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.1854: bacteria to eat plastic, Ukraine’s 3D printer warriors, papal linkrot, Apple’s HR problem, and more


The sealed battery in many modern consumer products such as Apple Airpods makes them more attractive to use – but limits their lifespan. And how long is that? CC-licensed photo by Maurizio Pesce 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. Recharging. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Operational notes:
1: The Overspill is going on a two-week break. Back on Monday August 22.
2: The Social Warming Substack will (probably) continue publishing on the Fridays in between. Including today, if it gets finished.


Electronics are built with death dates. Let’s not keep them a secret • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

Here’s a dirty little secret of the tech industry: “Almost every device these days has a battery that’s going to wear out, and it’s a built-in death clock,” says Kyle Wiens, the CEO of repair community iFixit. Today, there are batteries in everything from your toothbrush to your vacuum cleaner. They are consumable products, like printer ink or tires.

But buying gear with batteries sealed inside is kind of like buying a car where you can’t change the tires. We just don’t realize we’re doing it, or how it’s contributing to our climate and sustainability crises.
Gadgets don’t consume as much energy as planes and cars, but the damage they cause comes from manufacturing and disposing them. Making new devices requires mining raw materials such as cobalt, often at great human cost. Disposing old gadgets is costly and is fuelling a rash of dangerous battery fires in trucks and recycling centres.

And according to Apple, of all the carbon emissions its products add to the earth over their life span, 70% comes just from manufacturing. That means every time you buy a new gadget like a laptop, you’re adding hundreds of more pounds of carbon into the sky before you even switch it on.

But even if you wanted buy long-lasting devices, it’s often impossible to tell when any product’s battery might die. Of course, devices fail for many reasons, but dead batteries are the death clock that’s built in.
That’s why I spent six weeks pushing some of the world’s largest corporations to find these basic facts about some of our favourite gadgets:
• First, how many recharges — or, “cycles” — can the product’s battery take until its capacity drops to 80%? “After that, they are defined as dead,” because capacity starts to drop precipitously, explains Bas Flipsen, a lecturer in industrial design engineering at the Delft University of Technology.
• Second, when that inevitable day comes, what — if anything — can a consumer do to replace their battery?

Only three companies — Nintendo, e-bike maker VanMoof and Apple (in part) — disclosed these battery details on their websites. Nearly half of the companies I contacted, including Sony, Dyson, Logitech, Google-owned Fitbit, Amazon, Therabody and Samsung-owned JBL refused to answer or just ignored my specific questions.

None of this should be a secret.

«

It’s a reasonable point. And at least he isn’t insisting that there shouldn’t be sealed batteries. That ship long ago sailed: people have shown their preference very clearly.
unique link to this extract


Can bacteria eat plastic? Hunt is on for mutants to devour waste on an industrial scale • The Times

Tom Whipple:

»

No one will ever know quite how it happened, or exactly when. But here is one plausible explanation for how bacteria in a Japanese recycling plant started eating plastic. Each day, plastic bottles piled up in the plant in Osaka, ready to be filtered, separated, recycled and reused. A few bacteria lived among this casually tossed detritus, surviving mainly on the sugary remnants of fizzy drinks left sloshing around in the bottles. It was an energy-poor environment — but the strange thing is, there was energy all around waiting to be unlocked.

It had taken energy to make those plastic bottles and this remained within their chemical bonds. Nature, though, had no way of unlocking it. How could it? In the span of evolutionary time, plastic has only just been invented.

The great tragedy of plastic is that this wonder material is destined to go brittle, fragment, degrade and become useless, but never decompose.

Except, on one ordinary day, in this one ordinary place in Japan, one piece of plastic did decompose. A bacterium had reproduced with a slight mutation, meaning the chemical tools its offspring used to eat things behaved slightly differently.

…PET, of which most plastic bottles are made, has a particular kind of bond between its monomers that can be cut using a specialised enzyme. There are other plastics, though — 80% of them, in fact — that have other, tougher, bonds that remain impervious, which need their own enzymes.

Even if we find the tyrannosaurus rex of PET, we need more plastic predators. Scientists are increasingly confident, however, that they are out there. To find a plastic-chomping bacterium once could be sheer luck. To find one twice? That’s different.

Other enzymes — better enzymes still — must be out there, and across the world, people are looking. They are burying plastics in soil, swabbing in the springs of Yellowstone, sieving the detritus of recycling plants, searching through the genomes of known species.

«

unique link to this extract


Death from above, printed at home: Ukrainians deploy DIY weapons against Russian troops • Yahoo News

Michael Weiss and James Rushton:

»

The three Russian soldiers, filmed from a weaponized Ukrainian drone from above, scramble into what looked like a worn-down sedan somewhere near the city of Kharkiv. Their position had already been struck earlier by another drone and they were trying to evacuate an injured comrade. Just then, a small metal projectile about the size of a soda can descends on them. It has been outfitted with an incongruous white fin. It sails through the air, slipping right through the aperture in the car’s roof, detonating on impact. One soldier is still able-bodied enough to sprint away, although the same can’t be said for his co-passengers. As smoke billows from the top, the vehicle careers out of control, grinding to a stop.

The drone’s camera footage shows a Russian soldier through the sunroof. Another is crawling on the ground. Though the concussive force of the blast didn’t kill these men instantly, the numerous lacerations caused by the mortar’s shrapnel may yet prove deadly.

The video ends.

“We have thousands of volunteers in Ukraine hoping to say ‘hi’ to Russian occupiers in this way,” Yuri Vlasyuk said admiringly of his own team’s work. The soft-spoken 46-year-old explained to Yahoo News at a cafe in Kyiv that the white fin on the bomb, which gave it enough aerodynamic stability to perfectly meet its target, was 3D-printed by a Ukrainian civilian at home. Although it was dropped by an operator of Ukraine’s 92 Mechanized Brigade, the manufacturer received his own digital trophy.

“The volunteers that print these for the drones get a video showing them being put to good use,” Vlasyuk said with a grin. He then pulled up other videos posted to Facebook and Twitter showing grenades and mortars with 3D-printed fins hitting columns of unsuspecting Russian troops, as well as ones displaying Ukrainian hands packing their metal tubes with nails.

Vlasyuk self-effacingly described himself as a “just a guy who knows some cool people.” In reality, his cohort is an organic network of tinkerers — engineers, electricians, programmers and 3D printers — who’ve been helping their military wage a grassroots campaign against Russian invaders.

«

This is a different war from any previous in so many ways. 3D printing. Video. Citizen participation (though Iraq had that, we just didn’t see it that way). And for so many watching on social media, real death.
unique link to this extract


The sublime Danielle Steel: for the love of supermarket schlock • LA Review of Books

Dan Sinykin:

»

Something unsettling has happened to Steel. For the first couple decades, she published one or two novels most years. From 1997 through 2014, she plateaued at a steady three. In 2015, she ticked up to four. Then, in 2016, an alarming six. She’s done six or seven annually since. That’s a novel every 50 days or so for a woman now 74 years old.

“I’ve reacted with amazement, shock, and outrage when people have asked me in my fan mail, who writes my books,” Steel wrote in a blog post in 2012, when she was working at a much more reasonable pace. “WHO writes my BOOKS??? Are you kidding? Who do you think writes my books, as I hover over my typewriter for weeks at a time, working on a first draft, with unbrushed hair, in an ancient nightgown, with every inch of my body aching after typing 20 or 22 hours a day […]” She enumerates the bodily horrors of such a regimen: bleeding fingers, popped veins in her hands, and, of course, an aching back. Nevertheless, she “would never just hand off an outline for someone else to write.”

More than an insane sleep schedule makes her productivity possible. As of 2012, she employed three assistants — Heather, Allee, and Alex — who protected her from paparazzi, fielded her phone calls, and talked with “lawyers, bankers, plumbers,” handling all her business. They fed her, too, given that she doesn’t want “to stop and eat anything complicated” when she’s writing. (“I have terrible eating habits, and in my early days for some reason lived on a writing diet of liverwurst and Oreo Cookies, which became the subject of many jokes.”) I presume this setup persists. She has a researcher on retainer, Nancy Eisenbarth, who supplies specificity, past and present: “I drive her insane, calling her at 3 am, or sending her emails, needing to know what floor something is on, how many people died in a famous fire, what is the decor of a certain restaurant, or a detail about a unit of the French Resistance in WW2.” One of their most ambitious endeavors resulted in the 500-page historical romance set during the Russian Revolution, Zoya.

«

You didn’t care about pulpish fiction writer Danielle Steel? But now you are. Or should be.
unique link to this extract


Diving into digital ephemera: identifying defunct URLs in the web archives • The Signal

Olivia Meehan worked on the web archiving team at the US Library of Congress, and decided to see how well online archives of the papal transition (no, not that sort) in 2005 had survived:

»

Based on the results I have so far and conversations I’ve had with other web archivists, the lifecycle of websites is unpredictable to the extent that accurately tracking the status of a site inherently requires nuance, time, and attention – which is difficult to maintain at scale. This data is valuable, however, and is worth pursuing when possible . Using a sample selection of URLs from larger collections could make this more manageable than comprehensive reviews.

Of the content originally captured in the Papal Transition 2005 Collection, 41% is now offline. Without the archived pages, the information, perspectives, and experiences expressed on those websites would potentially be lost forever. They include blogs, personal websites, individually-maintained web portals, and annotated bibliographies. They frequently represent small voices and unique perspectives that may be overlooked or under-represented by large online publications with the resources to maintain legacy pages and articles.

The internet is impermanent in a way that is difficult to quantify. The constant creation of new information obscures what is routinely deleted, overwritten, and lost. While the scope of this project is small within the context of the wider internet, and even within the context of the Library’s Web Archive collections as a whole, I hope that it effectively demonstrates the value of web archives in preserving snapshots of the online world as it moves and changes at a record pace.

«

Good argument for throwing a few spare bucks over to the Internet Archive (and hoping that it won’t prolong its quixotic battle about lending ebooks from the pandemic).
unique link to this extract


This is the future climate hawks want to see • BusinessGreen Blog Post

James Murray:

»

No country is even close to getting every part of the net zero transition right yet, no matter how often the UK government insists it is world leading. But there is a fascinating thought experiment to be had imagining what an economy would look like right now if it took the best part of different countries’ net zero strategies.

An economy that boasted the UK’s offshore wind industry and planned zero carbon industrial hubs, France’s nuclear plants, Denmark’s heat pumps, Norway’s EV adoption rates, China’s clean tech manufacturing and epic renewables projects, India’s solar boom, Germany’s passivhaus buildings, the Netherland’s cycling networks, South Africa’s Just Transition Partnership, Japan’s levels of energy efficiency, Costa Rica’s forest protection, the EU’s carbon market, Australia’s rooftop solar industry, Iceland’s direct air capture plant, and Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem, would be well on its way to net zero already.

Such an economy would be more productive, more competitive, and less exposed to volatile fossil fuel prices than its peers. It would play a leading role in the 21st century, shape the future of human civilisation, and push back against the march of petrostate authoritarians. It would be happier and healthier too. Done right, the public support would be overwhelming.

This is the future climate hawks want to see. It is mad they have to fight for it.

«

(“Climate hawks” being those who aggressively want action on the climate crisis, as opposed to climate doves who vaguely hope things will come together.)

Related: James O’Malley on how we shouldn’t expect the energy crisis to finish any time soon. Remember how people thought, in March 2020, that the pandemic would be done by September 2020? Like that.
unique link to this extract


Hidden Menace: massive methane leaks speed up climate change • AP News

Michael Biesecker and Helen Wieffering:

»

To the naked eye, the Mako Compressor Station outside the dusty West Texas crossroads of Lenorah appears unremarkable, similar to tens of thousands of oil and gas operations scattered throughout the oil-rich Permian Basin.

What’s not visible through the chain-link fence is the plume of invisible gas, primarily methane, billowing from the gleaming white storage tanks up into the cloudless blue sky.

The Mako station, owned by a subsidiary of West Texas Gas Inc., was observed releasing an estimated 870 kilograms of methane – an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere each hour. That’s the equivalent impact on the climate of burning seven tanker trucks full of gasoline every day.

But Mako’s outsized emissions aren’t illegal, or even regulated. And it was only one of 533 methane “super emitters” detected during a 2021 aerial survey of the Permian conducted by Carbon Mapper, a partnership of university researchers and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The group documented massive amounts of methane venting into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations across the Permian, a 250-mile-wide bone-dry expanse along the Texas-New Mexico border that a billion years ago was the bottom of a shallow sea. Hundreds of those sites were seen spewing the gas over and over again. Ongoing leaks, gushers, going unfixed.

…Carbon Mapper identified the spewing sites only by their GPS coordinates. The Associated Press took the coordinates of the 533 “super-emitting” sites and cross-referenced them with state drilling permits, air quality permits, pipeline maps, land records and other public documents to piece together the corporations most likely responsible.

Just 10 companies owned at least 164 of those sites, according to an AP analysis of Carbon Mapper’s data. West Texas Gas owned 11.

«

And this is only for the US. It could be a fantastic resource if it were extended worldwide (Carbon Mapper is going to start using satellites to provide more rapid data) so we could identify hotspots. It can be a tossup whether to burn the methane: traps 80x more heat than CO2 over 20 years, 25x over 100 years. So how long do you think we have? (It seems worthwhile burning the methane.)
unique link to this extract


The women calling out Apple’s handling of misconduct claims • Financial Times via Ars Technica

Patrick McGee:

»

In 2018, CEO Tim Cook spoke of the company’s commitment to “helping more women assume leadership roles across the tech sector and beyond”, launching an initiative to train and mentor female entrepreneurs building apps. In the company’s internal 31-page onboarding document called “Apple Start”, the iPhone maker holds itself to a high standard, telling new employees about the “Apple difference”, how it fosters teamwork and innovation, and “does things differently”.

Yet the stories shared by women at Apple indicate the world’s largest company is falling short in building the culture it aspires to. The accounts collected by the FT paint a portrait of a People [Human Resources, aka HR] team that acts less like a safe place for employees to go with complaints and more like a risk mitigation unit that protects bad managers. In six cases, women said speaking up had cast them as bad team members and resulted in their departure. In three instances, Apple offered multiple months of salary in exchange for not disparaging the company or being held liable.

In response to the FT’s findings, Apple said in a statement it works hard to thoroughly investigate all misconduct allegations, and that it strives to create “an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting any issues”. 

The company acknowledged it had not always met those ambitions. “There are some accounts raised that do not reflect our intentions or our policies and we should have handled them differently, including certain exchanges reported in this story,” Apple said. “As a result, we will make changes to our training and processes.” It declined to comment on specific cases “out of respect for the privacy of individuals involved”.

Insiders say it’s a matter of priorities. Apple “is so singularly obsessed about making the best products, that there are blinders to everything else”, says Chris Deaver, an HR business partner at Apple from 2015 to 2019. “This is an engineering-led organisation. It can be a bit logos-heavy. A bit detached from emotions.”

«

Is it internal Apple culture, or is it just male culture? One can’t deny the stories, and even if they’re only isolated incidents, it’s still a problem for those women. And HR departments are the same the world over: they’re not there to change the corporate culture, they’re there to protect it.
unique link to this extract


Damien Hirst confesses he’s been ‘all over the fucking shop’ about NFTs as he plans to burn 4,851 physical works • The Art Newspaper

Anny Shaw:

»

If, like us, you find NFTs baffling, fear not. They also have Damien Hirst’s head in a spin.

One year ago, the artist launched a project in which the buyers of 10,000 NFTs were forced to choose between keeping the digital token (priced at $2,000 each) or swapping it for a corresponding work on paper. Now the jury is in: 5,149 people have traded their NFT for an enamel dot painting, meaning 4,851 NFTs remain in existence. The physical works that were not claimed will now be burned by the artist.

Revealing that he kept 1,000 NFTs for himself, Hirst has confessed on Twitter that he has “been all over the f****** shop with my decision making, trying to work out what I should do”.

In the beginning, Hirst says he was adamant that he would “chose all physical”, or “most physical”. Then he flip-flopped to thinking he would go half and half. “Then I felt I had to keep all my 1,000 as NFTs and… then all paper again and round and round I’ve gone, head in a spin.”

Despite the onset of “crypto winter”, but perhaps unsurprisingly given that The Currency project is backed by the technology company Heni, Hirst ultimately stuck to NFTs. He says: “I decided I need to show my 100% support and confidence in the NFT world (even though it means I will have to destroy the corresponding 1,000 physical artworks). Eeeeeek! I still don’t know what I’m doing.”

«

So if I read this correctly, there were 11,000 physical works (the 10,000 plus the 1,000 Hirst kept), but now there will only be 6,149 of them. I’d say that means the physical work has at least doubled in value, while the NFTs, which are attached to nothing that can be valued, haven’t. (If the figure is originally 10,000 and now just 5,149, the value has surely doubled.) That suggests the physical purchasers are the smart ones. Here’s the original story in March 2021, which makes less than zero sense. (Thanks Alan for the link.)
unique link to this extract


Earth sets new record for shortest day • Time And Date

Graham Jones and Konstantin Bikos:

»

The narrow, jagged spikes in the chart are a result of the Moon’s monthly orbit around Earth. The longer, smoother waves—with the shortest days coming in or around July each year—are related to movements in Earth’s atmosphere.

What is causing the current downward trend in the length of the shortest day? It could be related to processes in Earth’s inner or outer layers, oceans, tides, or even climate. Scientists are not sure, and struggle to make predictions about the length of day more than a year ahead. But there are tentative ideas.

At next week’s annual meeting of the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society (presentation SE05_A009), Leonid Zotov—together with his colleagues Christian Bizouard and Nikolay Sidorenkov—will suggest the current decrease in the length of day could have some relation to the ‘Chandler wobble’.

Chandler wobble is the name given to a small, irregular movement of Earth’s geographical poles across the surface of the globe.

“The normal amplitude of the Chandler wobble is about three to four meters at Earth’s surface,” Dr Zotov told timeanddate, “but from 2017 to 2020 it disappeared.”

If Earth’s fast rotation continues, it could lead to the introduction of the first-ever negative leap second.

«

[Chandler from Friends voice:] Could the Earth be any more puzzling?

Also: “Chandler wobble”?

via GIPHY

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.1853: Germany’s nuclear pause, Truss’s solar farm madness, California’s mega-drought, Intel in trouble, and more


Textbooks are expensive, but also resaleable. Now Pearson thinks NFTs can somehow solve the problem. Do you? CC-licensed photo by Patrick 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. Hypertextual. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Nuclear power plants could stay open, says Germany • WSJ

Bojan Pancevski and Georgi Kantchev:

»

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said for the first time that his government could postpone the planned closure of its remaining nuclear reactors, as he criticized a decision by Russia to constrain gas flows to Germany—a move that could deal a severe blow to Europe’s largest economy.

Last month, Russia shut down for maintenance its giant Nord Stream pipeline, which connects Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea and is operated by Russian state-owned energy producer Gazprom PJSC.

After the maintenance ended, Gazprom restored the flow, but only to 40% of the pipeline’s capacity. It has since cut that to 20%, saying it couldn’t maintain normal flow without a turbine that had been undergoing maintenance in Canada. On Wednesday, Mr. Scholz rejected that explanation, saying Russia refused to take delivery of the turbine.

The looming gas shortage has forced the government to trigger emergency measures, raising the specter of gas rationing over the winter that could force factories to shut down and push Europe’s powerhouse economy into a recession.

On Tuesday, the chancellor broke with a longstanding policy and said for the first time that it “could make sense” to keep Germany’s last three nuclear reactors online. They are due to be shut down in December as part of the country’s transition to renewable energy.

«

A “transition to renewable energy” that involves opening new coal-fired power stations. It’s ridiculous, and the Greens who 20 years ago pushed to close them should hang their heads in shame.

Alternate headline: Germany re-engages with reality.
unique link to this extract


‘Our fields shouldn’t be full of solar panels’: Truss vows to crackdown on renewables development • BusinessGreen News

Cecilia Keating:

»

Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss has fuelled concerns the UK’s onshore renewables sector could face further barriers to development in the coming weeks, after the frontrunner to become the next Prime Minister promised to “change the rules” to ensure farming is prioritised over new solar projects.

