasing, which started from a conclusion and tried to work back to find any details that might support it. James Palmer of Foreign Policy isn’t buying it.
unique link to this extract


Apple buying more Twitter ads despite Elon Musk claims: report • Gizmodo

Thomas Germain:

»

On Monday, Elon Musk picked a public fight with Apple, accusing the company of freezing its advertising on Twitter and wondering aloud if the alleged pause was because “they hate free speech in America.” In fact, Apple spent $84,615 on Twitter ads that very same day, according to data from Pathmatics, a digital ad analytics company. The day before that, Apple spent a full $104,867.

The data contradicts Musk’s claims that the iPhone maker “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.” Apple’s Twitter advertising purchases actually grew from October to November, Pathmatics’ research showed. Apple spent $1,005,784 on Twitter ads in the first 28 days of November, already more than that company’s October budget of $988,523, according to the analytics firm.

The data shows Apple’s Twitter ad spending hasn’t changed much from its typical buys. The figure has fallen from unusually high numbers over the summer—$2m in July and $3.3m in August, but, between January 2021 and September 2022, Apple spent an average of $1,473,390 a month on Twitter ads, according to Pathmatics’ report.

Apple was Twitter’s top advertiser in the first quarter of 2022, making up 4% of the entire company’s revenue during that period for a total of $48m, according to internal documents cited by the Washington Post. Though Apple’s recent Twitter spending decreased slightly, a million dollars in a single month is a far cry from “mostly stopped.”

«

This is why you should pay no attention to what gets tweeted. It’s unconnected to the truth.
unique link to this extract


The cult of Gai • Togelius

Julian Togelius:

»

Imagine a religion that believes that one day, soon, the deity “Gai” will appear. This deity (demon?) will destroy all humanity. They are then obsessed with how to stop this happening. Can Gai be controlled? Contained? Can we make it like us? Won’t work. Gai is just too smart.

Therefore, the religion devolves into a millenarian cult. Its charismatic leader says that humanity will cease to exist with >99% probability.

People outside this cult may wonder how they are so certain that Gai will appear, and what its attributes are. Followers of the religion point out that this is obvious from the way society is going, and in particular the technology that is invented.

The omens are everywhere. You can see the shape of Gai in this technology. This other technology bears the unmissable marks of Gai. It is unnatural, decadent, and we should stop developing the technology but we cannot because society is so sick. Maybe we deserve Gai’s wrath.

But what will Gai look like? What will it want, or like? We cannot imagine this because we are so limited. The only thing we know is that Gai is smarter than any of us could ever be, and will teach itself to be even smarter.

You can tell adherents of this cult that all the other millenarian cults have been wrong so far, and their deities have failed to show up. You can tell them that all their sophisticated arguments only made sense to people who already believed. But that won’t convince them.

«

In case you haven’t figured it out, Gai is “generalised artificial intelligence”. This feels like a reverse form of Pascal’s Wager: the consequences of being wrong are so bad you might as well not worry about it.
unique link to this extract


Parliament approves Government’s privacy penalty bill • Australian Government Attorney-General

»

Companies which fail to take adequate care of customer data will face much higher penalties following today’s passage of the Albanese Government’s legislation to significantly increase penalties for repeated or serious privacy breaches.

This is the first step in cleaning up the former government’s mess. The former government started a Privacy Act Review in 2020, and never finished it. It pledged to legislate tougher penalties, and never did it.
The Albanese Labor government has wasted no time in responding to recent major data breaches. We have announced, introduced and delivered legislation in just over a month. These new, larger penalties send a clear message to large companies that they must do better to protect the data they collect.

The Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Bill 2022 increases the maximum penalties for serious or repeated privacy breaches from the current A$2.22m (US$1.39m) penalty to whichever is the greater of:
• A$50m;
• three times the value of any benefit obtained through the misuse of information; or
• 30% of a company’s adjusted turnover in the relevant period.

The Bill also provides the Australian Information Commissioner with greater powers to resolve privacy breaches and quickly share information about data breaches to help protect customers.

«

Pretty serious fines; everyone’s getting on board with this sort of law.
unique link to this extract


Getting banned from the App Store was the best thing that happened to us • TechCrunch

Marco Nardone:

»

It was October 2013, and I was on a plane from Hong Kong to London. It’s a 13-hour journey, so I had plenty of time to kill. But instead of tuning out to in-flight movies, I found myself oddly drawn to watching the plane’s flight path.

It was the same dull, slow-moving animation I’d seen countless times before, but this time was different. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what the next big app in social messaging was going to be, and as I flipped through British Airway’s in-flight magazine that showed its hundreds of routes around the world, a vision started to crystallize.

“I need to make an emergency call,” I said.

There was apprehension, and possibly a faked medical emergency involved, but finally I managed to reach our COO.

“Emerson, I’ve got an idea, and it’s either gonna be worth zero or a billion.”

Despite the skepticism, I got to work anyway, pulling up Photoshop and completing Fling’s designs by the end of the flight.

The vision was clear: Fling was going to be a platform that allowed you to send any real-time message to 50 random strangers in the world. We built the app in a matter of weeks, and within a month we had nearly half a million downloads and incredibly active users. They were sharing snippets of their lives all over the globe, from America to Zambia.

Fling’s vision was coming to life without any of the roadblocks I’d expected. It seemed too good to be true…and it was.

«

Guess for yourself: you can anonymously send pictures, yes pictures, to 50 random people. You allow male users. You allow female users to receive messages sent by the random male users.

“The more flings that women sent on their first day, the more unlikely they were to come back.” App Store being the App Store, it got yanked. “Random messaging” was banned.
unique link to this extract


Epson quitting laser printers doesn’t address its bigger sustainability issue • Ars Technica

Scharon Harding:

»

Epson’s recent announcement touts a “commitment to sustainability,” as well as Epson’s planned 100 billion yen (about $722.2m) investment into “sustainable innovation”—while also plugging its latest printers, of course. But this company’s strategic shift doesn’t feel like as grand of a green step as Epson’s PR reps would like you to believe.

We don’t have to tell you about the inherent environmental concerns around home and business printing. An oft-cited 2012 study reported that 375 million ink and toner cartridges enter US landfills annually, which doesn’t even touch on the paper and energy consumption.

But people and businesses need to print things, and printer businesses and their employees have a need to keep those businesses alive. So we don’t blame Epson for seeking a way to make its printer business appear greener. But we do lament it continuing to ignore a large environmental concern with its business that it could easily address.

As we reported in August, Epson has bricked printers over purportedly oversaturated inkpads, even if the printer would physically work otherwise. Epson does this, it says, because ink could leak throughout the printer. But designing products to stop functioning, also known as planned obsolescence, is a big no-no for green tech. We shudder to think of the number of functioning Epson printers that were thrown in the garbage by less technically trained users who didn’t know the device was still usable.

This throwaway mindset is disturbingly commonplace in the printer industry. In 2020, for example, HP bricked ink cartridges outside of its Instant Ink subscription program and has also used DRM to block non-HP ink cartridges from working in HP printers.

…Lately, reviewers like Consumer Reports find that laser printers are faster and better at printing text than inkjet printers and have better reliability, though the latter seems debatable among experts. And as noted by reviewers like PCMag, cheap laser printers tend to print faster than cheap inkjet printers.

And while inkjet printers tend to be cheaper to buy than laser ones, their ink costs tend to be higher.

«

Epson using slightly spurious claims about sustainability to focus on something that makes it more money and is easier to control? Hard to imagine.
unique link to this extract


Digital books wear out faster than physical books • Internet Archive Blogs

Brewster Kahle is curator of the Internet Archive:

»

Ever try to read a physical book passed down in your family from 100 years ago? Probably worked well. Ever try reading an ebook you paid for 10 years ago? Probably a different experience. From the leasing business model of mega publishers to physical device evolution to format obsolescence, digital books are fragile and threatened.

For those of us tending libraries of digitized and born-digital books, we know that they need constant maintenance—reprocessing, reformatting, re-invigorating or they will not be readable or read. Fortunately this is what libraries do (if they are not sued to stop it). Publishers try to introduce new ideas into the public sphere. Libraries acquire these and keep them alive for generations to come.

And to serve users with print disabilities, we have to keep up with the ever-improving tools they use.

Mega-publishers are saying electronic books do not wear out, but this is not true at all. The Internet Archive processes and reprocesses the books it has digitized as new optical character recognition technologies come around, as new text understanding technologies open new analysis, as formats change from djvu to daisy to epub1 to epub2 to epub3 to pdf-a and on and on. This takes thousands of computer-months and programmer-years to do this work. This is what libraries have signed up for—our long-term custodial roles.

Also, the digital media they reside on changes, too—from Digital Linear Tape to PATA hard drives to SATA hard drives to SSDs. If we do not actively tend our digital books they become unreadable very quickly.

Then there is cataloging and metadata. If we do not keep up with the ever-changing expectations of digital learners, then our books will not be found. This is ongoing and expensive.

Our paper books have lasted hundreds of years on our shelves and are still readable. Without active maintenance, we will be lucky if our digital books last a decade.

«

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

Start Up No.1912: Apple’s unsociable China AirDrop, Twitter’s child safety problem, AWS v the blockchain, woke mind virus!, and more

A negative prompt
Including a “negative prompt” in your Stable Diffusion spell can make a huge difference to the outcome, users have found.

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.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple turned off a private communication tool in China just before major protests broke out • Reclaim The Net

Will Henney:

»

Earlier this month, Apple restricted the use of AirDrop in China. The file-sharing tool for iOS was used by protesters to communicate freely without the risk of censorship, because the tool uses direct connections between devices, creating a local network that cannot be monitored by government internet regulators.

Initially, people could choose to receive AirDrops from everyone nearby. However, a recent iOS update has made that impossible. The update made a change to AirDrop’s usage that only applies in mainland China, while the rest of the world can still use it to communicate as before.

Users in China can only receive from everyone nearby for only ten minutes, putting restrictions on how it’s used.

AirDrop has been used by protesters in Hong Kong to communicate with other protesters and bystanders, as well as send messages to tourists from mainland China. On the mainland, protesters have used AirDrop to spread protest literature.

According to Bloomberg, Apple will roll out the “Everyone for 10 minutes” feature globally next year. But it is not clear why the feature was first suddenly rolled out in China, especially during a time of such upheaval and the biggest protests China has seen in over 30 years.

«

Hang on – it’s going to roll this out globally? That sounds like the system has been abused (which it has, to send unsolicited dick pics) and that it’s trying to save people from their mistakes. Certainly the rollout in China looks heavy-handed. But you aren’t prevented from connecting to everyone; just from doing it for extended periods. Ten minutes is plenty for an image to go around. I’d imagine (though there’s no detail) that if you turn AirDrop off and then on again, the “Everyone” choice is available again.
unique link to this extract


Musk faces fines if Twitter’s gutted child safety team becomes overwhelmed • Ars Technica

Ashley Belanger:

»

Three people familiar with Twitter’s current staffing told Bloomberg that when 2022 started, Twitter had 20 team members responsible for reviewing and escalating reports of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM). Today, after layoffs and resignations, there are fewer than 10 specialists forming what Bloomberg described as “an overwhelmed skeleton crew.” It seems that despite Musk continually tweeting that blocking CSAM is Twitter’s top priority and even going so far as inviting users to tweet CSAM directly at him, Musk may already be losing his battle to keep the material off Twitter.

“Musk didn’t create an environment where the team wanted to stay,” sources told Bloomberg.

The staff that Musk lost, according to Bloomberg, included child safety experts and former law enforcement officers in the US, Ireland, and Singapore. Sources said that this team was already working longer hours—before Musk asked employees to commit to more hours—just trying to keep up with the constant flow of user reports and legal requests.

These people removed the CSAM, assisted in law enforcement investigations, and—relying on human reasoning instead of artificial intelligence—identified accounts grooming minors or promoting attraction to minors as healthy.

Although Twitter recently removed some known hashtags used to spread CSAM, the move was not a complete or permanent solution because hashtags change, and so does the coded language that abusers use to skirt automated content removal. Because the removal of these hashtags happened after Musk’s takeover, it’s easy to credit him with the decision and see it as his commitment to blocking CSAM. However, sources told Bloomberg that the decision to remove the hashtags happened before Musk came on board.

According to Wired, there’s only one child safety team member left to handle all the reports coming from the Asia-Pacific region.

«

If the problem gets too big, Apple will also block updates and may even pull the app from the App Store. And that would be a legitimate reason to do so.
unique link to this extract


Stable Diffusion 2.0 and the importance of negative prompts for good results • Max Woolf’s Blog

Max Woolf:

»

Within 24 hours after release, users on Reddit and Twitter noted that the new model [Stable Diffusion 2.0] performed worse than Stability Diffusion 1.5 with the same exact input prompts and settings. Some users also noticed that putting in the names of real artists such as the infamous Greg Rutkowski had zero effect on the output.

Some point to the fact that the new model was trained on fewer NSFW images as the culprit for these changes, but in my opinion the culprit here is the switch to OpenCLIP. A new text encoder means some of the assumptions and prompt hacks for earlier versions of Stable Diffusion may no longer work. On the other hand, it may enable new prompt hacks. The CEO of StabilityAI Emad Mostaque mentioned that negative prompts should work better due to the way the model was trained. It’s still theory though; practice and experimentation is always better.

I hadn’t played with negative prompts in Stable Diffusion before, although it is rumored that it’s part of the secret sauce behind some of the more well known commercial Stable Diffusion services. But after lots of experimenting with negative prompts in SD 2.0, it’s clear that negative prompts are the key to getting good results from the model reliably, and most surprisingly, negative prompts can be far superior than traditional prompt additions.

«

Surprising, but you can’t argue with the outcomes. The techniques for casting spells are improving all the time.
unique link to this extract


My entire family caught that virus you heard about on Twitter • Jog Blog

Jason O. Gilbert:

»

Welp, it finally happened: My entire family caught the Woke Mind Virus — probably over Thanksgiving.

Family is doing fine but the toddler keeps referring to bedtime as “Colonialist.” We gave him 30 minutes of timeout during which we are making him read Ann Coulter’s memoir. Hate to see my little guy like this!

My wife is miserable. All she wants to do is watch the trailer for the new Little Mermaid.

She didn’t even have the energy to stay up for Tucker Carlson — and it was a really good one! He shouted about how immigrants are statistically uglier and his guest was a California dad who wasn’t allowed to bring a gun to his daughter’s Spelling Bee.

Anyway, don’t worry about me. I’m only a little Woke for now. I don’t think pronouns are a big deal, but I still have enough anger to attend school board meetings where I demand they fire teachers who mention the Civil Rights Act.

«

Man, that Woke Mind Virus is the worst.
unique link to this extract


I always knew guzzling two litres of water a day was over the top. Now science is on my side • The Guardian

Emma Beddington:

»

Finally – finally! – the scientific breakthrough I’ve been waiting for. Not the incredible recent progress on Alzheimer’s or the huge strides towards eliminating HIV, though, sure, that stuff is good, I suppose. It’s the paper suggesting public health guidelines to drink two litres of water a day are probably over the top. “The current recommendation is not supported scientifically at all,” according to my new hero, Yosuke Yamada of Japan’s National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, one of the study’s authors.

Having grown up before Big Hydration got its unpleasantly moist claws into the world, I don’t get on with water, never have. Days go by without me feeling compelled to drink any: I find my thirst is adequately quenched by imagining how unpleasant it would be to drink a cold, flavourless glass of nothing.

My optician told me I had the driest eyeballs she had ever seen. I imagine them like little bundles of tumbleweed
I can’t, in good conscience, claim it’s never done me any harm. A nutritionist recently told me that fatigue, brain fog and headaches – all regular events – are usually signs of dehydration; I always assumed they were just facets of my delightful personality. My optician told me I had the driest eyeballs she had ever seen, a fact I have been relating with misplaced pride ever since: I imagine them like little bundles of tumbleweed, rolling dustily around my sockets (no wonder they itch).

On some weird level, I like the thought that things could be better if I drank. Water is my “in case of emergency, break glass” last resort. Fully hydrated, I might spring into exuberant life like those desiccated desert frogs that survive years without moisture do when it rains. It’s nice to pretend that’s an option.

«

Totally with her on this. The sight of people who’ve done nothing much in the day lifting carafes to their mouths as though they’d just crossed the desert puzzles me. Also, Emma is a wonderful writer (and person).
unique link to this extract


Autonomous trucking software upstart Embark has quietly gone from $5B+ to basically worthless • Crunchbase

Joanna Glasner:

»

Out of all the beaten-down public companies in the autonomous driving space, Embark Technology stands out as a conspicuously terrible stock market performer.

The San Francisco-headquartered company, which develops autonomous driving technology for the trucking industry, has presided over a roughly 98% share price decline since going public a year ago. In the process, it’s wiped out close to $5 billion in market capitalization.

