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.1319: Facebook’s strange fact-checking pose, UK trace-and-trace delayed, whatever happened to creationists?, and more


Yes, we might as well discuss the Trump nonsense CC-licensed photo by 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. Now, Dougal, this tweet is far away… I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The two things to understand about Trump’s executive order on social media: (1) it’s a distraction (2) it’s legally meaningless • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

»

We’ve officially reached pure silly season when it comes to internet regulations. For the past two years now, every so often, reports have come out that the White House was exploring issuing an executive order trying to attack Section 230 and punish companies for the administration’s belief in the myth that content moderation practices at large social media firms are “biased” against conservatives.

However, it apparently took Twitter literally doing nothing more than linking to people arguing that Trump’s tweets were misleading, to cause our President to throw a total shit fit and finally break out the executive order. This one is somewhat different than drafts that have been floated in the past, though it has the same origins (and, according to a few people I spoke to, this new executive order was “hastily drafted” to appease an angry President who can’t stand the idea that someone might correct his nonsense)…

To be clear: the executive order is nonsense. You can’t overrule the law by executive order, nor can you ignore the Constitution. This executive order attempts to do both. It’s also blatantly anti-free speech, anti-private property, pro-big government – which is only mildly amusing, given that Trump and his sycophantic followers like to insist they’re the opposite of all of those things. But also, because the executive order only has limited power, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing in there for very little actual things that the administration can do. It’s very much written in a way to make Trump’s fans think he’s done something to attack social media companies, but the deeper you dig, the more nothingness you find.

«

Read the final EO; it’s still a legal nonsense. Plenty of analysis to be had: hitting social media will harm Trump (because Twitter will have to censor more, not less heavily); section 230 author says the EO is ‘plainly illegal’; the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity say it’s counterproductive; FCC commissioners say it won’t work. It will die in the courts.

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people have died in the US amid utter disorganisation at the federal level over pandemic planning, replete with grifting, lies, and idiocy.
unique link to this extract


Opinion: Trump’s ‘horrifying lies’ about Lori Klausutis may cross a legal line • The New York Times

Peter Schuck is an emeritus professor of law at Yale:

»

Mr. Trump’s first tort is called intentional infliction of emotional distress, which the courts developed precisely to condemn wanton cruelty to another person who suffers emotionally as a result. This tort, which is sometimes called “outrage,” readily applies to Mr. Trump’s tweets about Ms. Klausutis. They were intentional and reckless, and were “extreme and outrageous” without a scintilla of evidence to support them. And they caused severe emotional distress — the protracted, daily-felt grief described in Mr. Klausutis’s letter to Mr. Dorsey.

Although the tweets targeted Mr. Scarborough, his own infliction of emotional distress claim may be weaker than Mr. Klausutis’s. By shrugging off the tweet as simply political gamesmanship on the president’s part, Mr. Scarborough may not have suffered the “severe emotional distress” required for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

Even so, Mr. Scarborough might succeed in a defamation suit against Mr. Trump for reputational harm. After all, the president’s innuendo that Mr. Scarborough may have murdered Lori Klausutis — presumably credible to the many Trump Twitter followers who subscribe to conspiracy theories — may seriously harm Mr. Scarborough’s reputation with them and others.

Mr. Trump, moreover, often aims his tweets to lead multiple news cycles affecting well beyond his Twitter followers. The president will surely argue that he has not actually accused anyone of murder and was merely “raising questions.” But courts have held that such calculated innuendo can constitute defamation, depending on the facts. This would be for a jury to decide.

«

It would certainly be a fun turnabout. I don’t think Klausutis would struggle to get crowdsourcing if he wanted to start a legal battle.
unique link to this extract


Zuckerberg dismisses fact-checking after bragging about fact-checking • Ars Technica

Kate Cox:

»

[Mark] Zuckerberg has been reasonably consistent in making sure to leave large carve-outs in site policy for politicians, including the president. Last year, Facebook made clear that its community standards—including hate speech and abuse rules as well as fact-checking policies—do not apply to politicians or other newsworthy figures. The company has also said many times that political content and advertising does not need to be truthful, instead putting the onus on users to avoid lies or to recognize every time they are being lied to.

Even Facebook has a few standards, however, and those relate to election security and COVID-19. In March, the company removed a Trump campaign ad that spread misleading information about the 2020 US Census after reporters noticed and began to ask about the sponsored posts. Facebook also put a “partly false” label on a misleading video of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden shared by members of the Trump campaign.

Zuckerberg earlier this month bragged about the effectiveness of fact-checking as relating to the COVID-19 crisis. In a call, he told media that, in the month of April alone, Facebook’s fact-checkers put 50 million warning labels on COVID-19 content shared to the platform. Those labels were super effective, he crowed: 95% of the time, viewers didn’t click through to content that had been warned to be false.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took to his own platform to rebut Zuckerberg’s statement.

«

Zuckerberg’s position on this strikes me as absurd. Facebook is doing all this stuff, as the article points out. It can’t be that he’s forgotten what he’s done; he must be hoping that those interviewing him aren’t smart enough to point out this contradiction. Fortunately, he was interviewed by Fox News, so no danger there.
unique link to this extract


Technical glitches overshadow UK’s track and trace launch • Financial Times

Sarah Neville, Helen Warrell and Laura Hughes:

»

A [UK] government programme to trace people at risk of infection from Covid-19 got under way in England on Thursday — overshadowed by technical glitches and an admission from its chair that it would not be fully operational at local level for another month.

In an acknowledgment of the problems in the build-up to the launch, Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco which, together with its subcontractors, recruited 10,000 of the new 25,000 contact tracers, told staff in a video, that the idea that “all the strands of this would come together at precisely the right time belongs only to the fantasies of those people who have never organised anything more than a tea party”.

Directors of public health, who only found out on Wednesday afternoon that the programme was to be launched four days earlier than expected, warned that necessary links between the central “test and trace” operation and local councils were still not fully established.

Downing Street denied the programme had been brought forward from next week to distract from the row over alleged lockdown breaches by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, which several opinion polls suggest has dented the popularity ratings of the government and prime minister Boris Johnson.

«

The programme was indeed brought forward, which is why it’s not going to be ready. The UK government has done lousy work from the start here. (Side note: how great to have a triple byline on a general news story where all three writers are women.)
unique link to this extract


EMEA smartphone market expected to shrink to all-time lows in 2Q • IDC

»

According to the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, the EMEA smartphone market is expected to contract by close to a quarter in value terms in the three months to the end of June, after a relatively strong first three months to the year.

Measured in retail prices before sales tax and VAT, the second-quarter smartphone total will dip below $19bn and 63 million units — the smallest quarterly total across EMEA in five years.

“This will be the biggest fall in a single quarter the market has seen since IDC started tracking the region 14 years ago,” said Simon Baker, program director at IDC EMEA. “The deepest drop up to now was the 13.0% year-on-year drop in value in the third quarter of 2009 during the financial crisis.”

The 2Q downturn will be most pronounced in Europe, said Marta Pinto, research manager at IDC EMEA. Southern Europe will be badly hit, especially Spain, with a drop in value near a third. But everywhere will be in negative territory compared with the same quarter the year before.

The biggest fall in Europe is expected to be in Russia, where the coronavirus lockdown has been compounded by a drop in the currency. There was some evidence of consumers snapping up phones in the weeks leading up to the lockdown before prices rose, and prior experience of such crises in Russia suggests that the market will contract markedly for some months thereafter.

«

Oh, yeah, smartphones. For when we used to walk around and stuff.
unique link to this extract


Why remote work is so hard—and how it can be fixed • The New Yorker

Cal Newport:

»

it took decades for factory owners to figure out how to make the most of electric power. Eventually, they discovered that the best approach was to put a small motor on each individual piece of machinery. Since a factory no longer needed to draw power from a central engine, its equipment could be spread out. This, in turn, changed the nature of industrial architecture. Buildings that no longer required reinforced ceilings to house shafts, belts, and pulleys could incorporate windows and skylights, of the sort we know today from urban loft buildings.

Inertia, David found, had been part of the problem. Factory owners who had spent a lot of money and time building physical plants organized around central-drive trains were reluctant to commit to complex, expensive overhauls. There were imaginative obstacles: powering each machine with its own individual motor may seem like an obvious idea now, but in fact it represented a sharp break from the centralized-power model that had dominated for the previous hundred and fifty years. Finally, technological barriers stood in the way—small issues, compared to the invention of electricity, but persistent and important ones nonetheless. Someone, for instance, had to figure out how to construct a building-wide power grid capable of handling the massively variable load created by many voltage-hungry mini-motors being turned off and on unpredictably. Until that happened, it was central power or bust.

In some respects, we may be in an electric-dynamo moment for remote work. In theory, we have the technology we need to make remote work workable. And yet most companies that have tried to graft it onto their existing setups have found only mixed success. In response, many have stuck with what they know. Now the coronavirus pandemic has changed the equation.

«

unique link to this extract


Former Apple designer to launch rival to HomePod and Sonos • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaaw:

»

Having spent more than 20 years working closely with Jony Ive in Apple’s design team, Christopher Stringer left Silicon Valley in 2017 to start his new venture, Syng, in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

Mr Stringer, who was born in Australia but grew up and studied in England, is named on more than 1,400 US patents, including for designs related to the iPhone, Apple Watch and HomePod.

With his involvement, Syng is likely to be the highest-profile hardware start-up to be launched by former Apple staffers since Nest. The smart home pioneer, which makes internet-connected thermostats, cameras and smoke alarms, was founded by Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers in 2010 and was acquired by Google for $3.2bn in 2014. Mr Rogers, who was one of the first engineers on the original iPhone, now serves on Syng’s board, according to his LinkedIn profile.

However, while Nest helped to invent a new category of consumer electronics, Syng will be entering a much more crowded market. The home-audio sector has been saturated in recent years by low-cost “smart speakers” such as Amazon’s Echo, making life more difficult for higher-end products such as Sonos.

Syng, which bills itself as “the future of sound company”, is betting that superior design and sound quality, using a novel audio format, will allow it to stand out.

«

You know, I almost had some hope for it until we got to the “novel audio format” bit. This will crash and burn. A small startup will not persuade record labels to create a novel audio format. The speakers might sound and look nice, but what do they have over Sonos or everything else?
unique link to this extract


Creationism, unchallenged • Slate Star Codex

Scott Alexander:

»

In the early 2000s, creationism was Public Enemy Number…maybe not One, but somewhere in the top ten. If you’re old enough to remember the decade at all, you probably recall the key flashpoints. The Discovery Institute. Michael Behe. “Teach the controversy”. The Creation Museum. Of Pandas And People. That one anti-Richard-Dawkins rap song which somehow despite everything managed to be really good.

And you probably remember the efforts by “the reality based community” to spread awareness of the dangers of creationism – the xkcd comics, the petitions by 1400 scientists named Steve, the New York Times articles…

…yeah, the 2000s were a weird time. I’ve talked about this particular conflict already in my post New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed. Today I want to focus on another aspect.

All those creationists are still there. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans believed “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”, little different from 44% who believed it when they first asked in 1983 or the 46% who believed it in 2006…

…I see people using rivers of ink to fight the modern equivalents of creationists. Pizzagaters, flat-earthers, moon-hoaxers, QAnon, deep-staters, people who say the coronavirus is a bioweapon, Alex Jones. Are they sure it’s not equally useless? Equally counterproductive?

«

As he points out, the number of articles about creationism has gone down almost to nothing. Yet its prevalence is about the same. Nobody’s mind has been changed (well, it’s lost a little popularity, perhaps just outside the margin of error).
unique link to this extract


COVID antibody testing and conditional probability • All this

Dr Drang:

»

“in a population where the prevalence is 5%, a test with 90% sensitivity and 95% specificity will yield a positive predictive value of 49%.”

Let’s go through the numbers and see how 90% turns into 49%.

First, there are a couple of terms of art we need to understand: sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity is the accuracy of positive test results; it is the percentage of people who actually have the condition that will test positive for it. Specificity is the accuracy of negative test results; it is the percentage of people who actually don’t have the condition that will test negative for it.

With those definitions in mind, we’ll create a 2×2 contigency table for a population of 100,000 people in which the prevalence, sensitivity, and specificity are as given in the quote.

  Have
antibodies
Don’t
have
antibodies
Total
Test positive 4,500 4,750 9,250
Test negative 500 90,250 90,750
Total 5,000 95,000 100,000

5,000 people actually have the antibodies (5% of 100,000) and 95,000 do not. Of the 5,000 with antibodies, 4,500 (90% of 5,000) will test positive for them and the remaining 500 will test negative for them. Of the 95,000 without antibodies, 90,250 (95% of 95,000) will test negative for them and the remaining 4,750 will test positive for them.

So of the 9,250 people who test positive for the antibodies, only 4,500 actually have them. That’s where the 49% figure comes from in the quote.

This is a very common sort of problem to spring on students in a probability class who are learning about conditional probability and Bayes’s Theorem. The key thing is to realize that the probability that you have antibodies given that you had a positive test is definitely not the same as the probability that you had a positive test given that you have antibodies. When you hear about a test’s “accuracy,” it’s usually the latter that’s presented even though you as a patient are only interested in the former. After all, if you already knew you had the condition, you wouldn’t need to have the test.

«

Weird how the accuracy goes up as seroprevalence goes up. Anyway, we’ll need to be aware of this as testing (theoretically) expands over the next few months.
unique link to this extract


Why is artificial intelligence so useless for business? • Matthew Bassett

»

The excel spreadsheets, marketing brochures, legal contracts, and other documents that make up the business world are hidden in email inboxes and other silos within various companies. No group of researchers can train a “document-understanding” model simply because they don’t have access to the relevant documents or appropriate training labels for them.

What’s more, artificial research teams lack an awareness of the specific business processes and tasks that could be automated in the first place. Researchers would need to develop an intuition of the business processes involved. We haven’t seen this happen in too many areas. The big successes have happened where the problem is easily understood and has many publicly-available examples (machine translation), where there is a promise of a massive ROI (self-driving cars), or where a large company arbitrarily decides to throw enough resources at the problem until they can crack it (AlphaGo).

This means, however, that we can expect artificial intelligence to succeed in automating business processes when 1) researchers are able to focus on a specific problem, and 2) they are able to accumulate enough data to train a workable model. (Another criterion for success is that should aim to empower the people involved in the process, not replace them, but that is for a different discussion.) And where they succeed, people who work in those industries can expect to be spending more of their time doing interesting, creative work and less time doing dull, time-consuming tasks. A great example of this is Proda, a London-based startup that can automatically standardize commercial real estate data.

«

unique link to this extract


Trading Standards squad targets anti-5G USB stick • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:

»

at first sight, it seems to be just that – a USB key, with just 128MB of storage.

“So what’s different between it and a virtually identical ‘crystal’ USB key available from various suppliers in Shenzhen, China, for around £5 per key?” asks Ken Munro, whose company, Pen Test Partners, specialises in taking apart consumer electronic products to spot security vulnerabilities.

And the answer appears to be a circular sticker.

“Now, we’re not 5G quantum experts but said sticker looks remarkably like one available in sheets from stationery suppliers for less than a penny each,” he says.

Mr Munro and his colleague Phil Eveleigh proceeded to dismantle the USB key to find out if there were any whizz-bang electronics inside. But all they found was an LED light on the circuit board, similar to those on any other USB key. Their conclusion was that trading standards bodies should carry out their own investigations.

A search in Companies House shows the two directors of BioShield Distribution are Anna Grochowalska and Valerio Laghezza. Both of them appear to have been involved previously in a business called Immortalis, which sells a dietary supplement called Klotho Formula.

Its website – rather similar in design to that of the BioShield – says Klotho Formula uses a “proprietary procedure that leads to relativistic time dilation and biological quantum entanglement at the DNA level”.

Ms Grochowalska told BBC News her company was the sole global distributor of the 5GBioShield – but it did not manufacture or own the product.

«

Now Trading Standards are seeking to block sales: “we consider it to be a scam”.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1318: Facebook defends on polarisation, Australia’s irrelevant tracking app, judges back social media on speech ban, and more


The pandemic is making days melt together. Which isn’t good. CC-licensed photo by Mike Hyde 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. Fact-checking. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A Monday is a Tuesday is a Sunday as COVID-19 disrupts internal clocks • Scientific American

Jackie Rocheleau:

»

people seem to be experiencing time more slowly, according to data that are beginning to be compiled. In a not yet peer-reviewed preprint paper, Sylvie Droit-Volet, a time perception researcher at the University of Clermont Auvergne in France, and her colleagues show that people there report the clock moving more slowly during the lockdown. The researchers also document feelings of sadness and boredom and tie them to the overall feeling of deceleration.

“Their findings directly support the emotional connection with time perception,” says Philip Gable of the University of Alabama. He is also using survey data to examine how people across the U.S. experience time during the pandemic. “It’s a societal event that’s going to have a profound psychological influence on us,” Gable says, adding that the temporal shift is an integral part of our feelings about what is happening. He plans to collect data over the next nine months, but so far has found evidence that the everyday tempo now lags. Nearly 50% of people experienced time dragging during March, whereas about 24% perceived it to be speeding up.

For some individuals in quarantine, time stretches but also compresses. Jennifer Peirson, a school counselor in New Jersey who now works from home, perceives she is caught in a time warp. “The days feel much longer,” she says. “But when you get to a holiday, it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed.”

These perceptions may be attributed to a tug-of-war between two concepts: retrospective and prospective time. Dan Zakay, a professor at the Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, explains that retrospective time perception evokes the recollection of past events and how long they lasted. Prospective time involves judging the duration of an event at the present moment.

«

I definitely felt like this on March the 54th.
unique link to this extract


Jonathan Haidt on the pandemic and America’s polarization • The Atlantic

Peter Wehner:

»

Around 2008, Haidt [who is the professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business] became increasingly concerned by how politically polarized America was becoming, and polarization has only worsened over the past dozen years. “I’ve gotten more and more alarmed every year since then,” he told me, “and there are several trends that are very disturbing,” including the rise of “affective polarization,” or the mutual dislike and hate each political side feels for the other. “When there’s so much hatred, a democracy can’t work right,” he said. “You can’t get compromise. You get exactly the situation that the Founders feared, that [James] Madison wrote about in ‘Federalist 10,’ which is faction, which is people care more about defeating the other side than they do about the common good.”