Speaking at Conservative leadership husting held [on Monday] in Exeter, the Truss also outlined her support for domestic fossil fuel extraction, promising to “exploit all the gas in the North Sea”, and reiterated her pledge to suspend ‘green levies’ on energy bills, arguing the proposed reforms would bolster domestic energy supplies and ease the cost-of-living crisis for households.

In her address to attendees at the event, the Foreign Secretary said she would allow fracking in locations “where communities supported it” and back the maximum extraction of the UK’s offshore fossil gas resources.

“I will also make sure we exploit all of the gas in the North Sea and make sure we use that to bolster our domestic energy supply,” she said. “I’ll move forward faster with nuclear, including major nuclear stations but also small modular reactors which are produced in Derby and a major a major opportunity for our country as well.”

Commercial small modular reactors do not currently exist, although the government is providing significant financial support for the nascent sector in the hope that it could play a role in the transition to a net zero emission energy system.

«

These people are idiots. They think there will be magical technological solutions (as they thought would happen for Northern Ireland’s trade barrier with the UK/Europe; didn’t happen). And they value a field more highly than future generations.
unique link to this extract


California’s megadrought is worse than you think • E&E News

Anne C. Mulkern:

»

Nearly three-quarters of California is in either extreme or exceptional drought, considered worse than severe, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It’s so bad that scientists say the ongoing drought in the western United States marks the region’s driest 22-year stretch in more than 1,200 years.

The conditions have affected a broad swath of regions and industries. California wells are going dry. Farmers are either paying a premium for water or letting their fields sit empty. And there is growing concern that water exports from the Colorado River could come to a halt.

“We are dealing with a changed climate in California that demands we reimagine not just how we use water, but how we capture, store and distribute it throughout the state,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week as he addressed local water leaders.

Scientists pin a large share of the blame for the megadrought on climate change. UCLA climate scientist Park Williams, whose recent work flagged the ongoing Western drought as a historical anomaly, said about 40% of its severity is due to climate change. The study looked at California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and southwest Montana.

“The turn-of-the-twenty-first-century drought would not be on a megadrought trajectory in terms of severity or duration without” human-caused climate change, the study said.

But others are saying elected officials such as Newsom aren’t doing enough to respond to the historic conditions. Some argue the state needs to impose mandatory cutbacks, limits on commercial water use and more storage options.

Andrew Fahlund, senior program officer at the Water Foundation, a California nonprofit, said it would have been helpful to take steps to conserve water “earlier in the drought cycle.” But “it is a little too late to do that this time around,” he said.

«

unique link to this extract


Equifax sent lenders inaccurate credit scores on millions of consumers • WSJ

Andrew Ackerman and AnnaMaria Andriotis:

»

Equifax provided inaccurate credit scores on millions of U.S. consumers seeking loans during a three-week period earlier this year, according to bank executives and others familiar with the errors.

Equifax sent the erroneous scores on people applying for auto loans, mortgages and credit cards to banks and nonbank lenders big and small—including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc., the people said. The scores were sometimes off by 20 points or more in either direction, the people said, enough to alter the interest rates consumers were offered or to result in their applications being rejected altogether.

The inaccurate scores were sent from mid March through early April, the people said. The company began disclosing the errors to lenders in May, they said.

Equifax said it has since fixed the error, which the company described as a “technology coding issue.” The glitch didn’t alter the information in consumers’ credit reports, the company said.

…The percentage of incorrect scores provided to lenders varied, the people said. At one big bank, for example, 18% of applicants during the three-week period had incorrect scores, with an average swing of 8 points, one of the people said.

Equifax told one large auto lender that about 10% of applicants during the three-week period had inaccurate scores, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of those, several thousand saw a change of 25 points or more on their credit score, the person said. In a small number of cases, applicants went from having no credit score at all to a score in the 700s—or vice versa, the person said.

«

One thing Equifax is noticeably not doing in this story: offering to make good where it screwed up. Equifax, you might recall, is the company that was hacked on a colossal scale back in 2017 because it had failed to make a crucial security patch. The hackers were inside for 76 days. Lawsuits are ongoing.

unique link to this extract


Pearson says NFT textbooks will let it profit off secondhand sales • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

Textbook publisher Pearson suggests blockchain tech could let it take a cut of secondary textbook sales, capturing a section of the book market that’s so far escaped it. As quoted by Bloomberg, Pearson CEO Andy Bird believes non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, could help publishers make money off textbook resales, although he stopped short of describing concrete plans.

“In the analog world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” said Bird after the company announced its latest quarterly earnings this week. “The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life.” Bloomberg suggests this would mean letting buyers resell ebooks, something that’s so far been a rarity in the publishing world.

It’s not clear how, when, or if NFTs might show up in Pearson’s catalog. But they could mark a new stage in a long-standing publishing war. Thanks to legal concepts like the first-sale doctrine, physical book buyers typically own the media they’ve purchased outright, and they’re allowed to sell it without the original publishers making money. But ebooks have complicated that calculus. Any digital transfer creates a new “copy” of the work, and third-party secondhand ebook sales (along with other secondhand digital media sales) have faced serious legal challenges as a result.

That’s historically given physical books a built-in advantage for students, who can buy or sell them secondhand to defray their often extraordinary upfront costs — without the publishers taking any of that money. Allowing ebook resales could make that advantage less dramatic.

As with many mainstream crypto applications, NFTs don’t bring an obvious technical innovation to this question.

«

Not surprised that there weren’t concrete plans. I bet a lot of people would be delighted if Pearson tried to attach NFTs to its textbooks, since it’s hard to see that being any obstacle to copying, or resale of a physical object.
unique link to this extract


Inside a mechanical watch • Bartosz Ciechanowski

Bartosz Ciechanowski:

»

What you see here is known as the movement – the inner part of a mechanical watch that’s usually enclosed in a metal case. In this article I’m focusing on a watch movement itself, since beautiful watch cases merely hide the intricate mechanisms which are the real stars of the show.

The entire watch movement has a lot of parts, and in this blog post I’ll explain the purpose of each one. The world of watchmaking is jargon-heavy, so many of the components may have unfamiliar names, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to remember them – the names and parts will be color-coded for easy reference.

In a functioning watch many parts are in constant motion. By default all animations in this article are enabled, but if you find them distracting, or if you want to save power, you can globally pause all the following demonstrations.

«

I’ve heard this article referred to a couple of times, but hadn’t actually clicked through to it before. But since we’ve been pondering the attraction of mechanical watches, this seems apposite. (Thanks Giuseppe for the link.)

unique link to this extract


I was on TikTok for 30 days: it is manipulative, addictive, and harmful to privacy • UX Collective

Luiza Jarovsky:

»

Videos must be short, fast, quickly awe-inspiring and preferably using soundtracks, filters, effects, descriptions, tags and content that are currently trending in the app. To thrive on TikTok, you must be fixated on it. You must use it frequently to know what is trending on the app, otherwise you will lose the timing — and timing is everything. There is a popular dance everybody else is doing? Stop what you are doing, get dressed, get your phone in the vertical position and start recording now. The path to TikTok success is joining micro-trends and mimicking successful videos highlighting your personal touch, in a bandwagon-compulsion style. If you are a teenager and you missed a trend, you lost a valuable opportunity of online popularity and social validation among your peers.

On this topic, teenagers have stated that their social lives currently revolve around TikTok: new trends, dances, viral videos, emerging stars, who is popular over there and who is not, what is cool and what is not. The power of TikTok’s algorithm over today’s youth is inconceivable. Getting together is an opportunity to attempt a TikTok viral, so get your phones ready.

Regarding the content available on TikTok: it is known that creators have 3 seconds to enchant the viewer, otherwise their video will be thrown into TikTok’s forgetfulness blackhole. In order to captivate in 3 seconds, the content must essentially be outstanding: either shocking, irreverent, socially awkward, scary, performing admirable abilities, showing exposed bodies and so on. There is no room for ordinariness.

«

Back in the days when writing stuff down at length was a significant challenge, people composed and memorised very long oral poems – Homer did well on this front. Now we can capture video at any time, we need to capture attention within three heartbeats. An observation, in passing.
unique link to this extract


Michael Saylor steps down as MicroStrategy CEO, company takes $917m charge on bitcoin • Yahoo Finance

David Hollerith:

»

MicroStrategy announced on Tuesday its founder and CEO Michael Saylor will step down from the top job and take a new post as executive chairman, focused on the company’s bitcoin strategy.

Phong Le, the company’s president, will take over in the CEO role.

MicroStrategy reported quarterly results that were light of Wall Street estimates on Tuesday, with revenue coming at $122.1m against expectations for $126m. Losses in the quarter totaled $918.1m, with $917.8m attributable to the company’s bitcoin holdings.

In a statement, MicroStrategy said Saylor will focus primarily on, “innovation and long-term corporate strategy, while continuing to provide oversight of the Company’s bitcoin acquisition strategy.”

“As Executive Chairman I will be able to focus more on our bitcoin acquisition strategy and related bitcoin advocacy initiatives, while Phong will be empowered as CEO to manage overall corporate operations,” Saylor said in a statement.

«

OK, but what are Microstrategy’s corporate operations? What does it do? I’ve never seen an explanation, including in this story. The FT calls it a “habitually unprofitable software shop”: apparently it sells enterprise business intelligence application software. Employees seem to like it. It was founded in 1989.

Somehow it acquired a huge cash pile, Saylor (who owns 70% of the shares – don’t think he’s going away) decided bitcoin was a one-way bet, and, well, here we are.
unique link to this extract


The changing face of compute • Digits to Dollars

Jay Greenberg:

»

Once upon a time chip companies all specialized on designing one type of chip: Intel made CPUs; Qualcomm made modems; Nvidia made GPUs; Broadcom (pre-Avago) made networking chips. That age is all over. The future of semis will be designing ever more specific chips for ever more specific uses. This change will take many years to play out, but the transition has already begun. This is going to upend the semis industry to the same degree that consolidation over the past 20 years has.

There are many causes of this. This simplest is to just say Moore’s Law is slowing, so everyone needs to find a new business model. But that really does not explain much, so let’s unpack it.

…Once upon a time, data centers were essentially warehouses full of CPUs. Now they have to house GPUs, AI accelerators, funky networking loads and a bunch of FPGAs too. This is often called heterogenous compute, and it the opposite of that past CPU uniformity.

Nor are these changes only happening in data centers. The whole notion of “Edge Compute” looks increasingly to be an exercise in custom and semi-custom silicon popping up in all kinds of places – cars, factories and smart cities – to name just a few.

Ultimately, the major chip companies are going to have to decide how to address these changes. Building custom chips is not a great business, but designing semi-custom chips is full of risks not least picking the right designs, supporting them and hoping they land on target. Established companies are already starting to position themselves for this, and for the first time in a decade the door for start-ups is starting to open a crack.

«

Which suggests problems for Intel. Which brings us to…
unique link to this extract


Intel? They are who we thought they were • Share Donors

Doug (mule):

»

Now they [Intel] expect PCs to be down 10% in volume, which is more in-line with market forecasts, compared to the clearly above market forecast last quarter. The part I don’t buy is that Q4 will magically start to improve inventory. I acknowledge the seasonal impacts, but we aren’t even firmly in a recession. Continuing to push out hopes that things turn around very specifically in Q4 feels contrived to me, especially when the second half of the year’s macro results could be much worse than right now. Intel moved down numbers, but this is not a kitchen sink. That’s the worrying part. Oh, speaking of which, how the hell did they not preannounce this?

They didn’t answer that question (weird), and then they also talked about other execution issues that they have been facing, namely Sapphire Rapids [a new CPU] volume delay. Pat [Gelsinger, the new Intel CEO] mentioned execution issues multiple times, and the proof is in the pudding; they are not executing well.

The infamously broken culture continues to hurt, and Pat saying that employees are engaged via surveys is not exactly assuaging my fears. In fact, given their GAAP net loss (maybe one of the few in the company’s history), the variable bonuses that engineers are receiving are one the lowest, if not the lowest, payouts in the company’s storied history. How will you turn around a culture when you keep losing and everyone’s making less money? Talk about negative momentum.

«

I hadn’t noticed, but Intel had an absolutely terrible quarter, with revenues and profits down, and longtime rival AMD passing it in market cap. Given that AMD doesn’t actually make chips, just designs them, that means that all of Intel’s multi-billion-dollar foundries are being written off as worthless by the market.

This is a very big shift. Intel has permanently lost a top-end customer (Apple) that bought about 5-10% of premium processors. The PC market is shrinking. Its rival is pulling ahead. Intel’s in a dive, and Gelsinger has a hell of a job to pull it out.
unique link to this extract


Apple plans to delay launch of iPadOS 16 update by about a month • Bloomberg via MSN

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple Inc. expects to delay its next major iPad software update by about a month, taking the unusual step of not releasing it at the same time as the new iPhone software, according to people with knowledge of the matter. 

For the last several years, the tech giant has released major iPad and iPhone software updates, known as iPadOS and iOS, at the same time in September. This time around, Apple plans to put out iOS 16 during the usual period but not launch iPadOS 16 until October, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. 

The delay of the software is due, at least in part, to an ambitious effort to overhaul the iPad’s multitasking capabilities. The update includes a feature called Stage Manager that lets users operate several tasks at the same time, resize windows and bounce between different clusters of apps.

During beta testing, the system has drawn criticism from some developers and users for its bugs, a confusing interface and lack of compatibility with most iPads.

«

I’ve been trying iPad OS 16 on an older (2018?) iPad Pro, and it seems fine to me, but I’m not trying Stage Manager. (Doesn’t run on that model.) But a delay does mean that Apple is actually giving it the attention and focus it deserves as a separate platform.
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.1852: Twitter demands Musk details, TikTok’s moderator hell, another giant crypto hack, EV sounds, and more


Is the explanation for men’s liking for pricey watch that they like fiddly things? Or collections? CC-licensed photo by Mohammad Fahmi Mohd Shah 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. Rewind. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Elon Musk associates named in Twitter subpoena • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Faiz Siddiqui:

»

In a subpoena Twitter issued on Monday, its legal team asked for information about a who’s who of Silicon Valley elite, including investors Chamath Palihapitiya, David Sacks, Steve Jurvetson, Marc Andreessen, Jason Calacanis and Keith Rabois, among others. Some of the figures have not been previously named as having any involvement in the deal, suggesting the breadth of Twitter’s search for information to support its legal attempt to force Musk to go through with his deal to buy the company.

Twitter declined to comment. Palihapitiya, Sacks, Calacanis, Jurvetson and Rabois did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Musk and two of his attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A flood of document requests issued over the weekend and into Monday marks the latest twist in the contentious and fast-evolving court case between the social media service and Musk, who is trying to pull out of his bid to take over the company.

After Musk said he was exiting the deal last month — accusing Twitter of not being forthright about the amount of spam and bots on its service — Twitter sued Musk in a Delaware business court, known as a Chancery Court. Musk in turn countersued Twitter on Friday. Twitter also issued subpoenas over the weekend to a group of banks involved in the deal, including Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.

The subpoena obtained by The Post includes extensive requests for communications, including “checklists, timelines, presentations, decks, organizational calls, meetings, notes, recordings” related to the deal’s financing.

«

The discovery of Musk’s planning is going to be wonderful. He may not have quite realised what this was going to entail. (The trial isn’t until October, so lots of time for discovery.)
unique link to this extract


A factory line of terrors: TikTok’s African content moderators review horrific videos • Business Insider

Rosie Bradbury and Majd Al-Waheidi :

»

It was only a few hours into her shift when the horror streamed through her screen. Imani, 25, a content moderator for TikTok in Morocco, saw a young man throw a cat into the air before impaling it on a sword. The moderator, who worked out of a small one-bedroom house in Casablanca, was shocked.

“I love cats,” she said. “I’d never imagined I’d see such a scene in real life. It’s not a movie. It’s not a joke. It’s real,” she continued.

Two years later, the video is still etched in her mind, she said. Whenever she thinks of it, she tries to distance herself from the memory. “I created a wall between my job and my life. I didn’t think about my job outside my shift. I had a baby to take care of,” she said.

Imani worked for TikTok’s growing Middle East and North Africa division through Majorel, an outsourcing firm in Luxembourg, and was tasked with reviewing some of the most gruesome content on the platform, including suicides and child-abuse material.

Though she had a bachelor’s degree in English, she struggled to find work during the first months of the pandemic. Imani and her husband, a technician, could barely support their infant daughter. In September 2020, when she was offered the job at Majorel, despite the meager pay of $2 an hour, she thought it was a godsend. The ability to work remotely also meant she could take care of her child.

Imani didn’t know then that the work would be so psychologically damaging, she said, and she still feels the effects of the job today.

But she isn’t alone. Nine current and former content moderators in Morocco who worked on Majorel’s TikTok contract described experiences of severe psychological distress as a result of their jobs.

«

The whole job of human content moderation will surely be seen in the near future as a form of paid abuse. If ever there was a job that cried out to be automated all the way, it’s this one.
unique link to this extract


Nomad crypto bridge loses $200 million in ‘chaotic’ hack • The Verge

Corin Faire:

»

After a few quiet months, it’s happened again: another blockchain bridge hack with losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nomad, a cryptocurrency bridge that lets users swap tokens between blockchains, is the latest to be hit after a frenzied attack on Monday, which left almost $200 million of its funds drained.

The hack was acknowledged by the Nomad project’s official Twitter account on Monday, August 1st, initially as an “incident” that was being investigated. In a further statement released early Tuesday morning, Nomad said that the team was “working around the clock to address the situation” and had also notified law enforcement.

In another Twitter thread, samczsun — a researcher at the crypto and Web3 investment firm Paradigm — explained that the exploit was made possible by a misconfiguration of the project’s main smart contract that allowed anyone with a basic understanding of the code to authorise withdrawals to themselves.

“This is why the hack was so chaotic,” samczsun wrote. “[Y]ou didn’t need to know about Solidity or Merkle Trees or anything like that. All you had to do was find a transaction that worked, find/replace the other person’s address with yours, and then re-broadcast it.”

A further post-mortem from blockchain security auditing firm CertiK noted that this dynamic created its own momentum, where people who saw funds being stolen using the above method were able to substitute their own addresses to replicate the attack. This led to what one Twitter user described as “the first decentralized crowd-looting of a 9-figure bridge in history.”

«

Why does this keep happening, ask people in only industry where this keeps happening.
unique link to this extract


Why are men obsessed with watches? • The Guardian

Jeremy Langmead, in 2009:

»

It wasn’t so long ago that your father would hand you a gold-plated watch on your 21st birthday and that would be that. It never crossed a man’s mind that he might need to add another two or three by the time he hit 30. And it certainly never crossed his mind that when he reached 40 he might be grateful to receive a smart wooden box with different felt-lined compartments in which to keep his “collection” of watches.

The fact that men are still buying and cherishing quality timepieces is of great comfort to an industry that, in the early 1970s, thought its time, if you will excuse the pun, had come. The invention of the quartz watch (in analog or digital form) in 1967 might initially have been hailed a great technological achievement, but it wasn’t long before it was also seen as the biggest challenge the traditional timepiece had faced since the wristwatch first became popular at the end of the first world war. The fact that a cheap Casio with a flashing LED time display was what every young hipster soon craved, coupled with the economic doldrums in which the world found itself in the 1970s, spelled disaster.

It took a few years of navel-gazing and re-evaluating what a watch was truly for before, in the mid-1980s, a few forceful and inventive characters in the industry came back with a design philosophy and marketing programme that brought the sector back from the brink. These horological pioneers decided that watches would not merely be timekeepers, they would be mini-masterpieces that showcased extreme craftsmanship, represented tradition, incorporated technology and embraced innovation. They would effectively be a Savile Row suit, Ferrari sports car, Mayfair member’s club and Nasa spaceship rolled into one package that could sit neatly on your wrist.