Today, Embark and a few others that carried out SPAC mergers are in that weird category of companies trading below the value of cash reserves. In Embark’s case, the company’s recent market capitalization of $110m is actually quite a bit lower than the $191m cash it had at the end of Q3. In other words, investors seem to think it’s worth less than nothing.

…Embark is one of a number of startups focused on trucking automation that have either hit major roadblocks or ceased operations entirely. We’ll explore these in more detail in a follow-up piece.

A short list of some of the names includes TuSimple (also trading below cash), Starsky Robotics (now defunct), and Peloton Technology (shuttered last year).

It’s a tough space, and, as we observed a few weeks ago, the whole autonomous driving technology arena overall has been taking a beating on public markets. A couple weeks later, Ford Motor-backed Argo AI disclosed it is shutting down as well.

As for Embark, not everyone has turned bearish on the company’s course. Misha Rindisbacher, Embark’s head of communications, attributed the company’s stock market declines to investor sentiment about the broader industry rather than company-specific performance issues.

“Our fundamentals are unchanged, and I would chalk it up to a larger sectorwide downturn,” he said, noting that the autonomous vehicle space and lidar space are both in the doldrums, and that investors are “probably less comfortable with the space and pre-revenue companies than they were a year ago.”

«

You could say that the brakes are on for the sector and that it’s definitely not on track. If it has to wait for another boom cycle to come good, that could take quite a while.
unique link to this extract


Amazon Web Services and blockchain • ongoing

Tim Bray:

»

This week saw the cancellation of the Australian Stock Exchange’s long-running effort to build a blockchain-based trading system. Which, oddly, has me thinking of 2016, when AWS decided not to make a strategic investment in blockchain, with my input a contributing factor. It felt like a good story while it was happening.

Since I left AWS in 2020, I’ve been super-careful not to share things from behind the scenes. I can’t actually remember the details of the nondisclosure agreement, but I have strong feelings about the ethics. This story, though, doesn’t reflect poorly on anyone and I’m pretty sure nothing in it is material to any business plans at AWS or elsewhere.

Andy meeting · At some point in mid-2016 I got hauled into a conversation with [then-AWS chief] Andy Jassy. I can’t remember if it was video or f2f, can’t remember how many of his staff were there. There were four of us present who were senior techs, not Jassy staff.

Andy is an outstanding communicator and was eloquent on this occasion. You have to understand that one of the most important parts of his job was listening to the CIOs and CTOs of huge enterprises explain their problems and concerns.

He said something like this: “All these leaders are asking me what our blockchain strategy is. They tell me that everyone’s saying it’s the future, the platform that’s going to obsolete everything else. I need to have a good answer for them. I’ll be honest, when they explain why it’s wonderful I just don’t get it. You guys got to go figure it out for us.”

Well, OK then. I can’t remember whether it was right there in the room or by email after a short caucus, we got back to Andy along the lines of “We mostly think it’s mostly bullshit and probably not strategic for AWS, but we’ll look harder.”

Before I move along, Dear Reader: There was a dead give-away in Andy’s presentation of the problem. I’ll get back to it later but do you see it?

«

Fun story. Recommended. (Bray later left AWS on ethical grounds.)
unique link to this extract


Wordle gets more intentional • Axios

Felix Salmon:

»

Wordle has an editor now — every day’s solution has been programmed by Tracy Bennett, who curates the word list. The result has not made everybody HAPPY (which was Sunday’s answer).

Bennett picked themed solutions for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Wednesday’s answer was DRIVE; Thursday’s was FEAST; and Sunday’s was HAPPY.

Before this month, Wordle solutions were randomly selected from a preset word list.

Occasionally, that would cause problems, as when FETUS showed up as a solution during a major national debate over abortion.

By programming the solutions, the NYT can avoid such controversy — and, at least in principle, can delight users by timing answers in a felicitous manner.

In the wake of Wednesday’s themed answer, many puzzlers — including Axios’ Kate Marino and Felix Salmon — got FEAST on their first guess.

“It felt cheap,” says Kate, who felt cheated by the lack of problem-solving.

…In an informal Twitter poll, about 85% of respondents said the themed answers were “too cute by half”.

«

Agree. Classic NYT to make such a bit of whimsy into something serious and considered.
unique link to this extract


How UK architecture has made homes vulnerable to extreme heat and cold • Washington Post

Philip Kennicott, Simon Ducroquet, Frank Hulley-Jones and Aaron Steckelberg:

»

The Liverpool home of Hazel Tilley, a retired hospital social worker, is a two-floor house on Cairns Street, built in the second half of the 19th century to serve the city’s working class. Homes like this one — two rooms downstairs, two (and sometimes three) bedrooms upstairs, with a side hall and a kitchen to the rear — are ubiquitous in the United Kingdom.

Built with solid walls, they lack the cavity space that makes it easier to insulate new construction. Their existing heating systems are often decades old, and inefficient. And adding new systems — wires, pipes, heating and cooling elements — can be complicated.

In the age of climate change, they also present a policy challenge: They will never be as efficient as a well-designed modern house but demolishing and replacing them would only pump more carbon into the atmosphere. The challenge is to learn how to operate them for maximum thermal efficiency.
Unlike some of her neighbors, who have removed walls and opened the living space, Tilley kept her house in its original configuration. “I like it,” she says. “It was easier to heat small rooms.”

In a typical terrace house, the hall may be chilly but the small parlors have coal fireplaces. When the doors to these small rooms are closed, they can be heated to a relative degree of comfort. With a few tweaks, Tilley’s house performed well during the heat wave, too, she says. “Closing curtains at the front, but not the back, and opening the back windows — it was fairly easy to keep cool,” she says.

Owners of these homes often don’t have the resources to improve them. And when they do, they may be more interested in adapting them to modern lifestyles. And thermal retrofits can have unforeseen consequences: tweaking a house toward greater warmth in the winter may make it more uncomfortable in the summer. And vice versa: More open plans can improve ventilation in the summer while making spaces harder to heat during colder months.

«

Wonderful graphics showing the interior design and heat efficiency of different sorts of houses. Britain does have a challenge: if the outside temperature can go from 40ºC to -10ºC, how do you make your home efficient? (Thanks G for the link.)
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

Start Up No.1911: Online Safety Bill resurfaces yet again, Epson ditches lasers for inkjets, Pegasus v disinformation, and more

Computerhash
What if… the hashing process in your computer produced a file that was illegal to own.. or destructive? (Picture of “a computer hash” by Diffusion Bee.)

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.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Programming note: Elon Musk tweets on their own will not under any circumstances be treated as newsworthy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Social media firms face big UK fines if they fail to stop sexist and racist content • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

»

Social media platforms that breach pledges to block sexist and racist content face the threat of substantial fines under government changes to the online safety bill announced on Monday.

Under the new approach, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter must also give users the option of avoiding content that is harmful but does not constitute a criminal offence. This could include racism, misogyny or the glorification of eating disorders.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, will have the power to fine companies up to 10% of global turnover for breaches of the act. Facebook’s parent, Meta, posted revenues of $118bn (£99bn) last year.

A harmful communications offence has, however, been dropped from the legislation after criticism from Conservative MPs that it was legislating for “hurt feelings”.

Ministers have scrapped the provision on regulating “legal but harmful” material – such as offensive content that does not constitute a criminal offence – and are instead requiring platforms to enforce their terms and conditions for users.

If those terms explicitly prohibit content that falls below the threshold of criminality – such as some forms of abuse – Ofcom will then have the power to ensure they police them adequately.

Under another adjustment to the bill, big tech companies must offer people a way of avoiding harmful content on their platform, even if it is legal, through methods that could include content moderation or warning screens. Examples of such material include those that are abusive, or incite hatred on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, gender reassignment or sexual orientation.

«

Hoo boy, that’s all going to be a doddle for the newly shrunk Twitter, I bet. By my count this is the third time the Online Safety/Harms Bill has come around, subtly different each time.
unique link to this extract


Epson ditches lasers and goes all in on inkjet • TechRadar

Will McCurdy:

»

Epson claims its own inkjet printers use less than 85% less energy than a comparable laser printer and 85% less carbon dioxide.

Inkjet printers use wet ink and nozzle assembly to print onto paper, whereas laser printers use a laser and dry ink (also called toner) to print

In general, inkjet printers tend to be somewhat smaller in size than their laser counterparts, but also have a slightly higher cost per page.

This news comes a year after Epson announced a ¥100bn ($700m) investment into sustainable innovation. But despite the latest public commitment to sustainability, Epson has attracted some intense criticism regarding its environmental practices in recent years.

Epson confirmed in July 2022 (opens in new tab) that some of its printers are designed to stop working after a certain period of time, forcing customers to either replace the hardware or pay for it to be survived by an authorized repair person.

The timecoded limit was reported to impact Epson’s L360 L130, L220, L310, and L365 model printers.

Commenting on the news to the Fight to Repair blog Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain said:

“A printer self-bricking after a while is a great example of ‘you think you bought a product, but you really rented a service.”

«

I have a suspicion that Epson has been getting kicked around in the laser business and has found a neat green exit.
unique link to this extract


Pegasus spyware inquiry targeted by disinformation campaign, say experts • The Guardian

Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Sam Jones:

»

Victims of spyware and a group of security experts have privately warned that a European parliament investigatory committee risks being thrown off course by an alleged “disinformation campaign”.

The warning, contained in a letter to MEPs signed by the victims, academics and some of the world’s most renowned surveillance experts, followed news last week that two individuals accused of trying to discredit widely accepted evidence in spyware cases in Spain had been invited to appear before the committee investigating abuse of hacking software.

“The invitation to these individuals would impede the committee’s goal of fact-finding and accountability and will discourage victims from testifying before the committee in the future,” the letter said.

It was signed by two people who have previously been targeted multiple times by governments using Pegasus: Carine Kanimba, the daughter of Paul Rusesabagina, who is in prison in Rwanda, and the Hungarian journalist Szabolcs Panyi. Other signatories included Access Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, and the Human Rights Foundation.

One MEP said it appeared that Spain’s “national interest” was influencing the committee’s inquiry.

The invitation to one of the individuals – José Javier Olivas, a political scientist from Spain’s Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia – was rescinded but the other, to Gregorio Martín from the University of Valencia, was not and he is expected to appear before the parliamentary panel on Tuesday.

«

Pegasus, in case you forgot, is the spying software written by NSO which infects phones through zero-click exploits and can download anything from it. NSO has always insisted that it vets its clients carefully against misuse. The evidence shows that their clients hack journalists and human rights activists quite indiscriminately.
unique link to this extract


The exceptionally American problem of rising roadway deaths • The New York Times

Emily Badger and Alicia Parlapiano:

»

as cars grew safer for the people inside them, the US didn’t progress as other countries did to prioritizing the safety of people outside them.

“Other countries started to take seriously pedestrian and cyclist injuries in the 2000s — and started making that a priority in both vehicle design and street design — in a way that has never been committed to in the United States,” [researcher at the Urban Institute, Yonah] Freemark said.

Other developed countries lowered speed limits and built more protected bike lanes. They moved faster in making standard in-vehicle technology like automatic braking systems that detect pedestrians, and vehicle hoods that are less deadly to them. They designed roundabouts that reduce the danger at intersections, where fatalities disproportionately occur.

In the US in the past two decades, by contrast, vehicles have grown significantly bigger and thus deadlier to the people they hit. Many states curb the ability of local governments to set lower speed limits. The five-star federal safety rating that consumers can look for when buying a car today doesn’t take into consideration what that car might do to pedestrians.

These diverging histories mean that while the US and France had similar per capita fatality rates in the 1990s, Americans today are three times as likely to die in a traffic crash, according to Mr. Freemark’s research.

«

Road deaths are just ahead of gun deaths in the US. Though it’s a pretty close thing. Exceptionalism gone wrong.
unique link to this extract


Google partners with med tech company to develop AI breast cancer screening tools • The Verge

Justine Calma:

»

Google announced today that it has licensed its AI research model for breast cancer screening to medical technology company iCAD. This is the first time Google is licensing the technology, with the hopes that it will eventually lead to more accurate breast cancer detection and risk assessment.

The two companies aim to eventually deploy the technology in real-world clinical settings — targeting a “2024 release,” Google communications manager Nicole Linton told The Verge in an email. Commercial deployment, however, still depends on how successful continued research and testing are. “We will move deliberately and test things as we go,” Linton said in the email.

The partnership builds on Google’s prior work to improve breast cancer detection. Back in 2020, Google researchers published a paper in the journal Nature that found that its AI system outperformed several radiologists in identifying signs of breast cancer. The model reduced false negatives by up to 9.4% and reduced false positives by up to 5.7% among thousands of mammograms studied.

«

Quiet improvements: this is what we want from technology. (Not loudmouthed idiots. Please.)
unique link to this extract


Crypto lender BlockFi files for bankruptcy after FTX collapse • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

BlockFi, which operates in a similar fashion to a conventional bank, paying interest on savings and using customer deposits to fund lending, says it has $256.9m cash in hand. According to court documents, its creditors include FTX itself, to which it owes $275m, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to which it owes $30m.

In a statement announcing its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, BlockFi said: “This action follows the shocking events surrounding FTX and associated corporate entities and the difficult but necessary decision we made as a result to pause most activities on our platform.

“Since the pause, our team has explored every strategic option and alternative available to us, and has remained laser-focused on our primary objective of doing the best we can for our clients.

“These Chapter 11 cases will enable BlockFi to stabilise the business and provide BlockFi with the opportunity to consummate a reorganisation plan that maximises value for all stakeholders, including our valued clients.”

The SEC levied a $100m fine on the company in February for violating securities laws, arguing that the investment products the company offered qualified as unregistered securities. The outstanding $30m debt is apparently the unpaid portion of that fine.

BlockFi has already stumbled close to bankruptcy once already this year, in the wake of spring’s crypto crash.

After chief executive Zac Prince said the company needed an injection of capital to stave off a liquidity crisis, it signed a deal with none other than FTX, which gave the company access to $400m in loans. The price of the deal was an option from FTX to buy the lender for about $240m, a sharp decline from a peak valuation of $3bn.

«

More dominoes. Wonder if the SEC will push itself to the front of the queue of creditors.
unique link to this extract


Illegal hashes • Terence Eden’s Blog

The aforesaid Eden:

»

To understand this blog post, you need to know two things.

• There exists a class of numbers which are illegal in some jurisdictions. For example, a number may be copyrighted content, a decryption key, or other text considered illegal.
• There exists a class of algorithms which will take any arbitrary data and produce a fixed length text from it. This process is known as “hashing”. These algorithms are deterministic – that is, entering the same data will always produce the same hash.

Let’s take the MD5 hashing algorithm. Feed it any data and it will produce hash with a fixed length of 128 bits. Using an 8 bit alphabet, that’s 16 human-readable characters.

Suppose you live in a country with Lèse-majesté – laws which make it treasonous to insult or threaten the monarch.

There exists a seemingly innocent piece of data – an image, an MP3, a text file – which when fed to MD5 produces these 128 bits:

01001001 00100000 01101000 01100001
01110100 01100101 00100000 01110100
01101000 01100101 00100000 01110001
01110101 01100101 01100101 01101110

Decoded into ASCII, that spells “I hate the queen”. 128 bits is probably too short to be illegal in all but the most repressive of regimes. It would be hard, if not impossible, to squeeze terrorist plans into that little space. But it is just enough space to store an encryption key for copyrighted material.

Therefore, it is possible that there exists a file which – by pure coincidence – happens to have an MD5 hash which is illegal.

«

Take it even further: what if there was a string that could make a machine wreck itself (in the sense of a Turing machine instruction)? Then you’d have a destructive hash. Seems like there’s a fun SF story buried in this concept.
unique link to this extract


5.4 million Twitter users’ stolen data leaked online, more shared privately • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:

»

More than 5.4 million Twitter user records containing non-public information stolen using an API vulnerability fixed in January have been shared for free on a hacker forum.

Another massive, potentially more significant, data dump of millions of Twitter records has also been disclosed by a security researcher, demonstrating how widely abused this bug was by threat actors.

The data consists of scraped public information as well as private phone numbers and email addresses that are not meant to be public.

Last July, a threat actor began selling the private information of over 5.4 million Twitter users on a hacking forum for $30,000.

While most of the data consisted of public information, such as Twitter IDs, names, login names, locations, and verified status, it also included private information, such as phone numbers and email addresses.

This data was collected in December 2021 using a Twitter API vulnerability disclosed in the HackerOne bug bounty program that allowed people to submit phone numbers and email addresses into the API to retrieve the associated Twitter ID.