For some time now, Haidt has been saying that if current trends continue, the United States may somehow come apart—but he always adds that trends never continue forever. Things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse; you can’t just extrapolate from the present. “When the COVID-19 crisis hit, at first I was very optimistic that no matter how bad things get, there’s a real chance this could throw us off of the downward trajectory we were on,” he said. “There’s a real chance that this could be the reset button. So that’s the framework that I bring to all of my thinking about the implications of this crisis for the country, that we were headed in a very bad direction and a lot is going to change. And so I am more hopeful now than I was before—but that isn’t saying much.”

…But Haidt pointed out that several surveys, including one in April by More in Common, show that the pandemic is having the sort of unifying effect that major crises tend to have. Feelings toward Donald Trump are almost perfectly polarized, as one would expect. But on other important questions, there’s not that much polarization. For example, 90% of Americans believe that “we’re all in it together,” compared to just 63% in the fall of 2018. The share of Americans who describe the country as “unified” has grown from 4% in 2018 to 32% today, while the percentage of Americans who regard the country as “very divided” has dropped from 62% to just 22%.

«

unique link to this extract


Investments to fight polarization • About Facebook

Guy Rosen is VP of Integrity at Facebook:

»

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a story claiming that Facebook “shut down efforts to make the site less divisive” and “largely shelved” internal research on whether social media increases polarization. Unfortunately, this particular story wilfully ignored critical facts that undermined its narrative.

The piece uses a couple of isolated initiatives we decided against as evidence that we don’t care about the underlying issues — and it ignored the significant efforts we did make. The piece disregarded how our research, and research we continue to commission, informed dozens of other changes and new products. It also ignored other measures we’ve taken to fight polarization. As a result, readers were left with the impression we are ignoring an issue that in fact we have invested heavily in.

Here are just some of the initiatives we’ve made over the past three years to address factors that can contribute to polarization…

«

Specifically, “recalibrating the News Feed” (to prioritise stuff from friends and family), building a bigger “integrity team”, and restricting how it recommends people to join groups. There’s more too, but none of it quite feels like a rebuttal of the WSJ story: that Facebook realised its algorithms were encouraging division, that they realised that reducing that would penalise right-wing voices in particular (because they were overwhelmingly the divisive ones), and that they decided not to act.

Facebook is quoted in the original WSJ story. The quote is a short version of Rosen’s post. So my fact-check on “wilfully ignored critical facts” comes back as: not true. Maybe there should be a warning on the post.
unique link to this extract


How did [Australia’s] Covidsafe app go from being vital to almost irrelevant? • The Guardian

Josh Taylor:

»

It was sold as the key to unlocking restrictions – like sunscreen to protect Australians from Covid-19 – but as the country begins to open up, the role of the Covidsafe app in the recovery seems to have dropped to marginal at best.

“This is an important protection for a Covid-safe Australia,” the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said in late April. “I would liken it to the fact that if you want to go outside when the sun is shining, you have got to put sunscreen on.”

“This is the same thing … If you want to return to a more liberated economy and society, it is important that we get increased numbers of downloads when it comes to the Covidsafe app … This is the ticket to ensuring that we can have eased restrictions.”

The health minister, Greg Hunt, tweeted that it was the key to being allowed to go back to watching football.

Yet nearly a month since launch, the contact tracing app has barely been used – just one person has been reported to have been identified using data from it.

«

About six million Australians have the app, which is about 32% of the population – well short of the 40% that the government wanted to have. Downloads have just about stopped.
unique link to this extract


Why you shouldn’t make a habit of force-quitting iOS apps or restarting iOS devices • TidBITS

Adam Engst:

»

I once sat next to a guy on an airplane who would open an app like Messages, look at it briefly, and then force-quit it as soon as he was done reading the message. (Having to watch this nervous tic behavior for the first 20 minutes of the flight drove me batty, so I asked him if he would be interested in a tip that would improve his iPhone’s battery life and performance. Happily, he was.) I’ve even heard of people shutting down their iPads at the end of the day, much as they might have shut off a Macintosh SE/30 in 1990.

…once she learned in a TidBITS Talk discussion that force-quitting apps was a bad idea, reader Kimberly Andrew found that her iPad lasted 4 days on a single charge instead of requiring nightly recharging. Your experience may not be so dramatic, but if you let iOS manage your device’s resources, you’ll get the best possible battery life for your usage patterns.

«

Force-quit is OK if an app is really blocked, but in general leave them the hell alone. (I can’t find anything authoritative about whether this is also true on Android, which is a lot more generous than iOS about letting background apps keep running.)
unique link to this extract


YouTube fixes error that deleted comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

YouTube says it’s begun fixing an error in its moderation system that caused comments containing certain Chinese-language phrases critical of China’s Communist Party (CCP) to be automatically deleted.

The issue meant that comments containing the phrases “共匪” (“communist bandit”) and “五毛” (“50-cent party”) were removed from the site in a matter of seconds. The former phrase is an insult dating back to China’s Nationalist government, while the latter is derogatory slang for internet users paid to defend the CCP from criticism online. It originates from the claim that these users are paid 50 Chinese cents per post.

YouTube told The Verge that the issue that caused comments containing these phrases to be deleted had been fixed for a number of these terms, but that it was still investigating the deeper causes of the error — suggesting other terms may still be affected. In The Verge’s tests, comments containing the two phrases above are no longer deleted from the platform.

«

At Stratechery, Ben Thompson suggests an organised bombardment from China “reporting” such comments as bad persuaded the comment-deleting machine learning those characters must be a Bad Word. That makes more sense than my “malicious insider” hypothesis; far simpler. Wonder if YouTube will now get its systems to report to the humans what things it newly thinks are Bad Words, to spot attacks like this?
unique link to this extract


Trump’s latest display isn’t just deranged. It’s also an abuse of power • The Washington Post

Greg Sargent:

»

Now let’s also note that Twitter’s fact-checking also shared information with voters that could actually inform them about vote-by-mail, thus potentially giving them additional options to vote amid a pandemic.

Trump and his campaign are quite literally claiming the right to lie to the American people about potentially lifesaving voting options during a pandemic — entirely free of accountability. They are explicitly declaring that any effort to correct those lies will be cast as an affront to the free speech of conservatives.

And Trump is now intimating other forms of state action [saying he “will not allow it to happen”].

It might be argued that Trump won’t actually be able to take such concrete retributive action. But as Jonathan Chait points out, Trump has already threatened the parent companies of media organizations and has already taken concrete actions against the owner of The Post.

The key point here is that, even if these threats do not end up coming to fruition, the threats themselves constitute a serious abuse of power.

The threat of conservative rage via fake claims of “bias” and the threat of state action as retribution are two sides of the same coin: The latter constitutes a deeply corrupt wielding of institutional power in and of itself, and it’s also critical to helping mobilize the former. Such a threat is not somehow rendered meaningless if Trump cannot find a way to follow through.

And this surely works, at least to some degree. This is obvious when you consider how mild and tentative Twitter’s corrective efforts have been. The tweets spreading Trump’s lies about voter fraud remain posted, and he has already posted more such lies that do not yet have any such corrective appended.

«

Trump’s tweets should have a label saying “not yet fact-checked” until they are. Twitter isn’t censoring; it’s enhancing. Quite how this is going to play out is hard to predict. Will Twitter be cowed? Trump is big on threats, small on followthrough. The two extreme endpoints are: Twitter shuts; alternate, Trump gets booted off Twitter (or leaves it). Where on that scale are we going to finish by November? (We’ll deal with the illegal “Executive Order” threat tomorrow when a little of the dust has died down.)
unique link to this extract


Judges toss lawsuit alleging anti-conservative bias on social media • Engadget

Marc DeAngelis:

»

In 2018, the nonprofit organization Freedom Watch and a conservative YouTuber named Laura Loomer tried to sue social media companies. They alleged that Twitter, Facebook and Google – which owns YouTube – broke antitrust laws and violated their First Amendment rights by conspiring to suppress conservative viewpoints. Their case was dropped last year, but they appealed the decision. According to Bloomberg, a federal appeals court today affirmed the decision to drop the suit, leaving the tech companies in the clear.

Bloomberg reports that the court agreed with the previous ruling and found that the First Amendment typically “prohibits only governmental abridgment of speech.” In other words, social media users shouldn’t expect to be able to say anything they want on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – all of which are private businesses with their own rules and regulations. Furthermore, the conservative group and Loomer didn’t provide substantial evidence of an antitrust violation.

…two of the three judges overseeing this appeal were appointed by Republican presidents, and the judge who originally dismissed the case was appointed by Donald Trump himself.

«

Very good of the judges to come up with this verdict at precisely this juncture.
unique link to this extract


China rules out animal market and lab as coronavirus origin • WSJ

James Areddy:

»

The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, at the center of allegations around a potential laboratory accident, Wang Yanyi, over the weekend told China Central Television that the coronavirus was significantly different from any live pathogen that has been studied at the institute and that there therefore was no chance it could have leaked from there.

Separately, China’s top epidemiologist said Tuesday that testing of samples from a Wuhan food market, initially suspected as a path for the virus’s spread to humans, failed to show links between animals being sold there and the pathogen. Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in comments carried in Chinese state media, “It now turns out that the market is one of the victims.”

…The comments from the Chinese scientists together target theories that originated in alternative media before being trumpeted by U.S. politicians that a problem at the lab could have leaked the virus into the city, and that its proximity to the market could have played a role in the spread.

“This is pure fabrication,” Dr. Wang said in the broadcast interview.

…While the lab has said all along that the virus causing Covid-19 wasn’t in its catalog of pathogens, Dr. Wang’s comments in this weekend’s interview are notable for stating that none of the three strains of live virus handled by the institute are genetically close to the coronavirus at the heart of the pandemic. Further, she said that Dr. Shi had no actual live sample of a coronavirus she discovered in 2013 in a bat, which her team this year found to be a 96% match to the pathogen behind today’s pandemic.

«

So it’s less clearcut than it seemed. (I’m still going for pangolin delivery drivers.)
unique link to this extract


Remaking the country • Scripting News

Dave Winer, the ur-blogger, on America’s predicament:

»

We’re the country that went to war without a draft, whose citizens got tax cuts while at war, whose citizens expect more of that, to us it’s never enough. We expect to be able to inflict chaos around the world and somehow never to be touched by it ourselves. That’s why people are out partying with abandon this weekend. They can’t imagine they can pay a price. There’s a reason Vietnam is responding to the virus so incredibly well and we’re responding so poorly. They remember fighting for their independence. To us, independence is a birth right. A distant memory that’s become perverted. We have to fight for it again. The virus is giving us that chance. We can’t get out of the pandemic until we grow up as individuals and collectively. Trump is the right president for who we are. We won’t get a better one until we deserve a better one.

«

One could point out that Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million or so, and that only a quirk of the electoral college (which, when it’s quirky, keeps quirking in favour of Republican presidential candidates) put him in office. But Winer has a point, which also finds some echoes in Ezra Klein’s article that I linked to a month ago, which is that America’s institutions “have become biased against action rather than toward it.” (Via John Naughton’s Memex 1.1)
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1317: Facebook knew it was polarising, ban Trump’s Twitter?, how Bill Gates became conspiracists’ villain, YouTube’s odd deletion, and more


In Turkey, an AI will tell your future based on this. Reliably? Well… CC-licensed photo by Jette chan 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. Enough? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisive • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman:

»

Facebook launched its research on divisive content and behavior at a moment when it was grappling with whether its mission to “connect the world” was good for society.

Fixing the polarization problem would be difficult, requiring Facebook to rethink some of its core products. Most notably, the project forced Facebook to consider how it prioritized “user engagement”—a metric involving time spent, likes, shares and comments that for years had been the lodestar of its system…

Even before the teams’ 2017 creation, Facebook researchers had found signs of trouble. A 2016 presentation that names as author a Facebook researcher and sociologist, Monica Lee, found extremist content thriving in more than one-third of large German political groups on the platform. Swamped with racist, conspiracy-minded and pro-Russian content, the groups were disproportionately influenced by a subset of hyperactive users, the presentation notes. Most of them were private or secret.

The high number of extremist groups was concerning, the presentation says. Worse was Facebook’s realization that its algorithms were responsible for their growth. The 2016 presentation states that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools” and that most of the activity came from the platform’s “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms: “Our recommendation systems grow the problem.”

…Asked to combat fake news, spam, clickbait and inauthentic users, the employees looked for ways to diminish the reach of such ills. One early discovery: bad behavior came disproportionately from a small pool of hyperpartisan users.

…Under Facebook’s engagement-based metrics, a user who likes, shares or comments on 1,500 pieces of content has more influence on the platform and its algorithms than one who interacts with just 15 posts, allowing “super-sharers” to drown out less-active users. Accounts with hyperactive engagement were far more partisan on average than normal Facebook users, and they were more likely to behave suspiciously, sometimes appearing on the platform as much as 20 hours a day and engaging in spam-like behavior. The behaviour suggested some were either people working in shifts or bots.

«

This is, partly, the 1% rule. But then Facebook amplifies it. Joel Kaplan, a former deputy chief of staff for George W Bush, comes out looking like a particular villain. (The Verge has a non-paywalled rewrite.)
unique link to this extract


Twitter must cleanse the Trump stain • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:

»

The company tends to be hands-off when a Trump controversy erupts, relying on a tenet that he is a public figure and also that it cannot sort out what is truth and a lie and is therefore better off letting its community argue it out. While that might work when it comes to some issues, it has broken down here [after Trump tweeted a conspiracy theory about the death of a woman who worked with Joe Scarborough; her deeply upset husband wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting Trump’s tweets be deleted].

How to fix it is the digital equivalent of a Gordian knot, except there is no cybersword of Alexander the Great to slice it in half. Banning Mr. Trump outright, the most extreme move, seems to be a nonstarter, given Mr. Dorsey’s belief that less is more when it comes to governing. While it worked when [Alex] Jones was tossed off, a move that Mr. Dorsey came to last among the social media giants, doing the same to Mr. Trump would be quite different.

While I had thought throwing Mr. Trump off Twitter was not the worst idea — after all, what would the president do without his raging addiction to Twitter? — I have come to believe that a Trump ban would be pointless and too drastic. The firestorm it would set off would alone be disastrous for Twitter to manage and probably come with deep financial repercussions. If you think that is not a good enough reason, I invite you to visit the reality of living as a public company in the digital age.
Another solution being discussed inside Twitter is to label the tweets as false and link to myriad high-quality information and reporting that refute the tweets’ sinister insinuations. Sources told me that after initial hesitance in dealing with Mr. Trump’s tweets about Ms. Klausutis, the company has accelerated work on a more robust rubric around labeling and dealing with such falsehoods.
Again, top company executives hope that this placement of truth against lies will serve to cleanse the stain. I think this is both naïve and will be ineffective…

«

Swisher reckons Trump’s tweets about the woman should be deleted, as a one-off action to show that there are boundaries to taste. But Trump’s tweets don’t mention the woman’s name (though his idiot son’s tweets do). When you start wading into this, the water gets very deep very fast. The labelling option looks far, far better to me; which Twitter is now doing.
unique link to this extract


Social media has turned Bill Gates into the coronavirus pandemic’s fake villain • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick:

»

The paranoia around the former Microsoft CEO has been building for months, festering in Facebook Groups and YouTube comment sections. Here’s how the conspiracy theorists, panicked and ignorant people, and technology platforms that allowed the hoaxes to grow turned Bill Gates into the villain of the coronavirus pandemic.

The most popular version of the rumor stems from a tabloid in Ghana.

In 2010, a former staffer with a government health initiative in Ghana claimed that a community health initiative, partially funded by the Gates Foundation, had tested the contraceptive Depo-Provera on unsuspecting villagers in Navrongo, a remote town in the country, as part of an illicit “population experiment.”

The woman making the charge, Mame-Yaa Bosumtwi, was the Ghanian-born, US-educated communications officer for a separate Gates-funded initiative by the Ghanaian government and Columbia University. The program used cellphones to improve healthcare access for women and children in rural areas. Bosumtwi had clashed with another team member, James Phillips, a demographer at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; when her contract was not renewed, she took her professional gripes with Phillips to the Ghanaian press and filed a lawsuit against Columbia for millions of dollars in damages.

After the lawsuit was dismissed, Bosumtwi went back to the press with a much more shocking claim. Without evidence, she said that Phillips’s project in rural Ghana had experimented with Depo-Provera on women as a test run for a broader population control campaign. Patients had been abused. Some had died.

Wanted posters with Phillips’s face sprouted across the country. Protesters mobilized outside Columbia’s research center in Navrongo. Ghanaian health officials called her claims libel, and community leaders and women from the rural area condemned them as false. But death threats escalated so badly that two members of Phillips’s team had to be evacuated across the border to Burkina Faso.

«

And things, uh, kinda spiralled from there. Your long read for the day. It’s a doozy.
unique link to this extract


Sero-surveillance of COVID-19 • GOV.UK

»

A number of serological collections have been established by PHE [Public Health England] to provide an age-stratified geographically representative sample across England over time. These include samples from healthy adult blood donors, supplied by the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHS BT). Donor samples from different geographic regions (approximately 1000 samples per region) in England are tested each week. The results presented here are based on testing using the Euroimmun assay. Figure 1 shows the overall prevalence in each region over time which has been adjusted for the accuracy of the Euroimmun assay (sensitivity and specificity).