«

Langmead also comments that “A watch is a Porsche that you can take to meetings – and it doesn’t harm the planet either.” Readers offered lots of commentary to my question yesterday about why the hell it is that (some) men will spend wild amounts of money. It seems to be a combination of completionist nerdery, jewellery (this piece was categorised under “Men’s jewellery” in The Guardian’s system).

There’s also sentimental value, as this Hodinkee piece suggests. Particular thanks to Serge, JFC and Chris for their input.
unique link to this extract


What should a nine-thousand-pound electric vehicle sound like? • The New Yorker

John Seabrook:

»

for pedestrians distracted by their phones, [vehicle] engine sounds are everyday lifesavers, as the tiger’s distant roar was for napping early humans. Except that the predators are motor vehicles—and the new ones are virtually silent.

In response to this threat, Congress passed the 2010 Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, a law that few Americans paid attention to at the time, and that took almost 10 years to implement. As a result of the legislation, every electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid manufactured since 2020 and sold in the US must come equipped with a pedestrian-warning system, also known as an acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS), which emits noises from external speakers when the car is travelling below 18.5mph. (Similar regulations apply in Europe and Asia.)

Automakers have enlisted musicians and composers to assist in crafting pleasing and proprietary alert systems, as well as in-cabin chimes and tones. Hans Zimmer, the film composer, was involved in scoring branded sounds for BMW’s Vision M Next car. The Volkswagen ID.3’s sound was created by Leslie Mándoki, a German-Hungarian prog-rock/jazz-adjacent producer. The Atlanta-based electronic musician Richard Devine was brought in to help in making the Jaguar I-Pace’s voltaic purr.

Some automakers cooked up sounds entirely in-house. The Porsche Taycan Turbo S has one of the boldest alerts: you’re in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab as he flips the switch to animate the monster. Engineers in the Audi Sound Lab made the lower frequencies of the Audi E-Tron GT Quattro’s alert by algorithmically mixing different tones produced by recording an electric fan through a long metal pipe; the full alert references the sumptuous soundscapes of the film “Tron” and its sequel.

«

I think the sounds must explain the quiet, eerie whooshing and wheezing that I sometimes hear from (the surprisingly large number of) EV/hybrids in the town where I live as they tootle along.

The (long) article doesn’t mention how loud AVAS have to be, so I checked: between 56 and 75 decibels, which is between “moderate rainfall” and “a dishwasher in operation”.
unique link to this extract


Open data in the water industry • Ofwat

»

Open data means making data freely available to everyone to access, use and share, unless there’s a really strong justification for not doing that. Data and the people, processes and technology that support it – are important assets – like  water pipes and treatment works.  

Data is essential for developing insight, making informed decisions and improving services. The use of open data could transform water and wastewater service delivery by increasing transparency, increasing efficiency, enhancing customer experience, and stimulating innovation. 

Working alongside the water industry, consumer groups and the Open Data Institute, Ofwat has sought to understand the benefits of open data and how it could be used to help address some of the challenges the water sector faces: climate change, the need to protect the environment, responding to changing customer demands and protecting the most vulnerable.  

«

Ofwat is the UK’s regulator for the privatised water industry. It’s calling this scheme, seeking more open data from the water industry, H2Open. Full marks for the naming, though the fact that it began this initiative 15 years after Michael Cross and I began the Free Our Data campaign at Guardian Technology, which sought to get exactly this sort of scheme everywhere, is a teeny bit dispiriting. (Lots of other public bodies got on board within a few years.) But better late than never.
unique link to this extract


Why there are no nuclear airplanes • The Atlantic

Christian Ruhl:

»

The Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi had introduced the idea of nuclear flight as early as 1942, while serving on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. As World War II drew to a close, the United States began work to realize Fermi’s dream of nuclear-powered flight. From 1946 until 1961, vast teams of engineers, strategists, and administrators toiled in a whirl of blueprints, white papers, and green bills in an attempt to get the idea off the ground.

The advantages of nuclear-powered airplanes mirrored those of nuclear submarines. Nuclear submarines did not need to surface for fuel, and nuclear airplanes would not need to land. A 1945 proposal at the Department of War (now the Department of Defense) promised, “With nuclear propulsion, supersonic flight around the world becomes an immediate possibility.” A secret Atomic Energy Commission memorandum now held in the Eisenhower Presidential Library explained the promise of nuclear flight in a more measured tone. Nuclear energy “should make possible ranges of one or more times around the world with a single loading of the reactor.” The idea of a nuclear-powered bomber became a strategic dream for the military; it could stay aloft for days to cover any number of targets throughout the world, before returning to the United States without refueling.

…But nuclear power came with its own problems. The reactor would have to be small enough to fit onto an aircraft, which meant it would release far more heat than a standard one. The heat could risk melting the reactor—and the plane along with it, sending a radioactive hunk of liquid metal careening toward Earth.

The problem of shielding pilots from the reactor’s radiation proved even more difficult. What good would a plane be that killed its own pilots?

To protect the crew from radioactivity, the reactor needed thick and heavy layers of shielding. But to take off, the plane needed to be as light as possible. Adequate shielding seemed incompatible with flight.

«

Assume they solved the heat problem, but not the shielding/weight one. What smart solution did the USAF come up with in the late 1950s (before advanced autopilots) that could have made the Flying Nuke reality?
unique link to this extract


Should Apple snoop on your iPhone? • The Spectator

Sam Leith on the backing that Apple’s “CSAM scanning before photos get uploaded to iCloud” proposal:

»

here’s where the practical, or instrumental, argument comes in. Would using AI to scan every iPhone photo album for illegal images not, at a minimal cost to privacy in principle, potentially achieve the tremendous good of catching some of the cruellest and most depraved users of child abuse images? Well, yes, it might. That’s not a trivial case.

But reluctant as I am to deploy a thin-end-of-the-wedge argument: this is the thin end of a wedge. First they came for the nonces, as Pastor Niemoller did not say. You could by the same token argue that any number of different crimes could be prevented by the simple expedient of giving the government (or, God help us, private companies) unlimited powers of surveillance. Most of us, at some point along this continuum, accept that the fact privacy can protect the guilty is a price we pay for its value in giving us freedom. I seem to remember God took roughly that view when he gave us all the capacity to choose between good and evil for ourselves.   

In his latest novel The Every, Dave Eggers imagines a tech company that programs its Alexa-type devices to listen to every domestic conversation – and if its AI detects phrases or tones of voice that are associated with domestic violence, to send the police round. Eggers, who is by bent against that sort of soft totalitarianism, is honest enough to admit that that case is the one ‘that keeps me up at night’: ‘The justification will be: there’s 10 million cases of domestic violence in the US each year,’ he said when I interviewed him about it. ‘Surveillance cameras would put a dent in that. How do you justify not having it? You could make an argument, well, OK, sure, domestic violence is catastrophic but privacy is more important. I don’t think it’s a powerful argument for most people.

«

Eggers excels at finding the reductio ad absurdum (or expansio ad absurdum?) scenario that makes you pause. Leith’s piece is neatly balanced; why, you might finish it thinking that technology can’t actually solve social questions on its own.
unique link to this extract


Craig Wright wins ‘only nominal damages’ of £1 in bitcoin libel case • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

»

For years Craig Wright has claimed that he is the mythical figure who created bitcoin. But a legal bid by the Australian computer scientist to defend his assertion that he is Satoshi Nakamoto resulted in a pyrrhic victory and a tarnished reputation on Monday.

A high court judge ruled Wright had given “deliberately false evidence” in a libel case and awarded him £1 in damages after he sued a blogger for alleging that his claim to be the elusive Nakamoto was fraudulent.

“Because he [Wright] advanced a deliberately false case and put forward deliberately false evidence until days before trial, he will recover only nominal damages,” wrote Justice Chamberlain.

Wright had sued blogger Peter McCormack over a series of tweets in 2019, and a video discussion broadcast on YouTube, in which McCormack said Wright was a “fraud” and is not Satoshi. The issue of Nakamoto’s identity was not covered by the judge’s ruling because McCormack had earlier abandoned a defence of truth in his case.

Wright claimed that his reputation within the cryptocurrency industry had been “seriously harmed” by McCormack’s claims. He said he had been invited to speak at numerous conferences after the successful submission of academic papers for blind peer review, but 10 invites had been withdrawn following McCormack’s tweets. This included alleged potential appearances at events in France, Vietnam, the US, Canada and Portugal.

…The judge noted that there was “no documentary evidence” that Wright had a paper accepted at any of the conferences identified in the earlier version of his libel claim, nor that he received an invitation to speak at them except possibly at one, and that any invitation was withdrawn.

…He concluded: “Dr Wright’s original case on serious harm, and the evidence supporting it, both of which were maintained until days before trial, were deliberately false.”

«

After Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney last week, this is the bitcoin version. Two judges, one in the US and now this one in the UK, have decided they’re deeply unimpressed by Wright’s testimony. The judgment is hilarious, especially in its nitpicking precision about how Wright tried to slalom around the facts about the academic papers.
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.1851: AlphaFold predicts protein universe, data centres slow housing build, endemic monkeypox?, and more


The supply of secondhand pricey watches has suddenly boomed following the crypto crash. Coincidence? Vendors think not. CC-licensed photo by Seko Fotografía 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. Tickety-boo. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


‘The entire protein universe’: AI predicts shape of nearly every known protein • Nature

Ewen Callaway:

»

From now, determining the 3D shape of almost any protein known to science will be as simple as typing in a Google search.

Researchers have used AlphaFold — the revolutionary artificial-intelligence (AI) network — to predict the structures of more than 200 million proteins from some 1 million species, covering almost every known protein on the planet.

The data dump is freely available on a database set up by DeepMind, the London-based AI company, owned by Google, that developed AlphaFold, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL–EBI), an intergovernmental organization near Cambridge, UK.

“Essentially you can think of it covering the entire protein universe,” DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis said at a press briefing. “We’re at the beginning of new era of digital biology.”

The 3D shape, or structure, of a protein is what determines its function in cells. Most drugs are designed using structural information, and the creation of accurate maps of proteins’ amino-acid arrangement is often the first step to making discoveries about how proteins work.

DeepMind developed the AlphaFold network using an AI technique called deep learning, and the AlphaFold database was launched a year ago with more than 350,000 structure predictions covering nearly every protein made by humans, mice and 19 other widely studied organisms. The catalogue has since swelled to around 1 million entries.

“We’re bracing ourselves for the release of this huge trove,” says Christine Orengo, a computational biologist at University College London, who has used the AlphaFold database to identify new families of proteins. “Having all the data predicted for us is just fantastic.”

This really is one of the great breakthroughs by AI, but it could take years for its effect to be felt in the outside world. Also, it’s 23TB for the entire database, which is going to mean lots of local storage (plus updates) or lots of pricey cloud storage.

Even so, in some ways this is as crucial as the first genome sequencing. Another British (DeepMind) success.
unique link to this extract


Debt-ridden water giants at risk from rate rises • The Sunday Times

Jon Yeomans:

»

Net debt in the water sector topped £56bn last year, according to Ofwat. One of the most indebted firms, Thames Water, took steps to shore up its finances last month with the injection of £1.5bn of fresh equity from shareholders.

Last year, Southern Water was taken over by Australian bank Macquarie after coming close to bankruptcy. Last week, it became the first big water company to implement a hosepipe ban because of the dry conditions across England.

Scrutiny of [the UK’s 25] water companies has grown after a damning report by the Environment Agency earlier this month recommended that company directors be jailed if they fail to meet their responsibilities to clean up rivers. Emma Boyd, the agency’s chairwoman, said performance on pollution had “hit a new low”, adding: “Company directors let this happen. We plan to make it too painful for them to continue like this.”

The warning on rates comes as the Bank is this week expected to raise rates from 1.25% by as much as half a percentage point, as it seeks to tame inflation that is running at 9.4%.

Ofwat was granted new powers last year to enforce greater financial resilience in the water sector. It said its proposals on curbing payouts to water company owners “will reinforce the link between performance and dividends”. The proposals will remain open for consultation until September 29.

The regulator has already attracted strong resistance from water utilities after floating its ideas at the end of last year. In one response to the proposals, Thames Water warned that tighter rules on dividends could have “unintended consequences — by making it more challenging to attract equity” from investors.

«

Ofwat’s page on the (privatised in 1989) water companies financial resilience has a spreadsheet which is faintly worrying: gearing (the debt/equity ratio) averages 72%. For a monopoly that could be OK, except the rate they can charge is fixed, so rising interest rates mean a squeeze where they can’t raise costs: investment or dividends must slow.
unique link to this extract


Housing development in England under threat as electricity capacity nears limits • Financial Times

George Hammond:

»

New housing development in London and the south-east of England is at risk as electricity networks near capacity and upgrades are stalled, according to experts, despite the UK government forecasting increased demand for power almost a decade ago.

Electricity demand has fallen in recent years as homes have become more efficient, but it is forecast to rise as drivers adopt electric vehicles and homeowners install heat pumps, placing additional demands on local networks.

Three boroughs in west London have paused development because there is no spare capacity for new connections to the electricity grid until 2035, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Experts on Friday warned the problem could spread as national efforts to hit net zero carbon emissions boost electricity consumption, unless networks are quickly upgraded to withstand extra demand.

“The truth is, the overall electricity system is creaking a bit,” said Guy Newey, formerly energy adviser to two Conservative business secretaries and now boss of Energy Systems Catapult, an independent research centre.

Warning that power outages were likely without upgrades, he added: “If we’re serious about net zero targets we have to build ahead of need, otherwise you’ll keep getting stories like west London.”

«

But how could it be that west London, which has all sorts of space to its west, could be struggling?

»

In Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow, the network has come under strain far faster than expected because a series of data centres, which can consume as much energy as thousands of homes, have been connected.

According to the Energy Networks Association, which represents network operators, the volume of new requests for connections from data centres in the past two years alone has equalled the entire area’s electricity demand.

«

unique link to this extract


Axie Infinity has left Filipino gamers despondent and in debt • TIME

Andrew Chow and Chad De Guzman:

»

amerson Orias was working as a line cook last year in the rural Philippines when his friend told him he could make way more money playing a new video game.

Orias was earning about 4,000 pesos a month (about $80, a little less than half the national minimum wage) making takoyaki—Japanese octopus balls. His friend told him he and others were pocketing up to $600 a month playing Axie Infinity, a game fueled by cryptocurrency and NFTs.

Orias, now 26, desperately needed an escape hatch from his financial woes: his mother had had a stroke and required medication, and electricity and grocery bills were stacking up. So he plunged into Axie, doing battle with cartoon monsters for hours deep into the night. He soon began earning cryptocurrency, which he converted into pesos, allowing him to take better care of his mother and his home. At the same time, thousands of young people in the Philippines were jumping headlong into the game. For a brief moment at the peak of crypto’s astonishing 2021 boom, these young Filipino players were fulfilling a longtime dream of crypto’s most ardent evangelists: that “play-to-earn” blockchain games like Axie could lead the way to a more equitable, opportunity-rich global economy.

Fourteen months later, most Filipino players, including Orias, have exited the game nursing anger and anxiety—and, in some cases, thousands of dollars down. Orias grew to hate playing the game. It was boring and stressful, he says, a common refrain among the dozen players TIME interviewed for this story. “I felt fatigued all the time. I became more aggressive in every aspect of my life,” he says.

«

Data point:

»

The game initially made a huge impact in the Philippines. At one point, players there made up 40% of the game’s user base.

«

An indenturing scheme developed inside the Philippines, which is what created the indebtedness. Same as so many schemes for earning money or whatever in games.
unique link to this extract


It may be too late to stop monkeypox becoming endemic in the US and Europe • Daily Beast

David Axe:

»

Monkeypox is spreading fast all over the world, especially in the United States and Europe. With cases doubling every two weeks or so, there’s a growing risk that monkeypox will become a permanent problem in countries where, before, outbreaks were rare and small.

The pox is, in other words, close to becoming endemic in a lot of new places. If that happens, it might become very difficult to eradicate. Monkeypox, which causes a fever and rash and is fatal in a very small number of cases, will become yet another disease that people have to worry about all the time.

For the pox, there are two paths to endemicity. If the virus infects enough people fast enough to outpace authorities’ efforts to trace transmission and vaccinate at-risk individuals, it might become endemic in people. “We are getting close to this already,” James Lawler, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told The Daily Beast.

The good news with this kind of endemicity is that it doesn’t have to be permanent. Reversing human endemicity is hard, yes—but it’s possible. “If it’s just spreading in humans it can be controlled—eventually—through vaccination and natural immunity,” Amesh Adalja, a public health expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Daily Beast.

But monkeypox was originally a “zoonotic” animal virus. It circulates in rodent and monkey species in West and Central Africa, where outbreaks in the human population are frequent.

If the pox finds a home in some animal species in North America or Europe—say, squirrels, rats, or prairie dogs—it’ll be all but impossible to eradicate regionally.

«

This other article says it has 50 mutations, far more than you’d expect for its type. Possibly it’s an example of immune escape from immunocompromised hosts, as we’ve seen with SARS-Cov-2. (Thank G for the links.)
unique link to this extract


The crypto market collapse has flooded the luxury watches from brands like Rolex • Bloomberg

Andy Hoffman:

»

The collapse in cryptocurrencies is easing supply of the most sought after watches on the second-hand market, depressing prices for hard-to get-Patek Philippe and Rolex models.

The supply of trophy watches such as the Rolex Daytona or Patek Nautilus 5711A “is now much larger,” online-watch trading platform Chrono24 said in an emailed statement. 

The recent swoon in cryptocurrency valuations “has directly impacted pricing of luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe,” said the company, which is based in Karlsruhe, Germany, and has more than half a million watches listed for sale on its website.

The price decline for the most sought after models is the latest indication that the once soaring second-hand luxury watch market is starting to lose pace. Surging valuations for crypto currencies had minted a new class of luxury buyers, leading to an unprecedented price increase for models particularly from brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek. Now that many digital tokens have been hammered, these consumers are going into reverse.

«

Never have understood the desire to have a super-pricey watch. They’re not just premium, as in well-made; they’re super-expensive but without any further functionality than others. And of course less functionality than a smartwatch, which you could upgrade multiple times for the price of one of those. Feel free to point me to someone explaining this.
unique link to this extract


Meta officially cuts funding for US news publishers • Axios

Sara Fischer:

»

Meta on Tuesday began telling its news partners in the US that the company no longer plans to pay publishers for their content to run on Facebook’s News Tab, sources tell Axios.

As the company moves forward with sweeping changes to the Facebook experience, news has become less of a priority.

Meta’s VP of media partnerships, Campbell Brown, told staffers the company was shifting resources away from its news products to support more creative initiatives, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Facebook brokered a slew of three-year deals with publishers in 2019. At the time, the company was ramping up its investment in news and hired journalists to help direct publisher traffic to its new tab for news.

The deals were worth roughly $105m in the US, sources told Axios. In addition to that, the company spent around $90m on news videos for the company’s video tab called “Watch.”

“A lot has changed since we signed deals three years ago to test bringing additional news links to Facebook News in the US. Most people do not come to Facebook for news, and as a business it doesn’t make sense to over-invest in areas that don’t align with user preferences,” a Facebook spokesperson told Axios.

«

Back and forth it goes: Facebook does like news, it doesn’t like news, although it loves video more and more (until it pauses and doesn’t because friends and family users don’t make much video). It’s like a slow-motion abusive relationship.
unique link to this extract


The dirty carbon secret behind solid state memory drives • Discover Magazine

»

Swamit Tannu at University of Wisconsin in Madison and Prashant Nair at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver have measured the carbon footprint per gigabyte of these devices across their entire lifetimes and, unexpectedly, it turns out that SSDs are significantly dirtier. “Compared to SSDs, the embodied [carbon] cost of HDDs is at least an order of magnitude lower,” say the researchers.

Tannu and Nair come to their conclusion by adding up the amount of carbon emitted throughout the estimated 10-year lifespans of these devices. This includes the carbon emitted during manufacture, during operation, for transportation and for disposal.