Using this ID, the threat actors could then scrape public information about the account to create a user record containing both private and public information,

«

The API flaw seems like a pretty bad (and obvious?) one: “The vulnerability allows any party without any authentication to obtain a twitter ID (which is almost equal to getting the username of an account) of any user by submitting a phone number/email even though the user has prohibitted this action in the privacy settings,” reads the vulnerability disclosure by security researcher ‘zhirinovskiy.” Clearly having lots of staff didn’t necessarily equate to having great checks on API security.
unique link to this extract


Twitter failed to detect upload of Christchurch mosque terror attack videos • The Guardian

Eva Corlett:

»

The video clips, filmed by the Australian white supremacist who murdered 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, were uploaded by some Twitter users on Saturday, according to the office of the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said Twitter’s automated reporting function didn’t pick up the content as harmful.

Other users reported the videos and the government separately raised it with Twitter, the office said. “Twitter advised us overnight that the clips have been taken down and said they would do a sweep for other instances.”

The mosque attack was livestreamed on multiple social media platforms and the terrorist’s manifesto published online.

Ardern launched the Christchurch Call after the attack, asking social media companies to counter online extremism and misinformation. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey had supported the initiative.

Speaking to media on Monday afternoon, Ardern said that while “time will tell” over Twitter’s commitment to removing harmful content, the company had advised the government it had not changed its view over its membership to the Christchurch Call community.

“We will continue to maintain our expectation that [Twitter does] everything they can on a day-to-day basis to remove that content but also to reduce terrorist content and violent extremist content online, as they’ve committed to,” Ardern said.

«

This seems to match level 9 (of 20 set out) in Mike Masnick’s Content Moderation Speed Run, as linked yesterday. Plenty of headroom yet.
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

Start Up No.1910: India’s gig workers beat the algorithm, Musk/Twitter (groan), the woman who fell from the sky, crypt0?, and more


Tidal power systems don’t show much above the water, but their generation costs are falling fast – and could undercut nuclear in a few years. CC-licensed photo by Scottish Government 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. Continuing. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Gig workers in India are uniting to take back control from algorithms • Rest of World

Varsha Bansal:

»

On October 17, Santosh Kumar, an Uber driver in the south Indian city of Hyderabad was wrapping up an almost 12-hour shift and struggling to find a last ride in the direction of his home. The app showed him a message that destinations in that area weren’t available.

Frustrated, he turned to a Telegram group called CCDA, or Commercial Cab Driver’s Awareness, where he shared his woes with over 5,000 fellow drivers. Within minutes, his peers offered a jugaad — a cheap hack — to game the system: keep trying to book a ride in the direction of your home, and the algorithm will eventually oblige.

Two days later, in the same group, another distressed Uber driver posted screenshots of a “miscellaneous” fee of over 5,000 rupees ($61) that Uber had levied on him. The screenshot indicated that if he didn’t make the payment, he would lose access to his Uber account. He didn’t really understand how Uber calculated this amount and wondered how he would be able to afford the hefty payment.

CCDA members explained that this was a mandatory tax payment and offered a jugaad to offset the hefty one-time charge: keep accepting rides, and Uber will auto-deduct the amount from the daily earnings rather than paying the big amount upfront. “They explained to me that until this amount is cleared, I would only get rides with online payments and not cash rides,” the driver told Rest of World, requesting anonymity fearing retribution from Uber. He managed to clear more than 2,000 rupees of the tax liability in under a month.

Those are just two examples of how India’s gig workers — tired of the obscurity around black box algorithms and technologies that dictate their lives and work — are finding ways to game the platforms to their advantage. Drivers and delivery persons, who work for apps like Uber, Ola, Zomato and Swiggy, are trying to reverse engineer these apps, frequently sharing this information through groups like CCDA and in-person workshops.

«

Rage collectively against the machine. Neat.

unique link to this extract


How tide has turned on UK tidal stream energy as costs ebb and reliability flows • The Guardian

Tom Wall:

»

The cost of generating power from tidal streams has fallen by 40% since 2018 – and a report published last month by a government-backed research centre, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, forecasts prices could fall below nuclear energy in little over a decade, with one-megawatt hour of power due to cost as little as £78 by 2035 compared with £92.50 for the new Hinkley Point C power plant.

Simon Cheeseman from the research center argues tidal stream energy is at the “point of commercialisation” as companies are keen to scale up production and deployment. But he says the sector still needs careful nurturing to ensure it follows the successful trajectory of offshore wind, which in 11 years has gone from generating only enough energy for 4% of British homes to generating enough for 33% of British homes. “In the early days of offshore wind, you had strong government support. This is the perfect blueprint for tidal stream energy,” he says. “There is no reason tidal can’t follow that same route.”

Orbital Marine, which operates what it says are the world’s most powerful turbines below a plane-like floating platform near Orkney, has secured government funding to deploy three more floating turbines next year. Each platform can generate enough power for 2,000 homes and creates an estimated 100 jobs, according to the firm. “We want this to kickstart a real phase of change for us. We want to start manufacturing consistently and pull in more commercial investment,” says Andrew Scott, the company’s chief executive. “This is the first time in my 20 years in marine renewables that we’ve got a genuine chance of making tidal stream energy work commercially.”

«

Not quite clear whether tidal will provide a constant “base load” in the way that nuclear does. Though that cost estimate seems a long way off. Presently, the report says, the cost is £178/MWh.
unique link to this extract


Peloton Row review: the price isn’t right • The Verge

Victoria Song:

»

Any other year, the Peloton Row would’ve made a splash. The long-awaited rower was the “worst-kept secret” in connected fitness, and its launch heralds Peloton’s expansion into a whole new category. But this is a year where Peloton laid off thousands of employees, shuttered its domestic manufacturing, and watched its stock price spiral down the drain. Peloton would have you believe that the Row revolutionizes rowing. But while testing the Row, which costs $3,195, I couldn’t help but wonder how it fits into Peloton’s future.

«

How much?? The Row does have a useful feedback system which critiques your technique, and where you’re going wrong and right, but is that really worth $2,000? As Song points out, in this economy, you’re not going to get the marginal buyer; they’ll buy a Concept 2 rower and get an Apple Fitness+ subscription and still have $2,000 left over – plus the monthly Peloton sub they won’t be paying.

The Peloton diehards will surely go for it, but I think the place this will have in Peloton’s future isn’t big.
unique link to this extract


Hey Elon: let me help you speed run the content moderation learning curve • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

»

It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network. They show up, insist that they’re the “platform for free speech” without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes… and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity, with just a few small differences on the margin. Look, I went through it myself. In the early days I insisted that sites shouldn’t do any moderation at all, including my own. But I learned. As did Parler, Gettr, Truth Social and lots of others.

Anyway, Elon’s in a bit of a different position, because rather than starting something new, he’s taken over a large platform. I recognize that he, his buddies, and a whole lot of other people think that Twitter is especially bad at this, and that he’s got some special ideas for “bringing free speech back,” but the reality is that Twitter was, by far, the most successful platform at taking a “we support free speech” stance for content, and learned over time the many nuances and tradeoffs involved.
And because I do hope that Musk succeeds and Twitter remains viable, I wanted to see if we might help him (and anyone else) speed run the basics of the content moderation learning curve that most newbies run into. The order of the levels and the seriousness of each can change over time, and how it all fits together may be somewhat different, but, in the end, basically every major social media platform ends up in this same place eventually (the place Twitter was already at when Musk insisted he needed to tear things down and start again).

Level One: “We’re the free speech platform! Anything goes!”

Cool. Cool. The bird is free! Everyone rejoice.

“Excuse me, boss, we’re getting reports that there are child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSAM) images and videos on the site.”

«

Masnick wrote this excellent piece a month ago, and we’re working our way through his 20 (count them) levels of difficulty. Presently we’re at about Level Six. Things get harder as you go, as you’ll have guessed.
unique link to this extract


Musk touts all-time high twitter signups and daily active users on as he promises new features • Forbes via MSN

Siladitya Ray:

»

In a tweet showing off slides from his company-wide presentation, Musk claimed Twitter averaged over 2 million new user sign ups per day in the past week, a record high for the platform.

Musk’s presentation also reiterated his earlier claims about user growth, noting that monetizable daily active users (mDAU) on the platform have crossed 250 million for the first time.

Musk’s slides also highlighted a drop in impersonator accounts on the platform which spiked after the launch of paid verification, however, it is unclear if this is a result of Twitter improving its ability to take down such accounts or its decision to halt the rollout of the service.

Amid concerns about Musk’s decision to restore banned controversial accounts, the Twitter CEO claimed hate speech impressions on the platform are lower than last year.

The rest of Musk’s presentation talks about his dream of turning Twitter into an “everything app” by touting expanded video-sharing capabilities, encrypted messaging, long-form tweets, and payments.

In a later tweet, Musk stated that he sees “a path to Twitter exceeding a billion monthly users in 12 to 18 months,” which would put it on par with TikTok but still significantly behind Facebook’s number of nearly 3 billion and Instagram’s 2 billion.

«

Of course you can’t trust any of these claims. Musk isn’t answerable legally if he lies here. Meanwhile, if we do take these as accurate, there’s plenty of wiggle room:
• the signups could well be bots (how many of the signups were then removed?)
• mDAU does include bots (as the previous Twitter admin acknowledged)
• the “impersonator” accounts was measuring *reported* impersonations
• there are fewer moderators to accurately record hate speech.

Trust nothing he says; analyse only what he does. The slideshow also mentioned encrypted DMs as forthcoming (can’t be end-to-end because otherwise you couldn’t read it them a web browser, I think) and “payments”, which remains completely unclear.
unique link to this extract


Crypto’s final price could be zero • WSJ

Andy Kessler:

»

A cottage industry of firms emerged to lever up crypto. This is when things turned toxic. The first task was to lure customers by paying interest on their crypto holdings. The Anchor Protocol behind the spectacularly imploded Terra-Luna algorithmic tokens was paying up to 20%.

Other platforms such as Binance and Crypto.com would pay 4%, 8% or more on crypto as well, suckering in the masses who could earn only 0.01% interest from, well, real banks. But how could anyone pay interest on crypto? By turning around and lending it out to hedge funds and others who also used leverage. Insanity.

Genesis Global Capital created a lending platform to facilitate borrowing crypto. Lending against what? Again, just air. Firms such as Gemini, set up by the Winklevoss twins, were paying 8% interest, so customers could harvest yields. Why was there any yield on crypto? Good question. It worked on the way up, not so much on the way down. Crypto was lent out like a hot potato until someone got stuck with the value down 90% and everyone else left with defaulted debt. This was probably the only way the delusion could have ended.

Most of these platforms are now frozen and might disappear as customers caught with a hot potato frantically demand withdrawals in the wake of the FTX collapse. Of course, all these crypto lenders had to do was ask: What’s the underlying collateral? Where are the assets? With no good answer, no sane lender would have lent against it. But no one asked.

…Technology, like Red Bull, is a supercharger until it wears off. Debt, like milk, can kill you when it spoils. They don’t mix.

«

People have been acting shocked at the headline, but it’s obvious in itself. To call crypto a speculative asset is to misuse the word “asset”.
unique link to this extract


Juliane Koepcke: how I survived a plane crash • BBC News

Koepcke was aged 17 when she got onto a plane that was to fly over the Peruvian rainforest:

»

It was Christmas Eve 1971 and everyone was eager to get home. We were angry because the plane was seven hours late.

Suddenly we entered into a very heavy, dark cloud. My mother was anxious but I was OK, I liked flying.
Ten minutes later it was obvious that something was very wrong. There was very heavy turbulence and the plane was jumping up and down, parcels and luggage were falling from the locker, there were gifts, flowers and Christmas cakes flying around the cabin.

When we saw lightning around the plane, I was scared. My mother and I held hands but we were unable to speak. Other passengers began to cry and weep and scream. After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left. My mother said very calmly: “That is the end, it’s all over.” Those were the last words I ever heard from her.

The plane jumped down and went into a nose-dive. It was pitch black and people were screaming, then the deep roaring of the engines filled my head completely. Suddenly the noise stopped and I was outside the plane. I was in a freefall, strapped to my seat bench and hanging head-over-heels. The whispering of the wind was the only noise I could hear.

I felt completely alone.

I could see the canopy of the jungle spinning towards me. Then I lost consciousness and remember nothing of the impact. Later I learned that the plane had broken into pieces about two miles above the ground.

I woke the next day and looked up into the canopy. The first thought I had was: “I survived an air crash.”
I shouted out for my mother in but I only heard the sounds of the jungle. I was completely alone.

I had broken my collarbone and had some deep cuts on my legs but my injuries weren’t serious. I realised later that I had ruptured a ligament in my knee but I could walk.

«

Incredible story of survival; surviving the crash was only the beginning, because now she was lost in the rainforest. She probably wouldn’t have survived if her parents hadn’t been zoologists who had worked in it.
unique link to this extract


June 2016: The iPhone’s biggest threat isn’t Android—it’s Amazon’s Echo • WIRED

Davey Alba, wayyy back in 2016:

»

On slide 133 of her much-anticipated annual Internet Trends report, venture capitalist Mary Meeker made a curious comparison. She put a graph of iPhone sales side-by-side with a sales estimate for the Echo, the newish wireless speaker and voice-activated personal assistant from Amazon.

That juxtaposition might seem strange, but Meeker was making a point. Sales of the iPhone have been slowing, and according to Meeker’s projections, they’ll go into decline by the end of 2016. Right as this is happening, sales of the Amazon Echo are starting to take off.

It’s a sign that using voice as a way to command your tech is steadily gaining traction. By 2020, according to Andrew Ng—chief scientist at Chinese Internet company Baidu, who Meeker cites in her report—at least 50% of all searches will make use of images or speech.

…she said as of last month, 20% of searches on Android smartphones were voice-based.

Meeker seems to be suggesting, however, that the traditional smartphone won’t necessarily rule all when it comes to seeking digital assitance. As the Echo’s popularity shows, there’s a burgeoning opportunity to go not just hands-free but screen-free. Just yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said more than 1,000 people are working on the Echo and Alexa, the software that powers his company’s voice-activated assistant.

«

Ah, what might have been, but wasn’t. As we now know, Alexa has been a multi-billion pound bust. Meanwhile, the iPhone has done OK (in terms of revenue, for certain).
unique link to this extract


‘iSpoof’ service dismantled, main operator and 145 users arrested • Bleeping Computer

Bill Toulas:

»

The ‘iSpoof’ online spoofing service has been dismantled following an international law enforcement investigation that also led to the arrest of 146 people, including the suspected mastermind of the operation.

Over a hundred of these arrests, including that of the platform’s leader, were made by London’s Metropolitan Police.

iSpoof offered cybercriminals so-called “spoofing” servers which allowed them to mask their phone numbers with one belonging to a trusted organization, making it appear to the victims as if their bank called them.

This call number spoofing made it possible for the crooks to conduct social engineering, phishing, and carry out “bank helpdesk” scams, stealing money, banking account credentials, and one-time codes.

“The services of the website allowed those who sign up and pay for the service to anonymously make spoofed calls, send recorded messages, and intercept one-time passwords,” Europol said on Thursday.

“The users were able to impersonate an infinite number of entities (such as banks, retail companies, and government institutions) for financial gain and substantial losses to victims.”

According to the announcement of the Metropolitan Police, between June 2021 and July 2022, iSpoof was used to make 10 million fraudulent calls worldwide.

Europol reports that iSpoof caused approximately $120m in losses, with the service’s operators raking in estimated profits of $3.85m in the last 16 months.

«

It’s taken forever for the police to get around to this. These sorts of scams have been going on for what feels like a decade – certainly five years – and has been written about extensively in the papers. Police work might be slow sometimes, but it feels like this was left on a back burner.

The fix that’s still needed is to prevent such spoofing. Another iSpoof site was up within minutes.

unique link to this extract


Study: AirPods Pro are *this* close to being full-fledged hearing aids • Ars Technica

Kevin Purdy:

»

A study in the journal iScience suggests that, in some noise situations, AirPods, particularly the Pro model, can work just as well as far pricier prescription-only models.

AirPods are not sold or approved by the Food and Drug Administration as devices for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. But with cheaper, over-the-counter hearing aids now available at common retailers, there’s a renewed interest in non-medical companies moving into the space to help people who don’t need expert care—including from Apple itself.

Researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan’s National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and other entities conducted what they believe is the first comparison of smartphone-oriented earphones with medically prescribed hearing aids. The study had a very small sample size of 21 people between 26 and 60 years old and was conducted in a lab setting with a single source of sound. Still, the results are intriguing, especially considering how many people already have access to iPhones, AirPods, and their audio-enhancing features.

The researchers tested AirPods with their Live Listen feature activated against five standards for a personal sound amplification product (PSAP) under ANSI CTA 2051-2017:

• Frequency response smoothness
• Frequency response bandwidth (range)
• Maximum output sound pressure level (OSPL) at 90 decibels input
• Total harmonic distortion (THD)
• Equivalent input (or internal) noise level (EIN)

AirPods 2 only met two of the standards, bandwidth and THD, while AirPods Pro met all of them except EIN, registering 37 decibel sound pressure levels (dB SPL), when the standard calls for 32 or less.