«

So this is showing the proportion of people with antibodies. That graphic is pretty dramatic. London has had the highest case numbers (over 27,000) and deaths (nearly 6,000). That shows it being at best one-third (20%) of the way to low herd immunity (60%), at worst under one-fifth (13%) of the way to full herd (80%). A long way from being there. Also, I didn’t think blood donation was still going on.
unique link to this extract


Can a former model predict your future? A million Turkish users say yes • Rest of World

Kaya Genç:

»

In Apple’s App Store, Faladdin describes itself as “far beyond a fortune telling app.” The description states that it can predict one’s destiny “by evaluating a person’s past.” It does this by bringing the Turkish tradition of coffee fortune-telling into the Internet age. For centuries, Turks have boiled coffee grinds and water in the same pot, which leaves a residue that practitioners can read like a Rorschach inkblot. Thanks to Faladdin — and at the expense of Turkey’s traditional tellers — in-person consultations are no longer necessary. Every day, more than one million Faladdin users upload photos of their coffee cup grinds, and Taşdelen’s team provides personalized “readings” of them within 15 minutes. Of these readings, 700,000 are in Turkish, 200,000 are in Arabic, and 100,000 are in English…

…Faladdin collects data from users and then draws language from a pool of preformulated interpretations. These readings are produced by a group of 30 contributors, including a dramatist, a psychologist, an ad director, and an author. “They are like the precogs in ‘Minority Report,’” Taşdelen said of his writers. “They possess the psychic ability to see the future, but of course we don’t house them in pools.”

Last year, Taşdelen began feeding these texts to OpenAI, the artificial intelligence platform cofounded by Elon Musk, in order to train Faladdin to autonomously produce fortunes. Taşdelen refused to elaborate when I asked about the technical details, but he did say that the AI was initially a massive failure.

«

Fortune-telling by AI! As it happens, Janelle Shane, author of the AI Weirdness blog, has already trained a machine learning system to do western astrology. Read them here, with forecasts such as “come to your joyful love journey and ride your uptight, stoned tiny horses”. (Thanks Jim for the link.)
unique link to this extract


YouTube is deleting comments with two phrases that insult China’s Communist Party • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

YouTube is automatically deleting comments that contain certain Chinese-language phrases related to criticism of the country’s ruling Communist Party (CCP). The company confirmed to The Verge this was happening in error and that it was looking into the issue.

“This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” said a YouTube spokesperson. The company did not elaborate on how or why this error came to be, but said it was not the result of any change in its moderation policy.

But if the deletions are the result of a simple mistake, then it’s one that’s gone unnoticed for six months. The Verge found evidence that comments were being deleted as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on YouTube’s official help pages and multiple users confirmed that they had experienced the same problem.

Comments left under videos or in live streams that contain the words “共匪” (“communist bandit”) or “五毛” (“50-cent party”) are automatically deleted in around 15 seconds, though their English language translations and Romanized Pinyin equivalents are not.

The term “共匪” is an insult that dates back to China’s Nationalist government, while “五毛,” (or “wu mao”) is a derogatory slang term for internet users paid to direct online discussion away from criticism of the CCP. The name comes from claims that such commenters are paid 50 Chinese cents per post.

These phrases seem to have been accidentally added to YouTube’s comment filters, which automatically remove spam and offensive text. The comments are removed too quickly for human moderation and are deleted even if the banned phrases are used positively (e.g., “The 五毛 are doing a fantastic job”). YouTube says it’s been relying more on its automated filters in recent months due changes to its workforce brought about by the pandemic.

«

I don’t believe for a second that they were added to the comment filters by accident. The example of Saudi infiltration of Twitter makes me suspect a similar infiltration here. It’s such a particular thing.
unique link to this extract


Early tests of vaccine for COVID-19 pass peer review, look promising • Ars Technica

John Timmer:

»

The first indication of progress toward a vaccine that we’re aware of came in the form of a company press release. This new one comes in the form of a peer-reviewed article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Most of its authors are academic researchers or public health authorities; only two have affiliations with a company.

The two reports also differ significantly in terms of their approach to generating an immune response. The earlier announcement, from a company called Moderna, involved injecting carefully packed RNAs that encode the spike protein that normally resides on the surface of the virus. The RNAs transit inside a person’s cells and induce them to produce the spike protein, thereby exposing the immune system to it.

The Chinese researchers used a very different approach to inducing immunity. In their case, they engineered the gene that encodes the spike protein into a harmless virus called Adenovirus 5. They then produced large quantities of the engineered virus and injected that into people. Even though adenoviruses are essentially unrelated to coronaviruses (they use DNA as their genetic material, rather than RNA), the cells that the engineered viruses infect will produce the coronavirus spike protein, again exposing the immune system to it.

«

Promising start. Many Manhattan projects running in parallel, but to stop a bomb going off.
unique link to this extract


Formula E driver disqualified for getting impostor to race for him • Reuters

Alan Baldwin:

»

Audi Formula E driver Daniel Abt was disqualified and ordered to pay €10,000 ($10,900) to charity on Sunday for getting a professional gamer to compete under his name in an official esports race.

The German, who apologised for “having called in outside help”, was also stripped of all points won to date in the all-electric series’ Race at Home Challenge which features drivers using simulators remotely.

“I did not take it as seriously as I should have,” said the 27-year-old, accepting the punishment for sporting misconduct.

“I am especially sorry about this because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organisation. I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste but it was never meant with any bad intention.”

Pro gamer Lorenz Hoerzing, Abt’s ‘ringer’, was disqualified from all future rounds of the separate Challenge Grid competition.

The 15-lap race around a virtual Berlin Tempelhof track was won by Britain’s Oliver Rowland for Nissan e.dams with Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne second for Mercedes.

«

Pretty soon – next race? – you’ll have race administrators who will be there beside the racers to make sure they are actually the ones controlling it.
unique link to this extract


Facebook Messenger adds safety alerts—even in encrypted chats • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

For the past year, governments around the world have pressured Facebook to abandon its plans for end-to-end encryption across its apps, arguing that the feature provides cover for criminals and, above all, child predators. Today Facebook is rolling out new abuse-detection and alert tools in Messenger that may help address that criticism—without weakening its protections.

Facebook today announced new features for Messenger that will alert you when messages appear to come from financial scammers or potential child abusers, displaying warnings in the Messenger app that provide tips and suggest you block the offenders. The feature, which Facebook started rolling out on Android in March and is now bringing to iOS, uses machine learning analysis of communications across Facebook Messenger’s billion-plus users to identify shady behaviors. But crucially, Facebook says that the detection will occur only based on metadata—not analysis of the content of messages—so that it doesn’t undermine the end-to-end encryption that Messenger offers in its Secret Conversations feature. Facebook has said it will eventually roll out that end-to-end encryption to all Messenger chats by default.

«

A good thing in its way, while also telling us that Facebook is monitoring everyone’s metadata (which we know in the back of our minds anyway, after all.)
unique link to this extract


Sony Mobile smartphone shipments hit low in 1Q20 • Digitimes

Max Wang and Steve Shen:

»

Sony Mobile Communications saw its quarterly smartphone shipments hit a 10-year low of 400,000 units in the first quarter of 2020 despite robust sales of new models, including Xperia 1 II and Xperia 10 II, in Japan.

The vendor has been keen on promoting its smartphones in Europe and Latin America, but its shipment prospects for the second quarter remain flat as demand in these two regions has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, according to sources from Taiwan’s handset supply chain.

Although it was the second largest vendor with a 10% share in Japan in the first quarter, the fact that it lagged top vendor Apple by 50pp in terms of market share is making it hard to further push its sales in its home market, said the sources.

In addition to the impacts of the pandemic, Sony will continue to face keen competition from Samsung, Motorola (Lenovo), Huawei, Xiaomi and LG in Latin America, the sources added, noting that Sony Mobile’s share in the region has fallen to around 1% recently.

«

Revenues shrank by 25% year-on-year, though losses narrowed a lot. Sony’s mobile business is – I keep saying – dead on its feet; it sold 4m phones in the whole of 2019, and you can’t blame coronavirus for that. Along with LG, it seems to be a sort of vanity publishing.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1316: the coronavirus conspiracists, how the NSA mapped Americans’ social networks, eBay’s odd port scanning, what makes Catalina slow, and more


Ever wondered why yellow skies in films so often denotes ‘somewhere Asian’? CC-licensed photo by Håkan Dahlström on Flickr.

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

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

New Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows coronavirus conspiracy theories spreading on the right may hamper vaccine efforts • Yahoo News

Andrew Romano:

»

According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, 44% of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements — a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.

The survey, which was conducted May 20 and 21, found that only 26% of Republicans correctly identify the story as false. [44% think it is true; 31% are “not sure”.]

In contrast, just 19% of Democrats believe the same spurious narrative about the Microsoft founder and public-health philanthropist [52% say false, 29% “not sure]. A majority of Democrats recognize that it’s not true. [For independent voters, 24% think it’s true, 45% that it’s false, 31% “not sure” – so they align more closely on that with Democrats.]

As states relax their lockdown restrictions and responsibility for containing the coronavirus shifts, in part, to the American people, the vast gap between the right and the left over Gates reflects a growing problem: the dangerous, destabilizing tendency to ignore fundamental facts about the deadly pathogen in favor of misinformation peddled by partisans, including President Trump, and spread on social media. 

That tendency is more widespread on the right, although liberals also believe some false narratives (including that COVID-19 deaths have already surged in states that were quick to reopen).

«

As someone remarked, wait until those fretting about the “microchip” nonsense hear about smartphone location tracking.
unique link to this extract


Inside the NSA’s secret tool for mapping your social network • WIRED

Barton Gellman:

»

Stellarwind was designated as ECI, “exceptionally controlled information,” the most closely held classification of all. From his West Wing office, Cheney ordered that Stellarwind be concealed from the judges of the FISA Court and from members of the intelligence committees in Congress.

According to my sources and the documents I worked through in the fall of 2013, Mainway soon became the NSA’s most important tool for mapping social networks—an anchor of what the agency called Large Access Exploitation. “Large” is not an adjective in casual use at Fort Meade. Mainway was built for operations at stupendous scale. Other systems parsed the contents of intercepted communications: voice, video, email and chat text, attachments, pager messages, and so on. Mainway was queen of metadata, foreign and domestic, designed to find patterns that content did not reveal. Beyond that, Mainway was a prototype for still more ambitious plans.

Next-generation systems, their planners wrote, could amplify the power of surveillance by moving “from the more traditional analysis of what is collected to the analysis of what to collect.” Patterns gleaned from call records would identify targets in email or location databases, and vice versa. Metadata was the key to the NSA’s plan to “identify, track, store, manipulate and update relationships” across all forms of intercepted content. An integrated map, presented graphically, would eventually allow the NSA to display nearly anyone’s movements and communications on a global scale. In their first mission statement, planners gave the project the unironic name “the Big Awesome Graph.” Inevitably it acquired a breezy acronym, “the BAG.”

The crucial discovery on this subject turned up at the bottom right corner of a large network diagram prepared in 2012. A little box in that corner, reproduced below, finally answered my question about where the NSA stashed the telephone records that Blair and I talked about. The records lived in Mainway. The implications were startling.

«

Also, China is very bad for surveilling its citizens without their informed consent.
unique link to this extract


eBay port scans visitors’ computers for remote access programs • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:

»

As the port scan is only looking for Windows remote access programs, it is most likely being done to check for compromised computers used to make fraudulent eBay purchases.

In 2016, reports were flooding in that people’s computers were being taken over through TeamViewer and used to make fraudulent purchases on eBay.

As many eBay users use cookies to automatically login to the site, the attackers were able to remote control the computer and access eBay to make purchases.

It got so bad that one person created a spreadsheet to keep track of all the reported attacks. As you can see, many of them reference eBay.

The script being used for fraud detection is further confirmed by Dan Nemec’s great write-up, where he traced it to a fraud detection product owned by LexisNexis called ThreatMetrix.

«

There’s also a writeup by Dan Nemec which suggests a more nefarious intent:

»

It’s not just eBay scanning your ports, there is allegedly a network of 30,000 websites out there all working for the common aim of harvesting open ports, collecting IP addresses, and User Agents in an attempt to track users all across the web. And this isn’t some rogue team within eBay setting out to skirt the law, you can bet that LexisNexis lawyers have thoroughly covered their bases when extending this service to their customers (at least in the U.S.).

«

unique link to this extract


Here’s how long coronavirus patients are contagious, according to multiple studies • BGR

Chris Smith:

»

A new study from Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases and the Academy of Medicine says that the virus could not be isolated or cultured after day 11 of illness. The researchers analyzed parameters from 73 COVID-19 patients in the region, concluding that “viral RNA detection may persist in some patients, such persistent RNA detection represent non-viable virus and such patients are non-infectious.”

The new respiratory disease is quite unusual when it comes to recovery. Some people need several weeks to get better and many people keep testing positive even after the symptoms go away, making a discharge impossible. These new studies might change the way hospitals manage COVID-19 patients.

The study references similar studies from other countries, including research from Hong Kong that showed an infected person could be contagious as early as 2.3 days before the onset of symptoms, peaking just before the onset of symptoms and declining within 7 days. A different study from Taiwan that looked at COVID-19 patients and contact concluded that the secondary cases they observed originated from contact with an infected patient within 5 days of that person’s onset of symptoms. None of the contacts were infected after that.

The Singaporean paper also references a study from Germany that supports its findings, research we highlighted back in early April. The German researchers found that patients were highly infectious in the first week of symptoms. “Infectious virus was cultured from throat and lung specimens in the first week of symptoms, but none after day 8 in spite of high viral loads detected by regular PCR,” the researchers note.

The Singapore study seems to contradict a study from China from late March, which suggested that COVID-19 patients might be contagious even after the symptoms disappear. That study said the average duration of symptoms was 8 days, but the patients tested positive for 8 days after the symptoms were gone. However, what the Singapore study says is that patients will not be infectious 11 days after the onset of symptoms, even if they still test positive. That’s actually in line with the study from China.

«

unique link to this extract


Netflix’s ‘Extraction’ is being called out for its Bangladesh yellow filter • Matador

Elisabeth Sherman:

»

On April 19, Netflix shared a new trailer for its recently released Chris Hemsworth film Extraction, which takes place in Bangladesh. The trailer depicts the high-octane methods used to film the movie (a cameraman attached to the front of a car moving at high speed, for instance). But the trailer had an unexpected consequence: Viewers quickly noticed that the footage of the movie being filmed looked normal while the final cut of the film has a distinct, and off-putting, yellowish tint.

There’s a phrase for this distinct color palette: It’s called yellow filter, and it’s almost always used in movies that take place in India, Mexico, or Southeast Asia. Oversaturated yellow tones are supposed to depict warm, tropical, dry climates. But it makes the landscape in question look jaundiced and unhealthy, adding an almost dirty or grimy sheen to the scene. Yellow filter seems to intentionally make places the West has deemed dangerous or even primitive uglier than is necessary or even appropriate, especially when all these countries are filled with natural wonders that don’t make it to our screens quite as often as depictions of violence and poverty.

“It’s upsetting. It goes hand in hand with how racist Westerners perceive these places and people, especially when you think about how vibrant and colorful these countries’ cultures actually are. Applying these filters plays into stereotypes about these places and the people who live there,” Sulymon, a business analyst from California, whose family is from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, tells me.

«

Now you’ve had it pointed out, you’ll start seeing it all over the place. Well, non-western places, mainly. (Offers of colour tropes for other countries/nationalities/races welcomed.)
unique link to this extract


macOS Catalina 10.15: slow by design • Sigpipe 13

Allan Odgaard:

»

Apple has introduced notarization, setting aside the inconvenience this brings to us developers, it also results in a degraded user experience, as the first time a user runs a new executable, Apple delays execution while waiting for a reply from their server. This check for me takes close to a second.

This is not just for files downloaded from the internet, nor is it only when you launch them via Finder, this is everything. So even if you write a one line shell script and run it in a terminal, you will get a delay!

You can test this by running the following two lines in a terminal:
echo $'#!/bin/sh\necho Hello' > /tmp/test.sh && chmod a+x /tmp/test.sh
time /tmp/test.sh && time /tmp/test.sh

Update 2020-05-23: Some users have a Developer Tools category in the Security & Privacy preferences pane (I don’t). If your terminal is added to this category, you will not be able to reproduce this delay. Though there have been enough confirmations to establish that the delay is real. One user in China reports a delay of 5.7 seconds when using their VPN.

Honestly, this is downright baffling. Are Apple sending the source of all my custom scripts to their server? With their stance on privacy, I wouldn’t think so, so they are likely just sending a checksum, but what are they doing with that checksum that the system couldn’t do locally?

As for the notarization check, the result is cached, so second invocation should be fast, but if you are a developer, you may update your scripts and binaries regularly, which trigger new checks (it appears caching is based on inode, so an update-in-place save may avoid triggering a new check), or you may have workflows that involve dynamically creating and executing scripts, which performance now hinges upon the responsiveness of Apple’s servers.

The worst delay I have seen for this particular issue is around 7 seconds, and I have had a few episodes where it seemed to not cache the result, so repeated launches would still have the delay.

This issue has been reported to Apple and assigned FB7674490. Apple has however responded that it is “by design” (hence the title of this post).

«

People have been complaining for ages that Catalina is slow. (I haven’t upgraded; all the reports make it sound like a nightmare.) Seems like it needs the Snow Leopard treatment: “no new features”.
unique link to this extract


Zoom product updates: restricted screen sharing by default, consent for unmuting and audio alert for the waiting room • Zoom Blog

Deepthi Jayarajan:

»

Temporarily removing GIPHY: To ensure strong privacy protection for users, we’ve temporarily removed the GIPHY integration in Zoom Chat. Once additional technical and security measures have been deployed, we will re-enable the feature. 

«

Slightly cautious about Facebook now, eh.
unique link to this extract


Moderna execs dumped nearly $30m of stock after coronavirus vaccine news • CNN

Matt Egan and Chris Isidore:

»

Moderna’s stock price skyrocketed as much as 30% on Monday after the biotech company announced promising early results for its coronavirus vaccine. As ordinary investors piled in, two insiders were quietly heading for the exits.

Moderna’s chief financial officer and chief medical officer executed options and sold nearly $30m of shares combined on Monday and Tuesday, SEC filings reviewed by CNN Business show.

The sales occurred after Moderna (MRNA) excited Wall Street before markets opened Monday by announcing encouraging vaccine trial results. Moderna’s market value swelled to $29bn – even though the company has no marketed products.