The carbon emitted during operation is straightforward to calculate. To read and write data, HDDs consume 4.2 Watts versus 1.3W for SSDs. The researchers calculate that a 1 terabyte HDD emits the equivalent of 159 kilograms of carbon dioxide during a 10-year operating lifespan. By comparison, a 1 terabyte SSD emits just 49.2 kg over 10 years.

But SSDs are significantly more carbon intensive to manufacture. That’s because the chip fabrication facilities for SSDs operate at extreme temperatures and pressures that are energy intensive to maintain. And bigger memories require more chips, which increases the footprint accordingly.

All this adds up to a significant carbon footprint for SSD manufacture. Tannu and Nair calculate that manufacturing a 1 terabyte SSD emits the equivalent of 320 kg of carbon dioxide. By comparison, a similar HDD emits just 40 kg.

So the lifetime footprint for a 1 terabyte SSD is 369.2 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent versus 199 kg for an HDD. So HDDs are much cleaner.

That’s a counterintuitive result with important implications. At the very least, it suggests that computer manufacturers and cloud data storage operators should reconsider the way they use SSDs and HDDs.

«

I suspect the cloud companies (at the least) won’t, because the operation output is so low. Manufacturing output is, as so often, someone else’s problem – the manufacturer’s?
unique link to this extract


Astrobiologists suggest the Earth itself may be an intelligent entity • Futurism

Tony Ho Tran:

»

A group of researchers have posed a fascinating — and downright mind bending — thought experiment: If a planet like Earth can be “alive,” can it also have a mind of its own?

The team published a paper exploring this question in the International Journal of Astrobiology. In it, they present the idea of “planetary intelligence,” which describes the collective knowledge and cognition of an entire planet.

…The researchers point to evidence that underground networks of fungi can communicate to suggest that large-scale networks of life could form a vast invisible intelligence that profoundly alters the condition of the entire planet.

One of the primary species driving that change at the moment, they point out, are humans — and currently, from the climate to the plastic crisis, we may well be irrevocably changing the environmental balance.

“We don’t yet have the ability to communally respond in the best interests of the planet,” Adam Frank, professor of physics at the University of Rochester and coauthor of the paper, said in a press release about the paper. 

The researchers believe that such thought experiments can help humans to understand their impact on the Earth and serve as a guide on how to better it. Interestingly, they also believe that it could aid in the search for aliens too.

“We’re saying the only technological civilizations we may ever see — the ones we should expect to see — are the ones that didn’t kill themselves, meaning they must have reached the stage of a true planetary intelligence,” Frank said. 

«

So it’s “may” as in “could be”. All very Solaris, isn’t it?
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.1850: Joe Manchin – the good climate guy?, defending British Gas’s profits, why Twitter still has Trends, and more


The “Wagatha Christie” libel trial hinged on a set of WhatsApp messages – or more precisely, their absence. CC-licensed photo by Christoph ScholzChristoph Scholz 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. They’re… not Rebekah Vardy’s links. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The two-week scramble that saved Democrats’ climate agenda • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Jeff Stein:

»

For Schumer, the party’s chief negotiator, a key to assuaging Manchin’s concerns were policy sweeteners that boosted fossil fuels and coal-heavy West Virginia. But Manchin also spoke with a wide array of others — fellow Democrats, economists including Larry Summers, even executives like Bill Gates. They each delivered some version of the same message: If Democrats did not seize on a rare opportunity to combat climate change, the US may never have another chance at it again.

Republicans, who opposed spending to address global warming, initially thought they had scored a political victory: Last weekend, a group that included conservatives, industry officials and a top outside adviser to President Donald Trump even held a call with Manchin, during which several praised him for scuttling the package.

Ultimately, though, Manchin came to agree with his own party, satisfied that Democrats’ plans would not harm the economy. Explaining his decision, Manchin maintained at a news conference Thursday he never actually wavered in his engagement, even once “the dogs came after me.” Schumer, for his part, seized on the magnitude of the moment, having finalized an agreement that had eluded Democrats for about a year.

“You’re going to change the country for the better,” he told Manchin in the hours before they released the bill late Wednesday afternoon. “This is going to be historic for the country.”

…If it is adopted, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 would see nearly $370bn in new climate and energy-related investments, aiming to foster new technology, cut back on emissions and satisfy Manchin’s demand that the U.S. maintain support for fossil fuels.

It includes new and extended tax credits for solar, wind and other renewable energy, and more than $80bn in rebates for home improvements and electric vehicles. It also sets aside $1.5bn to curtail harmful methane emissions. And at Manchin’s insistence, it mandates new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska.

«

Sooooo Manchin wasn’t the bad guy, just negotiating? This messes up all sorts of narratives. However…
unique link to this extract


“Soon it will be unrecognisable”: total climate meltdown cannot be stopped, says expert • The Guardian

Robin McKie:

»

The publication of Bill McGuire’s latest book, Hothouse Earth, could not be more timely. Appearing in the shops this week, it will be perused by sweltering customers who have just endured record high temperatures across the UK and now face the prospect of weeks of drought to add to their discomfort.

And this is just the beginning, insists McGuire, who is emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. As he makes clear in his uncompromising depiction of the coming climatic catastrophe, we have – for far too long – ignored explicit warnings that rising carbon emissions are dangerously heating the Earth. Now we are going to pay the price for our complacence in the form of storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves that will easily surpass current extremes.

The crucial point, he argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50ºC (120ºF) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic. “A child born in 2020 will face a far more hostile world that its grandparents did,” McGuire insists.

In this respect, the volcanologist, who was also a member of the UK government’s Natural Hazard Working Group, takes an extreme position. Most other climate experts still maintain we have time left, although not very much, to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A rapid drive to net zero and the halting of global warming is still within our grasp, they say.

Such claims are dismissed by McGuire.

«

Even if you think he’s wrong, why not act as if he’s right? All that happens is you ameliorate the situation sooner and have more time to reflect. Whereas going to “wait and see” is gambling in every way. Truly, Don’t Look Up was a documentary from the future, not a satire.
unique link to this extract


Why we should want Shell and Centrica to keep making money • Sky News

Ian King is a business presenter at Sky:

»

Centrica’s half-year operating profits rose to £1.3bn from £262mn in the same period last year, largely due to higher wholesale gas and electricity prices. Centrica’s assets include the Morecambe Bay gas field and a 20% stake in the UK’s remaining nuclear power stations.

But operating profits at British Gas itself actually fell by 43% during the period and there are good reasons for that.

Responsible suppliers try to buy in advance as much of the gas that they expect households to demand, whereas the myriad of suppliers to have collapsed during the two years were buying it on the ‘spot’ market. That worked well when wholesale energy prices were falling – and meant they were cheaper than the likes of British Gas, EON and EDF Energy – but meant that, when prices rose, they were caught out.

Yet those wholesale price rises have also caught out British Gas. One reason its profits fell was because the energy price cap changes only twice a year – so any sudden increases in wholesale costs could not be passed on to households. The second factor is that, as unprofitable rivals collapsed, remaining household suppliers like British Gas were obliged by the regulator to take on those customers. In the case of British Gas, it took on 150,000 such customers in the first six months of the year, mainly former customers of the collapsed Together Energy. That was on top of 550,000 taken on during 2021.

Because it is obliged to take on these customers at short notice, it is unable to hedge the cost of supplying them in advance, which effectively leaves it doing so at a loss in some cases. That is why profits at British Gas fell during the first six months of the year. Chris O’Shea, the Centrica chief executive, noted today that the average profit per household customer at British Gas is around £6. Put in the context of the current household energy price cap of £1,971 and it is clear that British Gas is hardly making merry at the expense of household customers.

«

It’s certainly an argument for allowing Centrica (which owns British Gas, the biggest supplier) to keep making profit. Though not quite an argument against renationalising it (British Gas was privatised in 1986, into the teeth of a stock market crash).

unique link to this extract


Case No: QB-2020-002028: Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney • Judiciary UK

This is the full judgment by the Hon Mrs Justice Steyn on the libel case brought by Rebekah Vardy (wife of England footballer* Jamie Vardy), who accused Coleen Rooney (wife of more successful England footballer Wayne Rooney) of libelling her by implying she had sold stories to The Sun newspaper based on posts on Rooney’s private Instagram account. Rooney had carefully limited who could see posts there, until only Vardy’s account could, and noted that stories based on those posts still appeared in The Sun.

In a Twitter thread, she explained this, leading her to be dubbed “Wagatha Christie” (WAGs = Wives And Girlfriends of the England footballers at the Euro 2016 event. Never claim that we aren’t moving the language on.)

For a successful defence, Rooney had to prove she was telling the truth and that it was Vardy, nobody else, who had leaked the stories. The case hinged on WhatsApp conversations between Vardy and her publicist/agent Caroline Watt, which could prove or disprove whether they’d shared details of Rooney’s posts and talked about selling them to Sun journalists. (Rooney, as a Liverpudlian, hates The Sun.)

Incredibly unfortunately Watt dropped her phone in the North Sea just after she’d been told to preserve it for the trial. But Vardy’s phone was fine: she was told to upload her WhatsApp data to Intralinks, used for such legal investigation. She said that while doing this it crashed and incredibly unfortunately wiped the relevant chats.

Over to one of the expert witnesses:

»

Mr [Matthew] Blackband explained that the export of WhatsApp data to Intralinks occurs in two stages. The first stage involves opening WhatsApp, choosing the chat to be exported, pressing “Export Chat” and then choosing from the options “Attach Media” or “Without Media”. This results in a single zip file being downloaded which will contain all the messages, either including or excluding the media files, depending on which option was chosen. This first stage involves interaction with the WhatsApp program. It is that program which packages the messages (including media, if selected) into an archive which is locally stored as a zip file on the laptop (or other device) on which it was created. The WhatsApp program “is easily capable of creating a large archive”. The second stage involves uploading the zip file from the laptop (or other device) on which it is stored, via the internet, to the Intralinks workspace. Uploading the zip file does not involve any interaction with the WhatsApp application.

Mr Blackband’s opinion was that what Ms Vardy described was impossible. In his view, the loss was “indicative of a manual deletion” by an individual. That was because what Ms Vardy described was the computer crashing at the second stage of the process. Such a crash could have no impact on the data available on WhatsApp because there was no engagement with WhatsApp during the second stage of the process. If there had been a malfunction at the first stage (albeit he did not consider that was what Ms Vardy had described), no zip file would have been created. For there to be data loss he considered that there would “have to be a corruption of the database which would mean WhatsApp wouldn’t work”. In those circumstances, the WhatsApp account would not work at all because there is a single ChatStorage.sqlite database file which holds the messages. Corruption of the database could not lead to loss of specific chats from within a single file.

«

The Hon Mrs Justice Steyn essentially concluded that Vardy was lying, and dismissed her case, vindicating Rooney. I think it’s the first big trial that has hinged on WhatsApp messages (or their peculiar absence.) The whole judgment is worth reading for the sheer entertainment value.

* American readers: soccer
unique link to this extract


Why Twitter still has those terrible Trends • MIT Technology Review

Abby Ohlheiser:

»

Trends is central to the story that Twitter would like to tell about itself, says Shireen Mitchell, a technology analyst and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women—a story about how it captures and serves the public conversation. But manipulated trends (even innocuous ones) and amplified extremism on the algorithmically generated trending list undermine that story. 

“Twitter keeps trying to make it seem like ‘trending’ is somehow authentic, trending hot topics that people care about. But in most instances it’s gamification,” she says. 

Besides Twitter’s claims that Trends serves an important public function, there’s another reason the feature sticks around. It’s a revenue source for the platform: Twitter started selling promoted spaces on Trends in 2010. Currently Twitter sells what it calls Trend Takeover spots and displays ads in the search results for trending topics. 

On July 28, for instance, a sponsored trending topic for a new Christopher Nolan film was promoted at the top of Twitter’s US trending list, and in the “For You” column of customized trends. 

“I don’t think they actually think through the actual benefit to their users versus the benefit to their bottom line,” Mitchell says. Twitter declined to comment on its ad program for Trends. 

…Twitter’s argument is that it’s better to work to improve Trends than to retire the feature, emphasizing the role of human curators in providing context and sources for a subset of trending topics.

But despite repeated attempts to address its potential for harm, Trends has remained essentially the same. A feature that was meant to reflect the topics of the day on Twitter by automatically monitoring for rapid swells of post frequency became an opportunity to manipulate the conversation and generate news coverage.

«

The headline’s implied question is very neatly answered: it’s the ads. A huge proportion of people must look at Trends, so ads there will be more valuable than those shown in individual feeds.
unique link to this extract


The age of algorithmic anxiety • The New Yorker

Kyle Chayka:

»

Just last week, Facebook implemented a new default Home tab on its app that prioritizes recommended content in the vein of TikTok, its main competitor.

Almost every other major Internet platform makes use of some form of algorithmic recommendation. Google Maps calculates driving routes using unspecified variables, including predicted traffic patterns and fuel efficiency, rerouting us mid-journey in ways that may be more convenient or may lead us astray. The food-delivery app Seamless front-loads menu items that it predicts you might like based on your recent ordering habits, the time of day, and what is “popular near you.” E-mail and text-message systems supply predictions for what you’re about to type. (“Got it!”)

It can feel as though every app is trying to guess what you want before your brain has time to come up with its own answer, like an obnoxious party guest who finishes your sentences as you speak them. We are constantly negotiating with the pesky figure of the algorithm, unsure how we would have behaved if we’d been left to our own devices. No wonder we are made anxious.

In a recent essay for Pitchfork, Jeremy D. Larson described a nagging feeling that Spotify’s algorithmic recommendations and automated playlists were draining the joy from listening to music by short-circuiting the process of organic discovery: “Even though it has all the music I’ve ever wanted, none of it feels necessarily rewarding, emotional, or personal.”

…I recently sent out a survey about algorithms to my online friends and followers; the responses I received, from more than a hundred people, formed a catalogue of algorithmic anxieties. Answering a question about “odd run-ins” with automated recommendations, one user reported that, after he became single, Instagram began recommending the accounts of models, and another had been mystified to see the Soundgarden song “Black Hole Sun” pop up on every platform at once. Many complained that algorithmic recommendations seemed to crudely simplify their tastes, offering “worse versions of things I like that have certain superficial similarities,” as one person put it.

«

unique link to this extract


Spotify exits short-lived Car Thing hardware play, reports Q2 MAUs of 433 million, offsetting Russia exit and service outage • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

»

[Spotify] announced [April-June] quarterly earnings in which its monthly active users grew by 19%, or 19 million, to 433 million — 5 million above its own guidance. The company originally had projected that its exit from Russia and the service outage it had in the quarter would mean only 14 million new users this quarter. Paid users now stand at 188 million, up 14%.

But it missed on its gross margins, which it said were “negatively impacted by our decision to stop manufacturing Car Thing,” the company’s in-vehicle device for controlling music. Spotify’s taking a €31m charge ($31.4m) on that business line as it discontinues it.

“The goal of Spotify’s Car Thing exploration was to better understand in-car listening, and bring audio to a wider range of users and vehicles,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Based on several factors, including product demand and supply chain issues, we have decided to stop further production of Car Thing units. Existing devices will perform as intended. This initiative has unlocked helpful learnings, and we remain focused on the car as an important place for audio.”

The device was only really launched earlier this year [in February], and it is still being sold as of this story going out, but with big discounts [from $90 to $50]. Spotify will support those that have been sold, but it seems that this will be the end of the line for Spotify’s much-discussed move into hardware.

«

As I’ve said in the past: the hardest thing to make in hardware is a profit.
unique link to this extract


China property sales could plunge by one-third, analysts say, as crisis deepens • The Guardian

Martin Farrer and agencies:

»

Property sales in China could fall by one-third this year, spelling more trouble for the country’s giant housing sector as people lose faith in the market and pressure increases on struggling developers to complete presold apartments.

Amid reports that the government is preparing a bailout of the sector that could cost 300bn yuan ($44bn), experts at the rating agency S&P have concluded that the fall in sales will be twice as bad as they had originally forecast for this year.

“S&P Global Ratings now expects national property sales will fall 28%-33% this year,” the note said on Tuesday, “almost double the drop of our prior forecast.”

Last week’s news that disgruntled buyers of apartments at housing projects in more than 100 cities had banded together to withhold payments on unfinished homes has focused attention on the unfolding crisis.

The strike has ratcheted up the pressure on developers, who are already facing acute liquidity problems and who depend on customers paying upfront for homes off the plan to keep cash flowing through the business. The proceeds can be used to pay debts as well so the loss of this income will hit hard.

Some high-profile developers have already fallen into default, causing waves of panic in the global financial system – most notably Evergrande, the country’s second-biggest property firm which admitted last year that it could not pay part of its $300bn debt mountain.

«

From a week ago, but this is one to keep an eye on. If China slumps into a housing-driven recession, or debt crisis, the effects could be very unpredictable. (It will need lots of foreign exchange? Exports will be prioritised? It won’t buy as many US Treasuries, forcing US interest rates up? I don’t know which if any would happen.)

Background: “Mortgage strikes threaten China’s economic and political stability“. You’ll recall that the Covid monitoring system was used to block some people from protesting. Key line in the article: ““Why do I have to pay mortgage when the property I bought has yet to be finished?” said one angry social media user”.
unique link to this extract


Facebook faces suspension in Kenya after approving genocide ads • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron:

»

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), a Kenyan agency founded to mitigate ethnic violence and promote national healing in the wake of the 2007-08 post-election crisis, told reporters on Friday that Facebook was “in violation of the laws of our country.”

“They have allowed themselves to be a vector of hate speech and incitement, misinformation and disinformation,” Danvas Makori, an NCIC commissioner said during a briefing.

Facebook claimed last week to have cracked down on harmful content in the country, issuing a press release praising itself for the many ways it was tackling problematic content. But immediately after, the company approved ads run in both English and Swahili crafted specifically to instigate ethnic violence in Kenya, human rights groups said.

Nonprofit groups Global Witness and Foxglove revealed Thursday that a third independent test had proven Facebook incapable of detecting language designed to incite violence around the August elections. Specifically, the groups said, Meta approved ads on Facebook in both Swahili and English that included calls to rape and behead Kenyan citizens along ethnic lines.

The NCIC said Friday that that the results of the Global Witness/Foxglove tests had corroborated its own internal findings.

“Suspending ads and rolling out ‘break glass’ measures are steps Facebook can take to reduce the risk to the Kenyan election today. That’s what we’re calling for,” Crider said, pointing to steps taken by the platform following the US insurrection on Jan 6, 2021. “Facebook is in violation of the laws of our country.”

Global Witness said in a statement that it chose deliberately not to publish the exact language used in the tests conducted on Facebook, but described the ads as “dehumanising, comparing specific tribal groups to animals and calling for rape, slaughter, and beheading.”

«

Going to be fun watching how Facebook deals with this. What, accidentally inspire genocide? Whoever would suggest such a thing?
unique link to this extract


Web3 network Helium claims rideshare company Lime is one of its biggest clients. Lime says that’s not true • Mashable

Matt Binder:

»

Since 2019, the decentralized wireless network service, which bills itself as a peer-to-peer network for the Internet of Things, has touted rideshare company Lime as one of its marquee clients, claiming the company uses its service to geolocate rentable escooters. There are numerous mentions of this partnership on its website, along with the presence of Lime’s company logo, and in press coverage with various news outlets.

There’s just one problem: That partnership never really existed.

“Beyond an initial test of its product in 2019, Lime has not had, and does not currently have, a relationship with Helium.” Lime senior director for corporate communications Russell Murphy said to Mashable.

«

Not only Lime: also Salesforce, whose logo was also prominently displayed on its page. Besides this nonsense, the whole idea behind Helium is bonkers: in an age of abundant data via 4G, 5G and Wi-Fi, it offers a “crypto-powered mesh network” where you buy a router that works as a hotspot ($400-$800 – for a router??) and hope like crazy that random people log onto it, because you get paid according to how much data they use. Why would they, though? Informed estimates reckon it’s generating a total of about $6,500 per month.