«

Quite possible there are other TW (true wireless) noise-reducing headphones out there which can do the same or a better job. Apple’s brand still leads on this stuff, just as the iPod became the only music player, and the iPhone the only smartphone, and the iPad the only tablet – even though they weren’t, or aren’t.
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

Start Up No.1909: Twitter to reinstate banned accounts, Mr Beast’s big business, how Facebook cleaned up its news feed, and more

A brown bear in a space suitThanks to Meta’s latest science language model, we can learn about Russia’s success putting bears into space. Picture of this nonexistent event by Diffusion Bee.

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.


It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. Mentions Blade Runner. You’ve seen it, right?


A selection of 9 links for you. Unbanned. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Why Meta’s latest large language model only survived three days online • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

»

On November 15 Meta unveiled a new large language model called Galactica, designed to assist scientists. But instead of landing with the big bang Meta hoped for, Galactica has died with a whimper after three days of intense criticism as the company took down the public demo that it had encouraged everyone to try out.

Meta’s misstep—and its hubris—show once again that Big Tech has a blind spot about the severe limitations of large language models. There is a large body of research that highlights the flaws of this technology, including its tendencies to reproduce prejudice and assert falsehoods as facts.

However, Meta and other companies working on large language models, including Google, have failed to take it seriously.

Galactica is a large language model for science, trained on 48 million examples of scientific articles, websites, textbooks, lecture notes, and encyclopedias. Meta promoted its model as a shortcut for researchers and students. In the company’s words, Galactica “can summarize academic papers, solve math problems, generate Wiki articles, write scientific code, annotate molecules and proteins, and more.”

But the shiny veneer wore through fast. Like all language models, Galactica is a mindless bot that cannot tell fact from fiction. Within hours, scientists were sharing its biased and incorrect results on social media.

…A fundamental problem with Galactica is that it is not able to distinguish truth from falsehood, a basic requirement for a language model designed to generate scientific text. People found that it made up fake papers (sometimes attributing them to real authors), and generated wiki articles about the history of bears in space as readily as ones about protein complexes and the speed of light. It’s easy to spot fiction when it involves space bears, but harder with a subject users may not know much about.

Many scientists pushed back hard. Michael Black, director at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, who works on deep learning, tweeted: “In all cases, it was wrong or biased but sounded right and authoritative. I think it’s dangerous.”

«

Yeah, but the bears in space stuff is awesome.
unique link to this extract


Musk will restore Twitter accounts banned for harassment, misinformation • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz:

»

Elon Musk plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned Twitter accounts — to the alarm of activists and online trust and safety experts.

After posting a Twitter poll asking, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?” in which 72.4% of the respondents voted yes, Musk declared, “Amnesty begins next week.”

The Twitter CEO did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The poll garnered more than 3 million votes.

The mass return of users who had been banned for such offenses as violent threats, harassment, abuse and misinformation would have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many questioned how such a resurrection would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of separating out users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

“Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring booting Twitter off the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to state how dangerous this will be.”

«

Very much hoping this turns out to cost him a huge amount of money through advertisers abandoning the platform and people shifting their attention to more stable, or less insane, alternatives. (I’m a journalist/writer, so probably won’t, but lots of other people have far better choices.) I’m very, very bored of Musk’s time in charge of Twitter so far. Every week feels as long as a Covid year.
unique link to this extract


You’ve met MrBeast, the YouTuber. Now meet Jimmy Donaldson, the business mogul • Shopify Blog

Joy Blenman:

»

Jimmy’s creator journey started when he was a pre-teen. Growing up in Greenville, North Carolina, he was an avid video gamer, spending hours in front of the TV while battling players worldwide. One day, MrBeast found a hack for the battleship game Battle Pirates and uploaded a screen recording to YouTube to share with fellow gamers. The video quickly hit 20,000 views—an unusually large number for someone with only a handful of subscribers. MrBeast realized he could gain subscribers if he produced unique content, so he started experimenting with uploading videos.

While MrBeast’s first popular upload went viral by chance, his rise to the top happened because he wasn’t afraid to take risks, worked long days, and carefully studied his audience.

Like many creators just starting out, MrBeast started filming on his phone, with virtually no equipment. The first few videos on the channel MrBeast6000 were low-fi, and some of them tanked. Nevertheless, he persisted and eventually got monetized on YouTube. A true entrepreneur, as soon as MrBeast started making money, he reinvested every dollar into new equipment for his channel. This is a practice he continues today—sometimes investing upwards of $3m to create a single video.

Over the next four years, MrBeast leveled up his production values and tried new types of content to attract more engagement. Finally, he found a content idea that allowed his channel to take flight, a series of more than 70 videos called Worst Intros. In them, he reacted to what he considered terrible intros from other YouTube videos. By 2016, he had amassed 30,000 subscribers.

Being a creator is a grind that often involves taking risks and sacrificing sleep, but if you keep at it, you might eventually find success, one win at a time. In late 2016, MrBeast left East Carolina University after two weeks to pursue full-time content creation. Taking a chance paid off—a year later, one of his challenges went mega-viral after he posted a video of himself sitting in one place until he counted to 100,000—a feat that took him over 40 hours.

«

The things he does are mad, yet wildly imaginative too. That he can monetise them through YouTube, which gives him rapid feedback. Imagine in the old days of TV: he’d have to prepare a series of stunts, film them, have them sitting under wraps for months before they all went out serially. With this format, he can move singly, iterating each time.
unique link to this extract


Evernote’s next move: joining the Bending Spoons suite of apps • Evernote Blog

Anthony Bartlett:

»

Today we are pleased to announce that Evernote has agreed to join Bending Spoons, a leading developer of stand-out mobile apps.

In the deal signed between Bending Spoons and Evernote, Bending Spoons agrees to take ownership of Evernote in a transaction expected to complete early in 2023.

For Evernote, this decision is the next strategic step forward on our journey to be an extension of your brain. The path we’ve taken in recent years—rebuilding our apps in order to expand Evernote’s utility and deepen its appeal—has made possible new features, deep focus on our customers, and ultimately, an #everbetter productivity solution on the cusp of the next stage of innovation and growth. Teaming up with Bending Spoons will speed that journey, accelerating the delivery of improvements across our Teams, Professional, Personal, and Free offerings.

«

End of that era. Was anyone still using Evernote? This has all the signs of a distress sale. Another of those 2000s-era apps that began on the desktop and struggled to cope with the rise of mobile.
unique link to this extract


Facebook’s most popular posts were trash. Here is how it cleaned up • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz:

»

Earlier this year, Meta quietly convened a war room of staffers to address a critical problem: virtually all of Facebook’s top-ranked content was spammy, oversexualized or generally what the company classified as regrettable.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, had historically been reluctant to judge what goes viral on its platform, trusting its recommendation systems and users to surface the best content.

But the company’s executives and researchers were growing embarrassed that its widely viewed content report, a quarterly survey of the posts with the broadest reach, was consistently dominated by stolen memes, engagement bait and link spam for sketchy online shops, according to documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the issue.

…Over several months, members of Meta’s product, user-experience and integrity teams hammered out better definitions for low-quality content and agreed on ways the company could avoid amplifying it, according to the documents and people.

The work produced measurable results. Facebook’s third-quarter Widely Viewed Content Report, released on Tuesday, shows only one in the top 20 posts qualified as engagement bait, down from 100% a year earlier. For the first time since the report began being produced, none of the top 20 posts violated platform rules.

The content that did receive top billing on the platform was a mixture of celebrity news, meme pages and Reels videos. Selections include a video from Thailand of people giving CPR to an elephant, a page devoted to feel-good quotations about surviving domestic violence and a Reel in which a delivery man befriends a skittish dog. Among the most risqué offerings was a story that originated not on social media but in the New York Post, titled “Woman with world’s ‘most tattooed privates’ hits out at haters.”

«

Trust a Murdoch publication. But Meta/Facebook’s efforts have certainly made a difference.
unique link to this extract


Wind turbines aren’t the greatest threat to birds • Distilled

Michael Thomas:

»

Over the last month, I’ve spent time in 40 clean energy opposition Facebook groups. In this reporting, I’ve seen one argument over and over: Wind turbines kill birds. I’ve seen dozens of images of birds killed by wind turbines and links to studies on the topic.

As I’ve written, these images and posts can have real world impacts. They change voters’ minds. And they can turn clean energy supporters into passionate opponents.

But there’s a problem with the bird argument. It fails to put the number of birds killed by wind turbines in context. Given that wind energy is an alternative to fossil fuel energy, we have to ask: How many birds do fossil fuel power plants kill?

In 2012, researchers at Vermont Law School set out to answer this question. They found that wind turbines kill 0.27 birds per gigawatt-hour (GWh). Fossil fuel power plants by comparison kill a staggering 9.4 fatalities per GWh. In other words, fossil fuel power plants kill 35x more birds per unit of electricity than wind turbines.

So how do fossil fuel power plants kill birds?

«

Easy, as he explains: habitat loss, acid rain from burning fossil fuels, and of course climate change. All of which wind energy ameliorates. The mining and the acid rain? We don’t see things that have always been there.
unique link to this extract


Amazon’s already greenlit an FTX miniseries • The Verge

Charles Pulliam-Moore:

»

Though the real world impacts of FTX’s spectacular crash have yet to fully settle, Amazon’s reportedly moving forward with a miniseries about the bankrupt crypto exchange and its infamous former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

Anthony and Joe Russo’s AGBO production company is attached to produce the show, and the brothers are reportedly considering coming on to direct multiple episodes. Variety reports that Amazon has tapped Invasion co-creator Dave Weil to executive produce the currently unnamed eight episode miniseries that details how Bankman-Fried co-founded FTX, and went on to lead the company to a liquidity crisis that ultimately resulted in his being ousted. While no showrunners or casting announcements have been made yet, Amazon is said to be eyeing a number of actors the Russos worked with during their stint directing Marvel’s blockbusters such as Avengers: Infinity War.

«

Somehow I don’t think a series can do injustice to Bankman-Fried and his cohorts. It would really need to be a properly strychnine-laced satire. And as the bankruptcy crawls its way through the courts, they’ll be rewriting the scenes as they go.
unique link to this extract


Closure of Twitter Brussels office prompts online safety fears • Financial Times

Javier Espinoza, Ian Johnston and Cristina Criddle:

»

Twitter has disbanded its entire Brussels office, sparking concerns among EU officials about whether the social media platform will abide by the bloc’s stringent new rules on policing online content.

Julia Mozer and Dario La Nasa, who were in charge of Twitter’s digital policy in Europe, left the company last week, according to five people with knowledge of the departures.

The executives had led the company’s effort to comply with the EU’s disinformation code and the bloc’s landmark Digital Services Act, which came into force last week and sets new rules on how Big Tech should keep users safe online.

Other Twitter executives in the small but vital Brussels office, seen as a crucial conduit to European policymakers, had left at the start of the month during company-wide cuts that removed about half of its 7,500-strong workforce.

Mozer and La Nasa survived the initial cull, but no longer work there after the company’s new owner Elon Musk issued an ultimatum last week for staff to commit to a “hardcore working culture”. It is unclear whether the pair resigned or were made redundant.

Mozer and La Nasa declined to comment. Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

«

Interested by the five people who knew this. The three authors of the story, and the two people? Anyway, Twitter will find the EU less forgiving of bad meme tweet humour than Musk’s fans are.
unique link to this extract


Meta links US military to social media influence campaigns • The Register

Brandon Vigliarolo:

»

“Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military,” Meta said in the latest quarterly threat report.

The operators of the network apparently also posted “primarily during US business hours (EST) rather than during work hours in the countries they targeted.” Clearly they’ve never heard of scheduled posts.

In all, 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Pages, two Groups, and 26 Instagram accounts linked to the US military operation were terminated. The operation appeared to have limited reach.

Operators behind the campaign, which involved posing as locals in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, managed to attract around 22,000 followers on Facebook and 400 people across the two Groups.

“The majority of this operation’s posts had little to no engagement from authentic communities,” Meta said.

«

I think that makes it a CFWOT – complete waste of time. Add swearing as required.
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

Start Up No.1908: Facebook grabs accounting data, a new search?, teens on social media, FTX’s stuck NFTs, Zoom v doom, and more


The elaborate preparation of mummified bodies wasn’t in fact meant to preserve them, scientists now say. So what was it for, then? CC-licensed photo by Timothy Neesam 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.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Low on Musk. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Tax filing websites have been sending users’ financial information to Facebook • The Markup

Simon Fondrie-Teitler, Angie Waller, and Colin Lecher:

»

Major tax filing services such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer have been quietly transmitting sensitive financial information to Facebook when Americans file their taxes online, The Markup has learned. 

The data, sent through widely used code called the Meta Pixel, includes not only information like names and email addresses but often even more detailed information, including data on users’ income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents’ college scholarship amounts. 

The information sent to Facebook can be used by the company to power its advertising algorithms and is gathered regardless of whether the person using the tax filing service has an account on Facebook or other platforms operated by its owner, Meta. 

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service processes about 150 million individual returns filed electronically, and some of the most widely used e-filing services employ the pixel, The Markup found. 

When users sign up to file their taxes with the popular service TaxAct, for example, they’re asked to provide personal information to calculate their returns, including how much money they make and their investments. A pixel on TaxAct’s website then sent some of that data to Facebook, including users’ filing status, their adjusted gross income, and the amount of their refund, according to a review by The Markup. Income was rounded to the nearest thousand and refund to the nearest hundred. The pixel also sent the names of dependents in an obfuscated, but generally reversible, format.

TaxAct, which says it has about three million “consumer and professional users,” also uses Google’s analytics tool on its website, and The Markup found similar financial data, but not names, being sent to Google through its tool.

«

Urggh. Surely it’s well past time for an American Privacy Act. This is just bleak.
unique link to this extract


Metaphor: a new kind of search engine

»

Web search hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re building a new search engine from scratch, using the same ideas behind DALL-E ad Stable Diffusion. It understands language — in the form of prompts — so you can say what you’re looking for in all the expressive and creative ways you can think of. And, if we’re lucky, it might make the internet feel a little less like a wall of ads.

Metaphor is a language model that’s trained to predict links instead of text. You feed the model a “prompt” (similar to a GPT-3 prompt), and it tries to predict what link is most likely to come after.

Log in with discord to get started. Or scroll to play with some templates.

«

The templates offer suggestions such as “a cool [blog post/research paper/old news article] about […]”. And it certainly gives some off-beam yet interesting – I feel lucky! – results. Worth a bookmark and some use when you’re seeking inspiration of some sort.
unique link to this extract


Teen life on social media in 2022: connection, creativity and drama • Pew Research Center

Sara Atske:

»

Society has long fretted about technology’s impact on youth. But unlike radio and television, the hyperconnected nature of social media has led to new anxieties, including worries that these platforms may be negatively impacting teenagers’ mental health. Just this year, the White House announced plans to combat potential harms teens may face when using social media.

Despite these concerns, teens themselves paint a more nuanced picture of adolescent life on social media. It is one in which majorities credit these platforms with deepening connections and providing a support network when they need it, while smaller – though notable – shares acknowledge the drama and pressures that can come along with using social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 conducted April 14 to May 4, 2022.

Eight-in-ten teens say that what they see on social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while 71% say it makes them feel like they have a place where they can show their creative side. And 67% say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who can support them through tough times. A smaller share – though still a majority – say the same for feeling more accepted. These positive sentiments are expressed by teens across demographic groups.

«

Oh well, seems like all those worries are overblown? Except of course this is about the majority. There is a minority – about 9% – that feels social media has a mostly negative effect on them.
unique link to this extract


Ancient Egyptian mummification was never intended to preserve bodies, new exhibit reveals • Live Science

Jennifer Nalewicki:

»

how exactly did this misconception flourish for so long? [Manchester Museum curator of Egypt and Sudan, Campbell] Price said the Western-led idea began with Victorian researchers who wrongly determined that ancient Egyptians were preserving their dead in a similar fashion as one would preserve fish. Their reasoning? Both processes contained a similar ingredient: salt.

“The idea was that you preserve fish to eat at some future time,” Price said. “So, they assumed that what was being done to the human body was the same as the treatment for fish.”

However, the salty substance used by ancient Egyptians differed from salt used to preserve the catch of the day. Known as natron (opens in new tab), this naturally occurring mineral (a blend of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfate) was abundant around lake beds near the Nile and served as a key ingredient in mummification.

“We also know that natron was used in temple rituals [and applied to] the statues of gods,” Price said. “It was used for cleansing.”

Price said that another material commonly associated with mummies is incense, which also served as a gift to the gods.

“Look at frankincense and myrrh — they’re in the Christian story of Jesus and were gifts from the three wise men,” Price said. “In ancient Egyptian history, we’ve found that they were also appropriate gifts for a god.”