After spiking to as high as $87 on Monday, Moderna’s stock price has since retreated below $70 as medical experts have debated the importance of the early findings.

The securities transactions were done through automated insider trading plans, known as 10b5-1 plans, that lay out future stock trades at set prices or on set dates.

Lorence Kim, Moderna’s chief financial officer, exercised 241,000 options for $3m on Monday, filings show. He then immediately sold them for $19.8m, creating a profit of $16.8m. The next day, Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, spent $1.5m to exercise options. He immediately sold the shares for $9.77m, triggering a profit of $8.2m.

Moderna said the sales were executed under 10b5-1 trading plans that were established in advance.

«

Moderna didn’t have any peer-reviewed publication for the announcement. But it did have a press release that doesn’t need to stand up to scientific scrutiny, yet did goose the stock price.
unique link to this extract


How Sweden wasted a ‘rare opportunity’ to study coronavirus in schools • Science

Gretchen Vogel:

»

There’s nearly universal agreement that widespread, long-lasting school closures harm children. Not only do children fall behind in learning, but isolation harms their mental health and leaves some vulnerable to abuse and neglect. But during this pandemic, does that harm outweigh the risk—to children, school staff, families, and the community at large—of keeping schools open and giving the coronavirus more chances to spread?

The one country that could have definitively answered that question has apparently failed to collect any data. Bucking a global trend, Sweden has kept day care centers and schools through ninth grade open since COVID-19 emerged, without any major adjustments to class size, lunch policies, or recess rules. That made the country a perfect natural experiment about schools’ role in viral spread that many others could have learned from as they reopen schools or ponder when to do so. Yet Swedish officials have not tracked infections among school children—even when large outbreaks led to the closure of individual schools or staff members died of the disease.

“It’s really frustrating that we haven’t been able to answer some relatively basic questions on transmission and the role of different interventions,” says Carina King, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute (KI), Sweden’s flagship medical research center. King says she and several colleagues have developed a protocol to study school outbreaks, “but the lack of funding, time, and previous experience of conducting this sort of research in Sweden has hampered our progress.”

«

Sweden has gone from “yay! Sweden!” to “honestly, Sweden!” in the course of a few weeks. And that would have been data that could have been useful to the entire world.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1315: how iOS 14 leaked, a fungus to stop malaria?, UK to phase out Huawei, how Ayn Rand ruined Sears, ‘fish cleaner’ death redux, and more


Sports betting has all but ceased – so gamblers have turned to the stock market, and like its money-back scheme CC-licensed photo by Sheep”R”Us 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. What’s a holiday? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How iPhone hackers got their hands on the new iOS months before its release • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

»

Motherboard has not been able to independently verify exactly how it leaked, but five sources in the jailbreaking community familiar with the leak told us they think that someone obtained a development iPhone 11 running a version of iOS 14 dated December 2019, which was made to be used only by Apple developers. According to those sources, someone purchased it from vendors in China for thousands of dollars, and then extracted the iOS 14 internal build and distributed it in the iPhone jailbreaking and hacking community.

For the last few months, information about iOS 14 has been trickling out on the Apple blog 9to5Mac, which obtained a copy of the leak. At the same time, people who trade stolen or leaked Apple code and hardware have been distributing this early version of iOS 14 to several security researchers, giving them an opportunity to take an early look into new code, and find new vectors to attack it, according to four sources in the security research community.

“It gives insight into a decrypted copy of the iOS file system months before release so it could be very useful. It’s pre-release, lots could change, but it’s a trove of information,” said Ryan Duff, Director of Cyber Products at SIXGEN, who reviewed the leaked code for Motherboard. “I can’t say this will give an easy jailbreak or anything like that, but it’s way more information about an upcoming iOS than we ever see normally.”

…Will Strafach, a former iPhone jailbreaker and now founder of iOS security app Guardian Firewall [said] “I feel a bit bad for whoever is messing around as Apple does not take kindly to this.”

Duff, who has studied iOS for years, said that it’s relatively normal to have some information about the upcoming iPhone and iOS, but this is “definitely a bad leak.”

«

And people wonder why Apple is paranoid about security around its factories? This seems to have happened before coronavirus blew everything up, so that can’t be blamed.
unique link to this extract


‘The house was on fire’: top Chinese virologist on how China and U.S. have met the pandemic • Science

Jon Cohen speaks to Shao Yiming, chief expert on AIDS at China’s CDC:

»

Q: China’s ahead of the rest of the world in terms of responding to COVID-19, so a big question outside of China is how do we best control this without lockdowns?

A: You have to do early finding of cases, which means measuring temperatures all the time, and you have to do an epidemiological investigation and contact tracing of each case within 24 hours. Prevention has to focus on old people and nursing homes, key personnel, larger factories, pregnant women, and university and school campuses. Scale up testing: Testing is going up in China, even though there are no more cases. In order to guarantee a safe opening, you need to test more people.

Q: How do you do such large-scale contact tracing?

A: To help at China’s epicenter, Wuhan, and in its province, Hubei, our CDC network formed 1300 epidemic investigation teams, in addition to the 40,000 doctors and nurses. We also use very clever tracing tools with big data support. Everybody has a smartphone, and you have to have this health card in your phone, it has to be with you. We don’t need to interview people and ask them to remember where they went. This is the new normal: If you travel or come in contact with a case, your health card will switch from green and become yellow or red. When you reach a new city, at the train station or the airport, you have to show your health card is green. That’s how we do very good contract tracing in China, and that’s how you control the virus.

Q: In the United States, we don’t like the type of intensive surveillance that China does. We think that takes away our individual rights and privacy.

A: But you have done that for almost 20 years because of 9/11. Whenever I go to the United States, I have to give your customs agent 10 fingerprints and two irises into the camera. I cannot understand why U.S. customs wants 10 fingerprints. Why not two? And including my two irises?

Q: But we don’t track people with GPS on their phones and give them a green-yellow-red system. We don’t have state surveillance the way China does—we reject that.

A: Any technology can be wisely used and could also be misused.I think China is careful in how it uses that technology.

«

There’s a lot to chew over in this interview. For instance, US state surveillance used to include collecting the metadata of peoples’ phone calls, including on mobile networks. There’s a fair amount of evasion too.
unique link to this extract


Malaria ‘completely stopped’ by microbe • BBC News

James Gallagher:

»

Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria.

The team in Kenya and the UK say the finding has “enormous potential” to control the disease.
Malaria is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, so protecting them could in turn protect people. The researchers are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.

The malaria-blocking bug, Microsporidia MB, was discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.

The researchers could not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harbouring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.

Microsporidias are fungi, or at least closely related to them, and most are parasites. However, this new species may be beneficial to the mosquito and was naturally found in around 5% of the insects studied.

“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage, it’s a very severe blockage of malaria,” Dr Jeremy Herren, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya told the BBC.

«

You need a form of herd immunity (er..) – at least 40% of the mosquitoes in an area need to have it to become effective. What seems odd is: if this is a beneficial parasite, why isn’t it more common? There must be some competing benefit from the malaria parasite; or does it alter the physiology of the mosquito to kill the fungus?
unique link to this extract


UK draws up three-year plan to remove Huawei from 5G networks • Financial Times

Jim Pickard and Nic Fildes:

»

Downing Street has been under pressure from Tory MPs to ensure that the UK’s telecoms networks — including 5G mobile phone infrastructure — do not contain equipment from the Chinese company beyond 2023 because they believe this could compromise national security.

Boris Johnson, prime minister, in January granted the Chinese telecoms equipment maker a limited role in supplying kit for the UK’s 5G networks, while capping Huawei’s market share to 35%. The rules also banned the use of the company’s equipment in the critical core of mobile networks where data is stored and routed.

In March the government only narrowly defeated a Tory rebel amendment designed to ban Huawei from UK networks completely.

Now the prime minister has instructed officials to tighten restrictions on the involvement of the company in the new system to zero by 2023, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, which officials have confirmed. The newspaper reported that Mr Johnson always had “serious concerns” about the 5G agreement, initially brokered by his predecessor Theresa May, and now wanted it to be “significantly scaled back”.

«

Suuuuuuuure Johnson had “concerns” about Huawei. More like he had concerns that if Huawei got a substantial chunk of the network contracts, the US under Trump would screw the UK in any trade deal. That will happen anyway, of course.
unique link to this extract


Trump considers forming panel to review complaints of online bias • WSJ

John McKinnon and Alex Leary:

»

President Trump is considering establishing a panel to review complaints of anticonservative bias on social media, according to people familiar with the matter, in a move that would likely draw pushback from technology companies and others.

The plans are still under discussion but could include the establishment of a White House-created commission that would examine allegations of online bias and censorship, these people said. The administration could also encourage similar reviews by federal regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Election Commission, they said.

“Left-wing bias in the tech world is a concern that definitely needs to be addressed from our vantage point, and at least exposed [so] that Americans have clear eyes about what we’re dealing with,” a White House official said.

…Jon Berroya, interim president of the Internet Association, a trade group, disputed the contention that tech companies tilt left. “Online platforms do not have a political bias, and offer more people a chance to have their voice heard than at any point in history,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said any moves by the government carry significant risk of misfiring because of the companies’ free-speech rights and other concerns.

«

Amazing how conservatives are concerned about the market working as it chooses to. (There isn’t any such bias, but they’re private companies so even if there was, that’s their choice, and the US government cannot compel them to do things differently: that’s a First Amendment infringement.) Why don’t the companies being targeted with this bring that up?
unique link to this extract


Study: white supremacist groups are ‘thriving’ on Facebook, despite extremist ban • HuffPost UK

Christopher Mathias:

»

A new study reported that white supremacist groups are “thriving” on Facebook, despite repeated assurances from the company that it doesn’t allow extremists on its platform.

The watchdog group Tech Transparency Project released a study Thursday that found more than 100 white supremacist groups had a presence on Facebook.  

Project researchers identified 221 white supremacist groups — using information collected by Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, two of America’s most prominent anti-hate organizations — and searched for those groups on Facebook. 

About 50% of the groups were present on the platform, the study said. 

Of the 113 white supremacist groups the project found on Facebook, 36% had pages or groups created by active users. The remaining 64% had a page auto-generated by Facebook itself. 

…After HuffPost emailed a Facebook spokesperson about TTP’s report this week, project researchers noticed the company had removed pages for 55 white supremacist groups identified in its report.

“We are making progress keeping this activity off our platform and are reviewing content in this report,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to HuffPost, adding that the company has “banned over 250 white supremacist organizations and removed 4.7 million pieces of content tied to organized hate globally in the first quarter of 2020, over 96% of which we found before someone reported it.”

«

Read the link about the “auto-generated by Facebook” stuff: Facebook auto-generated pages for Isis and white supremacists, including “a celebratory jihadist video”.
unique link to this extract


Failing to plan: how Ayn Rand destroyed Sears • Verso

Michal Rozworski and Leigh Phillips wrote a book called “People’s Republic of Walmart”, pointing at the counter-example to that giant corporation’s success with Sears, whose CEO Eddie Lampert, a firm believer in Ayn Rand tooth-and-claw capitalism, decided to prove that a corporation divided against itself would actually function better than some namby-pamby cooperative:

»

if the apparel division wanted to use the services of IT or human resources, they had to sign contracts with them, or alternately to use outside contractors if it would improve the financial performance of the unit—regardless of whether it would improve the performance of the company as a whole. [Bloomberg journalist Mina] Kimes tells the story of how Sears’s widely trusted appliance brand, Kenmore, was divided between the appliance division and the branding division. The former had to pay fees to the latter for any transaction. But selling non-Sears-branded appliances was more profitable to the appliances division, so they began to offer more prominent in-store placement to rivals of Kenmore products, undermining overall profitability. Its in-house tool brand, Craftsman—so ubiquitous an American trademark that it plays a pivotal role in a Neal Stephenson science fiction bestseller, Seveneves, 5,000 years in the future—refused to pay extra royalties to the in-house battery brand DieHard, so they went with an external provider, again indifferent to what this meant for the company’s bottom line as a whole.

Executives would attach screen protectors to their laptops at meetings to prevent their colleagues from finding out what they were up to. Units would scrap over floor and shelf space for their products. Screaming matches between the chief marketing officers of the different divisions were common at meetings intended to agree on the content of the crucial weekly circular advertising specials. They would fight over key positioning, aiming to optimize their own unit’s profits, even at another unit’s expense, sometimes with grimly hilarious result. Kimes describes screwdrivers being advertised next to lingerie, and how the sporting goods division succeeded in getting the Doodle Bug mini-bike for young boys placed on the cover of the Mothers’ Day edition of the circular. As for different divisions swallowing lower profits, or losses, on discounted goods in order to attract customers for other items, forget about it.

«

The extract is hilarious; pretty soon it’s like Lord of the Flies. Sears filed for bankruptcy in October 2018 and was sold in 2019. I’m always here for failed Ayn Rand experiments.
unique link to this extract


Frustrated sports punters turn to US stock market • Financial Times

Richard Henderson:

»

The lockdowns that have kept billions of people indoors have halted the world’s biggest sporting events — from US basketball and hockey to European football, Indian cricket and even the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

But brokerages that connect everyday investors to the stock market have seen a surge in account openings, as punters seek thrills in unfamiliar places. This has brought new investors to the market, helping to propel a one-third rise in US stocks from the depths of the pandemic sell-off in March.

“People are staying at home, there’s no sports on — so people are trading for fun with the backdrop of improving markets,” said Rich Repetto, senior research analyst at Sandler O’Neill in New York.

Daniel Goodwin, who oversees a team of paralegals for a law firm in Indiana, would typically bet $100 on a handful of sports games every night. A few weeks into the shutdowns, with matches on hold, he fired up a dormant ETrade account with several thousand dollars and began to buy stocks.

“I’m not here for the long run — I just want to throw a thousand bucks at something to see if I can make a few hundred,” said Mr Goodwin, 39, noting that so far he has done well on MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, the casino groups.

“With sports, if I throw $1,000 at something, I lose the whole thing real quick, but here if things go south you can cut your losses.”

«

It would be the most fabulous irony if the gambling industry were to lose out to the stock market.
unique link to this extract


Our weird behavior during the pandemic is messing with AI models • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

»

It took less than a week at the end of February for the top 10 Amazon search terms in multiple countries to fill up with products related to covid-19. You can track the spread of the pandemic by what we shopped for: the items peaked first in Italy, followed by Spain, France, Canada, and the US. The UK and Germany lag slightly behind. “It’s an incredible transition in the space of five days,” says Rael Cline, Nozzle’s CEO. The ripple effects have been seen across retail supply chains.

But they have also affected artificial intelligence, causing hiccups for the algorithms that run behind the scenes in inventory management, fraud detection, marketing, and more. Machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior are now finding that normal has changed, and some are no longer working as they should.

«

So far so expected. But notice this segment:

»

London-based Phrasee… uses natural-language processing and machine learning to generate email marketing copy or Facebook ads on behalf of its clients. Making sure that it gets the tone right is part of its job. Its AI works by generating lots of possible phrases and then running them through a neural network that picks the best ones. But because natural-language generation can go very wrong, Phrasee always has humans check what goes into and comes out of its AI.

When covid-19 hit, Phrasee realized that more sensitivity than usual might be required and started filtering out additional language. The company has banned specific phrases, such as “going viral,” and doesn’t allow language that refers to discouraged activities, such as “party wear.” It has even culled emojis that may be read as too happy or too alarming. And it has also dropped terms that may stoke anxiety, such as “OMG,” “be prepared,” “stock up,” and “brace yourself.” “People don’t want marketing to make them feel anxious and fearful—you know, like, this deal is about to run out, pressure pressure pressure,” says Parry Malm, the firm’s CEO.

«

AI is writing marketing copy and Facebook ads?
unique link to this extract


Police investigating death of Arizona man from chloroquine phosphate • Washington Free Beacon

As they say on news bulletins, we return to this developing story from Alana Goodman:

»

The Mesa City Police Department’s homicide division is investigating the death of Gary Lenius, the Arizona man whose wife served him soda mixed with fish tank cleaner in what she claimed was a bid to fend off the coronavirus. A detective handling the case confirmed the investigation to the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday after requesting a recording of the Free Beacon’s interviews with Lenius’s wife, Wanda.

Gary Lenius, 68, died on March 22. Wanda, 61, told several news outlets last month that both she and her husband had ingested a substance used to clean aquariums after hearing President Donald Trump tout one of its ingredients, chloroquine phosphate, from the White House briefing room.

Detective Teresa Van Galder, the homicide detective handling the case for the Mesa City Police Department, confirmed that the investigation is ongoing but declined to provide additional details.

“As this is an active investigation, I cannot go into any details at this time regarding the case,” Van Galder said. The Free Beacon provided a recording of its interview last month with Wanda Lenius.

«

Goodman has been doing a ton of work on this story, and established back in March that the couple gave thousands of dollars to Democratic groups and candidates, including a “pro-science resistance PAC” in the past two years alone.

Increasingly this doesn’t look like a duh-how-stupid story, but more like a cruel act that ended a life prematurely.
unique link to this extract


Kayleigh McEnany displays one of Trump’s checks in a little too much detail • The New York Times

Annie Karni:

»

on Friday, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, did not just reveal that the president was sending his salary to the Department of Health and Human Services to help “support the efforts being undertaken to confront, contain and combat the coronavirus.”
She also displayed the president’s private bank account and routing numbers.

The $100,000 check she held up like a prop appeared to be a real check from Capital One, complete with the relevant details. An administration official said mock checks were never used in the briefing.
A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said in a statement, “Today his salary went to help advance new therapies to treat this virus, but leave it to the media to find a shameful reason not to simply report the facts, focusing instead on whether the check is real or not.”

«

With Trump, the first thing you do is examine the gift horse’s teeth. But this is hilarious. Continuing a proud record of hiring only the stupidest people, who then rage like toddlers when their stupidity is pointed out.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1314: grannies v the GDPR, Facebook to cut remote worker pay, the Covid bots, Magic Leap lives (for now), Amish health redux, and more


Back in the 1860s, people could have taken an earlier version to a public hanging; and other strange historical intersections CC-licensed photo by Can Pac Swire 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Grandmother ordered to delete Facebook photos under GDPR • BBC News

:

»

A woman must delete photographs of her grandchildren that she posted on Facebook and Pinterest without their parents’ permission, a court in the Netherlands has ruled.