Naturally because it’s “crypto”, venture firm Andreessen Horowitz has put pots of money – $365m – into it. Seems unlikely that’s coming back.
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.1849: Instagram reverting its changes, how TikTok changes the game, the trouble with private jets, and more


Climbing in the Alps is becoming significantly more difficult as temperatures rise and ice becomes less trustworthy. CC-licensed photo by Cristian Bortes http://www.eyeem.com\/bortescristian 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. We regroup. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Not reading the Social Warming Substack? Signup is free. There’s another post today, with another tale from the inevitable madness of social media. Goes live about 45 minutes after this lands in your inbox.


🚨 Instagram walks back its changes • Platformer

Casey Newton got an interview with Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, who has noticed unrest in the ranks:

»

Redesigns often incur the wrath of users who are hostile to change, but in this case the high-profile dissatisfaction was backed up by Instagram’s own internal data, Mosseri said. The trend toward users watching more video is real, and pre-dated the rise of TikTok, he said. But it’s clear that people actually do dislike Instagram’s design changes.

“For the new feed designs, people are frustrated and the usage data isn’t great,” he said. “So there I think that we need to take a big step back, regroup, and figure out how we want to move forward.”

The company also plans to show users fewer recommendations. On Wednesday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that recommended posts and accounts in feeds currently account for about 15% of what you see when you browse Facebook, and an even higher percentage on Instagram. By the end of 2023, that figure will be around 30 percent, Zuckerberg said.

But Instagram will temporarily reduce the amount of recommended posts and accounts as it works to improve its personalization tools. (Mosseri wouldn’t say by how much, exactly.)

“When you discover something in your feed that you didn’t follow before, there should be a high bar — it should just be great,” Mosseri said. “You should be delighted to see it. And I don’t think that’s happening enough right now. So I think we need to take a step back, in terms of the percentage of feed that are recommendations, get better at ranking and recommendations, and then — if and when we do — we can start to grow again.” (“I’m confident we will,” he added.)

Mosseri made clear that the retreat Instagram announced today is not permanent. Threats to the company’s dominance continue to mount: TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world, the most popular website, and the most watched video company.

«

That didn’t take long, though the threat that it’s not a permanent rollback of the (horrible) change is dispiriting.
unique link to this extract


TikTok and the fall of the social media giants • The New Yorker

Cal Newport, on how Facebook, Instagram and Twitter simply can’t do what TikTok does:

»

If [Facebook etc] instead move away from their social-graph foundations to concentrate on optimizing in-the-moment engagement, they’ll enter a competitive landscape that pits them directly against the many other existing sources of mobile distraction—not just TikTok but also more bespoke and specialized social networks, such as the Gen-Z sensation BeReal, to say nothing of popular video streamers, podcasts, video games, self-improvement apps, and, for the somewhat older demographic to which I belong, Wordle.

This all points to a possible future in which social-media giants like Facebook may soon be past their long stretch of dominance. They’ll continue to chase new engagement models, leaving behind the protection of their social graphs, and in doing so eventually succumb to the new competitive pressures this introduces. TikTok, of course, is subject to these same pressures, so in this future it, too, will eventually fade. The app’s energetic embrace of shallowness makes it more likely, in the long term, to become the answer to a trivia question than a sustained cultural force. In the wake churned by these sinkings will arise new entertainments and new models for distraction, but also innovative new apps and methods for expression and interaction.

It’s here that I find optimism. The era of social-media monopolies has been unhealthy for our collective digital existence. The Internet at its best should be weird, energetic, and exciting—featuring both homegrown idiosyncrasy and sudden trends that flash supernova-bright before exploding into the novel elements that spur future ideas and generate novel connections. This exuberance was suppressed by the dominance of a small number of social-media networks that consolidated and controlled so much of online culture for so many years. Things will be better once this dominance wanes. In the end, TikTok’s biggest legacy might be less about its current moment of world-conquering success, which will pass, and more about how, by forcing social-media giants like Facebook to chase its model, it will end up liberating the social Internet.

«

unique link to this extract


I was wrong about Facebook • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

»

Early in 2009, I offered the world some tech advice that I have regretted pretty much ever since: I told everyone to join Facebook.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I didn’t just tell people. I harangued. I mocked. Writing in Slate, I all but reached through the screen, grabbed Facebook skeptics by the lapels and scolded them for being pompous, mirthless Luddites. “There is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook,” I wrote shortly after the then-five-year-old company announced growing to 150 million users worldwide. “The site has crossed a threshold — it is now so widely trafficked that it’s fast becoming a routine aid to social interaction, like email and antiperspirant.”

I wasn’t just wrong about Facebook; I had the matter exactly backward. Had we all decided to leave Facebook then or at any time since, the internet and perhaps the world might now be a better place. The question of how much better and in what way is a matter of considerable debate. It might be decades before we have any sense of an answer to whether, on balance, Facebook in particular and social networks more generally have improved or ruined society.

Yet whatever the outcome of that larger debate, my 2009 exhortation for people to go all in on Facebook still makes me cringe. My argument suffers from the same flaws I regularly climb up on my mainstream-media soapbox to denounce in tech bros: a failure to seriously consider the implications of an invention as it becomes entrenched in society; a deep trust in networks, in the idea that allowing people to more freely associate would redound mainly to the good of society; and too much affection for the culture of Silicon Valley and the idea that the people who created a certain thing must have some clue about what to do with it.

«

This is one of a series in the NYT in which people admit being wrong on something. This one, of course, feels pretty easy to admit in retrospect.
unique link to this extract


Stick-on ultrasound patch hailed as revolution in medical imaging • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

»

A stick-on patch that can take an ultrasound scan of a person’s insides as they go about their daily life has been hailed as a revolution in medical imaging.

The wearable patch, which is the size of a postage stamp, can image blood vessels, the digestive system and internal organs for up to 48 hours, giving doctors a more detailed picture of a patient’s health than the snapshots provided by routine scans.

In laboratory tests, researchers used the patches to watch people’s hearts change shape during exercise, their stomachs expand and shrink as they drank and passed drinks, and their muscles pick up microdamage when weightlifting.

Prof Xuanhe Zhao at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research team, said the patches could “revolutionise” medical imaging because existing scans are very brief, sometimes lasting only seconds, and usually have to be performed in hospitals.

Ultimately, Zhao envisions people buying boxes of the patches over the counter and using them, with help from smart algorithms on their mobile phones, to monitor their heart, lungs and digestive systems for early signs of disease or infection, or their muscles during rehabilitation or physical training.

«

Very promising, and very near to market. Just needs a little extra wireless patch so that it can be linked to a smartphone, and that’s a new frontier in diagnosis. And, once again, the smartphone being the Universal Device which can be turned to any task.
unique link to this extract


Climbers and guides adapt to changing climate and landscape in the Alps • UKClimbing

Natalie Berry:

»

Over the course of the last century, temperatures in the European Alps have increased by around 2°C, or twice the global average. This summer, heatwaves have led to record-breaking June temperatures across the continent, and – catalysed by a lack of snow and precipitation over winter and spring – are causing glaciers to vanish at a record rate.

On 25 July, MeteoSwiss reported a record-high freezing point (0°C) of 5,184m – far above the highest peaks in Western Europe – beating the previous record set in 1995 by almost 70 metres. 

British Mountain Guide Jon Bracey first visited the Alps in 1998, and moved to the Chamonix valley in 2006 when he qualified as a UIAGM mountain guide. “Over the years I’ve observed very marked changes in the climate, vast glacial retreat and a huge increase in the incidence of rockfall,” he said.

Jon believes that the work of a mountain guide has become far more challenging – and more dangerous – due to climate change. “It’s a delicate balancing act of trying to meet clients’ expectations and goals without taking too much risk,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time this summer that the zero degree isotherm was below 4,000m, and we’ve had temperatures of +10 degrees Celsius at Col Major (4,750m) near the summit of Mont Blanc. Even basic stuff like glacier travel is inherently way more dangerous.”

The traditional July and August summer Alpine season is occurring earlier and extending in length, but also becoming somewhat obsolete as conditions worsen, Jon explained. “In today’s world, the alpinist has to be much more of an opportunist,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on the good conditions, because it might be a long wait until the next chance.” To avoid climbing in the most unstable period in the heat of the afternoon, alpine starts are shifting to ever earlier hours in the morning as temperatures rise.

«

Many Alpine routes are essentially held together by ice; if it melts, bad things happen – only rockfall, if you’re lucky. Something much bigger if you’re not.
unique link to this extract


Apple expects growth to accelerate despite ‘pockets of softness’ • CNBC

Kif Leswing:

»

Apple’s revenue rose 2% during the quarter, compared to 36% growth during the same period last year and over 8% growth in the March quarter. Cook said the results were better than expected and CFO Luca Maestri said it was a “challenging operating environment.” 

Chipmakers and other computer vendors have signaled that there is slowing demand for smartphones and PCs around the world as consumers grapple with recession fears and decades-high inflation. Apple’s soft growth may suggest that the consumer electronics industry — including leaders like Apple — is headed for a period of slow or no growth. 

Cook told CNBC that the company is seeing inflation but will continue to make investments.  

“We do see inflation in our cost structure,” Cook said. “We see it in things like logistics and wages and certain silicon components and we’re still hiring, but we’re doing it on a deliberate basis.” 

Apple’s iPhone sales exceeded Wall Street expectations, suggesting that demand for iPhone 13 models remains strong even in the second half of the product’s annual release cycle. Apple typically releases new iPhones in September and sales fall as customers anticipate new models. 

Cook said Apple had success attracting Android customers to become iPhone owners during the quarter. 

“We had a record level of switchers and saw double digit growth for customers new to iPhone,” Cook said. 

«

Now up to 860 million paid subscriptions. Wonder how many of them include Fitness+? Apparently Mac and iPad supply was so choked that Apple never came close to meeting demand; Mac sales fell 10% in revenue year-on-year.
unique link to this extract


Kylie Jenner’s 17-minute private jet trip is a climate disaster • The Boston Globe

Dharna Noor:

»

It started with an Instagram photo that multimillionaire Kylie Jenner posted from an airport runway. In it, she’s locked in an embrace with her boyfriend, rapper Travis Scott, flanked by two shiny private jets. The caption read: “you wanna take mine or yours?”

Immediately, the comments lit up like a wildfire. “girl what am i recycling for,” one person wrote. “That carbon footprint be wild,” reads another comment.

The picture catalyzed a spate of criticism of celebrities for taking private plane trips despite their well-documented climate implications. One 2021 study found that per passenger, private jets create up to 14 times more greenhouse gas pollution than commercial planes, and a stunning 50 times more than trains. And by one estimate, just two hours of flying private produces 2 metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution — as much as the average person on Earth generates in a year.

The anger ramped up when many saw that CelebJets, an automated account that tracks celebrities’ private plane flights, posted that Jenner’s July 12 private flight from Camarillo to Van Nuys, Calif., lasted only 17 minutes.

Many wondered how Jenner could justify the environmental toll of such a short trip — a journey that could have taken less than an hour by car and resulted in a fraction of the emissions.

…The toll adds up. Private jet trips were responsible for nearly 34 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2016, according to one 2020 study, which is more than some countries emit in an entire year.

«

As the story explains, there’s now a Twitter account (@celebjets) which tracks these flights. (I bet to the celebs, it’s a badge of honour to be listed on the account, because global heating is someone else’s problem.)

Also: “One man’s lonely, lonely fight to ban private jets“.
unique link to this extract


How much ice is melted by each carbon dioxide emission? • Ken Caldeira

»

According to the USGS, there 24,064,000 km3 of ice and snow in the world.

According to Winkelmann et al. (2015), it would take about 10,000 GtC to melt (nearly) all of this ice.

If we divide 24,064,000 km3  by 10,000 GtC, assume the density of the ice is 1 kg per liter, and do the appropriate unit conversions, we can conclude that each kg of carbon emitted as CO2 will ultimately melt about 2,400 kg of ice. This is a huge number.

Another way of expressing this is that each pound of carbon released to the atmosphere as CO2 is likely to end up melting more than a ton of glacial ice.

…Each American emits on average about 16 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, primarily from the burning of coal, oil and gas, and atmospheric release of the resulting waste CO2.

This works out to about 1.8kg of CO2 per hour per American. This is more than twice the per capita emission rate of Europe and about 20 times the per capita emission rate for sub-Saharan Africa. If I am an average American, the CO2 emissions that I produce each year (by participating in the broader economy) will be responsible for melting about 10,000 tons of Antarctic ice, adding about 10,000 cubic meters of fresh water to the volume of the oceans.

…if the ancient Romans had undergone an industrial revolution similar to ours and fueled a century or two of economic development using fossil-fuels with disposal of the waste CO2 in the atmosphere, sea level today would be rising about 3 cm each year (more than an inch a year) due to the long-term effects of their emissions on the great ice sheets.

«

In which case, he points out, we’d have a much more jaundiced view of the sodding Romans.
unique link to this extract


A law firm is seeking disgruntled Bored Ape Yacht Club investors for a class action suit alleging Yuga Labs overpromised on returns • Artnet News

Amy Castor:

»

The New York law firm Scott and Scott is looking to drum up plaintiffs to file a class action suit against Yuga Labs, alleging that the NFT juggernaut tapped celebrities to talk up the value of their tokens and lure in “unsuspecting investors” with the promise of high returns.  

A slew of stars, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Eminem, and Madonna, acquired Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFTs and promoted them on social media in the past year. In January, when Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton flouted their cartoon apes on national TV, it felt to many like a bad infomercial. Many of the new celebrity Ape collectors are with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which owns a chunk of OpenSea, a popular marketplace for NFTs. (Madonna’s manager, Guy Oseary, represents Yuga Labs and is also a Yuga Labs investor.)

If it is to be successful, Scott and Scott will need to prove that BAYC NFTs are securities like stocks, bonds, or options. Legally, anyone issuing a security has to register it with the Securities and Exchange Commission to prevent fraud.

NFTs, because they aren’t fungible, typically aren’t thought of as securities, which are. Each NFT is supposed to represent a unique object. But they can be deemed securities if they pass the “Howey Test,” a regulatory standard used to determine if a transaction qualifies as an investment contract.

According to the Howey test, an investment contract exists if there is “an investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others.” Yuga Labs, in this instance, would be the actor behind the promotion of the NFTs.

«

Seems like a slam-dunk under the Howey test. Now all they need is some people annoyed that the resale value of their token which confirms they once looked at a picture on a computer hasn’t gone up.
unique link to this extract


Meta’s AR/VR revenue now growing faster than costs • UploadVR

David Heaney:

»

Meta’s Reality Labs revenue grew 48% year-over-year in Q2 2022, while costs grew 19%.

…This is the first quarter since the company began breaking out Reality Labs revenue where quarterly revenue grew more than costs year-over-year. For comparison, in Q1 2022 revenue grew 35% year-over-year but costs grew 55%.

The division brought in $452m revenue in Q2 2022, up from $305m in Q2 2021. But the cost of this division was a whopping $3.3bn, up from $2.7bn in Q2 2021. The result is a loss of $2.8bn, up from a loss of $2.4bn in Q2 2021.

In other words, cost still far outstrips revenue for Meta’s VR and AR division – but critically, revenue has turned a corner and started to grow faster than costs.

«

Looking at the graphic, you’d have to say that’s an excellent piece of spin. At this rate revenues would take decades to match costs. In theorry there should be a point where abruptly costs come down, and revenues take off. Zuckerberg needs to stay confident.
unique link to this extract


Flood the zone with cheap drones • Lawfare

Nicholas Weaver:

»

The continuing footage provided by small drones in the Ukraine area suggests an exploitable problem with Russian electronic warfare capabilities. These small drones are remote controlled, and the Russians seem to be neither effectively jamming nor attacking the drones’ controllers with artillery fire. This suggests a stunning deficiency in Russian military operations, one that the Ukrainian military—with quickly deployed foreign systems—should be able to further exploit.

The US has already begun to supply “low cost” Switchblade drones—small suicide drones with an explosive payload. The payload in these drones is not much, roughly equivalent to a 40 millimeter (mm) grenade. The US military has agreed to deliver 700 Switchblade 300s, which at an estimated $6,000 each, represents an investment of over $4m. The Switchblade itself is fairly sophisticated: It is launched from a portable tube launcher, and, after a target is selected, it flies into the target and explodes just before impact. 

But the key aspect is that a small explosive warhead, a mere 200 grams for a 40 mm grenade (just 33% heavier than a baseball), is remarkably effective when combined with the precision of a drone. Consider a long-ranged howitzer weapon and its crew. An artillery shell with 10 kilograms of explosive that lands 100 meters from the target will do less damage to personnel and equipment compared to a simple grenade delivered by a drone to explode on top of the gun’s breech.

But “low cost” by US military standards is still too expensive for supporting Ukraine in a war where Russia is firing 60,000 artillery shells per day. The Ukrainian military needs systems that are actually low cost, not “low cost” by our standards. It needs suicide drones that cost $500, not $6,000.

«

Get it right and Ukraine could have 10 times as many drones as at present, for the same budget. Smart way to wage war.
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.1848: Facebook revenues and profits drop, the bad old Instagram?, FTC blocks Meta VR buy, an M2 Mac Pro?, and more


The price of newsprint has rocketed by 40% in 18 months, putting a fresh squeeze on publishers of newspapers and magazines. CC-licensed photo by Jeff Eaton 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. The blue site is very much back. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook without news would be even worse • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:

»

In November, I tried to make a fresh, totally apolitical account with a News Feed that would be devoid of anything that could possibly inspire a partisan opinion. As I wrote at the time, Facebook without news and politics (or, admittedly, any friends or family) amounted to little more than “bad advice, stolen memes, shady businesses, and sophomoric jokes repeated over and over.”

I’m far from the first person to point out that Facebook has been largely overrun with garbage content. Now [University of Quebec journalism professor Jean-Hugues] Roy’s study suggests that, without news links, many users will find almost nothing of value. Sarah Schmalbach, a product director who works in journalism, came to the same conclusion in 2016 after manually removing news from her own Facebook feed and seeing what was left: “mostly personal photos, advertisements and a range of rants.” Like Roy, Schmalbach suggests that companies like Facebook should be sharing revenue with news organizations.

In this context, Facebook’s News Feed—which has never been limited to news reports, per se—has been a site of anxiety for both users and the company itself, which tinkers with the items it promotes there, adjusting for emotional valence, political inflection, and concentration of media content. In April 2021, Product Management Director Aastha Gupta wrote in a company blog post that Facebook had heard its users’ wishes for “more inspiring and uplifting content,” and would be experimenting with moving “more inspirational posts” closer to the top of the News Feed. Six months later, The Washington Post’s Will Oremus argued that the feed had become a “junk-mail folder.”

In an email, a Facebook spokesperson told me that the “inspirational content” test is over, and that news-article links compose a very small part of the Facebook experience, making up only 4% of what users see in their feeds. The company cited the same statistic in February 2021, when it blocked news content for users in Australia.

«

It’s dying. It’s a site that is dying, because what people post is so terrible that if it isn’t leavened with professionally produced content, nobody wants to read it. Or watch it. (Don’t ask me to explain why this doesn’t apply to TikTok: they’re teens. So, equivalent to professionals.)
unique link to this extract


You don’t want the old Instagram • Lorenz’s Newsletter

Taylor Lorenz, apparently building a side line from the Washington Post – just in case?:

»

We don’t want to express ourselves the way we did in 2014. Our notions of social norms, privacy, and what constitutes entertaining content are different now. Reverting Instagram into some old format would make it harder for us to express ourselves and connect in modern ways.

I understand people’s frustration with Instagram. It’s a saturated, messy product that’s clearly suffering an identity crisis. In 2017 I wrote about how the future would bring a fracturing between social (connecting with friends) and media (consuming content/entertainment). For the past 10 years Instagram has been both, and I think we’re finally seeing those tensions come to a head. 

The investor Rex Woodbury put it this way, “There’s a war between people who want Instagram to be more like Snapchat and people who want it to be more TikTok. Right now the former group is larger and louder.”