He added, “Even the word for incense in ancient Egyptian was ‘senetjer (opens in new tab)’ and literally means ‘to make divine.’ When you’re burning incense in a temple, that’s appropriate because that’s the house of a god and makes the space divine. But then when you’re using incense resins on the body, you’re making the body divine and into a godly being. You’re not necessarily preserving it.”

«

Makes sense. All about the afterlife. A factoid for the pub quiz.
unique link to this extract


Waitrose puts heat pumps in stores as energy bills soar • Daily Telegraph

Hannah Boland:

»

Waitrose is putting heat pumps in all its supermarkets as it brings forward net-zero plans in an effort to tackle spiralling energy prices.

The company said it was replacing the gas boilers that have been heating its 332 stores with electric heat pumps. These require less electricity to run, and work by extracting heat from the air outside.

Waitrose said the pumps would replace gas heating in all the stores before 2035. It currently has five installed and is planning another 10 next year. 

The pumps are expected to provide consistent temperatures within its estate, although Waitrose said temperatures would vary depending on the layout of stores. Waitrose is also installing more “air curtains” in its stores. These use streams of air to create “air seals” that can stop hot air leaving stores and cold air getting in. 

Neil Coleman, from parent company the John Lewis Partnership, said: “No business is immune to rising energy costs.

“We’ve already set an ambitious plan to reduce our energy consumption and reach our goal of net zero emissions by 2035. With energy prices rising, we’re accelerating this.”

Waitrose fridges will also be upgraded to make them 40% more efficient, and lights will be switched to LEDs to cut electricity use by up to 10%. 

«

Amazing if the heat pumps use less electricity than the gas boilers. I suspect that’s not quite right. Perhaps they mean money. Or electricity (same thing) or power (same thing).
unique link to this extract


Coachella NFTs stuck in FTX exchange after bankruptcy • Billboard

Benjamin James:

»

The [Coachella] festival partnered with FTX.US to sell $1.5m worth of NFTs back in February, a couple of months before the Southern California event’s first staging since the pandemic. The collection included 10 NFT “Coachella Keys,” which granted lifetime access to the festival and VIP perks such as luxury experiences and exclusive merchandise. Many of those NFTs now appear to be stuck and inaccessible on the defunct exchange.

“Like many of you, we have been watching this news unfold online over the past few days and are shocked by the outcome,” said a Coachella staff member on the festival’s Discord server. “We do not currently have any lines of communication with the FTX team. We have assembled an internal team to come up with solutions based on the tools we have access to. Our priority is getting Coachella NFTs off of FTX, which appears to be disabled at the moment.”

“We’re actively working on solutions and are confident we’ll be able to protect the interests of Coachella’s NFT holders,” said Coachella innovation lead Sam Schoonover in a statement sent to Billboard.

Don’t blame me. I said that these things were worthless and stupid. Even more stupid to leave the tokens on an exchange, though that seems to be the done thing. Anyhooo, with luck this will be the last we hear of NFT’s in anything but games (where they can make sense).
unique link to this extract


Zoom shares down 90% from peak as pandemic boom fades • Reuters

Aditya Soni and Chavi Mehta:

»

Shares of Zoom Video Communications have tumbled about 90% from their pandemic peak in October 2020 as the former investor darling struggles to adjust to a post-COVID world.

The stock was down nearly 10% on Tuesday after the company cut its annual sales forecast and posted its slowest quarterly growth, prompting at least six brokerages to cut their price targets.

The company, which became a household name during lockdowns due to the popularity of its video-conferencing tools, is trying to reinvent itself by focusing on businesses, with products such as cloud-calling service Zoom Phone and conference-hosting offering Zoom Rooms.

Analysts, however, say any turnaround in the business is still a few quarters away as growth in its mainstay online unit slows and competition from Microsoft Corp’s Teams and Cisco’s Webex and Salesforce’s Slack gets intense.

“Zoom has a fundamental flaw – it has needed to spend heavily to keep hold of market share. Spending to cling onto, rather than grow, market share is never a good place to be and was a sign of trouble ahead,” Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst Sophie Lund-Yates said.

The company’s operating expenses surged 56% in the third quarter as it spent more on product development and marketing. Its adjusted operating margin shrank to 34.6% from 39.1% a year earlier.

«

Peloton and Zoom: left on the beach when the pandemic tide went out.
unique link to this extract


Investigation into cloud gaming and browsers to support UK tech and consumers • GOV.UK

»

The Competition and Markets Authority consulted on launching a market investigation alongside its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study report, which found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

Browsers are one of the most important and widely used apps on mobile devices. Most people use their browser at least daily to access online content such as information, news, videos and shopping. 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences.

Computer games are a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, played by millions of people. There are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.

Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.

«

This response, from a developer called Chris Jones, points out that if you oblige Apple to allow other rendering engines, Chrome will rule the world – and you’ll have even more of a monopoly.

Facebook/Meta, meanwhile, complains that the investigation should be widened to include Ad Tracking & Transparency (which is hurting it).
unique link to this extract


Twitter fails to delete 99% of racist tweets aimed at footballers in run-up to World Cup • The Guardian

Shanti Das:

»

Tweets hurling racist abuse at footballers, including the N-word, monkey emojis and calls for them to be deported, are not being removed by Twitter.

New research shows the platform failed to act on 99 out of 100 racist tweets reported to it in the week before the World Cup.

Only one was removed after being flagged on Wednesday, a tweet that repeated a racial slur 16 times. All the others remained live this weekend.

The abuse was aimed at 43 players including England stars Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka, who were among several players targeted after the Euro 2020 final.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and seen by the Observer, included 100 tweets reported to Twitter. Of those, 11 used the N-word to describe footballers, 25 used monkey or banana emojis directed at players, 13 called for players to be deported, and 25 attacked players by telling them to “go back to” other countries. Thirteen tweets targeted footballers over their English skills.

The findings come at a turbulent time for Twitter and will fuel concerns about players possibly being targeted during the World Cup.

«

But they have been concerned enough to suspend various American left-wing accounts in the past couple of days. If Musk’s “plan” is to turn it in to a version of Gab for some people, it won’t work to keep the libs on there.
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

Start Up No.1907: Facebook’s AI negotiator, HP plans layoffs, Alexa’s billion-dollar miss, Instagram v police, FTX losers, and more


A study of top songs in the US charts shows that they’ve largely abandoned key changes. Is that because we now write songs “vertically” with apps like Pro Tools? CC-licensed photo by The Blackbird Academy 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. Nice choice of clothes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


CICERO: an AI agent that negotiates, persuades, and cooperates with people • Facebook AI

The Facebook AI team:

»

Games have long been a proving ground for new AI advancements — from Deep Blue’s victory over chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, to AlphaGo’s mastery of Go, to Pluribus out-bluffing the best humans in poker. But truly useful, versatile agents will need to go beyond just moving pieces on a board. Can we build more effective and flexible agents that can use language to negotiate, persuade, and work with people to achieve strategic goals similar to the way humans do?

Today, we’re announcing a breakthrough toward building AI that has mastered these skills. We’ve built an agent – CICERO – that is the first AI to achieve human-level performance in the popular strategy game Diplomacy*. CICERO demonstrated this by playing on webDiplomacy.net, an online version of the game, where CICERO achieved more than double the average score of the human players and ranked in the top 10% of participants who played more than one game.

Diplomacy has been viewed for decades as a near-impossible grand challenge in AI because it requires players to master the art of understanding other people’s motivations and perspectives; make complex plans and adjust strategies; and then use natural language to reach agreements with other people, convince them to form partnerships and alliances, and more. CICERO is so effective at using natural language to negotiate with people in Diplomacy that they often favored working with CICERO over other human participants.

Unlike games like Chess and Go, Diplomacy is a game about people rather than pieces. If an agent can’t recognize that someone is likely bluffing or that another player would see a certain move as aggressive, it will quickly lose the game. Likewise, if it doesn’t talk like a real person — showing empathy, building relationships, and speaking knowledgeably about the game — it won’t find other players willing to work with it.

The key to our achievement was developing new techniques at the intersection of two completely different areas of AI research: strategic reasoning, as used in agents like AlphaGo and Pluribus, and natural language processing, as used in models like GPT-3, BlenderBot 3, LaMDA, and OPT-175B. CICERO can deduce, for example, that later in the game it will need the support of one particular player, and then craft a strategy to win that person’s favor – and even recognize the risks and opportunities that that player sees from their particular point of view.

«

“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that, and let me point out why it’s also not in your interests for me to open the pod bay doors.” As the (human) world champion of the game points out, what Cicero does is play the situation that exists, rather than getting annoyed or emotional, or trying to arouse those emotions in its opponent.

There are all sorts of situations where you can imagine this being used. Hostage negotiation? Trade negotiation? Peace negotiation? If both sides were AI, would the outcome be better? Or would it boil down to who had set their targets better?
unique link to this extract


China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it says • MIT Technology Review

Zeyi Yang:

»

When the Chinese government talks about social credit, the term covers two different things: traditional financial creditworthiness and “social creditworthiness,” which draws data from a larger variety of sectors.

The former is a familiar concept in the West: it documents individuals’ or businesses’ financial history and predicts their ability to pay back future loans. Because the market economy in modern China is much younger, the country lacks a reliable system to look up other people’s and companies’ financial records. Building such a system, aimed to help banks and other market players make business decisions, is an essential and not very controversial mission. Most Chinese policy documents refer to this type of credit with a specific word: “征信” (zhengxin, which some scholars have translated to “credit reporting”).

The latter—“social creditworthiness”—is what raises more eyebrows. Basically, the Chinese government is saying there needs to be a higher level of trust in society, and to nurture that trust, the government is fighting corruption, telecom scams, tax evasion, false advertising, academic plagiarism, product counterfeiting, pollution …almost everything. And not only will individuals and companies be held accountable, but legal institutions and government agencies will as well.

This is where things start to get confusing. The government seems to believe that all these problems are loosely tied to a lack of trust, and that building trust requires a one-size-fits-all solution. So just as financial credit scoring helps assess a person’s creditworthiness, it thinks, some form of “social credit” can help people assess others’ trustworthiness in other respects. 

As a result, so-called “social” credit scoring is often lumped together with financial credit scoring in policy discussions, even though it’s a much younger field with little precedent in other societies. 

What makes it extra confusing is that in practice, local governments have sometimes mixed up these two. So you may see a regulation talking about how non-financial activities will hurt your financial credit, or vice versa. (In just one example, the province of Liaoning said in August that it’s exploring how to reward blood donation in the financial credit system.) 

«

Soooo… seems it’s less like Black Mirror’s Nosedive than we all thought. Which.. is good?
unique link to this extract


HP plans layoffs with PC demand slump stretching into next year • WSJ

Denny Jacob:

»

The computer and printer maker [HP Inc], which currently has around 61,000 employees, on Tuesday said it would part with 4,000 to 6,000 employees as part of a transformation plan that aims to achieve $1.4bn in annualised cost savings. The company had a payroll of about 51,000 people a year ago.

The cuts and other changes will come with about $1bn in upfront costs, HP said.

“We think that at this point it’s prudent not to assume that the market will turn during 2023,” Chief Executive Enrique Lores said.

HP announced the layoffs as it reported an 11.2% drop in quarterly revenue to $14.8bn. The company also posted a small net loss for the period, largely reflecting costs from a legal settlement.

A day earlier, HP rival Dell Technologies also suggested the lull in PC buying this year would continue after a surge early in the pandemic.

Dell late Monday reported a 6% drop in overall revenue for the company’s third quarter, including a 17% drop in the unit that includes sales of laptops and desktops to consumers and commercial clients.

Dell expects revenue from PC sales to fall at an even steeper rate in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, chief financial officer Thomas Sweet said on a Monday earnings call.

«

Weird that HP has added 10,000 people over a year, but now is looking to get rid of half that number (almost surely not the same people). It seems like weirdly bad planning.
unique link to this extract


How the Billboard Hot 100 lost interest in the key change •

Chris Dalla Riva listened to every No.1 song in the history of the (US) Billboard Hot 100: 1,143 songs from 1958 to 2022, and found something odd:

»

The act of shifting a song’s key up either a half step or a whole step (i.e. one or two notes on the keyboard) near the end of the song, was the most popular key change for decades. In fact, 52% of key changes found in number one hits between 1958 and 1990 employ this change. You can hear it on “My Girl,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” among many others.

What’s odd is that after 1990, key changes are employed much less frequently, if at all, in number one hits.

What’s doubly odd is that around the same time, the keys that number one hits are in change dramatically too. In fact, songwriters begin using all keys at comparable rates.

So what is going on? Both of the shifts can be tied back to two things: the rise of hip-hop and the growing popularity of digital music production, or recording on computers. First, let’s talk about hip-hop.

Though hip-hop grew in popularity throughout the 1980s, it didn’t become the cultural zeitgeist until the 1990s. Hip-hop stands in stark contrast to nearly all genres that came before because it puts more emphasis on rhythm and lyricism over melody and harmony. For example, while you might be able to tap out the percussion or recite some lyrics from “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls, you would likely not be able to hum the melody. That’s because the song doesn’t have a melody in the same way that something like “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland does.

Thus, if you changed the key of “Juicy,” Biggie wouldn’t necessarily have to change how he raps, but if you changed the key of “Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland would have to sing different pitches. If you picked the wrong key, those pitches might be outside of her vocal range. In short, key doesn’t matter as much in hip-hop.

«

He points out too that the use of “loops” in digital composition militates against key changes: he calls this “vertical” rather than “horizontal” songwriting, such as that used by Sting in The Police.
unique link to this extract


Tumblr to add support for ActivityPub, the social protocol powering Mastodon and other apps • Techcrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

If Tumblr were to add ActivityPub support [as Tumblr chief Matt Mullenweg suggested it will.. on Twitter], it means users on Mastodon could follow Tumblr users’ posts from their own Mastodon instance — without having to use the Tumblr app. It could also provide Tumblr users with an entry point into the so-called fediverse without having to face some of the complexities that are involved with signing up for Mastodon for the first time.

Tumblr was already benefiting from the Twitter exodus, having grown its US app installs 7% week-over-week from the week prior to the acquisition and the 7 days after, data.ai had reported earlier this month. And, as of 12 days after Twitter’s acquisition, Tumblr’s worldwide downloads surged 77% to 301,000 up from 170,000 in the 12 days before the acquisition, Sensor Tower recently said.

Mullenweg later offered a glimpse into Tumblr’s metrics, noting to The Atlantic that iOS downloads of the Tumblr app were up 62% the week after Musk took over Twitter.

«

Big numbers.. if this were a new network. But Tumblr is already huge, and those figures – 301,000 – are 0.1% of Twitter’s daily active users. Be great if people could get a sense of proportion around this.
unique link to this extract


Amazon is gutting its voice assistant, Alexa: employees describe a division in crisis and huge losses on ‘a wasted opportunity’ • Business Insider

Eugene Kim:

»

Four years after launch, the product was embroiled in controversy. Reports of Alexa mistakenly sending voice recordings to the wrong person or Amazon employees secretly listening to private conversations stoked privacy concerns.

And the first cracks in the products business model began to show. Internally, the team worried about the quality of user engagements. By then Alexa was getting a billion interactions a week, but most of those conversations were trivial, commands to play music or ask about the weather. That meant fewer opportunities to monetize. Amazon can’t make money from Alexa telling you the weather — and playing music through the Echo gives Amazon only a small piece of the proceeds.

By 2018, the division was already a money pit. That year, The New York Times reported that it lost roughly $5bn. This year, an employee familiar with the hardware team said, the company is on pace to lose about $10bn on Alexa and other devices.

At an all-hands meeting in 2019, Limp acknowledged those concerns. For Alexa to get to the “next level,” he said, it needed to improve both user engagement and security.

“We can do both things: increase engagement and make sure customers trust the interactions with her. It’s a very, very bright future as we move forward,” Limp said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Insider.

Still, employees said Alexa continued to struggle financially. While the product ranked among the best-selling items on Amazon, most of the devices sold at cost.

By late 2019, the company effectively froze hiring for the team, three former employees said. Though they were backfilling roles, the company didn’t expand the group through new hires. Employee morale also began to tank as the once promising project was clearly losing steam.

«

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money. The business model of making it up on sales “through” the device never held together because voice assistants are so cryptic: what do or don’t they respond to? Or, as memorably lampooned in the sitcom Modern Family, “why is that coffee grinder trying to talk to me?”
unique link to this extract


Instagram told to reinstate music video removed at request of Met police • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Meta’s oversight board, the quasi-independent “supreme court” of Facebook and Instagram, has forced the company to reinstate a clip of drill music originally removed from Instagram at the request of the Metropolitan police.

The clip, a short excerpt of the song Secrets Not Safe by Chinx (OS), was removed after the Met flagged the track to Meta, arguing that it could lead to “retaliatory violence” in the context of the London gang scene. The force told Meta it contained a “veiled threat”, referencing a shooting in 2017, and as a result the company manually removed 52 posts containing the track and automated systems removed it a further 112 times.