It ended up in court after a falling-out between the woman and her daughter.

The judge ruled the matter was within the scope of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). One expert said the ruling reflected the “position that the European Court has taken over many years”.

The case went to court after the woman refused to delete photographs of her grandchildren which she had posted on social media. The mother of the children had asked several times for the pictures to be deleted.

The GDPR does not apply to the “purely personal” or “household” processing of data. However, that exemption did not apply because posting photographs on social media made them available to a wider audience, the ruling said.

“With Facebook, it cannot be ruled out that placed photos may be distributed and may end up in the hands of third parties,” it said. The woman must remove the photos or pay a fine of €50 (£45) for every day that she fails to comply with the order, up to a maximum fine of €1,000.

«

Contrast this with the laissez-faire attitude in the US over revenge porn (in its way, this is in the same box: a photo put online by someone else to which the photographed person, or their guardian, objects).

Raises the question of what happen about photos that ordinary people put on social media, if those photographed object, though.
unique link to this extract


Researchers: nearly half of accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely bots • NPR

Bobby Allyn:

»

Nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages on the social media platform about the coronavirus pandemic are likely bots, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said Wednesday.

Researchers culled through more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January and found that about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.

It is too early to say conclusively which individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts, but researchers said the tweets appeared aimed at sowing division in America.

“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that,” said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who is conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter that has yet to be published.

«

Yet again: Twitter isn’t even remotely the real world.
unique link to this extract


Magic Leap raises $350m, withdraws layoff notices • The Information

Alex Heath:

»

Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz told employees Thursday his struggling augmented reality firm had raised $350m from existing and new investors.

In a memo obtained by The Information, Abovitz also said it was withdrawing the conditional WARN notices sent to remaining staff on April 22. The withdrawal indicates the Florida-based company does not have imminent plans to lay off more of its remaining employees. “We look forward to continuing normal operations,” he wrote. Business Insider first reported the news.

«

I guess it’s a sunk cost thing. They’ve piled more than $2.5bn into it. What’s another Three Hundred And Fifty Million Dollars? Apart obviously from $350m.
unique link to this extract


Coronavirus hijacks cells in unique ways that suggest how to treat it • STAT

Sharon Begley, explaining that SARS-Cov-2 interferes (ahem) with the interferon-generating genes that are the usual response to a virus, but then stimulate the burn-it-all cytokines:

»

In another new study, scientists in Japan last week identified how SARS-CoV-2 accomplishes that genetic manipulation. Its ORF3b gene produces a protein called a transcription factor that has “strong anti-interferon activity,” Kei Sato of the University of Tokyo and colleagues found — stronger than the original SARS virus or influenza viruses. The protein basically blocks the cell from recognizing that a virus is present, in a way that prevents interferon genes from being expressed.

In fact, the Icahn School team found no interferons in the lung cells of Covid-19 patients. Without interferons, tenOever said, “there is nothing to stop the virus from replicating and festering in the lungs forever.”

That causes lung cells to emit even more “call-for-reinforcement” genes, summoning more and more immune cells. Now the lungs have macrophages and neutrophils and other immune cells “everywhere,” tenOever said, causing such runaway inflammation “that you start having inflammation that induces more inflammation.”

At the same time, unchecked viral replication kills lung cells involved in oxygen exchange. “And suddenly you’re in the hospital in severe respiratory distress,” he said.

«

So interferon might help. It’s pretty expensive. But probably safer than hydroxychloroquinine.
unique link to this extract


The Atlantic lays off almost 20% of staff • Axios

Sara Fischer:

»

The Atlantic is laying off nearly 20% of staff, according to an internal note from David Bradley, the publication’s chairman, that was obtained by Axios.

It’s the latest media company that’s been been forced to take drastic measures to survive the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 68 staff cuts are mostly attributable to the collapse of the company’s events business, which was one of its strongest pillars for many years.

In the memo, Bradley says that sales, editorial and events staff are all impacted. “There is no fault on the part of people leaving the firm. What makes this so particularly difficult is that these are exceptional and beloved Atlantic colleagues. They are exactly the same good people who were selected to join us at the outset. Measure for measure, they have contributed to The Atlantic as have those who are remaining. It is only that the ground has shifted,” Bradley wrote in his note to staff.

«

The pandemic is an extinction event for so many organisations that rely on events. Which turns out to be a lot of media companies.
unique link to this extract


Students are failing AP tests because the College Board can’t handle iPhone photos • The Verge

Monica Chin:

»

Nick Bryner, a high school senior in Los Angeles, had just completed his AP [Advanced Placement] English Literature and Composition test last week. But when he snapped a photo of a written answer with his iPhone and attempted to upload it to the testing portal, it stopped responding.

The website got stuck on the loading screen until Bryner’s time ran out. Bryner failed the test. He’s retaking it in a few weeks.

Bryner is among the many high school students around the country who completed Advanced Placement tests online last week but were unable to submit them at the end. The culprit: image formats.

For the uninitiated: AP exams require longform answers. Students can either type their response or upload a photo of handwritten work. Students who choose the latter option can do so as a JPG, JPEG, or PNG format according to the College Board’s coronavirus FAQ.

But the testing portal doesn’t support the default format on iOS devices and some newer Android phones, HEIC files. HEIC files are smaller than JPEGs and other formats, thus allowing you to store a lot more photos on an iPhone. Basically, only Apple (and, more recently, Samsung) use the HEIC format — most other websites and platforms don’t support it. Even popular Silicon Valley-based services, such as Slack, don’t treat HEICs the same way as standard JPEGs.

Bryner says many of his classmates also tried to submit iPhone photos and experienced the same problem. The issue was so common that his school’s AP program forwarded an email from the College Board to students on Sunday including tidbits of advice to prevent submission errors.

“What’s devastating is that thousands of students now have an additional three weeks of stressful studying for retakes,” Bryner said.

«

Not easy either to change that setting. (See if you can manage it.)
unique link to this extract


Facebook to push remote hiring, tells employees they can move • MSN

Kurt Wagner:

»

It’s a trend that could drastically change Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, which has for decades been the mecca for high-paying technology jobs. Many of the world’s most valuable companies, including Facebook, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are headquartered just south of San Francisco, which has made the surrounding area one of the wealthiest and most expensive in the world.

Facebook employees who wish to work remotely, and are approved to do so, will be paid based on their new location, Zuckerberg added. That means employees who move to areas with a lower cost of living than the Bay Area would likely take a pay cut. Employees currently working remotely who want to extend their remote work plans beyond the end of this year will need to alert Facebook for tax and payroll reasons.

«

So the first shoe drops: the high salaries are all about the discomfort and difficulty of living in the Bay Area, not because these are inherently fabulous programmers. It will be the first indication that programming really is a fungible skill to some of these people.
unique link to this extract


For spy agencies, briefing Trump is a test of holding his attention • The New York Times

Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman:

»

Mr. Trump, who has mounted a yearslong attack on the intelligence agencies, is particularly difficult to brief on critical national security matters, according to interviews with 10 current and former intelligence officials familiar with his intelligence briefings.

The president veers off on tangents and getting him back on topic is difficult, they said. He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports, relying instead on conservative media and his friends for information. He is unashamed to interrupt intelligence officers and riff based on tips or gossip he hears from the former casino magnate Steve Wynn, the retired golfer Gary Player or Christopher Ruddy, the conservative media executive.

Mr. Trump rarely absorbs information that he disagrees with or that runs counter to his worldview, the officials said. Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.

Working to keep Mr. Trump’s interest exhausted and burned out his first briefer, Ted Gistaro, two former officials said.

«

And if you contradict him he stops listening and fires you. Those who call him the toddler-in-chief aren’t wrong. And he blames them for him not comprehending the risk of the coronavirus.
unique link to this extract


Unlikely simultaneous historical events • kottke

Jason Kottke:

»

A poster on Reddit asks: What are two events that took place in the same time in history but don’t seem like they would have? A few of my favorite answers (from this thread and a previous one):

…[other unlikely ones…

Spain was still a fascist dictatorship when Microsoft was founded.

There were no classes in calculus in Harvard’s curriculum for the first few years because calculus hadn’t been discovered yet.

Two empires [Roman & Ottoman] spanned the entire gap from Jesus to Babe Ruth.

When the pyramids were being built, there were still woolly mammoths.

The last use of the guillotine was in France the same year Star Wars came out.

Oxford University was over 300 years old when the Aztec Empire was founded.

«

Here’s another which I saw on Twitter: people probably took the London Underground to get to public hangings. (First underground train 1863, last public hanging in London 1868.) It’s certain that something is happening this year which will cause future generations to say “Who would have–“
unique link to this extract


Specimen: A Game About Color on the App Store

»

Specimen is an addictive, minimalist design game about color perception. Easy to learn, tough to master: simply tap the specimen that matches the background color. As you advance, earn patterned boosters and chroma coins to combat an ever faster clock.

Play to find out: are you a color genius?

«

A good way to find out whether you’re a tetrachromat (assuming your screen is good enough). No idea whether there’s a version for Android.
unique link to this extract


Sharing the load: Amish healthcare financing • National Institutes of Health: Healthcare

Kristyn Rohrer and Lauren Dundes in 2016:

»

The Amish Hospital Aid program is not without challenges, however, as more conservative Amish (who tend to reside in the southern areas of Lancaster County) are less likely to participate in the program, reflecting a well-known north–south divide in Lancaster County (roughly represented by Route 30). One southern respondent who objected to Amish Hospital Aid explained that “Plainer Amish don’t use it” and perceived it as, “the rich helping the rich”. Northern Lancaster County Amish (e.g., those living in and around Intercourse) tend to be more affluent than their more conservative southern neighbors living in towns like Quarryville. Relative to much more conservative Amish in other parts of Pennsylvania, however, the difference between northern and southern Lancaster County Amish is much less prominent.

Some of the more conservative Amish see the Amish Hospital Aid plan as inappropriately progressive and institutionalized. Many believe it detracts from neighbors helping each other completely voluntarily (with its set monthly fees, etc.) and view it as taking away from donations to the alms fund, a belief that remains to be substantiated. These individuals are more apt to approve only of the traditional Amish alms support (akin to church tithing) for members’ medical needs [2]. Part of the appeal of alms is the reliance on voluntary donations, which bears no resemblance to standard health insurance.

«

Yes, the Amish are back! I got a lot of feedback about yesterday’s article. Seth pointed out that “Scott Alexander” (not Fitzgerald) of Slate Star Codex (who referenced the paper linked here) approaches the topic of healthcare from the “intellectual libertarian” stance, emphasising “personal responsibility” and that they engage in a “normal free market in medical care”.

This is somewhat true, but they’re obliged to because that’s the environment around them. Note that they pool resources on what is effectively a flat tax method and pay out according to need, not their payment plan.

G noted that “the discounts [the Amish get] are absorbed as higher prices for others. Amish often to go hospitals when they cannot be refused services due to lack of payment.” OK – but there are fewer than 400,000 Amish, so there’s a lot to absorb in a system that already overcharges.

Finally, Adrian noted that he’d encountered some very similar sects in Belize: “nice people, and much to be said for their way of life.” Harrison Ford thought so too, to some extent.
unique link to this extract


D̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ hate the playa, hate the game • Tech Learnings

“Tech Learnings” (whose identity I haven’t discovered) on comparisons between Zoom and the airline industry:

»

Back in 2011, Marc Andreessen uttered the most famous words in tech [that “software is eating the world”]. And most of us cheered on as his prognostication came out to largely be true. Industry after industry got disrupted by tech until it became a boring fact of life. But the real price of software start-ups was a declining share of output to human capital. We all continued to cheer on as Google and Facebook announced 70% gross margins and 40% EBIT margins. You know what those margins were? Rents on our society. Money that got returned year after year as capital to a few shareholders. We invented elaborate language and math to celebrate the success. Wall Street spoke highly of asset light businesses. HP did a great job by outsourcing manufacturing to China. Oh yes, offshoring production means that asset base is lower – ROA increased, hence ROE is higher. Yes, yes – the markets love that. Stock prices go higher and management gets compensated.

Silicon Valley professed to love software businesses. Software businesses ‘scaled’ very well. You know why they scale so well? Because after a certain point, there’s virtually no underlying cost base. Microsoft Office makes $30bn in revenue year despite being a 30-year old product that has zero innovation attached to it. That is the power of software scaling. That is the power of SaaS retention/stickiness. But Office doesn’t employ 100k employees at Microsoft. Microsoft could add another 10k engineers to the Office team and pay them $150k to play Minecraft at home. That would cost the company $1.5bn. And yet this would only cause the company’s margins to shrink by 1.1%. Investors won’t even notice as the company could call this R&D as Google has done with ‘Other Bets’ which has cost Google >$20bn over the past three years…

…We as a society need to come up with new terms to judge and allocate economic output. I’ll leave discussions of UBI and wealth re-allocation to politicians and experts like Piketty. But I will leave you with my final thought on the matter:

Imagine I told you a bank was charging 25% APR to customers. Naturally, most of you would be disgusted and would want to know the name of this organization. The regulator would likely get involved and fine these institutions. You would likely avoid that institution then for the rest of your life.

We need to add the same level of nuance around rent extraction by tech companies.

«

Thought-provoking. It’s a Substack, so I subscribed. (Substack is fast becoming the go-to place for newsletters; like Medium, delivered more flexibly.)
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1313: the trouble with Google Classroom, Apple’s Austin hotel, no-reply Twitter, Dyson’s electric car goes flat, and more


It’s also a place with the most cost-effective health care system in the US. But how? CC-licensed photo by YARDEN5 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Amish health care system • Slate Star Codex

Scott Fitzgerald:

»

the Amish are a German religious sect who immigrated to colonial America. Most of them live apart from ordinary Americans (who they call “the English”) in rural communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They’re famous for their low-tech way of life, generally avoiding anything invented after the 1700s. But this isn’t absolute; they are willing to accept technology they see as a net positive. Modern medicine is in this category. When the Amish get seriously ill, they will go to modern doctors and accept modern treatments.

The Muslims claim Mohammed was the last of the prophets, and that after his death God stopped advising earthly religions. But sometimes modern faiths will make a decision so inspired that it could only have come from divine revelation. This is how I feel about the Amish belief that health insurance companies are evil, and that good Christians must have no traffic with them.

…The Amish outperform the “English” [Americans] on every measured health outcome. 65% of Amish rate their health as excellent or very good, compared to 58% of English. Diabetes rates are 2% vs. 8%, heart attack rates are 1% vs. 6%, high blood pressure is 11% vs. 31%. Amish people go to the hospital about a quarter as often as English people, and this difference is consistent across various categories of illness (the big exception is pregnancy-related issues – most Amish women have five to ten children). This is noticeable enough that lots of health magazines have articles on The Health Secrets of the Amish and Amish Secrets That Will Add Years To Your Life. As far as I can tell, most of the secret is spending your whole life outside doing strenuous agricultural labor, plus being at a tech level two centuries too early for fast food…

…an SSC reader [contacted] his brother, a Mennonite deacon, for better numbers. He says that their church spends an average of $2000 per person (including out of pocket) [in a pooled payment system]

How does this compare to the US as a whole? The National Center For Health Statistics says that the average American spends $11,000 on health care. This suggests that the average American spends between five and ten times more on health care than the average Amish person.

How do the Amish keep costs so low?

«

This is an amazing post (certainly will be to most American readers, I hope; and to others). It isn’t short, but there are segments which will have you gawping, and reading on eager to find the next gawp-worthy one. Also, nobody ever calls them “communists” or “socialists” for their medical payment system, do they?
unique link to this extract


Google Classroom and how spaces value people • Subtraction.com

Khoi Vinh:

»

When I saw Google Classroom for the first time, my immediate thought was, “This is clearly an under-funded product that ranks fairly low on the list of Google’s priorities.” Our kids use the iPad version and, setting aside the inconvenient fact that it’s at least a few steps behind Google Classroom in the browser, the product as a whole is slow, inelegant and unappealing. It works but just barely, and it lacks nearly every modern user experience affordance commonly found in most contemporary productivity software.

Upon reflection, I came to realize that this is no accident…

…There’s also no way for the work to be done directly in the app. Teachers can set up assignments so that each child has a “personal copy,” but that really only allows you to open up a linked document in Google Docs. Otherwise, assigned worksheets must be downloaded, printed, scanned or, more likely, photographed with a smartphone (thereby removing all semantic information) and uploaded. If the work consists of multiple pages, then students or parents need to take multiple snapshots and—this is one of the more egregious feature disparities between Classroom on an iPad and in the browser—each must be manually attached to the assignment, one by one, because even making multiple selections for uploading is beyond what the app is arable of. (In fairness, this is partially the fault of iPadOS’s file picker, but plenty of other products have found elegant workarounds.)

…The bigger context of this poverty of common user experience affordances, though, is Google Classroom’s utter lack of humanity. The app isn’t just spare, it’s barren; it’s task-oriented and optimized for assignments, not learning-oriented and optimized for people.

«

But of course it’s the administrators who spend the money aren’t the ones who use the software. Exactly the same situation that pertained for years with PCs in corporations, and them phones in corporations.
unique link to this extract


Apple checks in with 192-room hotel for billion-dollar Austin campus • CultureMap Austin

:

»

Tech giant Apple Inc. has added a new amenity to its $1bn corporate campus under construction in Northwest Austin — a 192-room hotel.

A revised site plan approved April 29 by the City of Austin shows a 75,500-square-foot, six-story hotel, as well as previously envisioned office buildings and parking garages. The revised plan doesn’t cite a hotel brand. The original site plan for the project, filed in December 2018, didn’t include a hotel…

John Boyd Jr., principal of Princeton, New Jersey-based corporate location consulting firm The Boyd Co. [says] that “having a hotel connected at the hip with its corporate parent is not common now, but in the post-COVID-19 corporate travel world, I expect we will be seeing more of this concept, especially from deep-pocketed tech firms like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.”