It’s tempting to think that if Instagram simply reverted to a previous design or reinstated a chronological feed, that would somehow bring us closer to the people we care about. But we don’t forge personal connections by sharing or commenting on highly personal public-facing photos that are permanently displayed on a grid anymore. These days, intimacy is fostered through features like DMs, group chats, or ephemeral posts to Close Friends. 

It’s a testament to Instagram that these viral protests are all centered around pressuring a multi billion dollar tech giant to figure out ways to get us all to spend more time on the app. But I don’t think that the next generation of social products will come from reverting to old features. I hope at least some people unsatisfied with what Instagram is offering try to build something new. 

«

I think she’s right that Instagram is being torn in two directions – is it for creation, by us, the users, or consumption, by us, the users? Adam Mosseri, in his video the other day, seemed to suggest it was the creators who he wanted to keep happy. As a user, I don’t like the new Instagram appearance or feel. It used to be a small space of calm where you could contemplate nice photos, and moments from friends and acquaintances. Now, it’s a funfair barker of a place, yelling and recommending and scrolling and moving. I don’t like it. And, just to remind Instagram, there are more users than creators.
unique link to this extract


Facebook parent Meta reports first ever revenue drop • WSJ

Salvador Rodriguez:

»

“We seem to have entered an economic downturn that will have a broad impact on the digital advertising business,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday. “It’s always hard to predict how deep or how long these cycles will be, but I’d say that the situation seems worse than it did a quarter ago,” he said on an earnings call.

Meta is grappling with a digital advertising market in upheaval from soaring inflation and other factors that are causing a slowdown in ad spending. Google parent Alphabet Inc. on Tuesday reported the slowest rate of growth since the second quarter of 2020, when the pandemic crimped demand for advertising in some areas. Rival Snap Inc. reported its weakest-ever quarterly sales growth last week while Twitter reported a decline in revenue.

Meta also disclosed that Facebook’s daily active user base rose to 1.97 billion users. The figure was 1.96 billion three months ago. The increase defied expectations of analysts surveyed by FactSet who thought user numbers would fall.

The company posted a net profit of $6.7bn for the second quarter, the third quarter in a row Meta’s bottom line has fallen. The company hasn’t experienced such a slump since the fourth quarter of 2012.

The weak advertising demand was reflected in Meta’s average price per ad, which fell 14% in the quarter. A year ago, the company reported an increase of 47%, year over year, for its average price per ad.

Chief Financial Officer David Wehner said in a statement that the company, like others, is feeling the pinch from the strong dollar, which is weighing on the top line.

«

But it’s also hurting from Apple making a small change in iOS: setting it to ask people if they wanted to be tracked when Facebook and others try to. Turns out, people don’t, and Facebook is paying the price, which is around $10bn. Most expensive modal box ever.
unique link to this extract


Facebook considering ending restrictions on Covid misinformation • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Facebook is turning to its “supreme court” to decide whether to end restrictions on Covid misinformation, more than two years after the company first started to take special action on posts promoting falsehoods about the disease.

The social network is considering changing the way it deals with such misinformation by, for example, labelling it as false or demoting it in algorithmic ranking, rather than simply removing it from the site. It wants to make the change now, according to head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, “as many, though not all, countries around the world seek to return to more normal life”.

But in order to avoid making the wrong choice when “resolving the inherent tensions between free expression and safety”, Facebook will turn to its oversight board, the arms-length self-regulator set up in May 2020, to decide on what the future moderation policy should be.

…By requesting an opinion, Facebook is not committing to honour the judgment issued by the board, prompting some to question whether the site was simply seeking cover for making a decision likely to be broadly unpopular with a large section of society whatever it chooses.

«

A good way to kick the topic into the long grass for three or four months at the minimum. By which time it should be clear whether Covid is still a substantial problem for Facebook’s most valuable users (in North America and Europe).
unique link to this extract


FTC sues Meta to block acquisition of VR fitness app maker Within • Financial Times

Dave Lee:

»

The US competition regulator is suing to block Meta from acquiring a virtual reality fitness start-up, accusing the social networking giant of “illegally” trying to “buy its way to the top” of the nascent metaverse sector.

The Federal Trade Commission’s case centres on a deal struck last year by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, to acquire Within, the creator of a popular virtual reality fitness game, Supernatural. The app is one of the most popular on Meta’s virtual reality system, Meta Quest. The amount of the transaction was not disclosed.

The FTC, led by Biden appointee and prominent Big Tech critic Lina Khan, has now moved to stop the takeover, accusing Meta of using its power to cement its dominant position in the growing market.

“Instead of competing on the merits, Meta is trying to buy its way to the top,” said John Newman, the competition regulator’s deputy director for competition.

“Meta already owns a best-selling virtual reality fitness app, and it had the capabilities to compete even more closely with Within’s popular Supernatural app. But Meta chose to buy market position instead of earning it on the merits. This is an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”

…Meta said the FTC’s complaint was based on “ideology and speculation, not evidence”.

…“By attacking this deal in a 3-2 vote, the FTC is sending a chilling message to anyone who wishes to innovate in VR. We are confident that our acquisition of Within will be good for people, developers, and the VR space.”

«

Not forgetting that Meta is mad keen to do as much VR as it possibly can, so this block – orchestrated by Khan – will be extra galling.
unique link to this extract


Newspaper and magazine publishers are freaking out over soaring paper prices • Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»

Publishers around the globe are drawing up worst-case scenario plans amid the soaring cost and scarcity of paper that threatens the future of their print newspapers and magazines.

Newsprint in the UK was priced at around 360 pounds ($426) per ton in the first quarter of 2021; now the price has almost doubled to around £710 ($841), said Rick Stunt, group paper director at DMG media, which prints The Daily Mail and dozens of regional titles. It represents a 40% premium on the historic high of £510 per ton, he said.

In the US, the price has risen by a similar percentage, to around $800 a ton, according to Stunt.

“These are big increases. We don’t usually get this over an 18-month period,” said Stunt. “In the past, really big increases were about 20 to 25%.”

As demand for paper declined over the last 20 to 30 years amid the digital revolution, paper mills across the world shut down. Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and the labour shortages and supply chain snafus that followed. Added to an already tight market, demand for cardboard packages soared amid the ecommerce boom. This year, rising inflation and ballooning energy costs have made an already bad situation worse for paper supply.

“From an industry perspective it’s a disaster because you’ve got no choice but to reduce the amount of pages you print, choose to increase your cover price, or a combination thereof — and that will reduce demand,” said an executive at the UK’s Daily Telegraph who said they were confident they could absorb the cost by passing on the price to subscribers.

«

Never rains but it pours for physical papers these days. The ad slowdown is coming too, and that has them very worried as well: a perfect storm to add to the one that has been ongoing for years now.
unique link to this extract


Google is bringing back Street View to India • Money Control

Vikas Sn:

»

Google announced on July 27 that it is relaunching Street View on Google Maps in India, more than a decade after the service was suspended in the country for failing to secure the requisite security clearances from the government.

This time around, the internet giant is partnering with two local firms – 3D mapping content and geospatial solutions firm Genesys International and IT services firm Tech Mahindra – to offer the service to Indian consumers.

Street View’s India rollout is the first time that Google has tied up with local partners to offer the service to consumers, a model it hopes to scale in other parts of the world as well.

Google said the service will initially be available in 10 cities including Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Nashik, Vadodara, Ahmednagar, and Amritsar with plans to expand it to more than 50 cities by the end of 2022.

Users will be able to access this feature by opening the Google Maps app, zooming into a road in any of these cities and tapping the area they want to see. The idea is to provide users with an experience as good as walking down the road on their desktop or mobile phone.

The company claims that it has licensed fresh imagery from its local partners spanning over 150,000 km across these ten cities. It also plans to offer Street View APIs to local developers to help them deliver richer mapping experiences in their services.

…Google, which typically collects street-level imagery for the service by itself through cars and bikes fitted with cameras, had to take the licensing route in India due to the country’s recent geospatial policy which requires that only local entities acquire, collect, store and own the imagery data.

«

Possibly saves it a ton of money not having to do all the scanning, and just licensing it. India’s approach to keeping its data at home is novel.
unique link to this extract


Crown court sentencing remarks to be televised for first time • The Guardian

Haroon Siddique:

»

The Old Bailey will be opened up to cameras on Thursday as sentencing remarks from a crown court case in England and Wales are broadcast for the first time.

The move, which comes after a change in the law, is intended to help the public get a better understanding of how sentencing decisions are taken. Previously, proceedings have only been broadcast at the supreme court (since its 2009 inauguration) and the court of appeal (since 2009).

Any crown court sentencing where cameras are allowed will be shown on a dedicated YouTube channel hosted by Sky News, which will have a 10-second delay for live proceedings to avoid any breach of restrictions or errors. Other broadcasters can also apply to broadcast sentencing remarks.

The sentencing at the Old Bailey of Ben Oliver, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his grandfather, David Oliver, in south London, is expected to be the first case shown if the judge agrees.

The lord chancellor, Dominic Raab, said: “Opening up the courtroom to cameras to film the sentencing of some the country’s most serious offenders will improve transparency and reinforce confidence in the justice system. The public will now be able to see justice handed down, helping them understand better the complex decisions judges make.”

«

Certainly novel for this government to be interested in people understanding judges making complex decisions. As a reminder, the business secretary Kwasi Karteng once said “many people” thought judges were biased over Brexit; he wasn’t suggesting those people were wrong, either.
unique link to this extract


Monkeypox is in Bay Area wastewater • MIT Technology Review

Hana Kiros:

»

Last month, Stanford’s Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, or SCAN, added monkeypox to the suite of viruses it checks wastewater for daily. Since then, monkeypox has been detected in 10 of the 11 sewer systems that SCAN tests, including those in Sacramento, Palo Alto, and several other cities in California’s Bay Area.

As of July 21, the US had recorded 2,593 monkeypox cases. Globally, the virus has been detected in 74 countries—68 of which have not historically reported monkeypox. On July 23, the WHO took the step of declaring the outbreak a global health emergency.

SCAN began to monitor California wastewater for Covid-19 in 2020. It’s the only public effort in the US to test if monkeypox is detectable in the shower, sink, and toilet water that is sent to wastewater treatment plants for decontamination. Extracting genetic material from the solids absorbed in raw, unprocessed sewage can provide a community-level look at where a virus or bacteria has spread, and how prevalent an outbreak is. 

Over the past two years, the concentration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater has mirrored trends in Covid-19 cases confirmed by testing individuals. In late 2021, wastewater surveillance suggested the omicron variant was prevalent in the US much earlier than clinical testing reported.

«

Wastewater testing is an underrated technique, but the UK seems to be planning to scale it down.
unique link to this extract


M1 Mac Pro reportedly scrapped as Apple plans M2 push this autumn • MacWorld

Michael Simon:

»

[Bloomberg writer Mark] Gurman said Apple will be updating both the M1 Mac mini and the higher-end Intel version with M2 and M2 Pro chips, respectively, but doesn’t think the machines will have a redesign, as has been rumored. He said it would be “odd” for Apple to introduce a new Mac mini design following the launch of the Mac Studio. 

As for the long-awaited Mac Pro with Apple silicon, Gurman reveals that Apple planned to launch an M1-based Mac Pro “months ago” but “scrapped” it to work on a model with an M2. He doesn’t expect Apple to launch the high-end workstation until next year as a result of production and supply issues.

Finally, Gurman thinks Face ID on the Mac is a long way off. Despite the addition of the notch, he doesn’t expect it to come to the M2 MacBook Pro anytime soon. In fact, he thinks it’ll come to the higher-end iMac models first. That could come with the M3 iMac, since Gurman thinks Apple will skip the M2 chip in the all-in-one machine.

«

An M1-based Mac Pro did seem like an absolute shoo-in for a while, when the new M1 chips (Pro, Max, Ultra) were announced, but the introduction of the M2 made it absolutely obvious that there was no chance. Fairly sure that a specced-out Studio will do the job for most people in the meantime, since it’s far more powerful than anything that’s been out there for ages.
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.1847: Zuckerberg tells Meta to tighten up, Covid is Wuhan market zoonosis, time to kill the leap second?, and more


The price of British fish and chips is set to soar, because much of the fish used comes from… Russia? CC-licensed photo by mangocyborgmangocyborg 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. Unsalted. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Mark Zuckerberg braces Meta employees for ‘intense period’ • The Verge

Alex Heath and David Pierce:

»

“Hi there,” the first prerecorded employee question started. “I’m Gary, and I’m located in Chicago.” His question: would Meta Days — extra days off introduced during the pandemic — continue in 2023?

Zuckerberg appeared visibly frustrated. “Um… all right,” he stammered. He’d just explained that he thought the economy was headed for one of the “worst downturns that we’ve seen in recent history.” He’d already frozen hiring in many areas. TikTok was eating their lunch, and it would take over a year and a half before they had “line of sight” to overtaking it.

And Gary from Chicago was asking about extra vacation days?

“Given my tone in the rest of the Q&A, you can probably imagine what my reaction to this is,” Zuckerberg said. After this year, Meta Days were canceled.

For Zuckerberg, the company he founded 18 years ago was facing existential threats on multiple fronts. Both Facebook and Instagram were being rearchitected to compete with TikTok. Apple’s iOS privacy settings had disrupted the company’s once-stable ad business, costing it billions in revenue. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s bet on the metaverse was a money pit that he didn’t see turning a profit until at least the end of the decade.

But first, Gary from Chicago. As the all-hands escalated, it became clear that Zuckerberg saw that fixing his company’s culture was critical to surviving the tough times ahead. Two years into the pandemic, his company was in a very different, more vulnerable place. It even had a new name.

The days of coddling employees would be over.

“Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,” Zuckerberg said on the June 30th call, according to a recording obtained by The Verge. “And part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.”

«

Zuckerberg growing angry with those who tend to his creation? That seems like a first. But things are changing…
unique link to this extract


Facebook’s TikTok-like redesign marks the sunset of social networking era • Axios

Scott Rosenberg:

»

Under the social network model, which piggybacked on the rise of smartphones to mold billions of users’ digital experiences, keeping up with your friends’ posts served as the hub for everything you might aim to do online.

Now Facebook wants to shape your online life around the algorithmically-sorted preferences of millions of strangers around the globe.

That’s how TikTok sorts the videos it shows users, and that’s largely how Facebook will now organize its home screen.

The dominant player in social media is transforming itself into a kind of digital mass media, in which the reactions of hordes of anonymous users, processed by machine learning, drive the selection of your content.

Facebook and its rivals call this a “discovery engine” because it reliably spits out recommendations of posts from everywhere that might hold your attention.

But it also looks a lot like a mutant TV with an infinite number of context-free channels that flash in and out of focus at high speed.

That’s what younger users right now seem to prefer, and it’s where Facebook expects the growth of its business to lie, now that new privacy rules from Apple and regulators’ threats around the world have made its existing ad-targeting model precarious.

«

unique link to this extract


Coronavirus jumped to humans at least twice at market in Wuhan, China • EurekAlert!

»

elemental to understanding pandemic origins is pinpointing not just where, but how, a pathogen successfully jumps from a non-human animal host to human, known as a zoonotic event.

“I think there’s been consensus that this virus did in fact come from the Huanan Market, but a strong case for multiple introductions hasn’t been made by anyone else yet,” said Joel Wertheim, senior author of the study that posits the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, jumped from animals to humans at least twice and perhaps as many as two dozen times.

According to researchers, two evolutionary branches of the virus were present early in the pandemic, differentiated only by two differences in nucleotides — the basic building blocks of DNA and RNA.

Lineage B, which included samples from people who worked at and visited the market, became globally dominant. Lineage A spread within China, and included samples from people pinpointed only to the vicinity the market. If the viruses in lineage A evolved from those in lineage B, or vice versa, Wertheim said this would suggest SARS-CoV-2 jumped only once from animals to humans.

But work by Wertheim and collaborators found that the earliest SARS-CoV-2 genomes were inconsistent with a single zoonotic jump into humans. Rather, the first zoonotic transmission likely occurred with lineage B viruses in late-November 2019 while the introduction of lineage A into humans likely occurred within weeks of the first event. Both strains were present at the market simultaneously.

Researchers arrived at this conclusion by deciphering the evolutionary rate of viral genomes to deduce whether or not the two lineages diverged from a single common ancestor in humans. They used a technique called molecular clock analysis and an epidemic simulation tool called FAVITES, invented by Wertheim team member Niema Moshiri, PhD, an assistant professor of computer science at Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and study co-author.

«

The dual lineage data, which has been known for a long time, had always been a puzzle. Now they seem to have worked it out: two instances where the virus crossed from animals to humans, at almost the same time. This paper looks at the epidemiological spread related to the market; this looks at the genomes. There are also some tweet threads by authors of the papers.

This will put an end to all the claims about lab leaks, right?
unique link to this extract


Drought fears after England suffers driest spell since 1976 • The Times

Ali Mitib, Anna Lombardi, Venetia Menzies:

»

England is facing a drought next month as analysis shows that the first six months of this year were the driest since 1976.

The government and water companies will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss potential hosepipe bans and restrictions on farmers under a drought plan.

The country is not yet in widespread drought but most of England except for the northwest has moved into a state of “prolonged dry weather”, the step before drought is declared, the Environment Agency said.

The last time drought was declared was in 2018.

England and Wales recorded 330.9mm of rain from January to June, the least since the summer of 1976, a Times analysis of Met Office data shows. It was the 12th lowest rainfall in the period since 1900.

The figure is a sharp drop from previous years and comes after a drier than average winter. The forecaster recorded 471.7 mm of rainfall from January to June in 2021 and 455.7 mm in the year before that.

Mark McCarthy, a science manager at the Met Office, said it recorded a succession of drier-than-average months in England and Wales. Only February registered more rain than average.

He said Atlantic rain systems had moved further north this year, hitting Iceland and Scandinavia but missing large parts of the rest of Europe.

«

There’s a graph of rainfall for the first six months of the year, and to be honest it looks like a random walk. But having the hottest-ever days plus the least rain starts to look like part of a pattern.
unique link to this extract


Can ring vaccination contain monkeypox in the US? • WIRED

Maryn McKenna:

»

In the last years of the campaign to eradicate smallpox, the health workers fanning out to the disease’s stubborn hot spots developed a strategy: Official reports or gossip relayed by missionaries and village kids would identify someone carrying the disease’s telltale blisters. The health workers would track down the unlucky person, and then launch into quick interviews with them: What did they do everyday? Where did they go? Who were their closest contacts? Then they would find those people, assess whether they were infected, and repeat the process, rapidly constructing a map of an invisible network nestled inside a village’s visible society.

Their final action would be to vaccinate everyone within the network, drawing an immunological barrier around the group and blocking the virus’s transmission to the rest of the village. This ring vaccination strategy, as it came to be called, used fewer vaccine doses and required fewer personnel than the mass vaccination campaigns that preceded it. It closed the loop around the last natural case of smallpox in 1977, and allowed it to be eradicated—the only human disease for which that’s happened—in 1980.

Four decades on, the World Health Organization and major governments, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have said ring vaccination is the preferred strategy for controlling the new pox epidemic: monkeypox. It began spreading in Europe in May and has now caused more than 15,500 cases worldwide, including more than 10,000 in Europe and almost 2,600 in the US. The strategy makes sense, hypothetically: Compared to trying to vaccinate everyone, ring vaccination is a faster, cheaper, more targeted means of getting a pathogen under control. But whether ring vaccination is achievable now for monkeypox is an open question.

«

We can hope, but the CDC didn’t cover itself in glory during Covid – it’s become too politicised, not focused enough on expertise – and seems to have been caught flatfooted by this. (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract


Half of Britain’s fish and chip shops could close due to soaring prices • The Sun

Natasha Clark:

»

Half of Britain’s 10,500 fish and chip shops could close due to rocketing costs.

As many as 5,000 face being battered by crippling tariffs and the soaring prices of ingredients, government figures reveal. The combination means the price of a fish and chip supper could rise from an average £8.50 to £11.50, and hake and other types of white fish could replace traditional cod and haddock shipped in from overseas.

The latest blow came last week when ministers pressed ahead with a 35% tariff on all seafood imported from Russia in a bid to hammer President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine. Around a third of all white fish imported to the UK comes from Russia, which controls up to 45% of the global supply.

Lancashire chip shop owner Andrew Crook, of the National Federation of Fish Friers, said his cod supplies have already risen from £8 to £14 a kilo.

He warned: “These extra tariffs will push thousands of shops over the edge.”

The Sun understands the issue split the Cabinet — with Boris Johnson insisting standing with Ukraine was worth the price.

«

Didn’t know that about Russia’s role in fish supply.

The move was postponed in April to “discuss the potential effect” with seafood firms. Wonder what they said? Anyway, here’s what Seafood Source says:

»

The United Kingdom is heavily reliant on imported whitefish to meet demand, sourcing 432,000 metric tons (MT) with a value of almost £800m ($1bn, €952.1m) in 2020. According to U.K. public body Seafish, the United Kingdom imported 48,000 metric tons (MT) of whitefish directly from Russia in 2020. A considerable proportion of Chinese whitefish imports was also of Russian origin.

«

Can’t find a figure for the UK’s total consumption of whitefish, though. Notice in passing the dig at Johnson as not caring about (y)our local chippie.
unique link to this extract


Zimbabwe launches gold coins as legal tender to tackle hyperinflation • Sky News

»

Zimbabwe has launched new gold coins to be sold to the public in a bid to tackle chronic hyperinflation.

The gold coins – called Mosi-oa-Tunya – will have “liquid asset status”, meaning they can be converted to cash, traded locally and internationally, and used for transactions, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said.

People can only trade the coins for cash after holding them for at least 180 days.

Zimbabwean economist Prosper Chitambara said: “The government is trying to moderate the very high demand for the US dollar because this high demand is not being matched by supply.”

According to the International Monetary Fund, inflation in Zimbabwe reached 837% (year on year) in July 2020 and, although tighter fiscal policy helped reduce it to 60.7% by the end of last year, it remains in the high double-digits.

This wipes away the value of people’s savings – many people saw their savings wiped out by the 5 billion% inflation seen in 2008, according to the IMF.

This insecurity affects trust in the local currency, the Zimbabwe dollar – many retailers don’t accept it and many Zimbabweans prefer to use US dollars for savings or daily transactions.

«

Not being able to spend it until you’ve held it for a while is a smart way to reduce the velocity of the money in circulation (a factor in inflation). But six months is a long time to hold on to it in a country where savings have been wiped out. (Also, where are all the people saying “they should have used bitcoin”?)
unique link to this extract


Eutelsat boss battles to convince investors of OneWeb deal • Financial Times

Leila Abboud, Jim Pickard, Peggy Hollinger and Harriet Agnew:

»

Eutelsat’s chief executive Eva Berneke was on Tuesday battling to convince shareholders in the French satellite group of the case for combining with UK start-up OneWeb, admitting that the merger marked a “big change” for a company prized for its dividends.

Shares in Paris-listed Eutelsat have tumbled more than 30% since the group revealed on Monday that it was in talks over an all-share deal with OneWeb, a satellite group backed by SoftBank and rescued from bankruptcy in 2020 by the UK government and Indian telecoms billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal.

Announcing the deal on Tuesday, Eutelsat said it would suspend its dividend for two years to plough investment into OneWeb’s low Earth orbit satellite network. Billed as a merger of equals, the companies cast the tie-up as a step towards creating a European champion better positioned to compete with billionaire space entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

Eutelsat and OneWeb said in a joint statement that the proposed transaction would create a stronger player to offer space connectivity for everything from cruise ships to rural areas by combining Eutelsat’s fleet of 36 geostationary satellites with OneWeb’s constellation of 648 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

«

Shareholders are fleeing this (the fall in share price reflects falling belief in total profit the company will make over its lifetime).

OneWeb really is something of an anchor.
unique link to this extract


Why one critical second can wreak havoc on the internet • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»

Since 1972, the world’s timekeeping authorities have added a leap second 27 times to the global clock known as the International Atomic Time (TAI). Instead of 23:59:59 changing to 0:0:0 at midnight, an extra 23:59:60 is tucked in. That causes a lot of indigestion for computers, which rely on a network of precise timekeeping servers to schedule events and to record the exact sequence of activities like adding data to a database.

The temporal tweak causes more problems – like internet outages – than benefits, they say. And dealing with leap seconds ultimately is futile, the group argues, since the Earth’s rotational speed hasn’t actually changed much historically.

“We are predicting that if we just stick to the TAI without leap second observation, we should be good for at least 2,000 years,” research scientist Ahmad Byagowi of Facebook parent company Meta said via email. “Perhaps at that point we might need to consider a correction.*

The tech giants and two key agencies agree that it’s time to ditch the leap second. Those are the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and its French equivalent, the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM).

This governmental support is critical, given that ultimately it is governments and scientists – not technology companies – that are in charge of the world’s global clock system.  

The leap second change triggered a massive Reddit outage in 2012, as well as related problems at Mozilla, LinkedIn, Yelp and airline booking service Amadeus. In 2017, a leap second glitch at Cloudflare knocked a fraction of the network infrastructure company’s customers’ servers offline.

«

Google, Microsoft, Meta and Amazon are all behind this. So we’d stop making our timepieces accord with the Earth’s rotation because it upsets our computers. But.. though the drift wouldn’t be big, it would be there. Does that mean we change the times of dawn?
unique link to this extract


How Generation Z became obsessed with subtitles • Daily Telegraph

Guy Kelly:

»

If you ever stray onto social media, it’s likely you’ve seen the memes. Screenshots from Stranger Things, frozen with a wonderfully descriptive sound-effect caption at the bottom of the screen. “Eldritch thrumming,” is one (eldritch being a synonym for “supernatural”). “Desiccated withering” is another, plus “wet writhing” and “sibilant trilling”.

In the spirit of popular “no-context” Twitter accounts (accounts devoted to the posting of random screenshots from films or TV shows), the images are often funniest without explanation – or, in the case of Stranger Things, simply pointing out that each one would make a fine band name.

The novelist Jonathan Coe probably expressed it best. “Whoever writes the Stranger Things subtitles is definitely a frustrated poet,” he tweeted. A frustrated poet, or at least somebody slowly working through the thesaurus entry for “moist” and thoroughly enjoying it.

Plenty is written about the death of reading among Generation Z, but those critics clearly aren’t taking into account the millions of words they consume every year while watching TV and films. A 2021 survey by the captioning charity Stagetext found that in the 18-25 age group, four out of five use subtitles all or part of the time, despite having fewer hearing problems than older generations. By contrast, less than a quarter of those aged between 56 and 75 said they watch with captions on.

Explanations for this sudden surge in read-watching among young people are many and varied. Ranging from US audiences increasingly watching British shows with impenetrable-to-their-ears regional accents, such as Peaky Blinders or Derry Girls, to the frequent complaint that modern dramatic actors – who aim for realism over perfect diction but land squarely at “incoherent murmuring” – are just too mumbly for even perfect ears to follow without assistance.

«

I suspect American viewers had to have Derry Girls on subtitles, and even then probably struggled. (“Catch yourself on!”) But the key point is that bit towards the end: the incoherent murmuring and mumbling. It’s the audio equivalent of Game Of Thrones’s battles carried out at night under poor lighting: bloody hard to figure out what’s going on.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1846: TikTok’s victory, Apple’s case against phone cases, werewolf erotica gigwork, Intel wins MediaTek deal, and more


During last week’s heatwave, a blackout was only averted in London by buying electricity from Belgium at eyewatering prices. CC-licensed photo by Eduardo Zárate 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. How much again? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How London paid a record price to dodge a blackout • Bloomberg via The Washington Post

Javier Blas:

»

Last week, unbeknown to many outside the power industry, parts of London came remarkably close to a blackout — even as it was recovering from the hottest day in British history. On July 20, surging electricity demand collided with a bottleneck in the grid, leaving the eastern part of the British capital briefly short of power. Only by paying a record high £9,724.54 (about $11,685) per megawatt hour — more than 5,000% higher than the typical price — did the UK avoid homes and businesses going dark. That was the nosebleed cost to persuade Belgium to crank up ageing electricity plants to send energy across the English Channel.

The crisis, which quietly played out within the control room of the British electricity system, shows the growing vulnerability of energy transportation networks — power grids and gas and oil pipelines — across much of the industrialized world after years of low investment and not-in-my-backyard opposition.

On most days, the bottlenecks mean distorted costs. Sometimes, it results in sky-high prices where energy is in short supply when it is needed. At other occasions, prices can tumble to zero, or go negative, when producers cannot sell their power into a congested transmission system. Increasingly, it puts the whole system at risk. Talk to most industry executives and you quickly get the sense that we are sleepwalking into more blackouts. Discuss the problems with the engineers who manage the system day-in, day-out, and that danger appears even closer.

The £9,724.54 price, settled between noon and 1:00 p.m. on July 20 via the so-called NEMO interconnector that links the UK with Belgium, was the highest Britain has ever paid to import electricity, nearly five times higher than the previous record. The absurdity of that level is apparent when comparing it with the year-to-date average for UK spot electricity: £178 per megawatt hour.

“It was an absolute shock,” says Phil Hewitt, who has been monitoring electricity prices for over two decades and is now executive director of EnAppSys Ltd, a consultancy. “It was the price to keep the lights on. The security of supply was at stake.”

The actual amount of electricity bought at the record price was tiny: enough to supply just eight houses for a year. More power was bought at slightly lower prices. The payments, nonetheless, highlight desperation: buying across the channel was, for 60 minutes or so, the only option to balance the system.

«

The supply exists, but there hasn’t been enough investment in the grid. In its way, the same story as Texas. And it’s going to get worse.
unique link to this extract


Apple politely explains why iPhone cases are a waste of money • ZDNet

Chris Matyszczyk:

»

Have you ever seen an Apple executive wrap their iPhone in a case? No, you haven’t. But even that example hasn’t been sufficient. So the company has now released an ad, surely intended to help you wean yourself off your unaesthetic, anti-aesthetic behavior.

An iPhone 13 is perched on the edge of a table. It has no case. It begins to ring.

You know what happens when an iPhone that’s lying on a hard surface rings on vibrate, don’t you? It vibrates. It begins to move. Just like a salad spinner if you leave it spinning on your kitchen countertop.

Here, though, you know what’s about to happen. The portentous music helps you along.

Down goes the iPhone.

Do we see what state it’s in once it hits the floor? We don’t. But we do hear it keeps on ringing, so we have to infer nothing untoward has happened.

“iPhone 13 with Ceramic Shield. Tougher than any smartphone glass. Relax, it’s iPhone,” says Apple.

You see? Apple is sending you a message. Take off your cloaks. Be not afraid. Remove your veil and live to the fullest.

If only you could relax enough to add a tiny amount to this world’s beauty. To counteract all its ugliness, you understand.

«

Haven’t used a case for years and years. Have dropped it, and the glass is slightly cracked. So put a protector on the glass. Slightly cracked that. Life goes on.
unique link to this extract


A goldmine of flubbing bloopers • The Guardian

Rick Burin on the DVDs that are floating around, samizdat-like, of early film stars fluffing their lines:

»

[Humphrey] Bogart and George Brent seem prickly and short-tempered, while [James] Cagney laughs off his mistakes. Pat O’Brien appears to enjoy slipping up: whether he’s forgetting dialogue, choking on a drink, or pulling off his own hairpiece during a fight. [Bette] Davis, meanwhile, is engaged in a running battle with the wardrobe department. She trips over her costume, complains she can’t move her head without her wig falling off and spoils an otherwise exemplary take by becoming caught on a co-star’s buttonhole. Edward G Robinson, so frequently cast as a pitiless gangster, looks most affable, often grinning widely after a gaffe.

“The Breakdown reels are a very insightful view into the overall spirit of Warner Bros in its formative years,” says Warner’s George Feltenstein. “No other studio could let their hair down and have a little fun at their own expense the way this company did.”

Much of the material is extraordinary. There’s Gary Cooper breaking off from his Oscar-winning performance in Sergeant York to wonder, “That’s sure some accent I’ve got,” and Carole Lombard destroying the delicate artifice of cinema as she sits down to a supposedly sumptuous screen meal. “The food’s too tough to cut,” she says, laughing, “and it’s not warm.”

«

Some of these clips are floating around on Twitter: here’s a quick collection, in a tweet..
unique link to this extract


Inside the global gig economy of werewolf erotica • Rest of World

Viola Zhou and Meaghan Tobin:

»

Georgina Boyes-Macintosh loves to read. The mother of four from New Zealand recently raced through a steamy romance novel series about love and betrayal among a territorial pack of werewolves in the pine forests of the American West. But she couldn’t just pop into Whitcoulls, the local bookstore chain, to find out what happened to the protagonist’s secret baby with her unfaithful werewolf ex-husband. She could only access the next installment by spending coins earned on the Asia-based social reading app Dreame, where new chapters arrive weekly. “I read as a form of escapism from reality,” Boyes-Macintosh told Rest of World.

The central characters of many of Dreame’s most beloved werewolf novels often inhabit Americanized settings, but the authors don’t typically live in the U.S. Rather, they come from countries like Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, and China – and often write novels in their second or third language. One student in Bangladesh, who writes under the pen name Anamika, spends five hours a day, seven days per week writing romance novels. She ends each chapter with a cliffhanger to keep readers hooked. Each book earns her up to $300, along with adoring messages from Western fans. “They are very sweet,” she said. “Their comments are my encouragement.” 

The emerging web novel industry spans the globe, taking a business model from Asia, assembling a global supply chain of authors in lower-income countries, and paying them to churn out thousands of words a day for English-speaking readers in the West. Rest of World spoke to four current and former employees at these platforms, who described how the art of novel writing is broken down into a formula to be followed: take a popular theme like werewolves, sprinkle it with certain tropes like a forbidden romance, and write as many chapters as you can. Some novels have hundreds of chapters, most ending on a cliffhanger to keep readers engaged and eager to read on.

«

Very Dickensian – literally: he wrote his books in serialised chapters, often leaving cliffhangers to ensure readers would come back for more. If he’d been smart enough to include a werewolf or two, who knows how widely he might be remembered now.
unique link to this extract


TikTok won • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick:

»

over the weekend, Meta’s war on TikTok was taken a step further. The Verge reported that public Instagram content will be “remixable” by default. Public photos on the app can be pulled seamlessly into Reels. It’s obvious that this is Meta’s attempt at competing with TikTok’s fairly revolutionary “duet” feature, which allows videos to be pulled into other videos, like you would a quote tweet or a reblog. But the fact that Instagram has set remixes as the default is already causing chaos on the app. Photographers, in particular, are not happy about this, but the feature also seems tailor-made to abuse and harass people. One person told me they’ve already seen the feature being used to populate a catfish account.

Meta seems to have correctly identified what people like about TikTok — short-form videos, remixable video and audio editing tools that works on mobile, and creators that make stuff rather than influence things — but they’re still trying to jam those features into an ecosystem that wasn’t built for them. Namely, Meta doesn’t have an app that anyone makes stuff for anymore. Not in a way that could meaningfully compete with TikTok’s completely democratized and seemingly-infinite army of (unpaid) creators who are ready and willing to jump on whatever’s trending.

In fact, let’s play a little thought experiment. If you wanted to take out your phone and either snap a picture or record a video and have it be seen by as many people as humanly possible, where would you upload it? Depending on how you use the internet, I’m sure there’s a couple of apps that just cycled through your head. But I’m going to guess Facebook was not anywhere near the top of that list. And I’m going to guess that if Instagram was on that list, it’s not nearly as high up on it as it would have been if we had done that experiment three or four years ago.

«

The new Instagram layout is not popular. Kylie Jenner, who in 2018 knocked a $1bn hole in Snapchat’s value by complaining she didn’t like its new design, has complained on Instagram: “Make Instagram Instagram again. Stop trying to be TikTok I just want to see cut photos of my friends, Sincerely Everyone. PLEASEEEEEE”. Ignore her at your peril, Zuckerberg.
unique link to this extract


How crypto is evolving the future of books and publishing • Esquire

Elle Griffin:

»

What if you could own a stake in Harry Potter?

What if the book series functioned like a publicly traded company where individuals could “buy stock” in it, and as the franchise grows, those “stocks” become more valuable? If this were the case, someone who purchased just three% of Harry Potter back when there was only one book would be a billionaire now.

Just imagine how that would affect the reading experience. Suddenly a trip to Barnes & Noble becomes an investment opportunity. Early readers could spot “the next big thing” and make a $100 contribution that becomes $10,000 or even $100,000 if the book’s popularity grows. If readers could own a percentage of the franchise, they might then be incentivized to help that book succeed. They could start a TikTok account to promote the book via BookTok, or use their talents as filmmakers to adapt it to the screen. All of this stands to increase the value of their original investment.

“Imagine when all of an author’s readers can suddenly make money as well,” says ​​Margarita Guerrero, head of partner and publishing relations at the publishing startup Readl. “How much more would they be engaged?”

This is the future an emerging number of publishing startups are after—aiming to change the value of a book from a $10 Amazon purchase to a $100 investment opportunity, while creating a market of readers excited to see the books they love succeed.

It might not work—finding readers (and investors) will be a challenge—but if they succeed, their vision could bode very well for the author who, in this scenario, could retain a percentage ownership of these “stocks” and earn value alongside their investors—just like Jeff Bezos retains a percentage of Amazon stock and grows richer as his company’s shares gain value.

«

“Finding readers (and investors) will be a challenge”? In the words of the famous recipe for hare stew, “first, catch your hare“. These pipe dreams for crypto are just barking. If you wrote the next Harry Potter, you wouldn’t want people on your coattails (JK Rowling’s agent excepted, on 15% probably).

It’s just mad. You can already write fan fiction, and ask for donations. Or publish an ebook on Amazon. All simple. Not the hackable madness of “web3”.
unique link to this extract


Intel’s turnaround and US chipmaking get a boost with MediaTek deal • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»

Intel has signed up Taiwanese smartphone chip designer MediaTek as a major ally in its effort to reclaim its chipmaking leadership and ultimately restore the United States’ processor manufacturing prowess.

The partnership, revealed Monday, is important for the establishment of Intel Foundry Services, an effort to dramatically expand and transform Intel’s chipmaking business by making chips for other companies. Intel lost its lead with years of manufacturing problems that stalled it during the ascent of two Asian foundries, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Samsung.

“MediaTek has been a close partner with TSMC, so it is a pretty big deal,” Tirias Research analyst Kevin Krewell said of Intel’s MediaTek partnership.

The deal comes at an opportune time for Intel. It could help draw attention to the importance of US semiconductor manufacturing, the issue at the heart of the $52bn in CHIPS Act spending that Intel is trying to persuade Congress to pass. Intel has been lobbying for the subsidies, postponing a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Ohio manufacturing site where Intel is investing at least $20bn.

«

Interesting win for Intel. Maybe we should coin a phrase, like “chips are the new oil” or something. Talking of which…
unique link to this extract


Computer chip shortage hits Detroit • The Washington Post

Jeanne Whalen:

»

Detroit’s experience shows how thoroughly the nearly two-year-old semiconductor shortage has upended manufacturing — and foisted change on one of America’s most beloved consumer markets.

…Gone are the days when buyers could drop in on a dealership and drive home in a cherry-red convertible packed with their favorite features. Buying a car now means placing an order and waiting, sometimes for months, for the vehicle to arrive.

Also gone are the days when buyers could count on finding affordable wheels. The average U.S. list price for a new car has risen by 20% over the past two years, to $45,975, according to data provider Cox Automotive. The average for a used car has soared even more — by 40%, to $28,012.

Those spikes have been a major factor fueling inflation, which hit a 40-year high last month. A new car is increasingly “a luxury product for wealthy people,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. “For a $60,000- or $70,000-a-year household, you can’t afford a new car payment.”

The global auto industry produced 8.2 million fewer vehicles last year than it would have without the chip shortage, according to the consulting firm AlixPartners. And the outlook for 2022 remains bleak, with automakers projected to sell just 14.4 million new cars in the United States, down from roughly 17 million in 2019.

…When an automaker is missing one piece of the puzzle, it can suddenly halt production and force dozens of suppliers to idle their factories, leaving everyone frustrated, said Thomas Kowal, president of Seraph, a global consulting firm with Troy, Mich., offices that have been busy advising carmakers and suppliers how to navigate the shortages.

An automaker might suddenly tell suppliers, “Hey, we don’t need to run production on Friday,” Kowal said. Then on Saturday it might demand that suppliers haul their workers in to churn out parts over the weekend. “It’s like it’s a yo-yo, constantly,” Kowal said.

«

Wonder if that, plus the spike in fuel prices, will hurry the shift to EVs. No indication from anyone interviewed in the story – but Tesla was the only carmaker to sell more this past quarter.
unique link to this extract


Eutelsat shares tumble after confirming OneWeb deal talks • Financial Times

Leila Abboud, Peggy Hollinger, Arash Massoudi and Harriet Agnew:

»

French satellite operator Eutelsat has confirmed it is in discussions to acquire smaller rival OneWeb in an all-share deal designed to help the groups challenge billionaire space entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

Under the terms being discussed, the OneWeb and Eutelsat tie-up is being branded as a merger of equals with each set of shareholders ending up with 50% of the combined company. OneWeb shareholders would tender their shares to Eutelsat in exchange for Eutelsat shares.

Eutelsat’s share price tumbled more than 17% to close at €8.57 on Monday as investors balked at the prospect of a deal.

If completed, the combination would address Eutelsat’s need for growth to offset a declining satellite video business and OneWeb’s requirement for $2bn to $3bn in investment to complete its network and update its technology, according to people close to the talks.

“The transaction would represent a logical next step in the successful partnership between Eutelsat and OneWeb,” said Eutelsat, which bought a 23% stake in OneWeb in 2021.

But Markus Kaussen, an analyst at Swiss asset manager BWM, which is a top-15 shareholder in Eutelsat, said a deal would “turn the investment case [for Eutelsat] 180 degrees”.

“Right now, it is a boring value stock for income-oriented investors with high free cash flow and high dividends,” he said. “If it were to merge with OneWeb, it would become a growth business hoping that an expensive bet will pay off in the future, rather than an established business with known economics.”

«

Poor OneWeb: nobody loves it, possibly not even its own people. But a 50-50 structure won’t work. I once worked for Business magazine, a joint venture between Conde Nast and the Financial Times, two very different publishers. It was calamitous: any success was bitterly claimed, and any failure blamed on the other side. It failed. There’s a reason analysts shake their heads at the phrase “joint venture”.
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.1845: inside Newport’s chip fab, FBI concern over Huawei kit, Musk and Brin split over wife, AI engineer fired, and more


You might think that chess isn’t a game where your opponent could break your finger. But that was before robots got involved. CC-licensed photo by Chris Brooks 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. J’adoube, tu frappes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Without these chips, we are in big trouble – and Britain has no strategy • Sky News

Ed Conway on the row over the Newport chip foundry, which principally makes power semiconductors (dealing with power switching):

»

before Nexperia took over, NWF was what’s known in the trade as a “foundry” – a fab which could be contracted to make chips for any designer.

Now it’s owned by Nexperia, it is going to be making chips solely for its parent company.

This, says Rockley Photonics’ founder and chief executive Andrew Rickman, is a disappointment. “We obviously had to move on,” he says. “And in the future as we look for additional capacity, if it was available to us to manufacture in the UK, that would be wonderful.

“As you analyse the UK, we have this incredible set of expertise around compound semiconductors, and a whole range of different process technologies associated with it, which do new and wonderful things. These are markets that are expanding very rapidly.

“So compared with traditional semiconductors, where perhaps the US or other parts of Europe are better places to build additional capacity and factories, in the UK, we’ve got this opportunity to actually own this particular area of compound semiconductors.”

This is the main objection among industry insiders to the takeover: it effectively means Newport goes from being a potential pioneer to being a workhorse.

«

The big point being that the UK government struggles with the idea that power semis are important, and doesn’t have a strategy in place to deal with what happens when a company important to other parts of the sector is purchased.
unique link to this extract


Exclusive: FBI investigation determined Chinese-made Huawei equipment could disrupt US nuclear arsenal communications • CNN Politics

Katie Bo Lillis:

»

On paper, it looked like a fantastic deal. In 2017, the Chinese government was offering to spend $100m to build an ornate Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. Complete with temples, pavilions and a 70-foot white pagoda, the project thrilled local officials, who hoped it would attract thousands of tourists every year.

But when US counterintelligence officials began digging into the details, they found numerous red flags. The pagoda, they noted, would have been strategically placed on one of the highest points in Washington DC, just two miles from the US Capitol, a perfect spot for signals intelligence collection, multiple sources familiar with the episode told CNN.

Also alarming was that Chinese officials wanted to build the pagoda with materials shipped to the US in diplomatic pouches, which US Customs officials are barred from examining, the sources said.
Federal officials quietly killed the project before construction was underway.

The cancelled garden is part of a frenzy of counterintelligence activity by the FBI and other federal agencies focused on what career US security officials say has been a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade.

Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities.

«

The diplomatic pouches were a hell of a giveaway.
unique link to this extract


Elon Musk’s friendship with Sergey Brin ruptured by alleged affair • WSJ

Kirsten Grind and Emily Glazer:

»

Elon Musk engaged in a brief affair last fall with the wife of Sergey Brin, prompting the Google co-founder to file for divorce earlier this year and ending the tech billionaires’ long friendship, according to people familiar with the matter.

Their falling out is one of a string of personal issues Mr. Musk has faced even as he juggles business challenges, including manufacturing disruptions at Tesla and a court fight over his desire to withdraw his $44bn bid for Twitter Inc.

Mr. Musk is the richest person in the world, with an estimated fortune of $240bn, and Mr. Brin ranks eighth world-wide, with $95bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

…Mr. Brin provided Mr. Musk with about $500,000 for Tesla during the 2008 financial crisis, when the company was struggling to increase production. In 2015, Mr. Musk gave Mr. Brin one of Tesla’s first all-electric sport-utility vehicles.

In recent months, there has been growing tension between the two men and their teams, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Brin has ordered his financial advisers to sell his personal investments in Mr. Musk’s companies, some of those people said. It couldn’t be learned how large those investments are, or whether there have been any sales.

Mr. Brin filed for divorce from Nicole Shanahan in January of this year, citing “irreconcilable differences,” according to records filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The divorce filing was made several weeks after Mr. Brin learned of the brief affair, those people said.

At the time of the alleged liaison in early December, Mr. Brin and his wife were separated but still living together, according to a person close to Ms. Shanahan. In the divorce filing, Mr. Brin cited Dec. 15, 2021, as the date of the couple’s separation.

«

OK, so this isn’t standard fare. But Brin is no stranger to love triangles: in 2013 there was an almighty row at Google when he (then married to Anne Wojckiki, founder of 23andme) began an affair with Amanda Rosenberg, aged 27 to his 40, who had been seeing Hugo Barra of Google, who then left the company. Larry Page was so furious with Brin he stopped speaking to him for a while.

Musk, meanwhile, is no stranger either to flitting between connections. Maybe it all washes out in the end.
unique link to this extract


BBC funding: Lords say tax a better model than advertising or subscriptions • Press Gazette

Bron Maher:

»

Baroness Tina Stowell, who chaired the committee, told Press Gazette the most important recommendation in the report is that the BBC must outline a “bold new vision” before it can choose its next funding model.

The report, “Licence to change: BBC future funding”, caps off an inquiry that began in February 2022 and draws together written and oral evidence from sources including Netflix, Andrew Neil, GB News presenter Mercy Muroki and the chairman of Marks and Spencer.

In the face of competition from subscription streaming platforms – and claims the BBC does not cater to the whole country – some have argued the corporation should switch to an opt-in subscription-funded model to fund its £4bn budget.

But the committee said the model would deliver “inadequate revenues and face major technical hurdles”.

It likewise said that proposals to fund the broadcaster through advertising “would provide insufficient income whilst decimating the revenues of other public service broadcasters” – echoing the findings of the Thatcher-era Peacock  committee that the BBC is so big it would pull much of the television advertising spend away from its competitors.

The report laid out three alternatives to the current licence fee, all of which move away from the current model of a flat tax.

“A universal household levy linked to council tax bills is one option which could take greater account of people’s ability to pay,” it said. “A ring-fenced income tax is another. Reforming the existing licence fee to provide discounts for low-income households is a third.”

The report recommended moving away from a funding model linked to the existence of televisions in a home, and warned the BBC faces a challenge from viewers who do not feel represented by the corporation.

Its role, it said, “as a national glue will only become more important, and more complex, in the context of increasing social, cultural and demographic change.”

«

Ah yes, a “bold new vision” is de rigeur these days. When people use this phrase it always conjures up Malcolm Tucker, the acerbic PM’s spokesman in the razor-sharp political satire The Thick Of It, saying of blue-sky thinker “Julius Nicholson” that “If he does stick his baldy head round your door and come up with some stupid idea about policemen’s helmets should be yellow, or let’s set up a department to count the moon, just treat him like someone with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Meanwhile, a levy on council tax sounds to me the most sensible scheme. Progressive and simple to administer.
unique link to this extract


Blake Lemoine says he’s been fired from Google • The Register

Katyanna Quach:

»

Google has reportedly fired Blake Lemoine, the engineer who was placed on administrative leave after insisting the web giant’s LaMDA chatbot was sentient.

Lemoine didn’t get in trouble for holding his controversial, eyebrow-raising opinion on the model. Instead, he was punished for violating Google’s confidentiality policies. He reportedly invited a lawyer to assess potential legal rights for LaMDA and spoke to a House Rep claiming Google was being unethical.

A Google spokesperson told the Big Technology newsletter it has decided to terminate his employment since Lemoine continued to violate “employment and data security policies” jeopardizing trade secrets.

“If an employee shares concerns about our work, as Blake did, we review them extensively. We found Blake’s claims that LaMDA is sentient to be wholly unfounded and worked to clarify that with him for many months. These discussions were part of the open culture that helps us innovate responsibly,” the spokesperson said.

“So, it’s regrettable that despite lengthy engagement on this topic, Blake still chose to persistently violate clear employment and data security policies that include the need to safeguard product information. We will continue our careful development of language models, and we wish Blake well.”

Many experts at Google and in academia and industry have cast doubt on whether LaMDA or any existing AI chatbot is sentient.

«

Useful clarity that it wasn’t having spent too much time in the sun, but breaking confidentiality that was the pretext. Though one suspects that Google’s lawyers were happy to have that one to hand. Otherwise they’d have had to find other work for Lemoine, such as investigating whether emails sent to Google’s support page show signs of intelligent life.
unique link to this extract


Securing ongoing funding for the Meta Oversight Board • Meta Oversight Board

»

Today the Oversight Board Trust announced that Meta has made a commitment that provides for ongoing financial support for the Oversight Board. As part of that commitment, the company will make a $150m contribution to the Trust.

Under the terms of the Trust, the funds contributed by the company are irrevocable and can only be used to fulfil the Trust’s purpose of funding, managing, and overseeing the operation of the Oversight Board. This $150m contribution to the Trust is in addition to the company’s prior contribution of $130m announced in 2019 when the Trust was first established.

“By making this ongoing financial commitment, Meta has issued a vote of confidence in the work of the Board and its efforts to apply Facebook and Instagram content standards in a manner that protects freedom of expression and pertinent human rights standards,” said Stephen Neal, chairperson of the Oversight Board Trust.

Since its formation, the Board has received more than one million user appeals from users challenging Meta’s content moderation decisions. In response, the Board has applied human rights standards on content issues ranging from hate speech to COVID-19 misinformation to evaluate Meta’s policies and enforcement. Through 25 binding case decisions, 118 policy recommendations, and hundreds of publicly reported questions, the Board is systematically improving Meta’s approach to content policy decisions on its platforms.

«

There are 23 members on the board – all drawn from the Great And Good (including my former editor at The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger). A board that has funding of $280m to do.. what? Deliver a tiny number of decisions and recommendations? If Meta had originally put in, say, $2m and now added another $1m for running costs, one might have thought that was about reasonable. But these numbers are crazy: about $1m per decision/recommendation.

Meanwhile the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a 25-strong properly independent group not funded by Meta, has had its web page taken down over a copyright dispute (guess which well-funded Oversight Board objected!) and struggles to make itself heard.
unique link to this extract


Chess robot grabs and breaks finger of seven-year-old opponent • The Guardian

Jon Henley:

»

Video of the 19 July incident published by the Baza Telegram channel shows the boy’s finger being pinched by the robotic arm for several seconds before a woman followed by three men rush in, free him and usher him away.

Sergey Smagin, vice-president of the Russian Chess Federation, told Baza the robot appeared to pounce after it took one of the boy’s pieces. Rather than waiting for the machine to complete its move, the boy opted for a quick riposte, he said.

“There are certain safety rules and the child, apparently, violated them. When he made his move, he did not realise he first had to wait,” Smagin said. “This is an extremely rare case, the first I can recall,” he added.

Lazarev had a different account, saying the child had “made a move, and after that we need to give time for the robot to answer, but the boy hurried and the robot grabbed him”. Either way, he said, the robot’s suppliers were “going to have to think again”.

Baza named the boy as Christopher and said he was one of the 30 best chess players in the Russian capital in the under-nines category. “People rushed to help and pulled out the finger of the young player, but the fracture could not be avoided,” it said.

Lazarev told Tass that Christopher, whose finger was put in a plaster cast, did not seem overly traumatised by the attack. “The child played the very next day, finished the tournament, and volunteers helped to record the moves,” he said.

His parents, however, have reportedly contacted the public prosecutor’s office. “We will communicate, figure it out and try to help in any way we can,” he said. Smagin told RIA Novosti the incident was “a coincidence” and the robot was “absolutely safe”.

«

Certain amount of victim-blaming going on there. If it had been a human opponent breaking the kid’s finger, would they be saying “well, he shouldn’t have had his finger so near the pieces”?
unique link to this extract


South Carolina bill outlaws websites that tell how to get an abortion • The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski:

»

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to abortion in June, South Carolina state senators introduced legislation that would make it illegal to “aid, abet or conspire with someone” to obtain an abortion.

The bill aims to block more than abortion: provisions would outlaw providing information over the internet or phone about how to obtain an abortion. It would also make it illegal to host a website or “[provide] an internet service” with information that is “reasonably likely to be used for an abortion” and directed at pregnant people in the state.

Legal scholars say the proposal is likely a harbinger of other state measures, which may restrict communication and speech as they seek to curtail abortion. The June proposal, S. 1373, is modeled off a blueprint created by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an antiabortion group, and designed to be replicated by lawmakers across the country.

As the fall of Roe v. Wade triggers a flood of new legislation, an adjacent battleground is emerging over the future of internet freedoms and privacy in states across the country — one, experts say, that could have a chilling impact on First Amendment-protected speech.

“These are not going to be one-offs,” said Michele Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.”

Goodwin called the South Carolina bill “unconstitutional.” But she warned it’s unclear how courts might respond after “turning a blind eye” to antiabortion laws even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

«

This stumps me. This can’t possibly be legal under the 1st Amendment, which (lest we forget) says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. It’s clearly abridging freedom of speech; it’s censorship by the state. So drafting this bill means ignoring a fundamental part of the US Constitution that is drummed into Americans.

So what’s left? Virtue signalling. But the idea that any court might nod this through is bizarre.
unique link to this extract


Maybe Peloton should worry about Apple Fitness+ after all • Medium

I wrote about how this particular data-driven service yields up its secrets, once you realise they’re in the open:

»

I’m an Apple Fitness+ subscriber: I’ve got a rowing machine (Concept 2, if that means anything to you) and the Fitness+ classes are a far more enjoyable way to spend the time than setting yourself a target (distance, time) and grinding along. In rowing, they come in 10, 20 and 30-minute classes, and I began doing them as they arrived. Personally, I found the 10-minute segments too short, and the 30-minute ones usually too long. So I did the 20-minute ones, working from the earliest available, not repeating.

Recently, I noticed that I was running out of new 20-minute workouts. Was the shortage because one of the rowing coaches, Anya, was pregnant — perhaps on maternity leave? — and unavailable to make them? But they replaced her with someone else. Also, I reflected, if the demand was there, Apple would make sure the supply was there. And then I thought to myself: since Apple knows exactly how many people do each activity, it must produce content in line with that perceived demand.

«

What do you think is the most popular activity, based on the number of sessions available, out of Rowing/ Treadmill/ Cycling/ Dance/ Yoga/ Pilates/ Core/ Strength/ High Intensity Interval Training/ Mindful Cooldown? And what do you think is the most popular duration? Turns out the answer is a puzzle – there in front of us, to be discovered. (A mystery is something only one or a handful of people know the answer to, a puzzle is something anyone can solve: think murder v jigsaw.)

There’s also a database of all the Fitness+ sessions, though it’s less accessible than the beautiful graphs in my piece.
unique link to this extract


Analysis: UK’s ‘jet-zero’ plan would allow demand for flying to soar 70% • Carbon Brief

Daisy Dunne and Josh Gabbatiss:

»

International and domestic aviation only accounts for 3% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, but flights have an outsized role in some – normally relatively wealthy – people’s carbon footprints. Therefore, this is one of the areas where individual actions can have a considerable impact.

The sector has been repeatedly highlighted by government advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC) as a gap in the government’s climate strategy, which the “jet zero” plan is supposed to fill.

The strategy, whose “jet zero” tagline states it will “deliver net-zero aviation” by 2050, has gone through a couple of rounds of consultations and drafts.

It plans for flight demand to increase by 70%, which would see aviation emissions rising from 38MtCO2e in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, to 52MtCO2e by 2050.

The strategy goes on to suggest that a series of interventions – chiefly based on untested technology – could then reduce the impact of demand growth, bringing the sector’s emissions total down to 19MtCO2e in 2050.

This is shown in the chart below, which highlights that, even in the government’s targeted “high-ambition” scenario, residual emissions from aviation would remain higher in 2050 than they were in 1990 – and a long way from the pledged “net-zero”.

«

There seems to be an embedded determination inside Whitehall to just go on with business as usual, and hope, Micawber-like, that something will come along and solve the climate “problem” (in their minds, an inconvenience) so everything continues undisturbed. Melting runways suggest otherwise.
unique link to this extract


The perils of audience capture • The Prism

Gurwinder Bhogal:

»

In 2016, 24 year old Nicholas Perry wanted to be big online. He started uploading videos to his YouTube channel in which he pursued his passion—playing the violin—and extolled the virtues of veganism. He went largely unnoticed.

A year later, he abandoned veganism, citing health concerns. Now free to eat whatever he wanted, he began uploading mukbang videos of himself consuming various dishes while talking to the camera, as if having dinner with a friend.

These new videos quickly found a sizable audience, but as the audience grew, so did their demands. The comments sections of the videos soon became filled with people challenging Perry to eat as much as he physically could. Eager to please, he began to set himself torturous eating challenges, each bigger than the last. His audience applauded, but always demanded more. Soon, he was filming himself eating entire menus of fast food restaurants in one sitting.

In some respects, all his eating paid off; Nikocado Avocado, as Perry is now better known, has amassed over six million subscribers across six channels on YouTube. By satisfying the escalating demands of his audience, he got his wish of blowing up and being big online. But the cost was that he blew up and became big in ways he hadn’t anticipated.

Nikocado, moulded by his audience’s desires into a cartoonish extreme, is now a wholly different character from Nicholas Perry, the vegan violinist who first started making videos. Where Perry was mild-mannered and health conscious, Nikocado is loud, abrasive, and spectacularly grotesque. Where Perry was a picky eater, Nikocado devoured everything he could, including finally Perry himself. The rampant appetite for attention caused the person to be subsumed by the persona.

«

The photos accompanying this are truly shocking. Bhogal’s point is that influencers are themselves influenced by their audience, inevitably towards extremes. (See also: Jordan Peterson.) A sort of social warming, if you will. (Via Helen Lewis’s excellent The Bluestocking.)
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