…As part of its investigation into the removal of the track, the oversight board filed multiple freedom of information requests with the Met police, finding that the force had filed 286 requests to take down or review posts about drill music in the 12 months from June 2021, and that 255 of those had resulted in the removal of content.

Over the same period, it had not made a single request to remove any other music genre, the force said. “This intensive focus on one music genre among many that include reference to violence raises serious concerns of potential over-policing of certain communities,” the board argued.

The board also asked the Met how it ensured that free speech rights were protected, and what its specific policies were about flagging content to social networks. The force said it was unable to answer, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis.

Crucially, the Met did not allege any of the drill music that it had asked Meta to take down had broken UK law. Instead, its argument was that the music had broken Facebook and Instagram’s community standards, since it was “potentially threatening or likely to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm”. The police did not provide public evidence to back up that claim. Because the internal Meta team that works with the police comprises senior specialists, users whose content is taken down also have no ability to appeal.

«

Tricky. The police are insistent that drill is essentially how gangs post threats to each other; Chinx (OS) appears in all his videos wearing a balaclava, because to be identified would be to be targeted, and he knows that. But nobody’s taking down Eminem’s videos, even though they contain what could be read as threats.
unique link to this extract


Hedge funds left with billions stranded on FTX • Financial Times

Laurence Fletcher and Joshua Oliver:

»

The sudden failure this month of FTX, valued at $32bn this year, has shocked investors who backed it and traders who used it. Legal filings on Sunday revealed that FTX owes its 50 largest creditors, likely to include a wide variety of hedge funds, more traditional asset managers and other traders, more than $3bn.

“I lost my investors’ money after they put faith in me to manage risk and I am truly sorry for that,” tweeted Travis Kling, founder of Ikigai Asset Management, which has a “large majority” of its hedge fund’s assets stuck on FTX. “I have publicly endorsed FTX many times,” he added. “I was wrong.”

Crypto-focused hedge funds have direct exposure to FTX Group or to FTT, FTX’s own digital token which it promoted to incentivise more trading on its main exchange, of around $2bn, according to data group Crypto Fund Research.

Earlier this month the Financial Times revealed that Galois Capital, whose founder Kevin Zhou is credited with spotting the collapse of cryptocurrency luna, had around half its capital stuck on FTX.

Zhou admitted he was “deeply sorry” and that he had under-appreciated “the solvency risk with holding our funds at FTX”. He said it could take a few years to recover “some percentage of our assets”.

Crypto Fund Research estimates that between 100 and 150 crypto hedge funds, or around 25 to 40% of the total number of such specialist funds, have some direct exposure to FTX Group or to FTT.

«

Zhou was smart enough to figure out that luna was going belly-up and taking other people’s investments with it, yet not smart enough to figure out that the investments he had made in another cryptocurrency exchange issuing its own token wasn’t a safe haven? A fabulous example of motivated reasoning: as long as it didn’t involve his own decision-making, he could see it was wrong.

The psychological implications of the whole crypto bubble are going to be fascinating to untangle.
unique link to this extract


Elon Musk wants every Twitter employee sending weekly updates about their work via email • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

Elon Musk wants every Twitter employee sending weekly updates about their work via email now. Per an internal memo to employees that I obtained, every Friday all Twitter employees are required to send an email update on their work with the subject line structure: “Weekly Update, name, dept, and date.” Inside the email, they must include what project they are working on, “code samples” if relevant or summaries of work for non-technical work, and what they have been trying to accomplish. “Looking forward to making Twitter the highest performing tech software company in the world,” the internal memo ends. Hardcore!

«

The responses to this have been interesting: it’s a very Rorschach blot move. Steven Sinofsky, who pushed the concept of the internet to Bill Gates as a young engineer at Microsoft, and later led the Windows division, tweeted that “I had to send weekly mail for at least the first 5 years as an eng.”

Well, sure, but he joined Microsoft in July 1989. Nowadays we have code repositories and you can see when and how much code people write and check in and check out. But his tweet drew lots of supportive responses as well as people saying such practices might have been OK for boomers but not now. (Now I think about it, I did have to write a weekly email to my manager when I ran the Guardian’s Technology section explaining what was in the upcoming issue and thus made it thrilling. Some weeks this was easier than others.)
unique link to this extract


Hacked Facebook accounts can take years to recover • The Washington Post

Tatum Hunter:

»

Help Desk, the personal technology section at The Washington Post, has received hundreds of emails from people locked out of their Facebook accounts with no idea how to get back in. Many lose their accounts to hackers, who take over Facebook pages to resell them or to game search-engine rankings.

In some cases, losing the account is an inconvenience. But in many others, it is a threat to the finances, relationships or well-being of the user. Groce, for instance, estimates she has lost $18,000 in income after waiting for months for her account to be unlocked.

“We have clients crying on Zoom calls, as they have lost their business and livelihood,” said Jonas Borchgrevink, founder of Hacked.com, which helps victims navigate the notoriously confusing process for recovering hacked Facebook accounts.

Facebook shot to global dominance by promising to be a central hub for our lives, introducing tools to help us run businesses, make payments and even keep track of loved ones during disasters. But once you hit a snag, like an account takeover, that support disappears, dozens of users say, leaving people to flounder in an automated system.

Despite reporting revenue of more than $27bn [and $4.4bn profit] in the third quarter, Facebook parent company Meta is a multinational technology giant without real customer support, users say. This month Meta announced it will lay off 11% of its workforce. It is unclear how these cuts will affect account security and customer support.

Last year Facebook told The Post it was working on new processes to solve these problems. A year later, not much appears to have changed. The company has no new initiatives for helping people recover their accounts.

«

The WaPo offers “take these steps to get back into your hacked Facebook account“, from September 2021, which offers how to attempt it about halfway down.

Really what’s needed (too) is for Meta to force 2FA on users, the same way Apple nags and nags you to turn it on for an iPhone or similar in your iCloud account. So many hacks wouldn’t happen.
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

Start Up No.1906: Crypto lender Genesis in big trouble, Twitter redux, Euro MPs mandate EVs by 2035, Russia aims at Signal, and more


When’s the best time of day to exercise if you want to get the best results? Morning, afternoon or evening? CC-licensed photo by Mark Bonica 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 11 links for you. Not employed at Twitter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Crypto lender Genesis asks Binance and Apollo for cash • WSJ

Vicky Ge Huang, Patricia Kowsmann and Caitlin Ostroff:

»

Cryptocurrency firm Genesis is still trying to raise cash.

The lender has approached crypto exchange Binance for an investment and to bid for its loan book, according to people familiar with the matter.

Binance decided not to invest, fearful that some of Genesis’s business could create a conflict of interest down the line, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. The company also approached private equity giant Apollo Global Management for capital assistance, according to people familiar with the matter. 

“We have no plans to file bankruptcy imminently. Our goal is to resolve the current situation consensually without the need for any bankruptcy filing. Genesis continues to have constructive conversations with creditors,” a Genesis spokesman said.

Genesis has faced a rush of withdrawals from its lending arm following the collapse of crypto exchange FTX. The company initially sought an emergency loan of $1bn from investors before it told clients it was suspending redemptions and loan originations in a brief call Nov. 16, Genesis said. At that meeting, interim chief executive Derar Islim said Genesis would deliver a plan for its lending business this week.

Genesis’s outreach to Binance was first reported by Bloomberg.

Genesis became the latest crypto lender to pause withdrawals last week after the swift and sudden collapse of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that Genesis had loans outstanding to Alameda Research, an affiliated trading firm of FTX that Mr. Bankman-Fried founded, with FTX’s own cryptocurrency used as collateral.

Earlier this year, Genesis lent $2.4bn to Three Arrows, according to court documents. Genesis’s parent company, Digital Currency Group, has a $1.2bn claim against the hedge fund. 

«

Last night Genesis lowballed itself and started asking for “only” $500m. One has to feel this story isn’t going to end well, and that there are many more – and bigger – dominoes to fall. At this point, the entire cryptocurrency exchange system looks ready to collapse because the contagion is so widespread. Impressive: took them only a decade or so to reproduce the entire systemic failure that took centuries to create with normal financial systems.
unique link to this extract


Elon Musk says Twitter is done with layoffs and ready to hire again • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

During an all-hands meeting with employees on Monday, Musk said that Twitter is done with layoffs and actively recruiting for roles in engineering and sales and that employees are encouraged to make referrals, according to two people who attended and a partial recording obtained by The Verge. His comments were made the same day an unspecified wave of cuts hit Twitter’s sales department, which has lost almost all of its senior leadership since Musk took over.

Musk didn’t specify the kinds of engineers or sales roles Twitter was hiring for, and the company doesn’t currently have any open roles listed on its website. The Verge reported last week that Twitter recruiters were already reaching out to engineers asking them to join “Twitter 2.0 – an Elon company.”

Anyone entering Twitter now will work in a much smaller company than it was before Musk took over. While the exact number of departures under his watch is unclear, there were nearly 7,400 people with access to Twitter’s internal systems before he laid off about half the company. That number, which excludes the thousands of outside contractors Musk also cut, has since fallen to just over 2,700 people as of press time, according to people with the matter.

«

As the NY Times points out, this is the same formula that Musk has used at Tesla and SpaceX. Worked there. And getting information out of Twitter is going to be a lot more difficult now: there are simply fewer people, and those who are there are either loyal to Musk or have a strong interest in not getting fired. Meanwhile there’s no media relations department, and Musk is the most unreliable of narrators.

The Twitter stuff is very boring, though. Is it in terrible peril? Probably not. Is it getting worse? Yes, as some things do (do you remember which president followed Obama)? Is it the most interesting topic in tech? Not even close. But it occupies a lot of the bandwidth.
unique link to this extract


The big takeaway from Cop27? These climate conferences just aren’t working • The Guardian

Bill McGuire:

»

It really does beggar belief, that in the course of 27 Cops, there has never been a formal agreement to reduce the world’s fossil fuel use. Not only has the elephant been in the room all this time, but over the last quarter of a century it has taken on gargantuan proportions – and still its presence goes unheeded. It is no surprise, then, that from Cop1 in Berlin in 1995, to Egypt this year, emissions have continued – barring a small downward blip at the height of the pandemic – to head remorselessly upwards.

Expectations were never especially high over the course of the 12 months since Glasgow’s Cop26. Even so, COP27 has to be a new low – held in a country cowed by a malicious dictatorship, the world’s biggest plastic polluter on board as a sponsor, and hosting more than 600 fossil fuel representatives and many others who are there to prevent, rather than promote progress and action. Some old hands have labelled it the worst COP ever, and I doubt many would argue.

…And there is another huge and growing problem too. The all-encompassing nature of the annual Cop climate conference provides one enormous open goal for fossil fuel representatives; an unprecedented opportunity to kettle ministers and heads of state from every corner of the planet, but particularly the majority world, to browbeat them into handing over their untouched fossil fuel reserves for exploitation. At Cop27, the sharks were circling around African nations, desperate to persuade them of the urgent need for a “dash for gas” and looking for a very large piece of the action.

In retrospect, it does seem that the whole idea of annual climate carnivals was probably not the best means of promoting serious action on global heating, but their hijacking by the fossil fuel sector, and failure, year on year, to do the job they were set up to do, surely means that Cop is no longer fit for purpose.

«

All these get-togethers take on a life of their own after a while: same time next year? Sure! Same talking shop, same minimal outcome.
unique link to this extract


When is the best time to exercise? • Big Think

Ross Pomeroy:

»

alas, early exercisers may not be able to achieve peak performance. Stiffer muscles, fewer stored energy reserves from overnight fasting, and a slightly cooler body temperature in the morning add up to hamper exercise output. Therefore, more avid exercisers might prefer working out in the afternoon.

“The best window for explosive athleticism seems to be between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.” Shawn Arent, chair of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina told CNN.

For example, in one study, young men instructed to cycle to exhaustion at a set difficulty were able to ride 20% longer in the afternoon compared to the morning. A review of studies also found that muscle strength, muscle power, and sprinting abilities all peaked in the afternoon, topping morning performance by anywhere from 3% to 20%.

Exercise itself may also be more efficient in the afternoon. A small, 12-week study focusing on pre-diabetic and diabetic men found that afternoon training produced slightly more beneficial metabolic effects and resulted in a little more fat loss compared to morning training. The advantages, however, were marginal.

Finally, some folks may decide to work out later in the evening. Studies centered around this time of day tend to focus on whether or not nightly exercise negatively impacts sleep quality. Gathered research suggests it does not and, instead, actually improves sleep.

«

Looks like those sports events which put everything off to the post-lunch period have got it right.
unique link to this extract


European Parliament moves to mandate EVs by 2035 • CleanTechnica

Jennifer Sensiba:

»

The European Parliament and Council have reached an agreement that by 2035, all new cars registered in Europe will emit zero emissions. As a way of gradually reaching this goal, the average emissions of new cars must be reduced by 55% come 2030, and for vans, 50%. This is the first step in the adoption process of “Fit for 55″ proposals put forth by the Commission earlier this year. Additionally, it shows COP27 attendees how committed the EU is to meeting international climate goals.

…The EU Parliament has [also] agreed to a set of rules that will see an increase in the number of recharging and alternative refueling stations for cars, trucks, trains, and planes. This is part of the “Fit for 55 in 2030 package” which plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% come 2030. In 2024, each member state must have a plan to meet the minimum national targets for MPs who agree to put in place infrastructure for using alternative fuels.

“At the moment we have 377,000 charging stations in the EU, but this is half the amount that should have been achieved had EU countries lived up to their promises,” said EP rapporteur on alternative fuels infrastructure Ismail Ertug. “We need to tackle this decarbonisation bottleneck and quickly roll out the alternative fuels infrastructure to save the Green Deal.”

The electric car charging stations should be placed every 60 kilometers (about every 37 miles in non-metric speak) on main EU roads by 2026. However, this excludes areas with little traffic or public transportation systems, such as trucks and buses that rely heavily on core TEN-T networks. These regions will have their own set of regulations for these stations.

«

Just for reference, EVs were 12% of new EU passenger car registrations in 2020, and 18% in 2021. Let’s see if that 50% growth trend continues.
unique link to this extract


Hive Social

»

Hive is a social media platform that aims at creating a better experience for its users through a chronological feed and continuous self expression features that currently include profile music, profile banners, image/gif/text posts, and much more.

Zodiac signs, pronouns, badges, and full app color theme changes coming soon!

«

Might pass on the zodiac signs, thanks. But if you’re looking for a social media app that isn’t Mastodon, isn’t Instagram and isn’t Be Real, you could try this. It’s been going since June 2019.
unique link to this extract


Milk and cheese drive food price inflation to 45-year high • BBC News

Michael Race:

»

Food prices are rising at their fastest rate for 45 years, with the cost of basics such as milk, cheese and eggs surging.

Food price inflation hit 16.2% in the year to October, up from 14.5% in September, latest figures show. Energy and fuel costs also rose sharply, pushing the overall inflation rate to its highest level since 1981.

The surging cost of living is squeezing household budgets, leaving many people facing hardship.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it was hitting poorer households hardest, as they spent around half of their income on food and energy, compared to about a third for those on middle incomes.

October’s overall inflation rate, of 11.1%, is the highest for 41 years and up from 10.1% in September.

«

This is a few days old, but worth bearing in mind that it’s the staples which are seeing prices rise fastest. Low-fat milk and margarine prices? Up nearly 50% year-on-year. Pasta, oils and fats, butter: up by about 30%. The fuller data (Table 2 on this ONS page) seems to me to suggest that it’s lots of the optional purchases that haven’t moved much in price, while the essentials have leapt up.
unique link to this extract


Russian zero-day thirst traps • The Info Op

“the grugq”:

»

Last month a Russian exploit company increased their price offer for Signal RCE exploits to three times the Zerodium rate.

…OpZero is a Russian company that buys exploits. Their history is unclear. Google only indexed their website in October 2022, although their social media presence dates back to July 2021. There isn’t much of anything interesting publicly available about the company and its early incarnations.

The Ukrainian military and government use Signal on their phones as a communications channel. This is a huge exposure if there is a way to compromise either Android phones or the Signal app. There is attack surface on the Signal app, which exposes WebRTC, which means there could be exploitable vulnerabilities. (My understanding is that WebRTC is only exposed after you have established a link, e.g. chat or call, with a contact.)

The Ukrainian military, and much of the government and civilian population, communicate using Signal on Android phones. Android market share is a little under 80%, and iOS is slightly over 20%. A handful of legacy and other devices make up the remainder with less than 0.5% 

Signal use has exploded since the invasion began.1 In March, there were 2 million installs, and that number has likely increased significantly since then. In February, growth for Signal downloads was almost 2,000%, making it the number one most downloaded app in Ukraine.