«

Also means that there’s no risk of visitors to campus from some distance away being spotted at local hotels and people getting hints about takeovers etc. Happens more than you might think.
unique link to this extract


Twitter is testing a feature that limits who can reply to your tweets • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:

»

Twitter today acknowledged that it’s begun testing a new setting that let users limit who can reply to tweets. The setting was first noted earlier this year. Similar to Facebook’s post view settings, the current implementation features a small glove icon in the corner. Tapping on it brings up a “Who Can Reply?” window.

From there, users can pick from one of three options: Everyone, People You Follow and Only People You Mention. If you opt for either of the latter, the reply function will greyed out for all who don’t fit the description. They can view, like and retweet the thing, but they won’t be able to reply directly to the sender. The thread itself will also acknowledge that replies are limited. 

Only a “limited group” can use the test feature right now, though anyone with a Twitter account can view the conversations. Since it’s in testing mode, there’s no guarantee that this will become a universal feature, but Twitter says the roll out is designed to “give people more opportunities to weigh in while still giving people control over the conversations they start.”

«

I’ve generally been wrong about changes to Twitter (I think I thought 280 characters would ruin it, was sure that hiding @replies from everyone else was bad). Bearing that in mind, the benefits of this are obvious: women don’t need to be hassled by “reply guys”. But you can still screenshot or just quote-tweet the original, so there’s not a lot of improvement.

Disinformation/misinformation researchers aren’t impressed either as it prevents debunking in replies; quote-tweets aren’t shown in the same thread. And the UI is poor: the reply icon is slightly grayer, rather than struck out or differently coloured.

Given those objections, it will probably mean it turns out to be the best thing ever.
unique link to this extract


Vaccine experts say Moderna’s Covid-19 data leave big questions • Stat News

Helen Branswell:

»

was there good reason for so much enthusiasm? Several vaccine experts asked by STAT concluded that, based on the information made available by the Cambridge, Mass.-based company, there’s really no way to know how impressive — or not — the vaccine may be.

While Moderna blitzed the media, it revealed very little information — and most of what it did disclose were words, not data. That’s important: If you ask scientists to read a journal article, they will scour data tables, not corporate statements. With science, numbers speak much louder than words.

Even the figures the company did release don’t mean much on their own, because critical information — effectively the key to interpreting them — was withheld.

Experts suggest we ought to take the early readout with a big grain of salt. Here are a few reasons why.

The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases has partnered with Moderna on this vaccine. Scientists at NIAID made the vaccine’s construct, or prototype, and the agency is running the Phase 1 trial. This week’s Moderna readout came from the earliest of data from the NIAID-led Phase 1.

NIAID doesn’t hide its light under a bushel. The institute generally trumpets its findings, often offering director Anthony Fauci — who, fair enough, is pretty busy these days — or other senior personnel for interviews.

But NIAID did not put out a press release Monday and declined to provide comment on Moderna’s announcement.

«

Moderna’s value skyrocketed, because Wall Street is far more interested in press releases than medical data. Lots of doubts about this in the medical community, who are very much in the “prove it” category. Getting a vaccine right is not a one-month process. For Ebola, it took four years.
unique link to this extract


James Dyson interview: how I blew £500m on electric car to rival Tesla • The Sunday Times

»

the car is a failure of epic proportions. Not only has he axed it before going into production, it has cost him £500m of his own money. Dyson is a private company. It is a salutary reminder that in a world where billionaires tend to get richer in their sleep, they can still screw up royally.

It’s a shame because the car is — was — special, all right, largely because of Dyson’s battery engineers, who have spent decades developing high-power, quiet, quick-charging cells for everything from cordless vacuums to hair straighteners. “This is the lithium ion pack that would have delivered 600 miles on a single charge,” Dyson says, proudly running his fingers over its 8,500 copper cylinders. Even on a freezing February night, on the naughty side of 70mph on the motorway, with the heater on and the radio at full blast? “Yes, yes.”

That range was not achieved by making a light, small car. The Dyson is huge — five metres long, two metres wide and 1.7 metres tall. It weighs 2.6 tons, even though the body is made of aluminium. But it still looks sporty. “The windscreen rakes back more steeply than on a Ferrari,” Dyson says smiling. The wheels are bigger than on any production car on the market — almost one metre in diameter if you include the quiet-running tyres that “give low rolling resistance for economy yet excellent ride”. (He’s such a product geek, he actually talks like this)…

…Money killed the car. “Electric cars are very expensive to make. The battery, battery management, electronics and cooling are much more expensive than an internal combustion engine,” he explains. It turned out that each Dyson would have had to fetch £150,000 to break even, far more than electric models from the big car makers, which subsidise costs with sales of traditional petrol and diesel cars.

BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar Land Rover “are making huge losses on every electric car they sell”, he explains. “They’re doing it because it lowers their average CO2 and NO2 emissions overall, helping them to comply with EU legislation. I don’t have a fleet. I’ve got to make a profit on each car or I’d jeopardise the whole company. In the end it was too risky.”

«

Don’t weep for him – the Times reckons he’s worth £12.6bn. Terrific range as well – if you made the car lighter you’d get even further. Even so, this reminds me of Benedict Evans’s post about “not even wrong”. The challenge here is the structure of the car business, which militates against electric cars.
unique link to this extract


The story of Worldometer, the quick project that became one of the most popular sites on the internet • New Statesman

Henry Dyer:

»

In 2004, before he reached the age of 20, Andrey Alimetov created what has become one of the most viewed websites of the coronavirus pandemic, Worldometer. The site has shot into the top 100 Alexa rankings. Coronavirus data collated by Worldometer has gone on to be cited by the Government, politicians, media outlets, and commentators – Peter Hitchens has taken to tweeting out a “Daily Worldometer check” comparing the UK and Sweden’s statistics. Wikipedia editors have debated whether or not it should be used as a source. Conspiracy theorists and a right-wing American think tank have speculated that a Chinese company is behind Worldometer. So, can the site be trusted, and who’s behind it? 

…The curiosity about the possible Chinese ownership of Worldometer [it’s actually owned by an American company, Dadax] is not just a consequence of suspicion as to the veracity of Chinese coronavirus data, but also of problems with Worldometer’s process of data collation. There were perhaps inevitable incidents of hacking in March which suggested the Vatican City had had 892,045 deaths. A remarkable figure, let alone that those deaths were from 568,000 cases in a country with a population of around 800. But the site has other problems apart from hackers.

Max Roser, a researcher at Oxford University and founder of Our World In Data, has expressed frustration at the site. He tweeted: “I’m annoyed by Worldometer because it wastes so much of my and my team’s time. For weeks we get messages of people asking why do we not show this or that – ‘Worldometer has the data’. And too often when you look into it, they provide no source or it is wrong.” He says the site has made mistakes in reporting test numbers, in its labelling of metrics, and confusion of case fatality rate with infection fatality rate.

«

But politicians quote it when they like the numbers it shows more than other ones.
unique link to this extract


Solving “The Miracle Sudoku” • Kottke

Jason Kottke:

»

Every once in a while during my internet travels, I run across something like this video: something impossibly mundane and niche (a ~26-minute video of someone solving a sudoku puzzle) that turns out to be ludicrously entertaining. I cannot improve upon Ben Orlin’s description:

“You’re about to spend the next 25 minutes watching a guy solve a Sudoku. Not only that, but it’s going to be the highlight of your day.”

«

It’s true. I’m going to embed it here. You can try to solve it yourself. I got three numbers before going wrong.

Oh, you probably think you’re good at solving sudokus. This uses the normal board. But it starts with just two squares filled. And the solution is unique under the rules that are used, which are normal sudoku plus a couple of chess-like ones (not hard). Do allow yourself the time to watch it.


unique link to this extract


Mark Zuckerberg on “Facebook Shops” (a challenge to Amazon?); Presidents Xi and Trump and CCP disinformation; FB’s Oversight board, and Joe Biden’s dislike of him • The Hugh Hewitt Show

Hugh Hewitt is a right-wing lawyer with a big radio show, so Zuck dialled in to talk about Shops and more:

»

HH: The most piercing criticism I’ve heard [of the Oversight Board], and I’m not really much on content moderation, I’m much more libertarian than most, is that of the 20 members, 15 are not Americans. Of the five, only one is an originalist. I know Judge McConnell, but he’ll get rolled by 19 people. And do we really want 15 foreigners moderating content about American political discourse? In other words, how in the world did we end up, it’s almost like a new Coke moment. How did you with your commitment at Georgetown, and even on Monday at the European speech, how did you end up with a group that most sort of free speech absolutists like me say oh, my gosh, that’s not a free speech group, that’s a bureaucracy like the EU?

MZ: Well, I think we’re going to have to see how it, and I think it’ll build its credibility over time through the decisions it makes. But look, I would encourage folks to not oversimplify this to the point of saying that someone who isn’t American can’t care about free expression. I think that that is…

HH: Well, that would be stupid.

MZ: Yeah.

HH: But because, but the American standard is the most rigorous in terms of allowing speech

«

Remind us again, Hugh, what proportion of Facebook’s three billion users live in the US, population ~250 million. Also notable for Zuckerberg’s remark that “I don’t think we’re living in a world where the algorithm is controlling what you see on Facebook.” 👀 (His point is that you choose who you follow. But I think he significantly – dangerously? overconfidently? – underplays the algorithm’s role.)
unique link to this extract


Viruses in both worlds • Scripting News

Dave Winer:

»

Back in the 00s when viruses were running wild on Windows machines, I was a Windows user. Over time you learned how to defend against them. For example, when they offer you an ad-free version of an app, you say no. That was just the beginning. We were always trying to keep our computers virus-free, but eventually the viruses would figure out a way around our defenses, and we’d be spending all our time fighting it, until we got our machine uninfected, or at least without symptoms.

So, the way we’re dealing with the new coronavirus is the way computer newbies deal with computer viruses. I know because I have supported a virus neophyte, my mom. The current US govt is behaving pretty much the way she would. She didn’t want to learn the rules, and she wanted to pretend it was okay, get back to business as usual (checking her email, writing a blog post). All the while she’s got something watching and recording her every move and looking for a chance to infect some other computer.

«

Brilliant. (Via John Naughton.)
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1312: the log graph problem, 5G unboxing!, BBC Together gets Netflix Party, how Easyjet got hacked, Wuhan dossier debunked, and more


For shops that are physically shut, Facebook Shopping could be a boon – at least online CC-licensed photo by CJS*64 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 12 links for you. No idea how. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The public do not understand logarithmic graphs used to portray COVID-19 • LSE

Alessandro Romano, Chiara Sotis, Goran Dominioni and Sebastián Guidi:

»

the canonical example of framing effects involves an epidemic: a disease that kills 200 out of 600 people is considered worse than one in which 400 people survive…

…Many media outlets portray information about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths using a logarithmic scale graph. At first sight, this seems sensible. In fact, many of them defend their decision by showing how much better these charts are in conveying information about the exponential nature of the contagion. For history lovers, the popular economist Irving Fisher also believed this, which led him to strongly advocate for their use in 1917 (right before the Spanish Flu rendered them tragically relevant). Fisher was ecstatic about this scale: “When one is once accustomed to it, it never misleads.” It turns out, however, that even specialized scientists don’t get used to it. Not surprisingly, neither does the general public.

…We conducted a between-subjects experiment to test whether people had a better understanding of graphs in a logarithmic or in a linear scale, and whether the scale in which the chart is shown affects their level of worry and their policy preferences. Half of our n=2000 sample of US residents was shown the progression of COVID-19 related deaths in the US at the time of the survey plotted on a logarithmic scale. The other half received exactly the same information–this time plotted on a good old linear scale.

Contrary to [the 1917 economist Irving] Fisher’s optimism, we find that the group who read the information on a logarithmic scale has a much lower level of comprehension of the graph: only 40.66% of them could respond correctly to a basic question about the graph (whether there were more deaths in one week or another), contrasted to 83.79% of respondents on the linear scale. Moreover, people in the logarithmic group also proved to be worse at making predictions on the evolution of the pandemic…

«

The problem comes with having lots of countries which you’re trying to compare. In that situation, log graphs are useful for comparison. When you’re looking at one country alone (as in this experiment), linear works better.
unique link to this extract


Facebook launches shopping platform for small businesses • WSJ

Maria Armental:

»

Facebook is making a big push into online shopping through Facebook Shops, enlisting small businesses to sell their wares through its platform and giving them access to its technology at the same time the coronavirus pandemic has upended business world-wide.

“It’s clear at this point that Covid isn’t just a health emergency,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday, referring to Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that has forced businesses to close physical stores. “It’s also the biggest economic shock that we’ve felt in our lifetime.”

Small businesses, Mr. Zuckerberg said, will be able to personalize virtual storefronts to show specific products that are considered more relevant and use augmented reality to let customers virtually try on things such as sunglasses, lipstick or makeup or sample what furniture might look like in a room.

The virtual shops will appear on the businesses’ Facebook and Instagram accounts and, eventually, on the Messenger and WhatsApp messaging tools.

The move, which Facebook said was months in the making and was done with partners such as Shopify Inc., comes a day after the company released results from a survey of small-business owners that found that as of April nearly one-third of small and midsize businesses had stopped operating.

«

Potentially huge, and while there’s lockdown in place businesses will be gasping to use this. And Facebook tightens its grip just a little bit more.
unique link to this extract


Unboxing a 5G protection device • The Quackometer Blog

Andy Lewis:

»

The makers of 5G bioshields claim to use a “PROPRIETARY HOLOGRAPHIC NANO-LAYER TECHNOLOGY” to

»

provide protection for  your home and family,  thanks to the wearable holographic nano-layer catalyser, which can be worn or placed near to a smartphone or any other electrical, radiation or EMF emitting device.

«

This is of course bullshit.

But it is bullshit that sells at £283.00 and is endorsed by the good denizens of Glastonbury [specifically, its 5G committee, as mentioned here on Friday].

Variations of such devices have been around for many years, peddled to protect you from the every increasing dangers of 3G, WiFi, 4G and now 5G. Every few years, a new scare comes along to keep selling such devices.

I bought one a few years ago.

The device I bought was from a chap called Gary Johnson,

»

a qualified Homoeopath, Subtle Energy engineer and lecturer in health & environmental analysis. Developing the art and science of mental/emotional/physical  healing for 28 years.

«

Gary sells a number of solutions to the problems of mobile radiation. He has updated his range somewhat since I bought my device a few years back but a full house solution will set you back about £200.

«

Aren’t nano-layers dangerous though?

unique link to this extract


BBC Together is like Netflix Party but for BBC shows • The Verge

Jay Peters:

»

BBC is launching a new experimental tool, BBC Together, that will let you watch or listen to BBC programming with others over the internet, with everyone seeing the same thing on-screen at the same time. It sounds a lot like Netflix Party but for BBC content.

BBC Together works with any audio or video content from BBC iPlayer (which has on-demand video content from the BBC), BBC Sounds (which has on-demand audio content), Bitesize (which has educational content), BBC News, and BBC Sport, according to the BBC. You should be able to try it now on Taster, the BBC’s site for its experimental technologies.

Once you decide what you want to watch with others with BBC Together, you’ll be able to share a link with your friends so they can join in. If you’re the host, you can decide when to start, stop, rewind, or forward content, and everyone’s stream should stay in sync.

«

unique link to this extract


Easyjet hacked: nine million people’s data accessed plus 2,200 folks’ credit card details grabbed • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

»

Budget British airline Easyjet has been hacked, it has told the stock markets, admitting nine million people’s details were accessed and more than 2,000 customers’ credit card details stolen.

Some information about the attack was released to the London Stock Exchange by the company, which claimed it had been targeted by “a highly sophisticated source”.

Email addresses and “travel details” of “approximately 9 million customers” were slurped by the unidentified hackers. Easyjet insists that the passport and credit card details of nearly all of those people were not affected.

However, 2,208 unlucky souls within the group did have their credit card details nabbed. Precisely which details – 16 digit card number, 3-digit CVV from the reverse, expiry date and so on – were not spelled out.

Twitter activity dating back to the first few days of April, however, shows Easyjet customers asking the airline whether notification emails were real…

…Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey speculated about the digital break-in: “So either credit card details [were] not encrypted or it’s Magecart again. Can’t see why they’d leave only 2,000 cards unencrypted, so suggests Magecart.”

«

Magecart being the group that hacked British Airways by getting their card-stealing code to load from the baggage booking page.
unique link to this extract


Retrospective pooled screening for SARS-CoV-2 RNA in late 2019 • medRxiv

Catherine Hogan and others at Stanford University:

»

Reports have emerged documenting earlier SARS-CoV-2 cases than previously recognized. To investigate this possibility in the Bay Area, we retrospectively tested 1,700 samples from symptomatic individuals [with respiratory problems] for the last two months of 2019. No SARS-CoV-2 positive pools were identified, consistent with limited transmission in this population at this time.

«

In other words: nobody seems to have had Covid-19 in the US in 2019 in the Bay area. Just need this for the Seattle area and New York now.
unique link to this extract


State Dept. investigator fired by Trump had examined weapons sales to Saudis and Emiratis • The New York Times

Edward Wong and David Sanger:

»

The State Department inspector general fired by President Trump on Friday was in the final stages of an investigation into whether the administration had unlawfully declared an “emergency” last year to allow the resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their air war in Yemen.

Employees from the office of the inspector general, Steve A. Linick, presented preliminary findings to senior State Department officials in early March, before the coronavirus forced lockdowns across the United States. But it was not clear whether that investigation, or others that Mr. Linick had underway, led to his dismissal.

Mr. Trump, speaking about the latest in his series of firings of inspectors general around the government, said on Monday of Mr. Linick: “I don’t know him. Never heard of him. But I was asked by the State Department, by Mike” to terminate Mr. Linick. He apparently was referring to a recommendation he received from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…

…The investigation into how Mr. Pompeo moved to end a congressional hold on arms sales to the Saudis was prompted in part by demands from the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, who said on Monday that the subsequent investigation might have been “another reason” for the firing of Mr. Linick.

«

The tales of Pompeo being investigated for getting someone to walk his dog and getting his wife onto planes now sounds like a distraction; this is the real meat of it.
unique link to this extract


Pentagon contractors’ report on ‘Wuhan Lab’ origins of coronavirus is bogus • Daily Beast

Erin Banco, Adam Rawnsley and Lachlan Cartwright:

»

Multiple congressional committees have obtained and are scrutinizing the 30-page report, produced by the Multi-Agency Collaboration Environment (MACE), a part of Sierra Nevada, a major Department of Defense contractor. The report claims to rely on social media postings, commercial satellite imagery, and cellphone location data to draw the conclusion that some sort of “hazardous event” occurred at the Wuhan virology lab in October 2019—an event that allowed COVID-19 to escape. It’s a theory that has gained currency on the political right and in the upper tiers of the Trump administration.  

But the report’s claim centers around missing location data for up to seven phones — and in many cases, less than that. It’s too small a sample size to prove much of anything, especially when the same devices showed similar absences in the spring of 2019. The MACE document claims a November 2019 conference was canceled because of some calamity; in fact, there are selfies from the event. 

What’s more, imagery collected by DigitalGlobe’s Maxar Technologies satellites and provided to The Daily Beast reveals a simpler, less exotic reason for why analysts believed “roadblocks” went into place around the lab after the supposed accident: road construction. The Maxar images also show typical workdays, with normal traffic patterns around the lab, after the supposedly cataclysmic event.

“This is an illustrated guide on how not to do open source analysis,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who analyzed the MACE report for The Daily Beast. “It is filled with apples-to-oranges comparisons, motivated reasoning, and a complete refusal to consider mundane explanations or place the data in any sort of context.” 

A Department of Defense spokesperson told The Daily Beast that MACE did not produce the report “in coordination with the DoD.”

«

Bellingcat, the OSInt group, looked at this and disproved it within minutes. Pompeo and the DoD are now backing away from this at speed.
unique link to this extract


Georgia coronavirus data made reopening look safe. It wasn’t • Los Angeles Times

Matthew Fleischer:

»

Mass delusion seems a dubious strategy for ending the coronavirus crisis. And yet if you look at the data coming out of Georgia over the past month — which had one of the earliest and most aggressive efforts to reopen its economy — you might be convinced that there is little danger in a broad economic reopening.

According to state data models, which Gov. Brian Kemp used to justify Georgia’s aggressive reopening, the state’s infection curve has been rapidly heading in a direction that would be the envy of states like California, with its aggressive lockdown rules. The Wall Street Journal hailed the “Georgia Model” as evidence that aggressive lockdowns were needlessly harming the economy.

Georgia’s miraculous curve seemingly played an important role in the changing public sentiment around reopening nationally. If it’s working in Georgia, why can’t it work here?

Georgia’s flattening curve defied all scientific logic. Pandemics don’t end because the economy is suffering and we want them to.

And yet data don’t lie. Or do they?

Thanks to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, we now know things did indeed look too good to be true. Georgia’s coronavirus numbers looked so rosy because officials misrepresented the data in such a way it’s difficult to believe it wasn’t done on purpose. [Dates were out of order in a way that made the figures appear to be going down.]

“I have a hard time understanding how this happens without it being deliberate,” microbiology and molecular genetics PhD and state Rep. Jasmine Clark told the Journal Constitution. “Literally nowhere ever in any type of statistics would that be acceptable.”

Georgia isn’t the only state itching to reopen that has a penchant for dubious data. Florida actively tried suppressing county coroners from releasing COVID-19 death tallies.

«

If you can’t trust the data, you’ve got a problem. Georgia’s data dashboard shows a fall. But can you trust it now? Florida just fired its data scientist for being too careful.
unique link to this extract


Germany′s data chief tells ministries WhatsApp is a no-go • DW

»

Data privacy commissioner Ulrich Kelber said any use of WhatsApp was prohibited for federal ministries and institutions, even if some had resorted to using it during the current pandemic.

In a letter to branches of the federal government, Kelber said that bodies must respect, and not neglect, data protection “even in these difficult times.”

Read more: WhatsApp in India — Scourge of violence-inciting fake news tough to tackle
He stressed that federal entities were obliged to uphold Germany law and had a role model function.
The Düsseldorf newspaper Handelsblatt said Kelber, previously a Social Democrat (SPD) federal parliamentarian, was reacting to complaints from citizens about the use of WhatsApp by unnamed federal authorities.

“Just by sending messages, metadata is delivered to WhatsApp every time,” said Kelber, adding that it could be assumed that these data snippets were then forwarded directly to Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent concern.

“These contribute, even if only as a small piece of the mosaic, to the increased storage of personal profiles,” he wrote, referring to IP addresses and locations.

WhatsApp, cited in Handelblatt’s Monday edition, rebutted Kelber’s warning, saying the messaging service did not forward user data to Facebook — for example, to enable more accurately the distribution of online advertising.

«

There’s a gap in Facebook’s denial. It’s able to block messages being forwarded more than a certain number of times from WhatsApp groups; it’s able to measure how much less virality there is as a result. How can it know that if it isn’t collecting some metadata?
unique link to this extract


China puts city of Shulan under Wuhan-style lockdown after fresh Covid-19 cases • The Guardian

Helen Davidson:

»

In Shulan, residential compounds were restricted to just one entry and exit for emergency vehicles, and banned non-residents and vehicles from entering. If there are confirmed cases in a community residence, no one can enter or leave.

Last week, the city was reclassified as high risk after a cluster of cases emerged connected to a woman with no known history of travel or exposure to the virus. In response, authorities ordered the temporary closure of public places, schools and public transport.

On Monday however these restrictions were increased further, with China Daily referring to the city as “the latest pandemic hotspot in the country”. It said hundreds of people were under medical quarantine, and that life might not go back to normal for weeks.

The north-east of the country, which borders Russia and North Korea, has emerged as an area of serious concern, as cases appear to have been brought in from across the border, and then begun to spread locally.

At least 34 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Jilin province in the past fortnight.

«

Shulan in is the north-east region of the country, a long way from Wuhan. Tempted to say that coronavirus is endemic in China now.
unique link to this extract


OnePlus 8 Pro’s color filter mode won’t be disabled after all (except in China), but will receive changes • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

»

OnePlus has announced that it will temporarily disable the “color filter” camera on the 8 Pro in a future update, but only the Chinese version of the phone running HydrogenOS will be affected. The camera, which is augmented with its ability to gather infrared light, was able to see through materials like certain plastics and even some kinds of cloth. The functionality will apparently return in the future when OnePlus can limit “other functionality that may be of concern.”

The company made its initial announcement via Weibo, but a follow-up post to the OnePlus forums has made the upcoming changes much more clear. The color filter camera will be disabled in the Chinese market within the next week via a HydrogenOS update, but the company has plans to bring it back once it can eliminate customer worries. Again, this temporary feature removal only affects HydrogenOS, the company’s Chinese ROM. OnePlus has no plans to disable the color filter camera in the US or international markets, though it all markets will end up with whatever fix the company eventually devises.

«

Unclear why it’s only the Chinese version. Perhaps sales aren’t actually significant enough outside China yet to make it worth considering; it would just be hassle.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1311: Huawei hits out over new sanctions, Uber cuts further, Disney loses exec to TikTok, Microsoft loves open source!, and more


The Isle of Wight: not the ideal place to find people with coronavirus, which is good – but also bad CC-licensed photo by Alwyn Ladell on Flickr.

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

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

Huawei hits back at US as TSMC cuts off chip orders • The Verge

Sam Byford:

»

“In its relentless pursuit to tighten its stranglehold on our company, the US government has decided to proceed and completely ignore the concerns of many companies and industry associations,” Huawei adds in an official statement. “This decision was arbitrary and pernicious, and threatens to undermine the entire industry worldwide. This new rule will impact the expansion, maintenance, and continuous operations of networks worth hundreds of billions of dollars that we have rolled out in more than 170 countries.”

“We expect that our business will inevitably be affected,” Huawei’s statement continues. “We will try all we can to seek a solution.”

Nikkei reported earlier today that TSMC has moved to stop new orders from Huawei following the US government’s announcement last week. The rules are specifically designed to target Huawei and its chip subsidiary HiSilicon, requiring a license for any shipments from manufacturers that use US technology or equipment. TSMC didn’t deny the reports but called them “purely market rumor,” according to Reuters.

Huawei has in the past suggested that it could switch its chip supply to Samsung in this eventuality. The company has also recently been exploring domestic chip production through China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), which just received a $2.2 billion investment from the Chinese government.

«

This is going to cripple both Huawei’s consumer and network businesses. The latter is way bigger and more important. It will also hasten China aiming to do everything itself. The US-China divide is going to get wider, rather than China becoming in any way subservient to the US.
unique link to this extract


Isle of Wight contact-tracing app trial: a mixed verdict so far • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:

»

It is 10 days since all Isle of Wight residents were invited to test the NHS app at the heart of the government’s test, track and trace strategy. So how’s it going?
Mixed would probably be a fair verdict.

The big concern was how many people would download it. Epidemiologists suggest that for the UK as a whole, about 60% of the population needs to install and use the software for it to live up to its full potential. So when Downing Street says there have been roughly 60,000 downloads, that’s not a bad result. The island’s population is 140,000, and its inhabitants are slightly older and less likely to own a smartphone than the UK average.

But one cautionary note – that 60,000 may include some who downloaded it twice or are from the mainland. Still, that compares well with other experiments. About 20% of the population of Singapore downloaded its contact-tracing app, and last week an Australian government app had been installed by roughly a quarter of its population.

But here’s the key question – does it work? Are users being alerted to take action after coming into contact with the virus?

Here, there is very little to go on. What we know is that there are just 173 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the Isle of Wight. With most people still in lockdown, it is quite unlikely that any single individual using the app would have come into contact with an infected person.

«

Umm well that does seem like a bit of a drawback for testing your contact-responding app. Though Apple just released iOS 13.5 with the contact tracing API, so it’ll be back to the drawing board for the NHS.
unique link to this extract


Uber cuts 3,000 more jobs, shuts 45 offices in coronavirus crunch • WSJ

Preetika Rana:

»

Uber Technologies is cutting several thousand additional jobs, closing more than three dozen offices and re-evaluating big bets in areas ranging from freight to self-driving technology as Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi attempts to steer the ride-hailing giant through the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Khosrowshahi announced the plans in an email to staff Monday, less than two weeks after the company said it would eliminate about 3,700 jobs and planned to save more than $1 billion in fixed costs. Monday’s decision to close 45 offices and lay off some 3,000 more people means Uber is shedding roughly a quarter of its workforce in under a month’s time. Drivers aren’t classified as employees, so they aren’t included.

Stay-at-home orders have ravaged Uber’s core ride-hailing business, which accounted for three-quarters of the company’s revenue before the pandemic struck. Uber’s rides business in April was down 80% from a year earlier.

“We’re seeing some signs of a recovery, but it comes off of a deep hole, with limited visibility as to its speed and shape,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said in his note to employees. The company’s food-delivery arm, Uber Eats, has been a bright spot during the crisis, but “the business today doesn’t come close to covering our expenses,” he wrote.

«

Uber used to lose money even when people were moving around all the time. The weird thing is that when things start opening up, its cost structure might actually make sense.
unique link to this extract


Disney’s Mayer becomes TikTok CEO • The New York Times

Brooks Barnes:

»

The Walt Disney Company’s top streaming executive, Kevin Mayer, resigned on Monday and will become the chief executive of TikTok, the app for making and sharing short videos that has exploded in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Mayer, 58, will also serve as chief operating officer of ByteDance, the Chinese conglomerate that owns TikTok.

As Americans have stayed home during the pandemic, a growing number have turned to TikTok to help pass the time. New users in the United States downloaded the app about 11 million times in March, nearly twice the total in December, according to Sensor Tower, a company that tracks app usage data.

But national security concerns about TikTok’s growing influence have been raised by members of Congress, who have also questioned if there is a risk that the app could share user data with its Chinese parent company.

Mr. Mayer’s departure from Disney is not entirely a surprise. Disney’s board of directors passed over him earlier this year when it was looking for a successor for Robert A. Iger, who abruptly stepped down in February. (Mr. Iger remains executive chairman, with a focus on the creative process.) Many people in Hollywood and on Wall Street had viewed Mr. Mayer, 58, as the logical internal candidate because the future of Disney rests on its ability to transform itself into a streaming titan. The top job, however, went to Bob Chapek, the lower-profile chairman of Disney’s theme parks and consumer products businesses.

«

Disney+ has hardly done badly, but this is quite a move. TikTok (and ByteDance) are going to get serious about monetisation now. And also the whole global domination thing.
unique link to this extract


US lockdown protests may have spread virus widely, cellphone data suggests • The Guardian

Jason Wilson:

»

Cellphone location data suggests that demonstrators at anti-lockdown protests – some of which have been connected with Covid-19 cases – are often traveling hundreds of miles to events, returning to all parts of their states, and even crossing into neighboring ones.

The data, provided to the Guardian by the progressive campaign group the Committee to Protect Medicare, raises the prospect that the protests will play a role in spreading the coronavirus epidemic to areas which have, so far, experienced relatively few infections.

The anonymized location data was captured from opt-in cellphone apps, and data scientists at the firm VoteMap used it to determine the movements of devices present at protests in late April and early May in five states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and Florida.

They then created visualizations that tracked the movements of those devices up to 48 hours after the conclusion of protests. The visualizations only show movements within states, due to the queries analysts made in creating them. But the data scientist Jeremy Fair, executive-vice president of VoteMap, says that many of the devices that are seen to reach state borders are seen to continue across them in the underlying raw data.

One visualization shows that in Lansing, Michigan, after a 30 April protest in which armed protesters stormed the capitol building and state police were forced to physically block access to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, devices which had been present at the protest site can be seen returning to all parts of the state, from Detroit to remote towns in the state’s north.

«

I know, you’re surprised that meeting up with people might spread the virus. Total shocker.
unique link to this extract


Microsoft: we were wrong about open source • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft has admitted it was wrong about open source, after the company battled it and Linux for years at the height of its desktop domination. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously branded Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches” back in 2001.

Microsoft president Brad Smith now believes the company was wrong about open source. “Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century, and I can say that about me personally,” said Smith in a recent MIT event. Smith has been at Microsoft for more than 25 years and was one of the company’s senior lawyers during its battles with open-source software.

“The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn … that you need to change,” added Smith. Microsoft has certainly changed since the days of branding Linux a cancer. The software giant is now the single largest contributor to open-source projects in the world, beating Facebook, Docker, Google, Apache, and many others.

Microsoft has gradually been adopting open source in recent years, including open-sourcing PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, and even Microsoft Edge’s original JavaScript engine.

«

Gather round, children, and let’s remember that Microsoft used to rely on licensing Windows as the engine of its revenues, and so open source was indeed anathema. But times change, and now Microsoft makes its money from licensing things that aren’t Windows, such as access to its cloud services. That makes it platform-agnostic, but it’s nice to pretend it’s a spiritual conversion.
unique link to this extract


Not even wrong: ways to predict tech • Benedict Evans

He’s blogging again:

»

there is no predictive value in saying ‘that doesn’t work’ or ‘that looks like a toy’ – and that there is also no predictive value in saying ‘people always say that’. As Pauli put it, statements like this are ‘not even wrong’ – they do not give you any insight into what will happen. You have to go one level further. You have to ask ‘do you have a theory for why this will get better, or why it won’t, and for why people will change their behaviour, or for why they won’t’?

To understand both of these, it’s useful to compare the Wright Flier with the Bell Rocket Belt. Both of these were expensive impractical toys, but one of them changed the world and the other did not. And there is no hindsight bias or survivor bias here.

The Wright Flier could only go 200 meters, and the Rocket Belt could only fly for 21 seconds. But the Flier was a breakthrough of principle. There was no reason why it couldn’t get much better, very quickly, and Blériot flew across the English Channel just six years later. There was a very clear and obvious path to make it better. Conversely, the Rocket Belt flew for 21 seconds because it used almost a litre of fuel per second – to fly like this for half a hour you’d need almost two tonnes of fuel, and you can’t carry that on your back. There was no roadmap to make it better without changing the laws of physics. We don’t just know that now – we knew it in 1962.

These roadmaps can come in steps. It took quite a few steps to get from the Flier to something that made ocean liners obsolete, and each of those steps were useful. The PC also came in steps – from hobbyists to spreadsheets to web browsers. The same thing for mobile – we went from expensive analogue phones for a few people to cheap GSM phones for billions of people to smartphones that changed what mobile meant. But there was always a path.

«

A general point, though he does draw a comparison with self-driving cars.
unique link to this extract


FBI: shooter at Pensacola military base linked to al-Qaida • The Washington Post

Eric Tucker:

»

The Justice Department had previously asked Apple to help extract data from two iPhones that belonged to the gunman, including one that authorities say Alshamrani damaged with a bullet after being confronted by law enforcement. Wray said FBI agents were able to break the encryption without the help of Apple.

Law enforcement officials had previously left no doubt that Alshamrani was motivated by jihadist ideology, saying he visited a New York City memorial to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and posted anti-American and anti-Israeli messages on social media just two hours before the shooting.

Separately, AQAP, al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, released a video in February claiming the attack. The branch has long been considered the global network’s most dangerous branch and has attempted to carry out attacks on the U.S. mainland.

But it was only with access to the phones that U.S. officials were able to establish certain suspicions as facts.

Barr said the information retrieved from Alshramani’s phone has already proved valuable, with U.S. officials recently conducting a counterterrorism operation targeting an AQAP operative who was one of Alshramani’s contacts…

Barr used Monday’s press conference to forcefully call on Apple to do more to cooperate with law enforcement.

“In cases like this, where the user is a terrorist, or in other cases, where the user is a violent criminal, human trafficker or child predator, Apple’s decision has dangerous consequences for public safety and national security and is, in my judgment, unacceptable,” Barr said.