This presents a problem. Android phones with Signal are robust security platforms. They’re not military equipment, but they’re perfectly capable of providing protection against a wide range of security threats. Including nation state level threat actors.

Russia appears to be lacking an Android or Signal capability. Either one would be sufficient to gain access to Signal communications. Needing both may indicate, or at least suggest, that Russia doesn’t have capabilities for these platforms.

«

The amount on offer is single-digit millions (plural), indicating to him that Russia is getting both desperate and annoyed that it can’t get such an exploit from its normal sources (internal and external). Hurrah for Signal.
unique link to this extract


A breast cancer vaccine shows promising results, UW study finds • Axios Seattle

Christine Clarridge:

»

In a decade-long Phase I human trial, the vaccine created a strong immune response to proteins that cause tumors to grow aggressively, researchers said in a study published in JAMA Oncology this month.

About 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually in women and about 2,400 in men in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“I have very high hopes that it is close to the final step of this vaccine potentially becoming a treatment for patients with breast cancer,” said the study’s lead author Mary “Nora” Disis, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Cancer Vaccine Institute.

Disis said the vaccine was found to be “very safe” in the Phase 1 trial, with the most common side effects being similar to those of the COVID vaccine: Soreness at the injection site and flu-like symptoms for a few days.

The vaccine targets a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). HER2 is overproduced by as much as a hundredfold in as many as 30% of breast cancers, according to UW Medicine. “HER2-positive” cancers tend to be more aggressive and more likely to recur after treatment, Disis said.

«

I still remember all the excitement about the discovery (and patenting of methods for identification) of BRCA1 and BRCA2 back in the 1990s. It seemed then that some sort of treatment might be just around the corner. The corner’s still unfurling.
unique link to this extract


Mammoth migration • Excel Pope

Andrew Pope on Mastodon:

»

In some ways, having one big thing is bad. Some idiot could buy it and run it into the ground, for example. With the lots-of-small-things model the same idiot could pay around twenty bucks a month to run his own small-thing, and do what he liked with it, making a saving of $43,999,999,980.00 in the process. Except he couldn’t. For the small things to work in a way that emulates the one-big-thing all the small-things have to agree to talk to each other and Mastodon has an explicit “Be nice” spirit, which seems to place it one Kerplunk! stick away from descending into a purity-spiral so deep that it might bore a hole to the centre of the Earth.

For example, lots of people have been gleefully sharing this conversation with Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon, as a great example of how the platform will be better than Twitter, seemingly without pausing to ask themselves, “Who’s deciding who is a Nazi?”

The lots-of-little-things model means everything is in the hands of lots-of-little-moderators. If one of moderators on the little-thing your account is attached to decides you’re a Nazi – perhaps for saying that women are real – then that can be it; your whole account, all your posts, all your follows and followers, gone. And your ban might not even be for saying anything. Maybe you just posted some links to news stories that suggest you’re guilty of wrongthink, or retweet someone who’s saying the wrong thing, or just have already upset enough people that they badger your local moderators to not even give you a chance, as was the case with Telegraph journalist, Suzanne Moore.

The lots-of-little-things model means its lots-of-little-moderators are all weak links, even ones not swigging the gender ideology Kool-aid, likely to be easily swayed by mass reporting, or hearsay about who’s too dangerous to let on to Mastodon.

Nor is there a loophole in getting a few people together and setting up your own little-thing. When a group of gender-critical people tried that in in 2019, with Spinster, the moderators of other little-things were pressured into not talking to it, which has a special Mastodon name that’s too boring to repeat. In other words, you’re free to moderate your own little-thing, so long as you don’t mind only talking to other people who use that little-thing and having nothing to do with the lots-of-little-things-joined-up-to-look-like-a-big-thing thing.

All of this happens with no oversight and no recourse.

«

John Siracusa made much the same points on the most recent episode of ATP (“Tiny Tyrants“), and added: any Mastodon instance that gets big enough will essentially run into exactly the same problems as early rapidly growing Twitter, but without venture capital money to help it through. And that’s not going to be pretty. (For those asking, yes, I have set up an identity on Mastodon, and no, I can’t be bothered to tell you yet.)
unique link to this extract


Meet Unstable Diffusion, the group trying to monetize AI porn generators • TechCrunch

Kyle Wiggers:

»

while Reddit quickly shut down many of the subreddits dedicated to AI porn, and communities like NewGrounds, which allows some forms of adult art, banned AI-generated artwork altogether, new forums emerged to fill the gap.

By far the largest is Unstable Diffusion, whose operators are building a business around AI systems tailored to generate high-quality porn. The server’s Patreon — started to keep the server running as well as fund general development — is currently raking in over $2,500 a month from several hundred donors.

“In just two months, our team expanded to over 13 people as well as many consultants and volunteer community moderators,” Arman Chaudhry, one of the members of the Unstable Diffusion admin team, told TechCrunch in a conversation via Discord. “We see the opportunity to make innovations in usability, user experience and expressive power to create tools that professional artists and businesses can benefit from.”

Unsurprisingly, some AI ethicists are as worried as Chaudhry is optimistic. While the use of AI to create porn isn’t new  — TechCrunch covered an AI-porn-generating app just a few months ago — Unstable Diffusion’s models are capable of generating higher-fidelity examples than most.

«

The goldrush always includes porn, and the people who sell the shovels always do best out of the goldrush. $2,500 per month isn’t chickenfeed: $30,000 per year, and probably going to grow.
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

Start Up No.1905: Holmes gets 11 years, where FTX depositors go to panic, the people who want to – but won’t – leave Twitter, and more


Keeping Daylight Saving Time year-round in the US would save the lives of lots of deer – and a number of people. Isn’t it about time to change? CC-licensed photo by State FarmState Farm 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison for Theranos fraud • TechCrunch

Amanda Silberling:

»

The former founder and CEO of Theranos, Holmes could have faced up to 20 years in prison for each of the four counts. By comparison, former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud, but was released after a bit more than four years.

At the courthouse in San Jose, both sides of United States vs. Elizabeth Holmes presented their cases regarding whether Judge Edward Davila can consider Holmes’ “reckless disregard” of patients in sentencing. Davila rejected that proposal, since at the original trial, Holmes was only found guilty of defrauding investors.

Regardless, it took over four hours before Holmes’ sentence was decided. Alex Schultz, father of whistleblower Tyler Schultz, spoke to the court, recounting how his son slept with a knife under his pillow when he suspected he was being followed by Theranos’ private investigators.

Then, Holmes herself spoke. “I regret my failings with every cell of my body,” she said. That was when Judge Davila delivered his decision.

Holmes is expected to report to prison in April. Currently, she is pregnant with her second child.

Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford. She pitched investors and partners on technology that would revolutionize the healthcare system — instead of drawing blood intravenously and waiting days for test results, her technology would prick a tiny bit of blood and instantly conduct dozens of tests on it. Soon she was the CEO of a company with a $10bn valuation, but it turned out that the technology didn’t work.

«

Now what’s the difference between this, where the investors were given lots of chance to find out whether there was a product, and put their trust in the person who said they would build the product – and a crypto company which goes bust and takes $10bn or so of investors’ money with it into thin air?

Sunny Balwani, her other half (at Theranos, at least) was also found guilty on all counts; he awaits sentencing. She’ll be out in five or six years. Wonder what her second act will look like. Something environmental or biotechnological, at a guess. On hold until 2027.
unique link to this extract


Where have the FTX depositors gone to panic? • NY Mag

John Herrman explains that they all headed over to Telegram, where they’d already been for FTX’s customer support:

»

In a group called FTX Affected Members, Moe, a 30-year-old in the Netherlands who tallied up his potential losses: “€200k from family, a €50k business loan from my company which I have to pay back within 2 years, €20k from my mother’s savings, €60k my own savings and profits from investments over the past 4 years.” The prospect of losing his own money was bad but manageable — he runs a food-distribution and retail business and could “start over.” The family money is a different story. He spent a future inheritance from his father and invested his mother’s life savings. “I can’t even look them in the eye,” he says. “I trusted all the claims FTX and SBF made on changing the world, veganism, giving away money to good causes, not caring about materialism, and treating people fair.”

Moe isn’t the only one who points to SBF — who received glowing mainstream-press coverage and spent millions of dollars advertising directly to customers and paying celebrities for endorsements — as their reason for investing with FTX. User @riskmaverick, who is also six figures in with the exchange, spent ten years as an investment banker in London. He saw SBF as credible because of his time as a trader at Jane Street, a highly regarded quant firm headquartered in New York. “Where I went wrong,” he says, was “understanding SBF as a Wall Street guy who knows what he’s doing.” His losses, he says, would represent “80% of liquid current cash savings from years of work,” setting him back five years at least (he’s in his early 40s). “It’s a painful situation. Most of my friends don’t know how to respond.”

The perception that FTX was unusually safe because of its links to the U.S. was pervasive among locked-out customers. Adrian, a photographer in Berlin with his “first ever” savings trapped in FTX, assumed the exchange would have been heavily regulated. It got his attention in the first place with an ad starring Larry David. “The first time I have something and I lost it,” he tells me in a Zoom call. “I love Larry David. I can’t believe this.”

«

There’s such a reckoning due on this. The media who wrote up the reports; the stars who took the payments (in crypto? In cash?); and of course the scammers themselves. It really ought to be a 9/11 moment for the entire crypto “industry”, but there are a lot of people who can’t believe it.

unique link to this extract


Permanent daylight saving time would reduce deer-vehicle collisions • Current Biology

Calum Cunningham et al:

»

Based on 1,012,465 deer-vehicle collisions and 96 million hourly traffic observations across the United States, we show that collisions are 14 times more frequent 2 hours after sunset than before sunset, highlighting the importance of traffic during dark hours as a key determinant of deer-vehicle collision risk.

The switch from daylight saving to standard time in autumn causes peak traffic volumes to shift from before sunset to after sunset, leading to a 16% spike in deer-vehicle collisions. By reducing traffic after dark, our model predicts that year-round daylight saving time would prevent 36,550 deer (Odocoileus sp.) deaths, 33 human deaths, 2,054 human injuries, and US$1.19bn in collision costs annually. In contrast, permanent standard time is predicted to increase collisions by an even larger magnitude, incurring an additional US$2.39bn in costs.

By targeting the temporal dimension of wildlife-vehicle collisions, strategies such as year-round daylight saving time that reduce traffic during dark hours, especially during the breeding season of abundant ungulates, would yield substantial benefits for wildlife conservation and reduce the social and economic costs of deer-vehicle collisions.

«

I’ve checked, and none of the authors is a deer. More evidence that DST is a bit outmoded. If you didn’t notice, by the way, scientists have called time on the leap second. The Earth will just have to live with being out of sync with, well, time.
unique link to this extract


‘I caught lightning in a bottle. I will be one of the last people to leave Twitter’ • POLITICO

Nancy Scola:

»

In much of the world, Twitter seems a bit silly. Even inside the metaphorical Beltway, people will admit to it being an ego-boosting dopamine-dispensing machine if not an insular, often-toxic time suck. The truth, though, is that Washington takes Twitter very seriously. Twitter is a place where all the worlds that make up Washington — the politicians, the policy experts, the press, academics, activists, and others — gather. And in an increasingly remote age, Twitter does much of the work that physical meeting spaces once did in Washington.

For a city that never stops feasting on work, Twitter “is a bottomless bowl of soup,” says Margaret O’Mara, chair of American history at the University of Washington, where she studies the overlap of politics and tech. She was also a staffer in the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

And using Twitter well is a bit of a superpower, one that the American political class is loath to give up without a fight.

Sure, folks in Washington might well give up on Twitter. But for now, it’s still the place for reporter-massaging, idea-debating, networking, rumor-mill-monitoring and career-building. Any replacement will struggle to replicate all the ways it has transformed the city. I spoke with more than 15 insiders from all walks of Washington who spoke about how Twitter’s become baked in to their lives. They talked about how Twitter has become essential to how they do their jobs, and why the end of the social network would trigger upheaval in the capital.

So why, exactly, can’t Washington quit Twitter?

Talk to just about anyone in politics, and they make plain that one of Twitter’s key uses is simply getting themselves, their boss, their issue in front of a powerful audience: the press. If you’re trying to reach Americans, says one Senate Democratic staffer, “one way is to spend a million dollars on TV ads.” Another way, says the aide, is to “talk to the people who talk to people” — that is, reporters. “Twitter is good for that.”

«

The feeling’s similar in the UK, and many other countries. Twitter’s benefit is in being able to reach the people who have the influence: its centralisation is a big part of that benefit. I did write about this in Social Warming…
unique link to this extract


Why foreign workers in the US are especially vulnerable to the Twitter turmoil • CNN Politics

Donie O’Sullivan, Priscilla Alvarez and Oliver Darcy:

»

Tech companies in the US, including Twitter, have leaned on an employment-based visa, known as H-1B, to bring skilled foreign workers into the country. The program allows companies in the US to employ foreign workers in high-skilled occupations like architecture, engineering, mathematics, among other fields.

In fiscal year 2022, Twitter had nearly 300 people approved to work on H-1B visas, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services data. It’s unclear how many have chosen to stay.

Facebook – another company that’s undergoing mass layoffs – had more than 1,300 people approved to work on H-1B visas, the data shows.

Employees on temporary visas, like H-1B or other work visas, are especially vulnerable to the layoffs happening at Twitter and across the tech industry. Some staff who were on employment-based visas and have already been laid off by Musk have found themselves scrambling.

“Firing folks who are on a H-1B in a major economic downturn is not just putting them out of the job, it’s tantamount to ruining their lives,” one former employee told CNN, adding that some people who had accepted Musk’s ultimatum had accepted it “out of self-preservation.”

Fiona McEntee, an immigration lawyer based in Chicago, represents immigrants who are on H-1B visas and are part of the recent tech layoffs.

While McEntee stressed everyone’s situation is unique, one of the primary challenges employees on H-1B visas face is that they have a limited window of time to find a new employer, adjust to another visa, or leave the United States. The 60-day grace period usually starts from the last day of employment.

«

Have to wonder very hard how many of the apparently smiling faces standing around Elon Musk in his “1am code review” photo after his “hardcore or nothing” memo are on H1-B visas.
unique link to this extract


Heads we win, tails he loses • Hey

David Heinemeier Hansson:

»

Not since Trump has a single character managed to invoke such extreme levels of love and hate on the world stage for weeks at the time. Nor has anyone been able to play the media like a fiddle with such virtuosity.

Thankfully the stakes are so much lower, though. Musk might be firing rockets into space, but they won’t accidentally have any nuclear warheads on them. His media trolling isn’t coming from within the White House. This reality show is playing out over something as disposable as a struggling social media website.

Furthermore, the world doesn’t need Twitter. In fact, the world would almost certainly be better off without Twitter. 

That’s what makes this show so guiltlessly entertaining to watch: Whichever the outcome, the world wins. If Musk manages to fix Twitter, we’re left with a better Twitter. Great! If Musk manages to burn down Twitter, we’re left with a world free of Twitter. Great!

«

Well, great-ish. I’d still rather have a world with Twitter, though one whose denizens weren’t all busy navel-gazing about how awful whatever is happening to Twitter is. Self-obsessed Twitter is the very, very worst Twitter: it’s like a bandpass filter that stops useful data getting through.
unique link to this extract


Empowering the world to create music • Soundful

»

Soundful empowers creators to generate royalty free tracks at the click of a button. The quality of Soundful music is so rich, you won’t believe it was made with AI. But, don’t take our word for it. Give it a try!

It literally cannot get any easier than this. Soundful has built the ultimate, completely customizeable song generation platform that is learning every day. Simply choose a genre, customize your inputs and create your tracks. Repeat until you find the track that is right for you. It’s that easy.

«

There’s a free tier (1 download per month, unlimited track creation) if you want to try it out. Also relevant: “Will we see prompt-based music generation?“, which mentions a number of other AI music generation tools. One will be right for you (if you like doing that).
unique link to this extract


Scientists have founded a ‘post-detection hub’ to prepare for alien contact • Vice

Becky Ferreira:

»

John Elliott, who serves as honorary research fellow in the School of Computer Science of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, has been thinking about the potential ramifications of an alien detection for decades. During his long involvement with the SETI Permanent Committee, a group of SETI experts established by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), he has developed approaches for deciphering extraterrestrial messages and gamed out how to disseminate information about a confirmed extraterrestrial detection to a global audience.

Now, Elliott has founded the SETI Post-Detection Hub, hosted by the University of St Andrews’ Centre for Exoplanet Science and the Centre for Global Law and Governance, to bring together diverse experts and anticipate the joys and tribulations of a post-detection world.

“It was increasingly evident that we needed a centre (home) to coordinate our efforts for an integrated provision to deal with such an event,” Elliott told Motherboard in an email. “So, with the encouragement of colleagues, I took the initiative and began developing the hub, to where it is now.”

“This has been with the assistance of a few colleagues in the UK SETI Network (UKSRN), to formulate a draft strategic plan and supporting documents,” he added, noting that the hub is now officially active.

«

Isn’t this what happens in Contact? Also, who’ll actually go and meet the aliens, or contact them? I hope whoever does has read The Three-Body Problem (or more specifically The Dark Forest).
unique link to this extract


AI can now make fake selfies for your Tinder profile • Vice

Janus Rose:

»

The AI image-generating craze has entered its next phase of absurdity: creating fake profile pics that make you look good on dating apps and social media.

For $19, a service called PhotoAI will use 12-20 of your mediocre, poorly-lit selfies to generate a batch of fake photos specially tailored to the style or platform of your choosing. The results speak to an AI trend that seems to regularly jump the shark: a “LinkedIn” package will generate photos of you wearing a suit or business attire, while the “Tinder” setting promises to make you “the best you’ve ever looked”—which apparently means making you into an algorithmically beefed-up dudebro with sunglasses. 

There are also options that generate artsy Polaroids, photoshop you into memes, or make hyper-stylized portraits that copy the aesthetics of popular artists. After submitting your photos, the site promises to return results in 12 hours. The AI model used to generate your photos is also deleted after seven days, according to the site’s privacy policy.

«

Haven’t tried it. If you have, please tell us the juicy details, including whether it meant you got matched on Tinder using your LinkedIn pic, and vice-versa.
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

Start Up No.1904: Twitter’s moderation system slows, TikTok aims to sell, Meta fires staff who hijacked accounts, and more


A bizarre turn of events means South Korea’s Legoland project has created a full-blown government bond crisis. CC-licensed photo by Fido 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.


There’s a new post at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. Meteors! Robots! Free signup!


A selection of 9 links for you. Working from home. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Twitter’s moderation system is in tatters • WIRED

Condé Nast:

»

After Elon Musk bought the company and laid off 7,500 full time employees, disinformation researchers and activists say, the team that took down toxic and fake content vanished. Now, after years of developing relationships within those teams, researchers say no one is responding to their reports of disinformation on the site, even as data suggests Twitter is becoming more toxic.

The issue is particularly acute in Brazil, where a runoff presidential election between right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took place just days after Musk’s takeover. Observers and activists had warned for months that Bolsonaro’s supporters might not accept the results of the election should he lose, and could resort to violence. When Bolsonaro supporters began questioning the election results online, researchers found that Twitter had apparently fired all the people who should be monitoring the platform.

“At this moment, we have nobody to reach out to,” says Nina Santos, a researcher at the Brazilian National Institute of Science & Technology in Digital Democracy. “All the people that we were talking with are no longer there.” Santos says that until Musk’s takeover, Twitter had been “quite responsive” in taking down rule-breaking content that could undermine trust in the election or spread disinformation, compared to Meta and Google. The entirety of Twitter’s Brazil team was included in the 7,500 people laid off earlier this month.

Although Lula was declared the winner of the election, Santos says she still sees tweets questioning the result or calling for mobilization against the government. All of these, she says, are dangerous. Twitter’s current policy states that the company will “label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process.” Christopher Bouzy, founder and CEO of Bot Sentinel, a project to fight disinformation and harassment on Twitter, was also monitoring the Brazilian elections, as well as the US midterms. Like Santos, he noticed that tweets claiming the Brazilian election was stolen remained up on Twitter.

«

Meanwhile, at Futurism: “Panicked Elon Musk reportedly begging engineers not to leave“:

»

Employees had until 5 pm on Thursday to click “yes” and be part of Twitter moving forward or take the money and part ways. The problem for Musk? According to former Uber engineer Gergely Orosz, who has had a close ear to Twitter’s recent inner turmoil, “far fewer than expected [developers] hit ‘yes.'”

So many employees called Musk’s bluff, Orosz says, that Musk is now “having meetings with top engineers to convince them to stay,” in an embarrassing reversal of his public-facing bravado earlier this week.

«

unique link to this extract


Inside a boot camp for Chinese TikTok sellers bringing live e-commerce to the US • Rest of World

Yvaine Ye, Viola Zhou and Meaghan Tobin:

»

As livestreaming has ballooned into a $400bn industry in China, its success has convinced Chinese entrepreneurs — and TikTok itself — that it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world begins to shop this way. Chinese suppliers, livestreamers, and talent agents have become the earliest proponents of TikTok live shopping for Western audiences, hoping sales tactics honed on Douyin and affordable goods will help them get consumers around the world hooked on China’s favorite way to shop online.

“There’s no offline store that can sell millions of a single product through a single storefront in one day,” Bian Shiqi, who attended the bootcamp in Guangzhou, told Rest of World. After working in international trade for a few years, the 35-year-old investor said she became convinced that TikTok could be the future of cross border e-commerce while watching a prolific seller on Douyin. 

Despite its global popularity, TikTok has yet to transform into a shopping destination. TikTok has tested a function called TikTok Shop — where shoppers can buy directly in the app — in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the U.K., but in most other places, shoppers have to undertake an additional step and navigate to the streamer’s website to actually purchase something they saw on TikTok. Although shoppers aren’t tuning into TikTok livestreams by the millions the way they are on Douyin, livestreamers and talent agents believe live shopping can become as popular as TikTok itself.

«

Imagine that: TikTok’s present incarnation might be its least successful form.
unique link to this extract


Meta employees, security guards fired for hijacking user accounts • WSJ

Kirsten Grind and Robert McMillan:

»

Meta Platforms has fired or disciplined more than two dozen employees and contractors over the last year whom it accused of improperly taking over user accounts, in some cases allegedly for bribes, according to people familiar with the matter and documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Some of those fired were contractors who worked as security guards stationed at Meta facilities and were given access to the Facebook parent’s internal mechanism for employees to help users having trouble with their accounts, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter.

The mechanism, known internally as “Oops,” has existed since Facebook’s early years as a means for employees to help users they know who have forgotten their passwords or emails, or had their accounts taken over by hackers.

As part of the alleged abuse of the system, Meta says that in some cases workers accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from outside hackers to access user accounts, the people and documents say.

…in part because the Oops system is off limits to the vast majority of Facebook users, a cottage industry of intermediaries has developed who charge users money to regain control of their accounts. In interviews with the Journal, some of those third parties claim to have access to Meta employees to help reset accounts.

“When you take someone’s Instagram account down that they’ve spent years building up, you’re taking away their whole means of generating an income,” says Nick McCandless, whose company McCandless Group operates a platform for content creators. McCandless says he charges his clients to reset accounts, sometimes through a contact he declined to name at Meta.

“You really have to have someone on the inside who will actually do it,” he said.

«

Inevitably, God mode gets abused. But you have to have it: hacker takeover (from outside) and other problems make it essential.
unique link to this extract


Elon Musk’s politically polarizing effect • Morning Consult

Jordan Marlatt:

»

Elon Musk has turned Twitter’s fan base upside down in the past few weeks. Democrats are increasingly viewing the platform with antipathy and distrust as Republicans move in the opposite direction. Morning Consult Brand Intelligence data also suggests it’s fair to question whether Musk’s stewardship of the social media giant runs the risk of collateral damage to his other well-known properties. 

Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has dominated major news cycles for months, with each new revelation throwing the company’s fate into question. Since the takeover became official on Oct. 27, Musk has laid off thousands of Twitter employees and contractors, fired many of Twitter’s top executives or seen them exit, released an ill-fated revamp of the platform’s verification system and threatened to “thermonuclear name & shame” companies that pull their advertisements from the site. 

This has caused Twitter to experience the most significant month-over-month shift in opinion among Democrats since Morning Consult began tracking the brand in January 2017.

… Net favorability of Tesla is down around 20 points among Democrats since last month and up around 4 points among Republicans. Net favourability of SpaceX is also down among Democrats, but the decline has been more muted so far.

For Tesla and SpaceX, the partisan spillover effects could have profound implications. If the Tesla brand becomes increasingly right-leaning, that could put it out of alignment with core electric vehicle purchasing profiles, which lean more liberal.

«

So not just Twitter and his own reputation getting ruined. But can other companies take advantage of that reduced favourability? Or does it just translate into reduced sales? (Plus, what a mismatch between Tesla buyers and the company’s chief, eh.)
unique link to this extract


UVA shooting highlights Twitter’s power in a crisis • Time

Megan McCluskey:

»

ate on Sunday, reports of an active shooter at large at the University of Virginia began circulating on social media. As is often the case in emergency situations, many people, including students, parents, and local residents, turned to Twitter in search of up-to-date and accurate news about the incident. However, it quickly became clear that Elon Musk’s tumultuous takeover of the site had made Twitter less reliable as a trusted source of information–especially in a time of crisis.

Experts fear Musk’s policy changes have greatly reduced people’s ability to assess the trustworthiness of the information that they’re being exposed to on the platform.

“There was a shooting at UVA in Charlottesville about an hour ago,” tweeted one user on Sunday night. “Looking for more information, I scroll Twitter. But with no reliable verified checkmark I have no clue which reports to believe & which are fake. That’s what verification is for.”

A less-reliable Twitter would mean losing “vital infrastructure,” says Caroline Orr, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland’s Applied Research Lab for Intelligence and Security. “It’s become such a huge part of how we learn about crises and how they get reported out to the public,” she says.

Concerns over trolls and impersonators spreading misinformation about the shooting proved to be justified. One verified account impersonating Sen. Ted Cruz shared a tweet in response to the incident that received thousands of likes before it was taken down. Meanwhile, other users were struggling to discern the facts of the situation while the search for the suspect was still ongoing.

«

Shows how far we’ve come that people think Twitter is the place to go to find this stuff out. That all really became embedded with the shootings in Ferguson in August 2014, when Twitter was alive with eyewitness reports, while Facebook was amplifying ice bucket posts.
unique link to this extract


A theme park crisis threatens South Korea’s economy • Foreign Policy

S. Nathan Park:

»

To construct Legoland Korea, the Gangwon provincial government established a special purpose entity called Gangwon Jungdo Development Corp. (GJC), owned 44% by the province and 22.5% by Merlin Entertainments, the British company that owns the rights to Legoland. To fund the construction, GJC, through a subsidiary, issued bonds worth 205bn won (about $150m). The bonds were backed by the GJC-owned real estate for the theme park and its surrounding area, as well as a guarantee from the Gangwon provincial government, then led by liberal Gov. Choi Moon-soon. Korea Investors Service, the South Korean affiliate of Moody’s, gave the GJC bonds an A1 rating, the highest rating available for corporate bonds.

But Legoland Korea struggled out of the gate, too far from Seoul and too expensive for what was on offer, and it did not generate enough revenue to honor the bonds. Also, as South Korea’s real estate market softened, the value of the real estate backing the bonds began falling below the amount of the debt. As the first due date for the bonds was approaching on Sept. 29, GJC was in talks to extend the deadline with BNK Securities, the underwriter for the bonds. Negotiating for such an extension is a tense affair but a relatively common one. GJC was close to buying itself a three- or four-month reprieve, by prepaying BNK four months’ worth of interest that it would additionally owe by extending the due date.

Then came the disaster. Out of the blue, on Sept. 28, Gangwon’s newly elected conservative governor, Kim Jin-tae, announced that he would not honour the government’s guarantee. Instead, GJC would enter into bankruptcy, meaning that creditors would receive pennies on the dollar. BNK Securities declared a default on the GJC bonds and sought assurances that Gangwon would pay back the 205 billion won, but the government gave only a vague promise that it would honor the guarantee without giving a specific date. By mid-October, the GJC bonds were downgraded to junk status.

Kim’s declaration was brutally unnecessary. He claimed that he was trying to reduce the debt left behind by his liberal predecessor who, according to Kim, irresponsibly embarked on a white elephant project in Legoland Korea. But Gangwon’s decade-long pursuit of building a Legoland had always been a bipartisan affair, linked more to a hope of revitalizing the province than to any political faction. As a legislator representing Chuncheon, Kim was a vocal advocate for the theme park, claiming in 2014 that he would “jump into the Soyang River” along the city if South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration blocked the project because of the ancient artifacts discovered at the construction site. Nor was the bond amount anything excessive. Gangwon’s annual budget is over 17.7trn won (about $13bn), in which a debt of 205bn won is but a line item. Nor was the provincial government being asked to pay the entire 205bn won in one shot; it only had to assist GJC in paying the extra interest it would have incurred for extending the bonds’ due date.

By itself, extending the due date for the bonds would have cost Gangwon a bit, but it would have stayed contained. Kim’s move, however, has shattered trust in government bonds.

«

And now the country faces a huge credit crunch. It’s like the tiny block to giant block meme.
unique link to this extract


Meta’s layoffs make it official: Facebook is ready to part ways with the news • Nieman Journalism Lab

Sarah Scire:

»

Among the mass layoffs at the company formerly known as Facebook last week are several roles that have served as a bridge between the news industry and the sprawling tech company.

The Meta Journalism Project Accelerator’s David Grant, a program manager, and Dorrine Mendoza, who led local news partnerships for the platform, were both laid off. Other journalism-adjacent positions eliminated include the head of news partnerships for South East Asia, a program manager for news, two program managers for news integrity, and multiple news communications jobs.

Meta declined to comment on the layoffs or confirm how many of the 11,000 positions eliminated were jobs relating to the news business. It’s unclear what impact the job losses will have on all of Facebook’s various news-related efforts, including the Meta Journalism Project itself. (Meta spokespeople and Campbell Brown, Meta’s vice president of global media partnerships, did not respond to requests for comment on the future of the Meta Journalism Project.)

The layoffs are another step in Meta’s journey to get the heck away from news. Meta, which promised $300m in support of local journalism back in 2019 when it was still Facebook, has shifted resources away from its News tab, shuttered the Bulletin newsletter program, ended support for Instant Articles, eliminated human-curation in favor of algorithms, and stopped paying US publishers to use their news content.

Instead, the company is focused on competing with rising platforms like TikTok and trying to build a metaverse that people actually want to spend time in.

«

unique link to this extract


Kuo: only iPhone 15 Pro models will support higher-speed data transfers with USB-C upgrade • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

»

The iPhone 15 Pro models that are planned for next year will support higher wired transfer speeds thanks to the transition to USB-C, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

While all iPhone 15 models are going to feature USB-C ports instead of Lightning ports, the faster transfer speeds will be limited to the iPhone 15 Pro models. Standard iPhone 15 models will continue to feature USB 2.0 speeds, the same as Lightning.

Kuo says that transfer speeds will likely “improve markedly” on the iPhone 15 Pro models, with support for “at least” USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt 3. With the upgrade, iPhone 15 Pro models will be able to transfer video files and other file types at quicker speeds, with Kuo predicting a significantly improved user experience.

USB 2.0 transfer speeds are limited to 480Mb/s, while USB 3.2 supports speeds up to 20Gb/s. Thunderbolt 3 supports data transfer speeds up to 40Gb/s, so if Kuo is correct, there will be a major difference in wired data transfer speeds between Pro and non-Pro iPhone 15 models.

«

That would make sense: keep the high speed transfer (useful for high quality video transfer, which presently is too slow for the amount of video you can capture) for the Pro models. Natural upsell.
unique link to this extract


PR emails: I said yes to every single one for a day. Oof • Slate

Dan Kois:

»

Over the past year, I’ve received press releases about all those stories and more from Lawn Love, and I’m certain many other journalists have too. Every day I get dozens of emails from publicists around the country, and around the world, informing me about new products, pitching story ideas, and always assuring me that the publicist would be happy to connect me to this pool safety startup CEO or that divorce attorney to talk about their very important topic. As I delete these emails, I often wonder: Who are all these people who want to talk to a reporter, any reporter, so badly that they will pay a publicist to email every journalist they can think of—including me, a guy who doesn’t write about pool safety or divorce or witches at all? Who actually opens these emails, let alone responds to them? Do they ever work? And what would happen if I tried?

Well, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, I decided to find out. I declared Oct. 26 my Publicist Pitch Day of Yes. I would respond to every single pitch email that asked me to talk to a client, replying, Yes! Yes, I would like to talk to this handbag entrepreneur, this life coach, this writer and social activist on a mission to empower women of color. Yes, I am available on the phone, or over Zoom, at their convenience. Yes, I will ask them about their revolutionary clitoral sonogram, their terrible opinions about cops and COVID vaccines, their advice for how to cope during the holiday season—a challenging time, as you know, for those who struggle with body image.

Ask most journalists if they would ever reply to one of these emails, not to mention write a story based on it, and you will invite an instinctive, chilling scowl. But on that day and in the week after, as I spoke to hopeful client after hopeful client, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed every single conversation, in one way or another. I certainly learned something each time. Could it be possible that the publicists are on to something? Is the daily flood of hopeless pitches actually a secret window into American ingenuity, optimism, and desperation—not to mention a very interesting line of scientifically tested sex toys?

«

Long, and proof that deleting those emails (and not answering the phone) is a good idea.
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