«

General principle: listen to any recommendation Barr makes, and do the opposite. Apple isn’t going to make a backdoor, and if a US law is passed obliging it to, it won’t start until that law has been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court – on the basis it would be “speech forced by the government”, violating the First Amendment.
unique link to this extract


The American economy is imploding — and America is too • Medium

Umair Haque:

»

The few jobs that are left are “low-income service jobs” offered by mega-monopolies, which means delivering groceries and driving cars and walking pets. But they don’t provide stable incomes, benefits, guarantees, much less raises, career paths, and so on But when economy’s labour force…goes nowhere…what future can it really have?

That brings me to the second transformation depressions wreak. Economies grow permanently poorer. Yes, as in “forever.” That’s already happening in America, too. yesterday’s if not great but somewhat decent jobs were already being substituted away by the new, gruesome “gigs” that modern-day American techno-capital offers — driving an Uber, delivering an Instacart, selling a pallet on Amazon — but coronavirus has accelerated that transition, massively. Megacorporations aren’t going to magically hire huge numbers of people once they’ve found out they can make do with permanently lowers levels of hiring. But lower levels of hiring across the economy mean that workers have less bargaining power. Bang! Incomes fall — the share of the economy going to working people craters. What’s the net result? Society grows poorer.

What happens to poorer societies? They’re left in a kind of terrible paradox, which is my third transformation: they can’t afford the very things they need to survive most. Why is it that the average American is the only person in the rich world by now who votes against their own healthcare, retirement, education, childcare, and so on? Because they can’t afford it. 80% of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck before coronavirus. Who can afford to pay an extra 5% or 10% in taxes for decent social systems? Nobody, really, except the already rich — who don’t need them. Hence, the famous paradox of the American Idiot: people who vote against their self-interest. It’s not their fault, really: they have no choice. They can’t afford to vote for things like public healthcare.

America was already becoming too poor a society to have functioning public goods, like healthcare or retirement for all. Coronavirus is going to seal that fate. America will be poor now — far too poor to ever really make the transition to having decent public goods. Think of that full half of the American population who’s now not employed. How exactly are they going to afford the higher taxes it takes to have a European or Canadian style social contract? They struggled to before — and after coronavirus, it’s going to be flatly impossible.

«

One point apparently not considered: much higher taxes on those with higher incomes, and higher corporate taxes. That could pay for healthcare. Ah, but Haque is assuming, probably correctly, that the legislature is captured by corporate and personal interests which forestall those. His later points are even more concerning.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1310: Google faces antitrust threat, Facebook swallows Giphy, OnePlus’s see-through camera, lipsyncing Trump, and more


When (if?) there’s a coronavirus vaccine, will the desire to get back to “normal” overwhelm antivaccine idiocy? CC-licensed photo by frankieleon 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. Not in a field. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The US government is getting ready to sue Google for monopolizing online ads • The Verge

Russell Brandom and Makena Kelly:

»

The Justice Department and a coalition of state attorneys general are likely to file antitrust charges against Google in the coming months, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal. The reporting is consistent with earlier statements by Attorney General William Barr, who said he expected a decision to be made sometime this summer.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed the general timeline in a statement to the Journal, saying he would “hope to have the investigation wrapped up by fall,” although he would not commit to whether charges would be filed.

The investigation is one of the greatest efforts to regulate Google by the US government, with rare coordination between state and federal law enforcement. Google has turned over more than 100,000 documents to investigators as part of the ongoing probe, and civil demands have been served to a number of related third parties. Notably, the investigation does not include Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, who has recused himself because of former lobbying work involving Google.

On a call with reporters on Thursday, Paxton said the primary focus was the broad reach of Google’s online advertising network, the economic heart of the company. “We think Google has 7,000 data points on just about every human being alive,” Paxton told reporters on the call. “They control the buy-side [of online advertising], the sell-side and the market which we are concerned gives them way too much power.”

«

Can’t see this sticking. Having a monopoly is not illegal. Using your monopoly to annexe an adjacent market can be an antitrust violation. But that’s not the accusation. The topic to go after Google on antitrust was, and remains, its favouring of its own Shopping and downranking of rivals in its search results. That’s what the EU went after.
unique link to this extract


Google erases thousands of links, tricked by phony complaints • WSJ

Andrea Fuller, Kirsten Grind and Joe Palazzolo:

»

A Google search, at one time, could locate a news article on a man accused of attempted child rape, another on someone charged with fraud and still others on Ukrainian politicians facing corruption allegations. Googling certain keywords in March would find an article detailing the movements of two coronavirus-infected British tourists in Vietnam and warning others who visited the same places to take precautions.

Then the stories vanished.

Google stopped listing them in searches after it received formal requests that it scrub links to the pieces, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

The Journal identified hundreds of instances in which individuals or companies, often using apparently fake identities, caused the Alphabet Inc. unit to remove links to unfavorable articles and blog posts that alleged wrongdoing by convicted criminals, foreign officials and businesspeople in the U.S. and abroad.

Google took them down in response to copyright complaints, many of which appear to be bogus, the Journal found in an analysis of information from the more than four billion links sent to Google for removal since 2011.

Google’s system was set up to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. The 1998 law gives tech firms immunity from claims in copyright cases as long they quickly take down copyrighted material once alerted.

«

Google can’t win this one. There are lots of malicious actors doing this (and using the Right To Be Forgotten in Europe). Yet there are links that do need to be taken down. So.. you get humans to review every one? Now you’re employing tons of people of varying capability to make difficult decisions, which might need to be reviewed by someone else. You thought you were running a search engine but you seem to be running a content review site. That doesn’t scale. So you look at machine intelligence, but how is it going to determine questions like this? So you just automate it. And now the WSJ is writing nasty pieces about the failure of your automation.
unique link to this extract


Get ready for a Covid-19 vaccine information war • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

»

It occurred to me that all the misinformation we’ve seen so far — the false rumors that 5G cellphone towers fuel the coronavirus, that drinking bleach or injecting UV rays can cure it, that Dr. Anthony Fauci is part of an anti-Trump conspiracy — may be just the warm-up act for a much bigger information war when an effective vaccine becomes available to the public. This war could pit public health officials and politicians against an anti-vaccination movement that floods social media with misinformation, conspiracy theories and propaganda aimed at convincing people that the vaccine is a menace rather than a lifesaving, economy-rescuing miracle.

Scariest of all? It could actually work.

I’ve been following the anti-vaccine community on and off for years, watching its members operate in private Facebook groups and Instagram accounts, and have found that they are much more organized and strategic than many of their critics believe. They are savvy media manipulators, effective communicators and experienced at exploiting the weaknesses of social media platforms. (Just one example: Shortly after Facebook and YouTube began taking down copies of “Plandemic” for violating their rules, I saw people in anti-vaccine groups editing it in subtle ways to evade the platforms’ automated enforcement software and reposting it.)

In short, the anti-vaxxers have been practicing for this. And I’m worried that they will be unusually effective in sowing doubts about a Covid-19 vaccine for several reasons.

First, because of the pandemic’s urgency, any promising Covid-19 vaccine is likely to be fast-tracked through the testing and approval process. It may not go through years of clinical trials and careful studies of possible long-term side effects, the way other drugs do. That could create an opening for anti-vaccine activists to claim that it is untested and dangerous, and to spin reasonable concerns about the vaccine into widespread, unfounded fears about its safety.

Second, if a vaccine does emerge, there is a good chance that leading health organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the World Health Organization will have a hand in producing or distributing it.

«

Could be heavily dependent on whether you need vaccination (proven) to “get back to normal”. He speaks to the researchers who produced the study below.
unique link to this extract


The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views • Nature

Neil Johnson and plenty of others:

»

Here we provide a map of the contention surrounding vaccines that has emerged from the global pool of around three billion Facebook users. Its core reveals a multi-sided landscape of unprecedented intricacy that involves nearly 100 million individuals partitioned into highly dynamic, interconnected clusters across cities, countries, continents and languages.

Although smaller in overall size, anti-vaccination clusters manage to become highly entangled with undecided clusters in the main online network, whereas pro-vaccination clusters are more peripheral. Our theoretical framework reproduces the recent explosive growth in anti-vaccination views, and predicts that these views will dominate in a decade. Insights provided by this framework can inform new policies and approaches to interrupt this shift to negative views.

«

“These views will dominate in a decade”. What’s the opposite of enlightenment?
unique link to this extract


How Facebook could use Giphy to collect your data • OneZero

Owen Williams:

»

What might not be obvious, however, is that each search and GIF you send with Giphy [which Facebook bought for $400m on Friday] is also a “beacon” that allows the company to track how and where the image is being shared, as well as the sentiment the image expresses. Giphy wraps each of its animated GIFs in a special format that helps the image load faster, and also embeds a tiny piece of Javascript that lets the company know where the image is being loaded, as well as a tracking identifier that helps follow your browsing across the web.

When embedded into third-party apps, Giphy can track each keystroke that’s searched using Giphy tools. Developers who install Giphy tools into their apps are required to give the service access to the device’s tracking ID. Such access allows Giphy (and now, Facebook) to better match the identity of a user across the apps they use on their phone.

Not every app that has historically integrated Giphy wants to give that data to another company. Secure messaging platform Signal, for example, has gone to lengths to ensure that Giphy was unable to identify users through their Giphy use by intercepting GIF requests and performing them on their own servers, then delivering the ultimate image match themselves. To Giphy, it looks like Signal is making the search, rather than a specific user.

Giphy is integrated everywhere from an iOS keyboard app to Twitter, that’s a good signal Facebook is betting big on using the service to peer inside the wider internet.

For Facebook, Giphy is a match made in heaven: Not only does the startup already get 50% of its traffic from the social media giant’s apps, but bringing it in-house provides a way to peek inside a vast swath of apps and websites beyond its own. That gives Facebook an opportunity to better understand user behavior in its own apps, and beyond, and ultimately could enhance its ad-tracking capabilities further. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how it plans to use Giphy’s tracking capabilities.

«

Talent or data; the only reasons Facebook buys stuff. As The Verge points out, Apple and others won’t like this and will probably take action to block it.
unique link to this extract


The OnePlus 8 Pro doesn’t have an ‘x-ray’ camera, but here’s how it sees through things • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

»

Here’s what’s happening here. Cameras are typically designed to capture light in the same wavelengths that humans can see. There’s no reason they have to be, and there are wavelengths of light that cameras are capable of capturing but simply don’t, because doing so would introduce visual artifacts into the spectrum bands that humans can see. In this case, OnePlus’ camera is picking up infrared light that our eyes can’t normally see. The combination of a slightly opaque (in visible light) surface and the OnePlus 8’s slightly infrared-friendly camera can combine to create output we wouldn’t normally get. The result? An x-ray (or “x-ray” camera).

Your brain is capable of seeing colors you don’t normally process if handed the input to do so. Some years ago, we wrote about the case of a man who had the lenses of his eye replaced with artificial ones. As sometimes happens in these cases, the new artificial lenses allowed him to see deeper into the ultraviolet than is typical for humans. Tests with precise spectrographic measuring equipment confirmed it. When handed deeper UV light than we typically see, your brain is capable of mapping it to visual output, to some modest extent.

Back to the OnePlus 8. In this case, the camera that’s doing the sensing is a low-quality sensor that doesn’t take very good photos. AndroidCentral has dismissed the privacy risk for this reason, given that the “Photochrom” mode apparently degrades image quality further. The overall privacy risk is small, the company claims, though we can understand why folks might be leery given how easily footage finds its way online these days. This also is a problem OnePlus really should have caught in-factory.

«

Useful? Not at all. Unless I’ve missed something. As Hruska points out, you’ll find out a lot more using a screwdriver.
unique link to this extract


The comedian going viral for lip-syncing Trump: ‘People really hate him’ • The Guardian

Poppy Noor:

»

Sarah Cooper never expected to become internet famous during a pandemic, but now she is a viral TikTok celebrity who makes people laugh without saying anything. How? She lets Trump say it all for her: Cooper lip-syncs Trump’s worst comments from press conferences.

Her recent clips include her dubbing Elon Musk explaining without embarrassment the decision to name his child X Æ A-12, but her first viral moment came following that press conference, when Trump suggested Americans ingest disinfectant to cure the coronavirus.

As soon as she heard it, she knew it was comedy gold. “The thing of trying to put light into your body and inject[ing] household cleaner into your veins – it was so visual to me, and I thought, ‘I have to make this’,” she tells me.

Within hours of the press conference Cooper had uploaded the TikTok video, simply captioned “How to medical” and watched as millions of laughs and likes came rolling in.

«

She’s very, very funny. Of course, she’s got great material and doesn’t have to pay for it. But the performance, that’s all her.
unique link to this extract


Glastonbury 5G report ‘hijacked by conspiracy theorists’ – BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:

»

Another witness [to Glastonbury town council’s deliberations about 5G] was Dr Andrew Tresidder, a former GP whose website offers flower remedies and emotional healing. His presentation focused on people claiming to suffer from “electromagnetic stress”, which he said was often not taken seriously by mainstream doctors.

Committee member Roy Procter, a spiritual healer who claims dowsing can heal “sick houses”, also gave a presentation. In the report, he speculates about a link between the coronavirus and 5G, and recommends that the council eliminate all wi-fi connections.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Jon Cousins, told the BBC he strongly disagrees with the suggestion that the meetings were biased towards pseudo-science. “Equal weight was given to all contributions,” he says, adding that councillors “were able to take into account the prejudice, predetermination and bias displayed on all sides of the argument”…

…The committee did hear evidence from Mobile UK, the mobile operators’ trade body.
Its presentation was criticised by one member for being “glossy”, and others alleged there was no attempt to answer questions.

Gareth Elliott of Mobile UK denied that: “We answered everything that was asked of us.” However, he said it was a cordial meeting and his organisation respected the views of the committee.

He recounts an incident where one committee member arrived late to a meeting. She said that although she was hyper-sensitive to electromagnetic emissions, she deemed the meeting room to be safe.

“It was then noted that a Wi-Fi router was operating and was in the room,” he says.

«

It’s hilarious, principally because Glastonbury town council has absolutely no power to ban 5G. I can only imagine how much BBC legal teethsucking this piece provoked, even though Rory was painstakingly careful to allow everyone to speak.

(Long, long ago we told Guardian readers how they could figure out if they were really able to detect when a Wi-Fi router was on. The paper mentioned in that article looked at whether people have “sensitivity” to mobile mast emissions. Finding: nope.)
unique link to this extract


The most trafficked mammal you’ve never heard of • CNN.com

John Sutter, in 2014:

»

It’s hard to overstate the amount of stress that trafficking routes put on pangolins. They’re not happy travelers. Often they haven’t had food or water for days and are perilously dehydrated. Forty% die within a day or two of arriving at the [rescue] center, Phuong told me. The rest are injected with hydrating fluids and kept in quarantine until they can be moved to a larger cage.

All of this made me a little nervous to meet “Lucky”.

After standing there for a minute, I saw him breathing. It was hard to notice at first, but the hexagonal scales on his back rose and fell in a slow, oceanic motion. He must have smelled us, because his slender, toothless snout started to peek out of the ball like a cobra rising from a snake charmer’s basket. Soon, he was looking at us with curious blueberry eyes, bobbing his head and sniffing the air.

The photographer, who asked not to be identified in this story because he lives in Vietnam and fears retribution, got right in his face — SNAP SNAP SNAP — and Lucky just kept investigating the scene, putting his nose right up against the lens.

“He’s performing,” Phuong said with a smile…

…[Sutter then went to a restaurant in Vietnam to follow the illegal trade:] I talked it over with Z, the wildlife investigator who was my tour guide and whose identity I’m withholding because he continues to investigate the wildlife trade in Vietnam undercover. He suggested that I not place the order – or that he didn’t want to be a part of it if I did. I’d be giving a substantial amount of money to a black-market industry, he said. And I’d also be ensuring that one specific live pangolin (I thought of Lucky in this moment) would end up dead.

That last part didn’t quite make sense to me. I figured pangolins, like chicken or whatever, would already be dead in a meat freezer in the kitchen. Consequently, I figured I could argue (to myself and to you) that I hadn’t actually killed a pangolin by ordering it. It was already dead.

But that’s not how it works. As the waitress explained, with the poise of a “Downton Abbey” cast member, the staff would bring the pangolin out to the table live — and slit its throat. Right in front of us.

«

Grisly. As Sutter explains, they’re charming creatures, and being hunted to extinction for people to have stupid meals. Also, pangolins do carry coronaviruses, of various types.
unique link to this extract


SARS-CoV-2 is well adapted for humans. What does this mean for re-emergence? • bioRxiv

Shing Hei Zhan, Benjamin Deverman and Yujia Alina Chan, in a preprint:

»

Our observations suggest that by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV. However, no precursors or branches of evolution stemming from a less human-adapted SARS-CoV-2-like virus have been detected. The sudden appearance of a highly infectious SARS-CoV-2 presents a major cause for concern that should motivate stronger international efforts to identify the source and prevent near future re-emergence. Any existing pools of SARS-CoV-2 progenitors would be particularly dangerous if similarly well adapted for human transmission. To look for clues regarding intermediate hosts, we analyze recent key findings relating to how SARS-CoV-2 could have evolved and adapted for human transmission, and examine the environmental samples from the Wuhan Huanan seafood market. Importantly, the market samples are genetically identical to human SARS-CoV-2 isolates and were therefore most likely from human sources.

«

What they’re saying (the TL;DR) in this not-peer-reviewed article is that you’d expect to see early, less well-adapted versions of SARS-Cov-2 in samples from people who were at the Wuhan wet market if that was the origin of its crossover into humans. But they say all the versions are tightly conserved (genetically speaking), which suggests they’re coming from a human (or humans) who had earlier, not-yet-found versions which were less well-adapted.

I’d go for pangolin truck drivers, myself.

One of the authors, Alina Chan, has been busy on Twitter saying no, this doesn’t mean it’s made by humans, but that we need to know more. Didn’t stop the Mail on Sunday describing it as a “landmark study”: the Mail seems to have an agenda where it wants the virus to have emerged from a laboratory. Nobody has that data, nor a smoking gun to it.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified