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.1337: female gamers rise up, Apple tweaks the App Store, Americans’ strong backing for climate action, a live LED Tube map!, and more


Guess how much of the food people pick up at a buffet comes from the first three items – whatever they are. CC-licensed photo by Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program 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. Yes, we are, briefly, elite hax0rs. (Thanks Walt for the pointer.) I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dozens of women in gaming speak out about sexism and harassment • The New York Times

Taylor Lorenz and Kellen Browning:

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More than 70 people in the gaming industry, most of them women, have come forward with allegations of gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault since Friday. They have shared their stories in statements posted to Twitter, YouTube, Twitch and the blogging platform TwitLonger.

The outpouring of stories from competitive gamers and streamers, who broadcast their gameplay on platforms like Twitch for money, led to the resignation of the C.E.O. of a prominent talent management company for streamers and a moment of reflection for an industry that has often contended with sexism, bullying and allegations of abuse.

Already, the response has been a far cry from Gamergate in 2014, when women faced threats of death and sexual assault for critiquing the industry’s male-dominated, sexist culture. Now, some are optimistic that real change could come.

Gamers began sharing their stories after a Twitter user who posts as Hollowtide tweeted about an unnamed “top” player of the online game Destiny on Friday night, referring to the person as a “scum lord.” Three female streamers, JewelsVerne, SheSnaps and SchviftyFive, saw the post and decided to come forward about their experiences with the gamer in question, who is known online both as Lono and SayNoToRage.

The women posted their allegations, including nonconsensual touching, propositioning for sex and harassment, on Twitter using their streamer handles. (The streamers did not provide their legal names to The New York Times. In years past, women gamers who have spoken out against the industry using their legal names have been subjected to further harassment, hacking and doxxing.)

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Plenty on this to come, one suspects.
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Two-thirds of Americans think government should do more on climate • Pew Research Center

Alec Tyson and Brian Kennedy on the latest polling from Pew:

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At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Public concern over climate change has been growing in recent years, particularly among Democrats, and there are no signs that the COVID-19 pandemic has dampened concern levels. A recent Center analysis finds 60% view climate change as a major threat to the well-being of the United States, as high a share taking this view as in any Pew Research Center survey going back to 2009.

The new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted April 29 to May 5 among 10,957 U.S. adults using the Center’s online American Trends Panel, finds a majority of U.S. adults want the government to play a larger role in addressing climate change.

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Notice how even a majority of Republicans are in favour of tougher fuel efficiency – the complete opposite of what the Republican administration is doing. Wonder if this will be fodder for adverts in the presidential campaign.

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Check out this London tube map made from a working circuit board • ianVisits

Ian Mansfield:

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A clever fusion of modern computer API data to provide the tube movements and traditional circuit board design come together in the TrainTrackr.

The board shows all twelve of the main underground lines: Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, DLR, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria, Waterloo & City, and has 333 station points lit with LEDs.

The circuit board tube map requires a Wi-Fi connection and then pulls down live tube data from TfL’s open data API to make it come alive.

Two versions are available.

A smaller 20cm x 15cm model with all white lights. Or the larger 40cm x 30cm version which used coloured lights for each line – except the Northern, which sticks with white lamps.

You can buy the TrainTrackr from here.

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Not cheap, but wonderful. The logical progression of Matthew Somerville’s 2010 hack to produce the Live London Underground map.
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Apple is changing parts of its app review process after the Hey controversy • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

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the Cupertino company says it will no longer hold up bug fixes over guideline violations except where legal concerns are at play. Apple also says that it will offer new channels for developers to challenge its judgments.

Apple came under fire after it rejected a bug-fix update to email app Hey, which is made by Basecamp. Apple told the app’s developers that the app would have to incorporate Apple’s own system for in-app purchases or risk being delisted. Apple also claimed it should have rejected the app to begin with but that it only noticed the issue when reviewing the bug-fix submission.

The CTO of Basecamp took to Twitter with an impassioned thread accusing Apple of criminal behavior for insisting on a cut of the app’s revenues. The tweet thread sparked a great deal of discussion, not only about Apple’s take of app revenues, but also about the company’s failure to be transparent and consistent about App Store guidelines.

Here are Apple’s words on the developer website today:

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Additionally, two changes are coming to the app review process and will be implemented this summer. First, developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an app violates a given guideline of the App Store Review Guidelines, but will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself. Second, for apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues. Developers will instead be able to address the issue in their next submission.

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Well isn’t that interesting. Apple’s clearly trying to avoid the worst of an antitrust case, though I don’t think this will quite get it out from under what we shall henceforth call Vestager’s Hammer.
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HomePod to add support for third-party streaming music services like Spotify • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

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The status quo with current software is that the HomePod will answer all Siri music requests by initiating Apple Music. Third-party services like Spotify can [presently] only be played on the HomePod by way of AirPlaying a stream from another device.

…It’s currently unclear if other audio apps like podcast clients will be able to participate.

Later this year, Apple is expected to grow the HomePod family with a HomePod mini. Supporting services other than Apple Music helps expand the HomePod’s appeal. It also helps address some of the anticompetitive allegations the company is receiving, with Spotify filing a formal complaint to the EU last year that Apple explicitly disadvantaged competing music services to promote Apple Music adoption.

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That’s two antitrust issues that Apple has addressed by way of tiny mentions on slides rather than mentioning them in its speeches: default apps and also the HomePod, which Spotify grumbled about.
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Apple rejects Facebook’s gaming app, for at least the fifth time • The New York Times

Seth Schiesel:

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Since February, Apple has rejected at least five versions of Facebook Gaming, according to three people with knowledge of the companies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details are confidential. Each time, the people said, Apple cited its rules that prohibit apps with the “main purpose” of distributing casual games.

Facebook Gaming may also have been hurt by appearing to compete with Apple’s own sales of games, two of the people said. Games are by far the most lucrative category of mobile apps worldwide. Apple’s App Store, the only officially approved place for iPhone and iPad users to find new games and other programs, generated about $15bn in revenue last year.

Apple’s rejections of the app from Facebook, a fellow Silicon Valley powerhouse, illustrate the control it exerts over the mobile software and entertainment ecosystem — clout that regulators are increasingly examining. On Tuesday, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said it had opened a formal antitrust investigation into Apple to determine if the terms that the company imposes on app developers violate competition rules.

“We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president in charge of competition policy.

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The problem with Facebook’s app is that it would contain self-contained programs that run inside a self-contained program, which Apple treats as a potential malware threat, and also routing around its payment systems.
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What’s at the front of the line? • Seth’s Blog

Seth Godin:

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A study of behaviour at breakfast buffets showed that the first item in the buffet was taken by 75% of the diners (even when the order of the items was reversed) and that two-thirds of all the food taken came from the first three items, regardless of how long the buffet is.

This means that optimizing marketers usually put the things they most want to sell first.

And that smart consumers benefit from adopting patience as they consider what’s on offer.

Of course, this game theory applies to a lot more than food.

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Meaning you can tweak peoples’ diets so that they will eat more healthily – put the fruits and so on at the front of the breakfast buffet. From the days when people all used to line up for the same food.
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Can the cult of Bang & Olufsen last? • WIRED

Rob Walker:

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B&O got out of mobile phones and MP3 devices entirely, and those cutbacks have helped it survive the global financial crisis. But the company is still struggling to adjust to the contemporary universe of products, software, and services. “This is about carving out our niche — our reason to be, really — in a market that has completely changed,” Mantoni says.

It’s open to debate whether the image projected by B&O’s products is even desirable nowadays. “There’s an ‘impress the neighbors’ quality” to this gear, says Lucian James, founder of brand consultancy Agenda, which specializes in the luxury market. “And that’s an embarrassing concept to a lot of people these days.” Louise Rosen, a 40-year-old brand consultant in Paris, illustrates the problem from the consumer’s point of view. Her Danish mother, she says, is of a generation that aspired to own the company’s wares: “Every electronic device in her house is Bang & Olufsen.” But Rosen has never bought B&O, finding its aesthetic off-putting. “For me,” she says, “it’s nonsense.”

Good taste is no minor matter in Denmark. “We are very aware that Danish design is something the world knows us for,” says Jeppe Trolle Linnet, a social anthropologist and consumer-culture expert in Copenhagen. For proof, go to the city’s Stroget shopping thoroughfare and step into Illums Bolighus, a stunning emporium with four floors of home-design products. You’ll see long-celebrated Danish creations like the refined housewares of Georg Jensen and the legendary PH lamps of Poul Henningsen, with their nested shades that tame glare by emitting reflected light; they were devised around the time B&O was founded and are still sold today. You’ll also see newer arrivals on the Scandinavian design scene: Normann Copenhagen’s amusing round-bottomed tumblers, Muuto’s clever tea-light holders that feature a slot to accommodate a match. These engaging wares make a collective statement about “thingness,” a palpable feeling that every object, no matter how trivial its function, ought to be treated seriously and built to last.

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The article is a fascinating insight into the company’s slightly mad thinking, though it doesn’t answer the question posed in the headline. Looking at its financials, with three successive quarters in the red and revenues slightly down, you might not feel confident.
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Unsubscribe: the $0-budget movie that ‘topped the US box office’ • BBC News

Joshua Nevett:

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In normal times, blockbuster movies usually dominate the box office charts.

The big-budget productions, directed by the likes of James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, regularly draw the biggest crowds at cinemas across the US and beyond.

But on 10 June, one box office-topping movie was watched by just two people, in one cinema.
Unsubscribe, a 29-minute horror movie shot entirely on video-conferencing app Zoom, generated $25,488 (£20,510) in ticket sales on that day.

Nationwide, the movie hit the top of the charts, according to reputable revenue tacker Box Office Mojo.

The budget of the movie: a flat $0. How was that possible?

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This is wonderful. (Like the B+O article, this is also stolen shamelessly from Benedict Evans’s newsletter.)
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Chinese study: antibodies in COVID-19 patients fade quickly • CIDRAP

Robert Roos:

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A new study from China showed that antibodies faded quickly in both asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 patients during convalescence, raising questions about whether the illness leads to any lasting immunity to the virus afterward.

The study, which focused on 37 asymptomatic and 37 symptomatic patients, showed that more than 90% of both groups showed steep declines in levels of SARS-COV-2–specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies within 2 to 3 months after onset of infection, according to a report published yesterday in Nature Medicine. Further, 40% of the asymptomatic group tested negative for IgG antibodies 8 weeks after they were released from isolation.

The authors said the findings suggest that it could be risky to assume that recovered patients are immune to reinfection, which may have implications for how long to maintain physical distancing restrictions.

The patients included in the study were among 2,088 people who were tested for COVID-19 because they were close contacts of confirmed patients in China’s Wanzhou district. Of those who tested positive, 60 had had no symptoms in the preceding 2 weeks but were hospitalized for isolation. Of those, 23 people who had mild symptoms on admission or soon afterward were excluded from the study, leaving 37.

…Among the main findings was that IgG levels in 93% (28/30) of the asymptomatic group and 97% (30/31) of the symptomatic group declined greatly during the early convalescent phase (by 8 weeks after release from the hospital). Antibody levels dropped by 71.1% in asymptomatic patients and 76.2% in the symptomatic group.

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Speaking as someone who have Covid-19 (symptomatically) three months ago, this is bloody annoying.
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Novak Djokovic is latest tennis player to test positive for virus after protocol-flouting tour • The Washington Post

Liz Clarke:

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Djokovic, 33, announced his positive result in a statement Tuesday morning, explaining that his family was tested upon returning to Belgrade after the tour stop in Croatia.

“My result is positive, just as Jelena’s, while the results of our children are negative,” Djokovic wrote, adding that he intends to self-isolate for 14 days.

Originally scheduled over four weeks in three Balkan countries, the Adria Tour kicked off with a news conference in Belgrade that included Djokovic, third-ranked Dominic Thiem, seventh-ranked Alexander Zverev and 19th-ranked Dimitrov seated side by side, without protective face masks, while fielding questions from several rows of reporters who also were not wearing masks.

On the court, there was no apparent effort to keep players from shaking hands or draping arms around one another following matches. And off the court, they danced and partied shirtless at a Belgrade nightclub.

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Djokovic lost in the exhibition match, possibly because he was already ill. If he sickens to any significant extent, his career is effectively over: this is not a forgiving disease, and it’ll affect his stamina. Especially if in a few months he gets reinfected. Djokovic is an anti-vaxxer, by the way. (Wonder if he’ll stay that way if a vaccine becomes available?) Viruses, of course, don’t care about beliefs.
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Superhuman’s email app is overhyped and overpriced – The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

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Superhuman is one of the most in-demand startups right now, with the invite-only app considered one of the most exclusive services in the tech industry. That’s impressive, for an email app. It’s even more impressive for an email app that merely accesses your existing Gmail account and costs $30 per month to use. The buzz — both from the company’s marketing and around Silicon Valley — is off the charts. Superhuman bills itself as “not another email client,” promising an inbox that’s been “rebuilt from the ground up” that will make you “feel like you have superpowers.” The website is peppered with accolades from startup CEOs praising how it has changed their relationship with email.

But does it live up to the hype? I spent a month using the service to find out.

Just getting into Superhuman, which launched way back in 2016, is a task all on its own. First, you’ll either need to submit a request for access or be invited by someone who’s already using the app. In most cases, that’ll put you on a waiting list — which, as of last June, was reportedly 180,000 members long — which may or may not result in the company contacting you to move on with your application.

Assuming that you are accepted, you’ll be asked to fill out a lengthy workflow questionnaire so Superhuman can learn more about how you use email — and whether your workflow is the right fit for its app.

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We last heard about Superhuman back in July last year, when it was getting ragged for failing to protect users’ privacy. Still ridiculous, but it’s obviously just a Veblen good (or service), much as Vertu phones used to be. Oh, Vertu? Went bust because people realised they were after all fungible for cheaper things.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1336: Apple ARMs for the future, Hey makes hay, iOS14 lets defaults go, more on TikTok v Trump, Wirecard unravels, and more


It’s a mink, and you can give it Covid-19, and it can return the favour. CC-licensed photo by Conrad Kuiper 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. Still not elite. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Farewell Intel: Apple’s Mac processor switch explained • Digital Trends

Alex Blake:

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Will Apple Silicon chips be as powerful as Intel processors?
This is a difficult question to answer, largely because few consumer companies have brought out ARM-enabled computers. One exception is Microsoft, which released the Surface Pro X with an ARM chip, claiming it offered three times the performance-per-watt of the Intel-based Surface Pro 6. The processors in Apple’s iPhones and iPads are ARM-based, too, and surge ahead of the competition. While this is not a direct comparison to Mac processors, it is encouraging nonetheless.

Added to that is reporting from Bloomberg, which claims Apple’s internal testing has shown its upcoming Apple Silicon chips outperforming Intel equivalents, especially in graphics and artificial intelligence, all while consuming less power. That was affirmed by Apple at WWDC, where it revealed its new chips aim to combine top-level performance with minimal power consumption levels. Indeed, that is exactly what Apple claimed was the motivation behind the switch.

As this is still a relatively unknown area, however, we will have to reserve judgment until we can review an Apple Silicon-based Mac. Apple did demo some of these chips’ performance in a Mac running on an A12Z Bionic processor, the same one used in the recent iPad Pro. In Final Cut Pro, the Mac was able to play back 4K video clips with live effects applied, as well as three streams of 4K ProRes footage.

Will my apps be compatible?
In a word, yes. Microsoft had to warn customers that some of their apps may not be compatible with the Surface Pro X. Apple seems confident it will not suffer the same fate, however. It says it already has many apps — such as Microsoft Office apps and pro-level apps from Adobe — ready to go from day one, as well as its own in-house apps, from Notes to Final Cut Pro.

There are a number of tools Apple is using to convince developers to make transition native apps over to Apple Silicon. Apple says a new version of Xcode will allow developers to bring Intel applications over in just a few days, using a new application binary called Universal 2 that works for both Intel and Apple systems.

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Apple’s using a clever method of pre-translation (when the app is downloaded) and on-the-fly translation (when the app is run) to make the old apps run. Its experience from its previous two (!) processor transitions and separate OS transition has taught it how to get big developers on board. First hardware arriving before the end of the year. If it’s a Pro laptop, that will give developers an incentive to do the transition work there.

And the developer hardware is indeed a Mac mini, $500 (£480 in the UK) for a short-term rental.
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Apple approves Hey email app, but the fight’s not over • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

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Basecamp isn’t done with the fight. The company has submitted a new version of Hey that meets the strict letter of Apple’s rules but clearly defies their spirit: the company will now offer iOS users a free temporary Hey email account with a randomized address, just so the app is functional when it is first opened. These burner accounts will expire after 14 days. Hey is also now able to work with enterprise customers, as Apple initially took issue with the app’s consumer focus.

Hey has not adopted Apple’s own in-app payment system or allowed users to sign up for its full, paid service through the iOS app. Instead, users will still need to subscribe by going directly to Hey’s website.

It remains to be seen whether these changes will thread the needle to Apple’s satisfaction, but Basecamp is clearly betting that Apple will have to allow future versions of the app now that it does something on launch. “We’re going to take Phil [Schiller] on his word here,” Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson tells me. “The chief complaint was that ‘you download the app and it doesn’t work,’ even though lots of apps work like that.”

“We’ve seen David’s tweets and look forward to working with you on a path forward,” Apple’s App Review Board wrote to Basecamp last week. “This update has been approved.”

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Limited-time accounts… that’s clever. It would at least give you the opportunity to try it.

Patel’s summary of the story so far takes 12 points, covering quite a lot of ground. Still, a truce for now.

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iOS 14 will let you change your default email and web browser apps • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

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As part of iOS 14’s new features, users will be able to switch their default app preferences for the first time. Details are scarce currently, but one of the slides in the WWDC presentation featured a block that announced users will be able to change their default browser and default email app. This is a long-requested feature, as iOS 13 and prior versions of the operating system will always direct taps on links to Safari, and new emails start in Apple Mail.

The default app options arrive as Apple faces increased scrutiny from antitrust bodies about having monopolistic control over the App Store.

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This wasn’t even announced, as such; it’s a little block in one of those “and lots of other things” slides. Clever, though: at the pace that antitrust investigations move, this will have been in place for ages by the time any decision is due.

We await news on the App Store, of course.
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What’s Facebook’s deal with Donald Trump? • The New York Times

Ben Smith:

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Facebook has always had a keener ear to the right side of Washington than much of Silicon Valley, directed in part by Joel Kaplan, a Zuckerberg friend and former Bush administration official who is Facebook’s vice president of global public policy. But it began focusing intently on winning over the conservative media in the spring of 2016, when Gizmodo alleged that the content moderation on the short-lived Trending Topics product on Facebook “suppressed conservative news.” A right-wing apparatus that had spent decades claiming bias in the media turned its sights on the tech giant. And Mr. Zuckerberg gave them the response they’d always hoped for — he shut down the product, welcomed his critics to meetings and signaled that he shared their concerns.

The next year, Mr. Trump continued to push the norms of truth and civility, and the social media platforms began reckoning with their broader misinformation and harassment problem. That set him on an inevitable — and to his supporters, welcome — collision course with the new gatekeepers. Mr. Trump’s dependence on Facebook as an advertising vehicle — he spent $44m on the platform in 2016, and is expected to far exceed that this year — means that he needs the company as much as it needs him. And, as Mike Isaac, Sheera Frenkel, and Cecilia Kang reported in May, Mr. Zuckerberg increasingly embodies his company.

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But in the scale of things, $44m isn’t a lot of money for Facebook, which takes billions every quarter. He could refuse political advertising altogether; Facebook would hardly notice the difference in revenue. I wonder if after November things will change on this. Zuckerberg says he thinks politicians should be allowed to advertise because that levels the field. But it doesn’t, and never has. It’s toxic because of the microtargeting that Facebook enables.

And the irony is that his head of PR is Nick Clegg, who was undone in 2015 by microtargeted adverts in the southwest of England run by the Conservative Party against the Lib Dems, which Clegg had led in coalition for the previous five years with the Conservatives. Facebook’s PR guy who stands up for its political advertising lost his last job because he was screwed over by Facebook’s political advertising.
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Did TikTokers and K-pop fans foil Trump’s Tulsa rally? It’s complicated • The Washington Post

Travis Andrews:

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Writer Parker Malloy also put the blame on the campaign. “You’re giving way too much credit to people on social media and not nearly enough blame on Trump’s failure of a campaign for this one,” she tweeted. “The actual story is that the campaign used to be able to count on massive crowds to show up wherever he went, and figured that this first rally back would be a huge hit. I sincerely doubt they were making decisions based on RSVPs.”

Daniel Radosh, a senior writer for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” tweeted that “the campaign promoted signing up as a signifier of support, which probably got a lot of Trump supporters to request tickets who never really had the commitment to follow through. The same way people RSVP for Facebook events as a Like.”

It’s impossible to know — and irresponsible to speculate — exactly how much influence the TikTok and K-pop fan campaigns had on the actual attendance of the event without seeing every single request receipt. But a few factors suggest that the prank may have at least partly inflated the predicted numbers.

Entry was not ticket-based, but first-come, first-serve, so there were infinite “tickets” available. “They emailed their entire campaign list the Tulsa invite, which also helps explain why a million people signed up. People click buttons,” former Obama administration official Tim Fullerton told The Washington Post. “As someone who has done this before, it’s something that happens.”

Instead, Fullerton said, the online movement probably “made it seem like there were more people interested than they thought, which probably means [the Trump campaign] did less to drive people to the event.”

The idea of organizing online to overwhelm a system with requests or reviews is nothing new. Fans or detractors have long grouped up to flood IMDb with reviews of movies that haven’t yet been released as a means of supporting or diminishing them. K-pop fans recently clogged racist hashtags with funny GIFs, rendering them useless. And, indeed, Trump’s critics have often inundated social media with images of empty seats at his rallies.

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Also worth reading: the NYT reporting Trump’s anger at the many, many, many, many empty seats.
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Wirecard’s end, beginning in China? • PYMNTS.com

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roughly $2bn is unaccounted for in a story that continues to unfold with the German payments processing company at the center. 

Just where the money went, if it was ever there in the first place, remains a mystery. Auditors have refused to sign off on Wirecard’s results. The stock price as of this writing on Monday (June 22) was down roughly 40 percent, and has plunged roughly 90% year to date. 

As Bloomberg reported Monday, at least one lender is mulling writing off roughly $90 million lent to Wirecard, and would not extend the line. The lender, the Bank of China, is one of more than a dozen commercial banks that all told have lent $2bn through a facility to Wirecard. That may pose a mortal danger for Wirecard. After all, extending the terms of the $2bn facility would require unanimous consent from the banks — and that united front, clearly, seems to be fraying. And if one bank refuses to go along, the borrower typically has to repay the loan in its entirety.  

Bloomberg noted that there has not been a final decision by the Chinese bank, and reports state that  most of the banks are eyeing extending the lending agreement. 

The “will they or won’t they” nature of the story spotlights the fact that much is up in the air. Because Wirecard did not release its audited annual results (for 2019) last week, the loans could be called in.

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The FT has been following this for 18 months, ever since a whistleblower told it that there was accounting fraud around third-party businesses in Singapore and Dubai. Wirecard said there was nothing to see, move along.
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Microsoft is shutting down Mixer and partnering with Facebook Gaming • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Microsoft is closing its Mixer service on July 22nd and plans to move existing partners over to Facebook Gaming. The surprise announcement means Mixer partners and streamers will be transitioned to Facebook Gaming starting today, and Microsoft will no longer operate Mixer as a service in a month’s time.

Microsoft has struggled to reach the scale needed for Mixer to compete with Twitch, YouTube, and even Facebook Gaming which has led to today’s decision. “We started pretty far behind, in terms of where Mixer’s monthly active viewers were compared to some of the big players out there,” says Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of gaming, in an interview with The Verge. “I think the Mixer community is really going to benefit from the broad audience that Facebook has through their properties, and the abilities to reach gamers in a very seamless way through the social platform Facebook has.”

Microsoft is partnering with Facebook to transition existing Mixer viewers and streamers over to Facebook Gaming in the coming weeks. On July 22nd, all Mixer sites and apps will automatically redirect to Facebook Gaming.

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So you chose to announce it on Monday evening just as Apple was announcing its move to ARM? You really wanted people to know about it, then.
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People probably caught coronavirus from minks. That’s a wake-up call to study infections in animals, researchers say • The Washington Post

Karin Brulliard:

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The minks on Dutch fur farms first got sick in mid-April, showing symptoms ranging from runny noses to severe respiratory distress. They had caught the novel coronavirus from human handlers, the government later said, and soon farmed minks appeared to have passed it back to two other people, in the world’s first reports of animal-to-human transmission since the pandemic began.

The Netherlands has since culled more than 500,000 minks from 13 infected fur companies. The goal of the grim task, set to continue until the farms are virus-free, is to snuff out the possibility of the animals becoming a reservoir for the virus that causes covid-19, which could stymie efforts to end a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million people worldwide.

Some researchers say that although the chances of that happening appear minimal, the implications are too grave to dismiss. In a commentary published Thursday in the Lancet Microbe, researchers at University College London called for widespread surveillance of pets, livestock and wildlife. Studies on animal susceptibility have been small, limited and, in the case of pigs, conflicting, they wrote.

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Conflicting pigs! And mink and cats. It really would be a hell of a thing if cats turned out to be a reservoir in which the virus can mutate and reinfect humans.
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Winnipeg grocery store owner says numerous customers have been victims of Bitcoin scams • Winnipeg Global News

Marney Blunt:

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A Winnipeg grocery store owner is sounding the alarm over scams involving Bitcoin, after many of his customers were victimized.

Husni Zeid has put a large sign on the Bitcoin machine in his Food Fare store on Lilac Street, warning customers of phone scams involving the cryptocurrency. “A lot of people are getting phone calls saying that they have to transfer the money to Bitcoin regarding CRA; we’ve had Manitoba Hydro as well,” Zeid told Global News.

Zeid and his staff say it’s happening multiple times a week. “Yesterday (a) mom was in here and she said she gave all her savings to them and she was just crying. It was heartbreaking that she fell for it; it was sad,” employee Aura Morissette said. “And all she kept saying was ‘I have kids. (It) was awful.”

The Food Fare employees have also taken it upon themselves to help prevent customers falling victim to the scams. “As soon as we see someone (using the Bitcoin machine) and they’re on their cell phone, we always sort of interject just to make sure they’re not on the phone with (the scammers),” Morissette added. “Usually they are.”

Zeid says he’s fed up with it, and wants to get the machine out of his store. “It’s to the point where it’s (so) frustrating I’m making calls to the Bitcoin machine owner to remove the machine,” he said.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, several types of extortion scams involve the scammers demanding Bitcoin as payment, and they often become threatening or try to play on emotions.

«

Not clear from the story whether it’s the machine itself that’s the scam, or whether it’s people who are somehow being extorted, or what. But sure, getting the machine out would simplify stuff.
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What comes after Zoom? • Benedict Evans

He’s been thinking about what happens to video apps, and apps that contain video:

»

There’s lots of bundling and unbundling coming, as always. Everything will be ‘video’ and then it will disappear inside.

An important part of this is that there seem to be few real network effects in a video call per se. You don’t necessarily need an account to join a call, and you generally don’t need an application either, especially on the desktop – you just click on a link in your calendar and the call opens in the browser. Indeed, the calendar is often the aggregation layer – you don’t need to know what service the next call uses, just when it is. Skype needed both an account and an app, so had a network effect (and lost even so). WhatsApp uses the telephone numbering system as an address and so piggybacked on your phone’s contact list- effectively it used the PSTN as the social graph rather than having to build its own. But a group video call is a URL and a calendar invitation – it has no graph of its own.

Incidentally, one of the ways that this all feels very 1.0 is the rather artificial distinction between calls that are based on a ‘room’, where the addressing system is a URL and anyone can join without an account, and calls that are based on ‘people’, where everyone joining needs their own address, whether it’s a phone number, an account or something else. Hence Google has both Meet (URLs) and Due (people) – Apple’s FaceTime is only people (no URLs).

Taking this one step further, a big part of the friction that Zoom removed was that you don’t need an account, an app or a social graph to use it: Zoom made network effects irrelevant. But, that means Zoom doesn’t have those network effects either. It grew by removing defensibility.

«

The way that Skype had become a last-choice in the pandemic has been amazing. I have a Skype account, but only really use it when I need to call a landline and record it. Zoom has, aha, zoomed ahead.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1335: Tiktokers v Trump, Apple and ARM and the App Store, the mystery of Tether’s growth, ceiling fan secrets, and more


Before she was a lip-sync star, Sarah Cooper worked at Yahoo – and her overnight success has taken 12 years. CC-licensed photo by Andrew Mager 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 13 links for you. Not elite yet. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TikTok teens tank Trump rally in Tulsa, they say • The New York Times

Taylor Lorenz, Kellen Browning and Sheera Frenkel:

»

Brad Parscale, the chairman of Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, posted on Twitter on Monday that the campaign had fielded more than a million ticket requests, but reporters at the event noted the attendance was lower than expected. The campaign also canceled planned events outside the rally for an anticipated overflow crowd that did not materialize.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said protesters stopped supporters from entering the rally, held at the BOK Center, which has a 19,000-seat capacity. But reporters present said there were few protests. According to a spokesman for the Tulsa Fire Department on Sunday, the fire marshal counted 6,200 scanned tickets of attendees. (That number would not include staff, media or those in box suites.)

TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank. After the Trump campaign’s official account @TeamTrump posted a tweet asking supporters to register for free tickets using their phones on June 11, K-pop fan accounts began sharing the information with followers, encouraging them to register for the rally — and then not show.

The trend quickly spread on TikTok, where videos with millions of views instructed viewers to do the same, as CNN reported on Tuesday. “Oh no, I signed up for a Trump rally, and I can’t go,” one woman joked, along with a fake cough, in a TikTok posted on June 15.

Thousands of other users posted similar tweets and videos to TikTok that racked up millions of views.

«

Welllll possibly, but probably not. What the TikTokers and K-Pop fans have done, which is worse for Trump, is really screwed up the campaign’s database. Those who used their real number (rather than a Google Voice or similar) to fake-register reported that they immediately got texts from the Trump campaign. So the campaign is definitely using this as a voter registration/get-out-the-vote scheme. And now it’s got about a million screwed-up ones.

When Trump last appeared in Tulsa, in January 2016 (as one of many candidates) he drew 9,000 people. This time: just over 6,000. (The average attendance across all his rallies in 2015/16 was 5,200; median 4,000.) That data point alone should worry the Trump campaign.
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Kuo confirms ARM at WWDC: 13.3in MacBook Pro and new 24in iMac will be the first ARM Macs, released as soon as Q4 • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

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Kuo confirms that an all-new design iMac is launching imminently, and it will apparently be Apple’s last new Mac featuring an Intel CPU. Starting in Q4 2020 / Q1 2021, Apple will begin its ARM transition with the release of the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro running on Apple silicon, according to Kuo. The updated iMac — featuring a 24-inch display with thinner bezels — is scheduled to switch to ARM at a similar time.

Kuo expects the Mac models will offer performance improvements of 50-100% over their Intel predecessors. The transition timeline proposed by Kuo is aggressive, and faster than some other reports. With Kuo’s bold claim that all new Macs will be equipped with Apple processors starting in 2021, there would only be room in the pipeline for the redesigned iMac as the last new Intel machine (aside some possible spec bumps to existing models in the fall).

Bloomberg previously reported that Apple’s first ARM machine would debut in 2021, featuring a 12-core processor. On a recent episode of the Happy Hour podcast, Mark Gurman implied a late spring/summer launch schedule for the product. Apple is not expected to announce any concrete hardware at WWDC tomorrow, just the fact that is beginning the chip transition.

Kuo says that Apple will discontinue the Intel 13.3-inch MacBook Pro when the new ARM-based model is introduced. The fate of the Intel iMac is not specified. According to previous rumors, Apple will announce a new iMac at WWDC featuring a new industrial design with thin bezels reminiscent of the Pro Display XDR, the Apple T2 chip and AMD Navi GPUs.

«

Wouldn’t have expected the 13.3in MacBook Pro to be the first laptop to go over. Perhaps it’s the most popular pro model. I do wonder a lot about the profit margin on ARM Macs: the CPU should be a lot cheaper. Wonder too if that’ll be reflected in the price.
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Interview: Apple’s Schiller says position on Hey app is unchanged and no rules changes are imminent • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

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The current experience of the Hey app as a user downloading it from the App Store is that it does nothing. It is an app that requires you to subscribe to the Hey service on the web before it becomes useful.

“You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store,” says Schiller. This, he says, is why Apple requires in-app purchases to offer the same purchasing functionality as they would have elsewhere.

To be clear, this is against the App Store rules for most apps. The exceptions here are apps that are viewed as “readers” that only display external content of certain types, like music, books and movies — and apps that only offer bulk pricing options that are paid for by institutions or corporations rather than the end user.

Schiller is clear on our call that Hey does not fit these rules.

“We didn’t extend these exceptions to all software,” he notes about the “reader” type apps — examples of which include Netflix. “Email is not and has never been an exception included in this rule.”

«

You may say: when exactly did these “reader” rules come in, and howcome nobody made a noise about then at the time? As John Siracusa explains beautifully in the ATP podcast (go to 1h40m), the reason why you didn’t hear before is because Apple made the change quietly, and then has quietly pulled up apps that have now fallen into the trap when they next submit an update. So there’s no single point at which every “infringing” app was told of the rule change. Instead, a stealthy divide and rule process kept them each isolated.

Apple’s now a prisoner of its own conflicting desires: give the user easy ways to pay for apps (whether subscriptions, IAPs or outright purchases), make apps and payment as scam-free as possible, keep increasing revenue from the App Store. It’s the good-cheap-fast dilemma. At least one of them is going to break down.
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The iOS App Store brings users only because it’s the only choice • inessential

Brent Simmons is the author (originally) of the Mac apps NetNewsWire and MarsEdit, the first of which he has remade and put in a mobile version onto iOS:

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This is a misconception that many people have — they think the App Store brings some kind of exceptional distribution and marketing that developers wouldn’t have on their own.

It’s just not true. It lacks even a grain of truth.

Setting up distribution of an app is easy and cheap. I do it for NetNewsWire for Mac with no additional costs beyond what I already pay to host this blog. This was true in 2005 as much as now — distribution is not some exceptional value the App Store provides.

And then there’s marketing. Sure, being featured used to mean something to revenue, but it hasn’t meant that much beyond just ego points in years. To be on the App Store is to be lost within an enormous sea of floating junk. No matter how well you do at your app description and screenshots — even if you get some kind of feature — your app will not be found by many people.

Build it (and upload it to the App Store) and they will not come.

Instead, you have to do marketing on your own, on the web and on social media, outside of the App Store. Just like always. The App Store brings nothing to the table.

So while it’s true to say that all of an iOS app’s users come via the App Store, it’s only true because there’s no other option.

«

The most puzzling thing about the iOS App Store for me: who on earth spends any time at all on its “Today” tab? Are there really people who turn to it, looking for thrilling new apps, or guidance on “how to get the best out of the iPlayer” (as it was on Sunday in the UK)? If that truly drives traffic, colour me amazed.

The whole App Store thing is a supertanker collision: it’s a little distance off, but calamity is inevitable nonetheless unless Apple takes some really dramatic evasive action. Also worth reading by Simmons: The App Store doesn’t make apps safe.
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Apple diversity head leaves as tech firms reckon with racism • Bloomberg

Shelly Banjo and Mark Gurman:

»

Apple Inc.’s head of diversity and inclusion Christie Smith is leaving the iPhone company, according to people familiar with the matter.

Last week, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said Apple is launching a $100m Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, adding to the company’s response to the police killing of George Floyd last month. Earlier this month, Cook wrote in a letter to employees and customers that society needs to do more to push equality, particularly for Black people.

“To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines,” Cook wrote in the letter.

Smith joined Apple in 2017 after 16 years at consultancy Deloitte. Unlike her predecessor, who reported directly to the CEO, Smith reported to Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail and People Deirdre O’Brien. The previous person in the role, Denise Young Smith, lasted only six months and left after apologizing for controversial comments she made about the mostly white makeup of Apple’s executive team.

«

To lose one head of diversity and inclusion could be unfortunate; to lose two in three years is.. more unfortunate.
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CGV introduces electronic visitor registration to combat COVID-19 • Korea Herald

Yonhap News:

»

CGV, South Korea’s largest multiplex chain, said Friday it will introduce an electronic visitor registration system based on quick response (QR) code verification technology at all of its theaters nationwide to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

CGV’s announcement came after South Korea last week mandated QR code-based registration of visitors at bars, clubs and other entertainment facilities across the country, stepping up measures against COVID-19. Those facilities are required to use smartphone QR code-based entry logs for all visitors to keep records of their personal details.

Under the CGV system, anyone who visits a CGV theater to buy movie tickets is required to complete a personal authentication process by scanning a QR code at the ticket counter using a smartphone app and entering simple information on the screen.

«

That’s quite a procedure for watching a movie. (Thanks Patrick for the link.)
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Nearly $5bn in Tethers were issued since January. Why? • Decrypt

Amy Castor:

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Just how much [real] cash is disappearing from the system in energy costs? According to an estimate published by researchers at the University of Cambridge, the Bitcoin network consumes more electricity than a small country—what [academic Nicholas] Weaver calls “obscene.” 

Based on 5 cents per kWh, the Bitcoin network needs to spend roughly $335,000 every hour, Alex de Vries, a blockchain specialist at Big Four accounting firm PwC, told Decrypt. That means someone has to be on hand to buy nearly $8m worth of new Bitcoin a day for cash—just to secure the system. 

Those costs are putting the squeeze on miners right now. 

They earn 6.25 BTC every 10 minutes in block rewards. At $9,000 per BTC, that equates to $340,000 an hour. At the moment, they have to sell every BTC they mine to pay electricity costs. (Previous to the halving event on May 12, it was 12.5 BTC, so they were earning more.) The average costs will drop to 2 to 3 cents per kWh between May and September, de Vrie said. That’s because over 50% of Bitcoin mining is centered in the Sichuan province of China, which benefits from lower costs of hydropower energy in the wet season.

Electricity isn’t the only cost miners have to bear. They have to pay for their rigs, which can run up to $3,000 apiece and need to be replaced frequently as faster ASIC machines become available. They also have to pay rent, taxes, wages, and all the other costs of running a business. All of these things need to be paid in real dollars or yuan, not Tethers, resulting in a steady net drain of cash out of the ecosystem. 

«

Basically: real money is being washed out of the bitcoin ecosystem by the demand for payments, which is being replaced by Tethers, a made-up cryptocoin that claims to be backed 1:1 by real dollars, except it isn’t.

What happens when all the “cash” circulating in the bitcoin system is Tethers? Then it will be cash in, cash out. Miners either go bust, or take on debt (in the hope of what? More cash coming into the system?). Or, perhaps, bitcoin’s price gets ramped by Tether issuance pushing up its apparent demand. It’s certainly ironic given bitcoiners’ complaints about central banks printing money: Tether is absolutely the money-printing central bank for bitcoin.
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Sarah Cooper’s 10,000 hours (or: How it took her 12 years to become an overnight success) • Trung T. Phan

Phan has pieced together the rise of Cooper (who does the wonderful lip-syncs of Donald Trump’s many absurd remarks) from her first comic doodle in a meeting at Yahoo in 2008 to today:

»

Just last week, Cooper signed with talent powerhouse WME and her next project is “a modern, comedic take on a Dale Carnegie book for Audible Originals.” 😂

How Cooper arrived here is no mystery. 

She has been honing her comedic skills publicly on the internet for more than a decade.

Her reps include office doodles, open mics, Twitter jokes, stand-up comedy, blogging, book writing and acting in short skits. 

In an effort to outline her 10,000-hour comedic journey, I went through hundreds of Cooper’s tweets, blog posts and videos.

Here are two key takeaways from my research:

• Keep experimenting. Gary Vaynerchuk equates social apps and digital tools to “crayons” that can be used to create new types of art. Cooper has experimented with every “crayon” available to find her comedic voice.
• Work in public. To find success, Cooper says, “You need to do a lot of work. You need to finish a lot of work. You need to share a lot of work.” The lesson here is that you never know who’s reading, watching or listening. If you’re already creating, you might as well put it out there and give your audience a chance to find you.  

«

Creativity takes hard, hard work over long periods. That’s so easy to overlook.
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Man reveals secret, dual-purpose of ceiling fans: ‘What type of sorcery is this?’ • Yahoo Style

Alex Lasker:

»

If you have a ceiling fan — particularly an ineffective one — it may come as a surprise that you’ve been using it wrong for years.

Anthony Bertoncin, a 20-year-old TikToker from Kansas City, Mo., left social media users in disbelief after sharing the simple trick on TikTok with his over 1.5 million followers.

“Today, I finally realized that my ceiling fan has been making my room a sauna for six years,” Bertoncin says in his clip, which has since been viewed over 2.2 million times.

After explaining his struggles with temperature control in his room, which led him to constantly leave his ceiling fan on, Bertoncin said that one day, a friend serendipitously showed him how to change the direction of his fan during a FaceTime call.

“While we’re FaceTiming, he switches the direction of his fan to heat his room in the winter,” Bertoncin said. “I’ve been suffering for six years, and I just now realizing my f*** up today.”

The science behind the switch is pretty simple. When a ceiling fan rotates counterclockwise, the slant of the blades pushes air down, causing a noticeable breeze, Today’s Homeowner explains.
When rotating clockwise, however, ceiling fans can produce the opposite effect by pushing air upward and gently circulating hot air that is trapped near the ceiling, making the gadget useful for all seasons.

«

Definitely one that all British readers with ceiling fans will find useful.
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Twitter will let you tweet with your voice • CNN

Kaya Yurieff:

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the company said it’s allowing a “limited group” of iOS users to create tweets with their voice. In the coming weeks, all iOS users should have access to voice tweets.

The feature comes after the launch of a buzzy, invite-only app called Clubhouse, which encourages users to spontaneously drop into voice chat rooms. But it also potentially opens the door to new forms of abuse, whether it be verbal harassment or spreading hateful content via audio that could be harder to detect initially than text.

When asked how the company would handle any abuse of the feature, a Twitter spokesperson said it’s working to incorporate additional monitoring systems ahead of rolling voice tweets out more broadly. The spokesperson also said it would review any reported voice tweets in line with its rules and take action.

Twitter also said users won’t be able to use audio to reply to tweets.

Creating a voice tweet is similar to regular tweeting, but users tap a new icon with wavelengths on it to record. Voice tweets are limited to chunks of 140 seconds – an apparent nod to Twitter’s original character limit – but users can keep recording and it’ll automatically create a thread.

«

A 280-word tweet is about 50 words tops, which is about 30 seconds, so 140 seconds is very, very long. This would make sense if the intent were to help unsighted people “hear” Twitter, but it isn’t, and you could already include video with tweets, so this is a real headscratcher. Will there be automatic transcription? Twitter says no. In which case I think this will sink pretty fast. I click away from YouTube videos which begin “Hey guys how’s it going––” because I’m already bored by them. I’m not going to hang around for more than two minutes of burbling. (Thanks Wendy G for the link.)
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Just because they’ve turned against humanity doesn’t mean we should defund the Terminator program • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Carlos Greaves:

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By now you’ve probably heard the news that a Terminator has killed another innocent civilian just days after the last innocent civilian was killed by a Terminator. This unfortunate incident has led to renewed calls to divert funding from the Terminator program and reallocate it into other services that would prevent Terminators from being necessary in the first place. But just because a growing number of Terminators have ignored their AI programming and begun slaughtering humans left and right doesn’t mean we should take the dangerous and radical step of defunding the Terminator program.

…Don’t get me wrong, we all remember Judgement Day, when the Skynet gained self-awareness and initiated a nuclear holocaust, killing millions. That was a terrible moment in our nation’s history. And the human uprising led by John Connor was definitely justified even though we felt like some of the violence and destruction of Skynet property was a bit unnecessary. But it’s important to remember that Judgement Day was initiated by a few rogue Terminators, and isn’t indicative of a widespread problem with Skynet. Yes, given Skynet’s response to the human uprising — where Terminators fired plasma rifles at the Resistance and mowed over legions of human fighters with HK-Tanks — one might conclude that there’s a larger issue with the entire Skynet AI.

«

Another piece of brilliant skewering by Greaves – who also wrote the utterly brilliant “Sure, the Velociraptors Are Still On the Loose, But That’s No Reason Not to Reopen Jurassic Park“. As the numbers show, the micron-sized velociraptors are quite happy about it.
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The doom where it happened • The New York Times

Bret Stephens on the character of John Bolton:

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It took cynicism to work for a president whose character he disdained and whose worldview he opposed. It took gullibility to think he could blunt or influence either. It took cynicism to observe the president commit multiple potentially impeachable offenses and then sit out impeachment on the pathetic excuse that Democrats were going about it the wrong way and that his testimony would have made no meaningful difference. It took gullibility to assume his book would have any effect on Trump’s re-election prospects now. It took cynicism to reap profits thanks to a president he betrayed and a nation he let down. It took gullibility to imagine he’d be applauded as a courageous truth-teller when his motives are so nakedly vindictive and mercenary.
Above all, it took astonishing foolishness for Bolton to imagine that his book would advance the thing he claims to care about most — a hawkish vision of US foreign policy. That vision will now be forever tarred by its association with him, a man considered a lunatic by most liberals and a Judas by many conservatives.

I write all this as someone who shares many of Bolton’s hawkish foreign-policy views. I’m also someone who urged Bolton, while he was still in office, to resign on principle. It’s a shame he didn’t do so while he still had a chance to preserve his honour, but it isn’t a surprise. Only the truly gullible can act totally cynically and imagine they can escape history’s damning verdict.

«

Why, it’s almost as if Bolton makes serially bad judgements about the outcomes of his actions, and fails to learn from them even when they’re demonstrated to be incorrect; like a super-bad forecaster. Please tell me a single Bolton action or policy which has subsequently been shown to have led to the best possible outcome. I’m not even sure the moustache flatters him.

In other news, I’m in complete agreement with Bret Stephens, so the apocalypse must be near.
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2013: A day with Katie Hopkins: separating the Apprentice ‘superbitch’ from her soundbites • The Independent

Simon Usborne writes profiles for The Independent, and in 2013 observed that Hopkins [banned permanently from Twitter last Friday] seemed to be annoying people professionally:

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I had emailed Hopkins via her website to ask if I could go along for the ride. I disagreed with everything she said, I told her, also sharing my concerns about what I might be feeding. But I wanted to find out what it pays, emotionally and financially, to court hatred, and what the rise of people such as Hopkins says about the outrage mill that large parts of the media have become.

…The week had started with an innocuous press release about the rise of unusual baby names. Hopkins got a call from a producer at This Morning, where she’s a regular. She outlined her views and agreed to appear. The day before, a researcher spoke to Hopkins for about an hour.

“They are a consumer purchasing a commodity – me – and I have to demonstrate its value,” she says. “They create not a script for the interview but scaffolding. That’s submitted to lawyers, who draw boundaries. People mock daytime TV as unsophisticated and populated by lame idiots seeking attention, but a lot goes into it.”

This account makes the shock of Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, her co-presenter, seem rather disingenuous. They knew what they were getting. Hopkins says she chatted with them afterwards, and that everyone was pleased about the debate.

«

And, as he points out, the clip went viral on social media, and Hopkins knew exactly how many views it had. What’s just as interesting to me, seven years after this was written, is how some of the TV and radio stations are trying, just a little, to dial back from the “outrage economy”.

On Twitter, she had more than a million followers. When I checked Instagram on Saturday (bio: “public figure”), she had fewer than 80,000. It was a couple of thousand past that by Sunday evening, but the need to post a photo and the lack of virality clearly hurts her.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1334: Facebook takes down Trump ads, US police in graphs, Google clones Pinterest, Chrome spyware campaign shut down, and more


The UK government is making a dramatic U-turn on its track-and-trace app. CC-licensed photo by duncan c 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. You get there eventually. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

UK abandons contact-tracing app for Apple and Google model • The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh and Alex Hern:

»

The government has been forced to abandon a centralised coronavirus contact-tracing app after spending three months and millions of pounds on technology that experts had repeatedly warned would not work.

In an embarrassing U-turn, Matt Hancock said the NHS would switch to an alternative designed by the US tech companies Apple and Google, which is months away from being ready.

At the Downing Street briefing, the health secretary said the government would not “put a date” on when the new app may be launched, although officials conceded it was likely to be in the autumn or winter.

…Ministers had insisted on using a centralised version of the untested technology in which anonymised data from people who reported feeling ill was held in an NHS database to enable better tracing and data analysis. This version was not supported by Apple and Google.

Work started in March as the pandemic unfolded, but despite weeks of work, officials admitted on Thursday that the NHS app only recognised 4% of Apple phones and 75% of Google Android devices during testing on the Isle of Wight.

…The Department of Health and Social Care refused to say how much had been spent on the effort, although official records show three contracts worth £4.8m were awarded to the developer VMWare Pivotal Labs for work on the app.

«

Back in April:

»

“Engineers have met several core challenges for the app to meet public health needs and support detection of contact events sufficiently well, including when the app is in the background, without excessively affecting battery life,” said a spokeswoman for NHSX, the health service’s digital innovation unit.

«

Germany, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Latvia, Switzerland and 16 others had already gone with the Google-Apple API. Again and again, the British government insists that it knows what to do better than everyone else. Again and again, it’s completely and utterly wrong.
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Facebook removes Trump ads for using Nazi imagery • The Verge

Russell Brandom:

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Facebook has removed more than 80 ads placed by the Trump campaign for use of imagery linked to Nazism. The ads used the imagery of an inverted triangle, which the Trump campaign has argued is a “symbol widely used by antifa.” The same symbol was used to identify political prisoners in Nazi death camps, leading Media Matters to call it an “infamous Nazi symbol” with no place in political rhetoric.

Facebook agreed, ultimately removing the ads because of the Nazi-linked imagery. “Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol,” said Facebook’s Andy Stone in a statement.

Spread across official pages for President Trump, Vice President Pence, and campaign manager Brad Parscale, among others, the ads warned of “dangerous MOBS of far-left groups” causing “absolute mayhem” across America.

The extreme language is an extension of Trump’s weeks-long campaign against antifa, which has coincided with a spate of bizarre hoaxes claiming that violent agitators were bussing into rural areas to wreak havoc.

…The inverted red triangle has sometimes been adopted by anti-fascist groups, most notably by the UK’s Anti-Fascist Action group in the 1980s, in what historian Mark Bray referred to as a “reclamation … of the symbol used by the Nazis to label communists.” But among US anti-fascists, the symbol has been largely displaced by the dual-flag symbol and is rarely seen among contemporary groups.

As a result, many observers saw the Trump ads as a direct reference to the symbols used by Nazis to identify imprisoned political dissidents. In a statement to The Washington Post, Anti-Defamation League president Jonathan Greenblatt called the ads “offensive and deeply troubling.”

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Second lot of Trump ads they’ve taken down; the first one over a census. And now it gets written about, so it becomes free advertising. Maybe Facebook should just make them invisible.
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American policing explained in a few graphs • Jerry Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe is a former British police officer who is now a professor at Temple University, Philadelphia :

»

Graph no. 1. This is from the second edition of my book “Intelligence-Led Policing“. The area of each box represents the volume of incidents in 2015 in the City of Philadelphia (about 1.5m in total). These incidents can come from verified calls for service from the public (something really took place as confirmed by a police officer), or from officer-initiated events (such as drug incidents). 

What is clear from the graphic is that violent crime plays such a small part in the day-to-day demands on police departments, even in Philadelphia, one of the more troubled cities in the U.S. While the media frets over homicide, it can be seen in the lower right as one of the least noticeable boxes in the graph. The majority of the police department’s workload is the day-to-day minutiae of life in a big city.

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The violence graph further down the article is amazing, and really makes one thing there must be something to the lead in air/water theory.
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Google’s latest experiment is Keen, an automated, machine-learning based version of Pinterest • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

A new project called Keen is launching today from Google’s in-house incubator for new ideas, Area 120, to help users track their interests. The app is like a modern rethinking of the Google Alerts service, which allows users to monitor the web for specific content. Except instead of sending emails about new Google Search results, Keen leverages a combination of machine learning techniques and human collaboration to help users curate content around a topic.

Each individual area of interest is called a “keen” — a word often used to reference someone with an intellectual quickness.

The idea for the project came about after co-founder C.J. Adams realized he was spending too much time on his phone mindlessly browsing feeds and images to fill his downtime. He realized that time could be better spent learning more about a topic he was interested in — perhaps something he always wanted to research more or a skill he wanted to learn.

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“Keen”? Come on. It’s like Google – you know, you search for something, find out more – but a bit extra. They could call it, I don’t know, Google Plus.

And let’s not forget Knol, Google’s answer to Wikipedia, which somehow survived for four years. (It’s dead now.) Google Keep has survived, so it’s not just K-prefixed things that are doomed. Though I don’t see this coming close to the gazillion other networks out there.
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Huawei delays production of flagship phone after US crackdown • Nikkei Asian Review

Lauly Li, Cheng Ting-Fang and Naoki Watanabe:

»

Huawei has asked for halts to production of some components for its latest Mate series of phones, and has also trimmed orders of parts for the coming quarters, as it tries to assess the impact on its smartphone business of Washington’s tightening export controls, sources said.

The unveiling of the latest Mate series, usually in the second half of the year, is Huawei’s answer to Apple’s new generation of iPhones. Huawei, the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, usually adopts its most advanced processor designs for the Mate lineup, using chips from its own HiSilicon semiconductor design unit.

But the Trump administration’s action in May further restricting Huawei’s access to U.S. technology has left the Chinese company uncertain about HiSilicon’s ability to supply parts such as mobile processors, communication chips and artificial intelligence accelerator chips. The U.S. has issued orders to prevent non-U.S. suppliers from using U.S. equipment to produce chips to specifications drawn up by Huawei and HiSilicon.

That has forced the Chinese telecom equipment maker to reassess its inventory of HiSilicon chips and look at alternative suppliers for the Mate, as it tries to balance production of the smartphone with expected demand next year.

Huawei has delayed its mass-production schedule for the Mate series, according to two supply-chain sources familiar with Huawei’s smartphone manufacturing plan.

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Chrome might not eat all your RAM after adopting this Windows feature • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

»

Chromium Edge rolled out to almost all Windows 10 computers in the recent May 2020 update. According to Microsoft, this update also implemented a new memory management feature in Edge known as SegmentHeap. In the latest version of Windows, developers can opt into SegmentHeap to lower the RAM usage of a program. Microsoft says it already added support to the new Edge browser, and it has seen a 27% drop in the browser’s memory footprint. 

As anyone who’s used Chrome regularly can confirm, Google’s browser has a way of running away with all your RAM once you get past a handful of tabs. However, Google has taken note of the new SegmentHeap functionality in Windows. A new comment in the Chromium open source project suggests the addition of SegmentHeap support on Windows. The comment notes that devices with higher numbers of processor threads will benefit the most, but everyone should get some RAM back. Testing individual machines with modified Chrome executables shows that SegmentHeap could save several hundred megabytes at least.

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Given that Chrome gobbles as many gigabytes as happen to be free, that’s not such a great promise.
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Chrome spyware extensions exposed, millions affected • Android Authority

C Scott Brown:

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In yet another instance of Google dropping the ball when it comes to Chrome spyware, a security research team called Awake Security found a ring of extensions all working together that compromised the security and privacy of millions of users.

After informing Google of the problematic Chrome spyware, Google removed over 70 extensions from the platform (via Reuters). However, those extensions and others that were part of the focused and organized attacks have already been downloaded over 32 million times.

Awake Security estimates this is the most far-reaching Chrome spyware effort to date. However, Google declined to verify that claim. It also declined to explain why it did not catch the activity itself.

These Chrome spyware extensions were usually disguised as tools that would, ironically, protect users from malicious sites. Some were also legitimate tools that would convert files from one format to another. However, while running, all the extensions could secretly siphon data from the user’s internet activity.

Using this data, the attackers could then obtain credentials for accessing both personal and corporate information. With so much business software usage happening in browsers nowadays, personal email accounts are no longer a big prize for attackers. Instead, Chrome spyware can obtain things like payroll records, corporate credit card accounts, and other highly sensitive information.

To avoid detection, the extensions would only transmit data from one server to another when the user was not using security software. In other words, the Chrome spyware was smart enough to know if security protocols were in place and then kill its illegal activity in response.

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A lot of attention on the registrar which let 15,000 domains be registered by whoever did this (the source isn’t known); the suggestion is the registrar should have thought something was fishy.
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Book review: John Bolton’s ‘The Room Where It Happened’ • The New York Times

Jennifer Szalai:

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Bolton, who refused to testify at the House impeachment hearings, may be the last person many Americans wish to hear from right now — not that he would ever deign to make any concessions to what a reader might want. “The Room Where It Happened,” an account of his 17 months as Trump’s national security adviser, has been written with so little discernible attention to style and narrative form that he apparently presumes an audience that is hanging on his every word.

Known as a fastidious note taker, Bolton has filled this book’s nearly 500 pages with minute and often extraneous details, including the time and length of routine meetings and even, at one point, a nap. Underneath it all courses a festering obsession with his enemies, both abroad (Iran, North Korea) and at home (the media, “the High-Minded,” the former defense secretary Jim Mattis). The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.

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In a comment here yesterday, regular reader Seth made this observation about Bolton:

»

Bolton’s position strikes me as fundamentally pragmatic. I see him as saying that he thinks Trump should be removed from office – and IF the Establishment was extremely serious about it, then he’d be happy to join the barricades. However, if this isn’t a committed effort, but just a show, he’s not going to immolate himself for the entertainment of the crowd. That’s his point about it being necessary to be subpoenaed. He wants the ability to say that his participation was legally compelled, even if he signals he was willing to be compelled. He’s not a Democrat. He’s a thorough Republican, and he’s willing to go against his own party’s President under certain conditions. But that’s not something he’s going to do for a futile gesture of moralizing. He’s a war-monger, not an opinion columnist.

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All of which is true. None of which makes him, to me, any less of a coward in not speaking in front of Congress under oath.
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Death of Arizona man from chloroquine ruled an accident • Washington Free Beacon

Alana Goodman:

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The death of an Arizona man who ingested a lethal dose of fish tank treatment in March has been ruled an accidental overdose by the county medical examiner’s office, according to a copy of the report obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Gary Lenius, 68, passed away on March 22, after he and his wife drank a fish tank additive that contained the drug chloroquine. The story drew national attention after the man’s wife, Wanda Lenius, said she and her husband ingested the substance because President Trump had praised chloroquine as a promising treatment for coronavirus. She subsequently told the Free Beacon that she had added a teaspoon of non-medicinal chloroquine powder, which is used to treat parasites in fish tanks, into glasses of soda that she and her husband drank.

The Mesa Police Department’s homicide unit has been investigating Lenius’s death since March. Detective Teresa Van Galder, who is handling the case, said the investigation is ongoing, but she does not expect that her findings will differ from the medical examiner’s office.

“I am still waiting on some other things to return prior to the investigation being officially completed,” Van Galder told the Free Beacon. “Unless I come across something I do not already have, I do not foresee the finding of the OME changing.”

…Lenius’s toxicology tests showed he had 17,000 nanograms per milliliter of chloroquine in his blood at the time of his death, indicating that he had ingested around 20 times the typical treatment dose.

«

Seems like this is the end of the road for this mystery. (A puzzle is something that anyone can solve; a mystery is something only one or two people can solve.)

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Start Up No.1333: England’s calamitous track-and-trace system, advertising in charts, Zoom goes for encryption, the pandemic rent drop, and more


OK, let’s talk about the new book from Evil Ned Flanders CC-licensed photo by Zach Catanzareti Photo 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. Test, track, trick or treat? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

England’s ‘world beating’ system to track coronavirus is anything but • The New York Times

Benjamin Mueller and Jane Bradley:

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In almost three weeks since the start of the system in England, called N.H.S. Test and Trace, some contact tracers have failed to reach a single person, filling their days instead with internet exercise classes and bookshelf organizing.

Some call handlers, scattered in offices and homes far from the people they speak with, have mistakenly tried to send patients in England to testing sites across the sea in Northern Ireland.

And a government minister threatened on a conference call to stop coordinating with local leaders on the virus-tracking system if they spoke publicly about its failings, according to three officials briefed on the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Contact tracing was supposed to be the bridge between lockdown and a vaccine, enabling the government to pinpoint clusters of infections as they emerged and to stop infected people from passing on the virus. Without it, a World Health Organization official said recently, England would be remiss in reopening its economy.

But the system, staffed by thousands of poorly trained and low-paid contact tracers, was rushed out of the gate on May 28 before it was ready, according to interviews with more than a dozen contact tracers, public health officials and local government leaders. At the time, the government was making a barrage of announcements while also trying to douse a scandal involving Mr. Johnson’s most senior aide, who had violated lockdown orders.

…The government has denied that contact tracing was ever stopped, and said that to claim otherwise would be entirely wrong. However, in internal notes mistakenly forwarded to The New York Times in response to questions about why it initially ended contact tracing in March, government officials wrote: “The answer to this is we basically didn’t have the testing capacity.”

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World-beating only in its ineptness. Truly amazing.
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News by the ton: 75 years of US advertising • Benedict Evans

Evans has a truly fascinating tour through how advertising, newspapers, and the internet have shifted over the past 60 years. The most significant part to me seemed to be this:

»

There are lots of things going on here, but I would start with the top line: advertising share of GDP started sliding immediately after the Dotcom bubble, had a major step down in the financial crisis and has been suspiciously flat ever since. That decline was very obviously concentrated in print but actually affected TV and radio as well. We think of TV advertising as being pretty much unaffected by the internet so far, but on this data it’s down by 40% as a share of GDP. The economy grew and advertising didn’t get its historic share of that growth.

«

The “share of GDP” metric has been a longstanding one, but that decline is noticeable. What’s surely changed is that the pricing bar for advertising has been lowered; in the days of solely radio, billboard and newspapers, the price for getting noticed was a lot higher. Effectively, GDP has gone up, but the cost of advertising has fallen.

The whole thing is well worth reading. Lots of graphs.
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End-to-end encryption update • Zoom Blog

Eric Yuan:

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Since releasing the draft design of Zoom’s end-to-end encryption (E2EE) on May 22, we have engaged with civil liberties organizations, our CISO council, child safety advocates, encryption experts, government representatives, our own users, and others to gather their feedback on this feature. We have also explored new technologies to enable us to offer E2EE to all tiers of users.

Today, Zoom released an updated E2EE design on GitHub. We are also pleased to share that we have identified a path forward that balances the legitimate right of all users to privacy and the safety of users on our platform. This will enable us to offer E2EE as an advanced add-on feature for all of our users around the globe – free and paid – while maintaining the ability to prevent and fight abuse on our platform. 

To make this possible, Free/Basic users seeking access to E2EE will participate in a one-time process that will prompt the user for additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via a text message. Many leading companies perform similar steps on account creation to reduce the mass creation of abusive accounts. We are confident that by implementing risk-based authentication, in combination with our current mix of tools — including our Report a User function — we can continue to prevent and fight abuse.

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Seems reasonable and balanced. Hiring Alex Stamos to oversee security has made a big difference very quickly.
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Why Zoom doesn’t have product/market fit • Use FYI

Hiten Shah:

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Product/market fit, as described by Marc Andreessen, “means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” It’s a concept that was first developed by Benchmark co-founder and CEO of Wealthfront, Andy Rachleff.

Sean Ellis developed a way to measure product/market fit by calculating the percentage of people who say they’d be very disappointed if they couldn’t use a product anymore. Once 40% or more people say they’d be very disappointed, that product is said to have product/market fit.

I conducted another product/market fit survey back in 2015 on Slack. Back then, Slack had product/market fit: 51% of people said they’d be “very disappointed” if they couldn’t use it anymore.

So where did Zoom net out?

We asked people “How would you feel if you could no longer use Zoom?” To our surprise, only 30% said they’d be very disappointed. That’s 10% away from the product/market fit threshold. And 21% away from Slack’s score back in 2015.

Half of people (49%) said they’d be somewhat disappointed if they could no longer use Zoom. The rest – 21% – said they would not be disappointed (“it really isn’t that useful”).

…The top reason people use Zoom is for work. That’s exactly where Zoom has the lowest product/market fit. Only 32% of those people said “Very Disappointed.” And they made up the majority too, with 89% of people who took the survey saying they used Zoom for work.

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Apparently Sean Ellis is the “coauthor of Hacking Growth”. Never heard of it or him. (Should I have?) I think the answer would be different if people were prevented from using Zoom for a couple of weeks, and then asked if they wanted it back. I think they’d jump on it.
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‘Pandemic pricing’ is here: rents are dropping across the US • CNN

Anna Bahney:

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At the end of May, Ilana Freund landed a deal on an apartment in New York City where she will be attending graduate school. She and her roommate signed a lease on a two-bedroom apartment in the West Village for $4,995 a month. It was a significant discount: Similar apartments in the building were going for around $5,300 before the pandemic took hold, according to the listing agent.

The two roommates were also given one month’s rent free and did not have to pay a broker fee, which typically would have cost them 12% to 15% of the annual rent.

“It has been crazy,” Freund said, “but we definitely got a very good deal.”

“Pandemic pricing,” as some agents call it, has arrived across the country as landlords react to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. With many people either losing their jobs or working from home due to the shutdowns, many tenants have chosen to leave their apartments behind in major US cities.

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Going to be the start of a trend.
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Bolton’s book says Trump impeachment inquiry missed other troubling actions • The New York Times

Peter Baker:

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Mr. Bolton describes several episodes where the president expressed willingness to halt criminal investigations “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” citing cases involving major firms in China and Turkey. “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Mr. Bolton writes, adding that he reported his concerns to Attorney General William P. Barr.

Mr. Bolton also adds a striking new allegation by saying that Mr. Trump overtly linked trade negotiations to his own political fortunes by asking President Xi Jinping of China to buy a lot of American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. Mr. Trump, he writes, was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”

The book, “The Room Where It Happened,” was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its scheduled publication next Tuesday and has already become a political lightning rod in the thick of an election campaign and a No. 1 best seller on Amazon.com even before it hits the bookstores.

…Mr. Trump did not seem to know, for example, that Britain is a nuclear power and asked if Finland is part of Russia, Mr. Bolton writes. He came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known. Even top advisers who position themselves as unswervingly loyal mock him behind his back. During Mr. Trump’s 2018 meeting with North Korea’s leader, according to the book, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Mr. Bolton a note disparaging the president, saying, “He is so full of shit.”

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Hilariously, the Trump admin is trying to block the publication of a book that has already been printed and distributed. And as for Bolton telling Bill Barr – how stupid is that, exactly, when he had already watched Barr misrepresent the Mueller report to Congress? Did he seriously think Barr was going to take any action, given that he’s perhaps the most corrupt person in the place?

Bolton comes across as a huge moral coward: he would testify to Congress, but only if he was subpoenaed. He wouldn’t stand up and say it in his own right. In the WSJ he says “Had Democratic impeachment advocates not been so obsessed with their Ukraine blitzkrieg in 2019, had they taken the time to inquire more systematically about Trump’s behavior across his entire foreign policy, the impeachment outcome might well have been different.” Who might they have asked, exactly? The White House – that included Bolton – blocked everything.

The Washington Post also has a writeup. Honestly, it could be renamed Streisand Effect.
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Another company is giving up on AR. This time, it’s Bose • Protocol

Janko Roettgers:

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Bose has become the latest company to throw in the towel on immersive computing, shutting down its ambitious Bose AR program. Key Bose AR employees have left the company, and partners have been informed that their apps will stop working in the coming weeks.

“Bose AR didn’t become what we envisioned,” a Bose spokesperson told Protocol. “It’s not the first time our technology couldn’t be commercialized the way we planned, but components of it will be used to help Bose owners in a different way. We’re good with that. Because our research is for them, not us.”

Bose’s change of heart comes as augmented reality startups have struggled across the board. Augmented reality startup Meta AR gave up on plans to replace desktop computing with dedicated AR headsets in late 2018. Last year, both ODG and Daqri shut down. And in April, Magic Leap announced that it was exiting the consumer AR business, laying off 1,000 employees in the process.

Bose had been pursuing a unique approach to augmented reality: Instead of superimposing images over a view of the real world, Bose AR was based on audio alone and provided walking directions, audio-based fitness instructions and games via compatible headphones. The company even built its line of sunglasses with integrated headphones and AR sensors. It now wants to utilize these sensors to simplify the usage of those headphones and glasses.

…The decision to end the program comes as the privately held company faces financial turmoil. Earlier this year, Bose announced that it would close all its retail stores in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan in response to mounting pressure from ecommerce. The closures, which affected 119 stores altogether, resulted in hundreds of layoffs. And in March, news broke that Bose CEO Phil Hess had departed at the beginning of the year. The company has since been led by former CFO Jim Scammon, who assumed the title of president and COO as part of the transition.

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“Audio AR” really was the height of mad ambition. Included a $50m fund to kickstart app development for it. Wonder how much was actually awarded.
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Dear Apple: here’s how to stop the antitrust investigations • Astropad

Savannah Reising:

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Big tech has been in a slow boil. After wild west growth and lawlessness, Silicon Valley is finally getting the scrutiny it’s avoided for years — and it seems that everyone has been feeling disillusionment towards Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook. Following our experience of  getting sherlocked (where Apple copied our product and included it as a free OS feature), we’re here to jump in with our own perspective on getting antitrust laws up to speed. 

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The five are, if you don’t want to read the post:
(1) enable users to set default app preferences
(2) open alternate payment mechanisms that don’t require paying 30% or 15% to Apple
(3) allow app sideloading
(4) Give third-party devs equal access to APIs
(5) Stop sherlocking third-party developers. (To “Sherlock” is to add features/apps to the OS which third-party developers were already offering. Like, say, a browser.)

To which I’d say, re antitrust:
1) not relevant
2) Apple’s almost certainly going to be forced to do this in Europe
3) Apple won’t like this, but if it opens payment then won’t have to do it
4) not obliged to do this under competition rules, and won’t
5) you simply cannot tell companies to stop developing their products. That would be a restraint of trade.
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Justice Department proposes limiting internet companies’ protections • WSJ

Brent Kendall and John D. McKinnon:

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Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that sought to target the legal protections of social-media companies, responding to concerns among some conservatives about alleged online censorship by the platforms. The executive order sought to impose limits on legal immunity for social-media companies when they are deemed to unfairly curb users’ speech, for instance by deleting their posts or suspending their accounts. The administration, however, can’t impose many of these changes unilaterally.

The Justice Department’s proposed changes will address the type of speech concerns raised by Mr. Trump, but they also extend more broadly, seeking to strip civil immunity afforded to tech companies in a range of other circumstances if online platforms are complicit in unlawful behavior taking place on their networks, the administration official said.

The department’s proposal, for instance, would remove legal protections when platforms facilitate or solicit third-party content or activity that violates federal criminal law, such as online scams and trafficking in illicit or counterfeit drugs.

Internet companies would lose immunity if they have knowledge that unlawful conduct is taking place on their platforms or show reckless disregard for how users are behaving on their sites. Without those legal protections, tech companies could be exposed to claims for monetary damages from people allegedly harmed by online fraud and other illegal activity.

The department also wouldn’t confer immunity to platforms in instances involving online child exploitation and sexual abuse, terrorism or cyberstalking. Those carve-outs are needed to curtail immunity for internet companies to allow victims to seek redress, the official said.

Attorney General William Barr has repeatedly voiced concerns about online-platform immunity, citing, for example, a terrorism case in which courts ruled Facebook wasn’t civilly liable because its algorithms allegedly matched the Hamas organization with people that supported its cause.

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Barr can propose until he’s blue in the face (which would be fun to watch) but this is going to get nowhere in a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. And it’s hard not to think that these are already somewhere in law. Google was dinged for $500m in 2011 for advertising drugs from Canada in the US. The terrorism case is bonkers – is he going to prosecute the algorithm?
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Signal downloads are way up since the protests began • The New York Times

Amelia Nierenberg:

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The week before George Floyd died on May 25, about 51,000 first-time users downloaded Signal, according to data from the analytics firm Sensor Tower. The following week, as protests grew nationwide, there were 78,000 new downloads. In the first week of June, there were 183,000. (Rani Molla at Recode noted that downloads of Citizen, the community safety app, are also way up.)

Organizers have relied on Signal to devise action plans and develop strategies for handling possible arrests for several years. But as awareness of police monitoring continues to grow, protest attendees are using Signal to communicate with friends while out on the streets. The app uses end-to-end encryption, which means each message is scrambled so that it can only be deciphered by the sender and the intended recipient.

“If you don’t have end-to-end encryption, by definition, there are other parties that can read your messages,” said Joseph Bonneau, an assistant professor of computer science at New York University who has researched cryptography. “That doesn’t mean that they necessarily do, but it usually means that they can and, in particular, depending on what jurisdiction you are in, they can be ordered to by law enforcement.”

…Signal has also already been tested. In 2016, the chat service withstood a subpoena request for its data. The only information it could provide was the date the accounts in question were created and when they had last used Signal. Signal does not store messages or contacts on its servers, so it cannot be forced to give copies of that information to the government.

“Facebook and Twitter feel like standing on the side of the street, just kind of like, yelling,” said Jelani Drew-Davi, a 25-year-old black campaign manager at Kairos, an organization that teaches digital organizing strategies to people of color. “Signal is like taking to someone I want to talk to, and going into a very quiet corner.”

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It was also used by Hillary Clinton’s campaign team (and, for all I know, by Trump’s). They preferred it over email because they’d discovered email could get hacked when the DNC was hit. Little did they know..
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Start Up No.1332: Apple faces double EU antitrust investigation, tweet for science!, Instagram the news service?, Magic Leap’s last gasp, and more


It’s a nice target, but fewer steps will serve you just as well. But what number exactly? CC-licensed photo by Vaguely Artistic 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.

EU opens Apple antitrust investigations into App Store and Apple Pay practices • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

The European Commission is opening two antitrust investigations into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices today.

The first investigation will probe whether Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following complaints by Spotify and Rakuten over Apple’s 30% cut on subscriptions and sales of ebooks through its App Store.

“We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books,” says Margrethe Vestager, the head of the EU’s antitrust division. “I have therefore decided to take a close look at Apple’s App Store rules and their compliance with EU competition rules.”

Spotify has claimed Apple uses its App Store to stifle innovation and limit consumer choice in favor of its own Apple Music service. Rakuten filed a similar complaint to the EU earlier this year, alleging that it’s anti-competitive for Apple to take a 30% commission on ebooks sold through the App Store while promoting its own Apple Books service.

Alongside the App Store investigation, the European Commission will also look at Apple Pay to assess whether Apple’s payment system violates EU competition rules. Apple has limited access to the Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality of its iPhone and Apple Watch devices, a move that means banks and other financial service providers can’t offer NFC payments through their own apps.

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The Spotify one is likely to get sticky for Apple. As is the Rakuten case: I think it could well lose both. For the mobile payments, it’s less clear, since there are clear rivals in Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
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Why are Google and Apple dictating how European democracies fight coronavirus? • The Guardian

Ieva Ilves:

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Latvia has some of the lowest Covid-19 infection and mortality rates in the EU, thanks to aggressive and intensive manual contact tracing. Latvia ranks high for smartphone use, so it was natural that we would leap at the opportunity to reduce the manual workload with the help of a smartphone app. 

Yet when it came to transferring our successful manual tracing methods to the digital realm, we ran into a brick wall. As a member of the team that built our contact-tracing app, I represent the Latvian government in discussions with Apple and Google, whose technology the app uses. In negotiations I have come to realise that much of the public discussion on contact tracing has been oversimplified, with major implications for our health and for health institutions fighting the virus.

A debate has been raging as to where the data from contacts is stored – either on the user’s phone, presumably guaranteeing privacy, or with the national health authority once a user tests positive for coronavirus and might have exposed others to it. This distinction has been labelled a conflict between centralised versus decentralised storage of contact information.

This is the wrong debate. The misconception comes with the term centralised, as if all interactions and contacts between app users were going to be stored in a government-associated server. This has never been the case. What governments need an app to do is to mirror what public health authorities do anyway in the analogue world: manually trace contacts between infected individuals and people with whom they come into contact.

In the manual version authorities do not reveal the identity of the infected person, be they a bus driver or a secret lover, nor do they explore the nature of the contact. The same approach ensuring privacy and data security can be achieved in the digital world. It does not have to be a binary choice.

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Yeeaaah nope. Gathering all this sort of data into a centralised, person-named database is precisely what Google and Apple are protecting against.
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Hey is a wildly opinionated new email service from the makers of Basecamp • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

With the world now in a seemingly permanent state of crisis, you may not be in the market for a new email address. And why would you be? Even in the best of times, getting a new email address comes with all the hassle of changing your phone number, without the minor upgrades that a new phone brings. Changing your email address feels like a pointless struggle in a world where the existing options, however unremarkable, work basically fine. Like changing banks, really. Or moving into a new apartment in the same building.

In any case, I’m sorry to report that it’s time to consider getting a new email address. The reason is Hey, a new email service from Basecamp. It’s a genuinely original take on messaging that feels like the first interesting thing to happen to email since clever apps like Mailbox and Sparrow repurposed your Gmail account, and it’s available in an open beta starting today. With a $99-a-year price tag and some pungent opinions about how email should work, Hey is not for all or even most people. But if you find yourself chafing at the stagnation of Gmail and Outlook, or are just looking for a way to screen out most people who would ever send you a message, Hey is well worth considering.

«

$99 per year? Is it 1999 again? Although early users are enthusiastic, for reasons that make little sense to me. (Running a mail app? Quit it. Running webmail? Close the tab. Distraction gone.) However, a huge kerfuffle has blown up over this app because although you can’t sign up for the app inside iOS, Apple is insisting that it should, and that then it should get a 30% cut of the sub. This isn’t too popular with the makers, as you can imagine.
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The Floyd protests show that Twitter is real life • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:

»

A 2017 Harvard-Harris poll suggested 57% of registered voters had an unfavorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement. And yet, these conversations didn’t disappear off the internet when they left front pages. They were there all along, in plain view for those who sought them out. They continued, despite portrayals to discredit the movement as a violent fringe and specious claims that “systemic racism is a myth” perpetuated by the media and so-called social justice warriors.

But what begins online and is castigated as an unrepresentative view gradually builds consensus, in this case, tracking to our current moment. When, at last, it reaches critical mass it is treated as conventional wisdom by those who once dismissed it. According to a new Times analysis, “in the last two weeks, American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much as it had in the preceding two years.” As my Opinion colleague Aisha Harris wrote on Tuesday, “all of a sudden, everybody seems to care about black lives.”

The undergirding movement and struggle has been there the whole time. It was an articulation of a better future, even when it fell on unlistening ears. It was real life.

«

His point is that the roiling mass on Twitter and Instagram generates the political energy that then spills out when a suitable event creates the opportunity.
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Does tweeting improve citations? One-year results from the TSSMN prospective randomized trial • PubMed

»

Methods: A total of 112 representative original articles were randomized 1:1 to be tweeted via TSSMN or a control (non-tweeted) group. Measured endpoints included citations at 1-year compared to baseline, as well as article-level metrics (Altmetric score) and Twitter analytics. Independent predictors of citations were identified through univariable and multivariable regression analyses.

Conclusions: One-year follow-up of this TSSMN prospective randomized trial importantly demonstrates that tweeting results in significantly more article citations over time, highlighting the durable scholarly impact of social media activity.

«

Yup: articles that were tweeted got significantly more citations. Get to it, scientists.

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Instagram ‘will overtake Twitter as a news source’ • BBC News

»

Just 26% of people said they trusted social media as a source of information about the virus. A similar percentage said they trusted news that had been shared via chat apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

National governments and news organisations, by contrast, were both trusted by about 59% of respondents.

Instagram is now used by more than a third of all people who answered the survey, and two-thirds of under-25s. And 11% use it for news, putting it just one point behind Twitter.

“Instagram’s become very popular with younger people”, said Nic Newman, lead author of the report. “They really respond well to stories that are told simply and well with visual images”.

Stand-out visual stories in recent months have helped – climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the coronavirus have all seen massive engagement on the platform.

“It’s not that one necessarily replaces the other,” Mr Newman said. “They might use Facebook and Instagram, or might use Twitter and Instagram.”

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which now reaches 85% of people each week. The company’s dominance in how stories are being told “remains incredibly important”, he added. The firm also owns WhatsApp.

The coronavirus pandemic also seems to have offered a temporary reprieve to a downward trend in how much news organisations are trusted. Only 38% of people said they trusted the news most of the time. Less than half – 46% – said they trusted their favoured news source.

«

Quite a weird to think of Instagram as a news source – sharing content is very limited, so it’s difficult for it to go viral – but it is where the young folk are.
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Google bans two websites from its ad platform over protest articles • NBC News

Adele-Momoko Fraser:

»

Google has banned two far-right websites from its advertising platform after research revealed the tech giant was profiting from articles pushing unsubstantiated claims about the Black Lives Matter protests.

The two sites, ZeroHedge and The Federalist, will no longer be able to generate revenue from any advertisements served by Google Ads.

A Google spokesperson said in an email that it took action after determining the websites violated its policies on content related to race.

“We have strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on and explicitly prohibit derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race from monetizing,” the spokesperson wrote. “When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.”

Google added that it takes into account all of the content on a website including comments to determine if a policy violation has occurred.

Google’s ban of the websites comes after the company was notified of research conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation. They found that 10 U.S-based websites have published what they say are racist articles about the protests, and projected that the websites would make millions of dollars through Google Ads

«

After this article was published, Google clarified that The Federalist wasn’t demonetized *yet*, and that the problem with both sites was the content in the comments. The Federalist had a little time to “remedy” the situation, and within a couple of hours of the story appearing, Google tweeted that “we worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.” The story seems very ropey – there’s no actual published research from the CCDH, the journalist seems to have gone to Google saying that the story would be that Google runs ads against racist content, but Google then switched things around.

As to Google’s ad-serving monopoly – you can’t post absolutely anything on a billboard (the billboard owner will have rules), and advertisers won’t advertise in places that support racists. Lots of them have policies on that.
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Magic Leap bet big on holograms — and paid the price • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

Launched in 2018, the Magic Leap One headset should have been mixed reality’s moment to shine — but it couldn’t match the hype the company had created.

Now, Magic Leap seems barely afloat. On May 21st, the company laid off around 1,000 employees before getting a last-minute $350m investment that many saw as a lifeline. The following week, founder Rony Abovitz stepped down as CEO. As the company shifts into survival mode, the dream of a market-shifting creative platform (best represented by the Magic Leap One) seems to be dead — or, at the very least, indefinitely delayed. Instead, the company is focused on products that can keep the company alive — business-focused applications built in the model of Microsoft’s HoloLens.

That raises an uncomfortable question: with the starry-eyed vision stripped away, what does Magic Leap have left?

«

Turns out: nothing to speak of. This is a comprehensive shovelling of dirt onto the perhaps still-twitching body.
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Tyranny of 10,000 steps was pedometer sales ploy • The Times

Will Pavia:

»

two studies, which together involved more than 20,000 Americans, have cast doubt on this [10,000 step-per-day] target. One study, involving more than 17,000 women between the ages of 62 and 101, showed the benefits of walking began to taper off after about 7,500 steps.

Another study, involving a younger cohort of about 4,000 Americans, aged 40 and upwards, suggested there were health benefits from more steps but also showed those benefits dwindling before the 10,000-step mark. Both studies note that the target probably derives not from hard science, but from a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign.

“More is better but the curve levels off,” said I-Min Lee, a medical professor and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Medicine, who was the lead author of the study on women.

Dr Lee began looking at the ubiquitous 10,000-step target because she worried it was counterproductive for some people. “I became really interested in the origins of the 10,000 because I work with mainly older women,” she said. “With many older women, if you ask them for 10,000 steps it’s like asking them to go to the moon.”

Her paper reports that the yen for 10,000 steps “probably derives from the trade name of a pedometer sold in 1965 by the Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company”. Dr Lee said that the company sold a wearable pedometer that was called Manpo-kei, which meant “ten thousand step meter”.

“The Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a man walking, that’s why they chose it,” she said. “It wasn’t rooted in a scientific study.”

«

I think we did know that the 10,000 step thing was totally made up, but it’s good to have the level where it actually is useful made clear.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1331: eBay execs’ cockroach attack, what iOS 14 needs, Covid-19’s immunity puzzle, Quibi looks crispy, loving trackers, and more


Is the Mac mini the first ARM Mac for developers? The arguments for it are very strong. CC-licensed photo by Paul Hudson on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Antibody, antimatter? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tech firms that spy on your location join government in pandemic fight • WSJ

Sam Schechner, Kirsten Grind and Patience Haggin:

»

While an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Joshua Anton created an app to prevent users from drunk dialing, which he called Drunk Mode. He later began harvesting huge amounts of user data from smartphones to resell to advertisers.

Now Mr. Anton’s company, called X-Mode Social Inc., is one of a number of little-known location-tracking companies that are being deployed in the effort to reopen the country. State and local authorities wielding the power to decide when and how to reopen are leaning on these vendors for the data to underpin those critical judgment calls.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office used data from Foursquare Labs Inc. to figure out if beaches were getting too crowded; when the state discovered they were, it tightened its rules. In Denver, the Tri-County Health Department is monitoring counties where the population on average tends to stray more than 330 feet from home, using data from Cuebiq Inc.

Researchers at the University of Texas in San Antonio are using movement data from a variety of companies, including the geolocation firm SafeGraph, to guide city officials there on the best strategies for getting residents back to work.

Many of the location-tracking firms, data brokers and other middlemen are part of the ad-tech industry, which has come under increasing fire in recent years for building what critics call a surveillance economy. Data for targeting ads at individuals, including location information, can also end up in the hands of law-enforcement agencies or political groups, often with limited disclosure to users. Privacy laws are cropping up in states including California, along with calls for federal privacy legislation like that in the European Union.

«

What used to be vice has become virtue, at least temporarily. (Thank Jim for the link.)
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What immunity to COVID-19 really means • Scientific American

Stacey McKenna:

»

immunity functions on a continuum. With some pathogens, such as the varicella-zoster virus (which causes chicken pox), infection confers near-universal, long-lasting resistance. Natural infection with Clostridium tetani, the bacterium that causes tetanus, on the other hand, offers no protection—and even people getting vaccinated for it require regular booster shots. On the extreme end of this spectrum, individuals infected with HIV often have large amounts of antibodies that do nothing to prevent or clear the disease.

At this early stage of understanding the new coronavirus, it is unclear where COVID-19 falls on the immunity spectrum. Although most people with SARS-CoV-2 seem to produce antibodies, “we simply don’t know yet what it takes to be effectively protected from this infection,” says Dawn Bowdish, a professor of pathology and molecular medicine and Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity at McMaster University in Ontario. Researchers are scrambling to answer two questions: How long do SARS-CoV-2 antibodies stick around? And do they protect against reinfection?

Early on, some people—most notably U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who has the virus and is currently in intensive care) and his government’s scientific adviser Patrick Vallance—touted hopes that herd immunity could be an eventual means for ending the pandemic. And although it appears that recovered COVID-19 patients have antibodies for at least two weeks, long-term data are still lacking. So many scientists are looking to other coronaviruses for answers.

Immunity to seasonal coronaviruses (such as those that cause common colds), for example, starts declining a couple of weeks after infection. And within a year, some people are vulnerable to reinfection. That observation is disconcerting when experts say it is unlikely we will have a vaccine for COVID-19 within 18 months. But studies of SARS-CoV—the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which shares a considerable amount of its genetic material with SARS-CoV-2—are more promising. Antibody testing shows SARS-CoV immunity peaks at around four months and offers protection for roughly two to three years.

«

Ugh. This might become a thing: annual or biannual shots.
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Re-engine, not re-imagine • bs_labs

Brendan Shanks makes this confident prediction:

»

Apple will announce a Developer Transition Kit [DTK] at WWDC, which will be available this summer. The DTK will use an A12Z (the current iPad Pro SoC), inside a Mac mini chassis. Or, I think less likely, an Apple TV chassis with added I/O.

I don’t think it will be a laptop: that would require full power management to be implemented, would be more expensive, and would result in battery life figures for semi-prototype hardware being reported all over the press. That’s really not how Apple rolls.

The iPad Pro will not be usable as a DTK. John Gruber described the reasons better than I can, but in summary: not enough RAM, and it confuses these (still separate!) products in a way that Apple never publicly would.

The first ARM Macs will go on sale in February 2021. The MacBook Air will be part of the first tranche of ARM Macs released, along with the possible return of the 12” MacBook. With the first ARM Macs, Apple will want to surprise with the power and efficiency made possible by their custom SoCs, and laptops will be the best showcase for that.

«

I read this and thought: YES. It’s the perfect solution. The Mac mini comes with 8GB of storage as standard – far more than an iPad Pro, but the minimum that desktop work needs. It’s got tons of outputs ports. Apple can have them rolling off the assembly line and swap in its ARM chips. Supplies might be limited (developer demand will surely outstrip it) but there are nowhere near as many Mac developers as iOS developers.

Apple’s WWDC starts next Monday; big speech at 10am Pacific time.
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iOS 14: what the iPhone needs next • iMore

Rene Ritchie:

»

I’ve been asking for always-on Lock screen complications for years. For the very same reasons complications are so informative and actionable, glanceable and tappable, on the Apple Watch. Maybe Apple’s waiting on adaptive refresh rates on future iPhone hardware to offer that power-efficiently, though.

Something else I’ve been asking for for a long time is a “GuestBoard”. Something in between the locked down PreBoard and open SpringBoard that would let you lend your phone to a person in distress to make a call or look something up on the web without also giving them access to your personal data.

I know every convenience is a hole in security, which is why we see so many Lock screen bypasses already, but the option to turn GuestBoard on would be nice to have.

PHONE FUNCTION
…When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, the phone part got fully one third of the billing, alongside wide-screen iPod and internet communicator. Back then, for most of us, the phone was the most important part and Apple had to make sure there was absolutely no way, no matter what else we were doing, that we’d ever miss a call.

Now, for many of us, the phone is just another app and we need a way to set phone call notifications to stop taking over the screen and simply become a notification like any other app.

«

Not wanting the phone to take over feels like a radical step, but it would be truthful about the phone functionality – just another app. I like his other suggestions too.
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What technology has accidentally killed the most people? • Gizmodo

Daniel Kolitz:

»

Show me a museum of important historical inventors and I will show you a gallery of deluded mass murderers. I’m not talking about machine gun manufacturers or nuclear scientists—those people, at least, have some sense of what they’re up to. I’m talking about the folks behind the printing press, the automobile, various kinds of boat technology. These people tried to improve the world, and succeeded, but also indirectly killed millions of people. That, at least, is the lesson of this week’s Giz Asks, in which a number of historians wrestle with the question of which technological innovation has accidentally killed the most people.

«

Brilliant question, and the answers from the scientists are thought-provoking. As is always worth remembering, the invention of the ship meant the invention of the shipwreck.
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At Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman struggle with their startup—and each other • WSJ

Benjamin Mullin:

»

Now, the at-times uneasy partnership between Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman faces its biggest test, as Quibi Holdings LLC, which launched its streaming app in April, fights for relevance in a crowded field with its formula of movies and shows in short chapters. Its success hinges, in part, on whether the duo at the top can overcome their sometimes clashing styles and leverage their more than 80 years of combined business experience.

The problems for them to tackle are piling up: missed subscriber targets, disappointed advertisers, a patent lawsuit from a well-capitalized foe, deep-pocketed companies launching competing products and a global pandemic that has made Quibi’s main selling point—on-the-go viewing—out of step with the times.

“Meg and Jeffrey have formed a strong partnership built on trust and authenticity,” a Quibi spokeswoman said in a statement. “Jeffrey personally recruited Meg to be the CEO and employee number one, and both have widely acknowledged that Quibi exists only because of their combined decades of experience from Silicon Valley and Hollywood—and their highly complementary strengths.” The spokeswoman added, “any new founder-CEO partnership has to find its footing, and they did that over two years ago. They are good friends and admire and respect one another.”

Almost all major media giants are searching for the right formula for streaming as television programming and movies migrate rapidly online. Quibi entered the market with big financial commitments from advertisers, enviable access to cash and two brand-name corporate leaders from the worlds of movies and technology. Its promise of a new storytelling format and Quibi’s deep pockets proved irresistible for many stars. The vision was to create short programs, 10 minutes or less, that people could watch on the go.

«

As Ben Thompson says about Quibi, “hadn’t they heard that Facebook is a thing now?” The tensions between Whitman and Katzenberg are only going to become worse, but that’s because Katzenberg, at least, doesn’t seem to know how people spend their spare moments. “Mobisodes” were something that carriers were suggesting would be a big thing for people at bus stops… in 2002. I recall them pitching the idea to me as the reason why people would want 3G.

You could make a good presentation today pointing out that people have lots of time to watch content while on the move, and at home they’re willing to pay for Netflix by the million, SO THEREFORE… but it’s delusional. Quibi should rename itself Toast.
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Former eBay security director arrested for harassing journalist with live cockroaches • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

The plan was allegedly hatched after eBay’s now-former CEO objected to the newsletter editor’s coverage and told another executive to “take her down.”

Several of the employees charged were in upper-level positions with eBay: Baugh was eBay’s global security and resiliency director, Harville was director of global resiliency, Popp was senior manager of global intelligence, and Gilbert was a former police captain who handled security and safety at eBay’s North American offices. According to an affidavit, the team was attempting to stifle negative coverage from the newsletter, as well as insults from an anonymous commenter.

The group hatched a plan to intimidate the newsletter’s editor and her husband (who served as its publisher) starting in mid-2019. They created anonymous Twitter accounts to send insults and threats to the Massachusetts couple, then escalated this into in-person harassment. That included shipping the pig mask, a box of cockroaches, another box of fly larvae and live spiders, pornography, a book on “surviving the loss of a spouse,” a sympathy wreath from a local florist, and a “preserved fetal pig” — although the pig fetus was apparently never delivered.

The team also allegedly spied on the couple to find evidence that they were collaborating with the troll commenter, at one point planning to break into their garage and install a tracking device on their car. (They were stopped by police, who then connected them to eBay.) They even planned a strategy where eBay would officially “help” the couple investigate the harassment to gain their goodwill, a plot Baugh apparently compared to the Ridley Scott film Body of Lies.

«

This is just wiiiiild. Including an email from a senior eBay executive who wrote “She is biased troll [sic] who needs to be BURNED DOWN”. A little reminiscent of the 2006 HP spying scandal but oh, so much madder.
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A conspiracy made in America may have been spread by Russia • The New York Times

Nicole Perlroth:

»

In February, intelligence officials warned House lawmakers that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, and that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election.

“Russia’s trolls learned it is far more effective to find the sore spots and amplify content by native English speakers than it is to spin out their own wackadoodle conspiracy theories,” said Cindy Otis, a former C.I.A. analyst who specializes in disinformation.

The conspiracy targeting Mr. Mook started a week before the Iowa caucus, when Chelsea Goodell, a web designer in Arizona, quoted a Twitter post that included a screenshot of an article from the technology news site CNET describing Democrats’ plans to use an app to tabulate votes in the caucus.

The article noted that Iowa officials were working with Harvard University’s Defending Digital Democracy program — a program Mr. Mook helped found — to protect the caucus from digital threats. Ms. Goodell claimed it was a Democratic ploy to steal the primary from Mr. Sanders.

…The conspiracy theory might have flamed out had it not been picked up by Ann Louise La Clair, a self-described Los Angeles filmmaker with a Russian Twitter following. Her tweets praising RT advertisements and protesting American airstrikes in Syria — a key Russian ally — had previously been picked up by RT, the Kremlin-owned news outlet.

She had also caught notice of @DanWals83975326, who also claimed to be a filmmaker. But his Twitter feed suggested otherwise.

He tweeted in broken English 72 times a day, on average, often in the middle of the night in the United States — just as business was getting underway in Russia. Of the 2,000 accounts he followed, many posted exclusively in Russian. He routinely shared content from RT, Sputnik, Tass and other Kremlin-owned outlets.

«

We need better labelling for stuff on Twitter.
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UK readers find the government’s COVID-19 messages more misleading than actual fake news • Nieman Journalism Lab

Stephen Cushion, Maria Kyriakidou, Marina Morani, and Nikki Soo:

»

while our panel could easily spot fake news, they were less aware of issues that may help them understand how the pandemic is being handled. Three in ten respondents did not know the government had failed to regularly meet its testing targets, for example.

Almost a third did not realize living in more deprived areas of England and Wales increased the likelihood of catching the coronavirus. And many participants underestimated the UK’s death toll compared to other countries and were suspicious of the UK government’s figures.

After new lockdown measures were announced in England on May 10, we also found many people did not realize they did not necessarily apply to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Half of all respondents wrongly believed the UK government was in charge of the lockdown measures across all four nations.

When we asked participants what counted as misinformation, some respondents mentioned discredited medical claims, such as Donald Trump believing that injecting disinfectant protects against the coronavirus. But many more told us that either government claims or the media were responsible for spreading false or misleading information. As one respondent told us: “Misinformation to me would be reading an article saying schools to go back on June 1 without many details and then finding out it’s just a phased reintroduction for certain age groups. It’s panicking many parents when that didn’t need to happen, headlines should still be brief but not misleading.”

«

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Scientists create exotic ‘fifth state of matter’ on space station • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

»

With most materials, you can cycle through the states of matter by increasing heat. Plasma is most similar to a gas, but it’s ionized and electrically conductive. A Bose-Einstein condensate is a completely different animal. This material is dominated by quantum effects, and that makes them enormously difficult to create. On Earth, laboratories can only maintain Bose-Einstein condensates for a matter of milliseconds. However, research aboard the ISS has created a Bose-Einstein condensate that persisted for more than a second. 

A Bose-Einstein condensate is so named because its existence was posited almost a century ago by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose. This exotic material only exists when atoms of certain elements are cooled to temperatures near absolute zero. At that point, clusters of atoms begin functioning as a single quantum object with both wave and particle properties. Scientists believe Bose-Einstein condensates could be the key to understanding things like dark energy and the quantum nature of the universe. 


Velocity-distribution data showing Bose-Einstein condensate formation (middle and right)

Scientists create condensates by directing atoms into microscopic magnetic “traps” that coax them into a state called quantum degeneracy. Little by little, their quantum states overlap until the condensate becomes a single wave. Scientists have to release the trap to study the material. Unfortunately, even small perturbations from the outside world disrupt a Bose-Einstein condensate. That’s why we can only maintain them for a few milliseconds on Earth. Research conducted on the space station doesn’t have to contend with gravity, allowing them to isolate the condensate more effectively. Past efforts to do the same have relied on airplanes in freefall, and instruments dropped from great heights to lessen the effects of gravity. 

«

No idea why, but this sounds fabulous.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1330: smartphones v American police, more on ARM Macs, AI that can really write, Beijing locks down again, ‘Potemkin journalism’, and more


Hey, gamblers! Want to bet on the winner? Something much like this is available now. CC-licensed photo by Joe Shlabotnik 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. Alohomora! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

They used smartphone cameras to record police brutality—and change history • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

In 2008, Steve Jobs had an assignment for a small team of engineers in Cupertino: Make the iPhone record video. After seeing that people liked taking photos with the first iPhones, he wanted to add moving pictures. A year later, Apple released the iPhone 3GS, the first iPhone to record video.

About 10 years and 10 iPhone models later, 17-year-old Darnella Frazier found herself standing on a sidewalk in Minneapolis, swiping on her purple iPhone 11 lock screen to launch the video camera as fast as possible.

She hit the red circle and for the next 10 minutes and 9 seconds she held her phone as steady as she could, capturing George Floyd, a black man crying for his mother as his face was smashed into the pavement by white police officer Derek Chauvin.

“I opened my phone and I started recording because I knew if I didn’t, no one would believe me,” Ms. Frazier said in a statement provided by her lawyer, Seth Cobin.

A day later, May 26, she opened up the Facebook app, and tapped the video of Mr. Floyd to upload it. The world now knows his name.

Over the last decade, while tech companies were focused on marketing megapixels and multiple lenses to better record pastries and puppies, smartphone cameras found a greater purpose.

“This is our only tool we have right now. It is the most effective way to get us justice,” Feidin Santana told me. Mr. Santana used his smartphone in 2015 to film a police officer killing Walter Scott in South Carolina.

…For this column, I looked back at a decade of incriminating cellphone video, and tracked down many people who bravely used their phones to capture brutality and tragedy on American streets.

«

The most effective defensive object for a black person encountering the police in the US at present seems to be a smartphone camera.
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Osborning the Mac. Or not • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:

»

we can think through some of the consequences of a switch to Apple-designed ARM processors inside 2021 Macs.

The first notable change will stem from the lower power dissipation associated with ARM derivatives. For several years now, benchmarks have pointed to iPhone processors that offer “desktop-class” computing power. And yet, an iPhone doesn’t feel as warm as a MacBookPro. Besides being more comfortable on our laps, lower power dissipation will mean smaller batteries, longer battery life, and lighter and somewhat slimmer MacBooks for the same screen size.

On a desktop machine, there’s no benefit in lower power dissipation and slimmer bodies. This leads one to speculate that the ARM transition will prioritize laptops while iMacs continue to run on Intel-based hardware.

Looking at macOS and Apple-written apps, there’s every reason to believe that the transition will be as graceful and smooth as it was in 2005–2006. Chances are we’ll see a few demos of Apple software running on an ARM prototype at next week’s WWDC.

Third-party apps are a different story. Such transitions never go completely smoothly for software developers who must scramble to find the engineering resources — and the money — to port their apps to a new platform. To forestall the inevitable grumbling, we expect that Apple will provide plenty of software tools and, for its most important third party developers, hardware test beds — just as the company did in 2005. At next week’s WWDC sessions, we can expect a substantial amount of airtime dedicated to demos of ARM emulation software and transition tools, and explanations of best practices.

«

Looking back via MacTracker at 2005/2006, Apple was still selling PPC-based G4 PowerBooks up to April 2006, while the PPC-based desktop Power Mac G5 was still on sale until August 2006.

However Apple brought out Intel-based laptop and desktop machines in January 2006. Unsurprising, since Intel was known for making desktop chips. Apple’s current impatience with Intel is about slow progress on laptop chips, not the desktop, because laptops are 80% or more of sales.

I expect the ARM ones will have a different paint job – ultra matt black would look good. But will the first one be the MacBook Air, a revamped MacBook, or a MacBook Pro? I can find convincing arguments for each.
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The obligatory GPT-3 post • Slate Star Codex

Scott Alexander:

»

OpenAI has released a new paper, Language Models Are Few-Shot Learners, introducing GPT-3, the successor to the wildly-successful language-processing AI GPT-2.

GPT-3 doesn’t have any revolutionary new advances over its predecessor. It’s just much bigger. GPT-2 had 1.5 billion parameters. GPT-3 has 175 billion. The researchers involved are very open about how it’s the same thing but bigger. Their research goal was to test how GPT-like neural networks scale.

…Here’s GPT-3 writing a news article from a sentence prompt: UNITED METHODISTS AGREE TO HISTORIC SPLIT – THOSE WHO OPPOSE GAY MARRIAGE WILL FORM THEIR OWN DENOMINATION

“After two days of intense debate, the United Methodist Church has agreed to a historic split – one that is expected to end in the creation of a new denomination, one that will be “theologically and socially conservative,” according to the Washington Post. The majority of delegates attending the church’s annual General Conference in May voted to strengthen a ban on the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and to write new rules that will “discipline” clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings. But those who opposed these measures have a new plan: They say they will form a separate denomination by 2020, calling their church the Christian Methodist denomination…”

«

There’s plenty more, and it’s just working off that original sentence. Though as he points out, in winging it a key detail is wrong – just as humans might do. As Alexander says, “GPT-3 is doing what I used to do on essay questions – throw out a bunch of half-remembered names and dates and hope nobody looks too closely at the exact relations.”

Pretty scarily good, though.
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Beijing reimposes lockdown measures after new Covid-19 outbreak • The Guardian

Emma Graham-Harrison and Lily Kuo:

»

Beijing had previously gone 55 days in which the only new infections were citizens returning from other countries. The city had largely returned to normal life, with restaurants and shops opening and daily rush-hour traffic resuming.

As it became clear there were dozens of cases, mostly linked to the Xinfadi food market, there was an abrupt reversal. Southern Fengtai district, where the market is located, has more than 2 million residents, and 11 residential compounds and several schools near the market have been closed.

Movement restrictions were also brought back across the capital, sports events were suspended, tourism from other parts of the country barred and plans to reopen primary schools put on hold.

The new infections sparked a panic about salmon, which was pulled from supermarkets around the country after cutting boards used to prepare imported salmon were among surfaces that tested positive for the virus. Fish cannot be infected by coronavirus.

Six new domestic infections were reported on Saturday, three workers at the Xinfadi market, two people who had visited and a work colleague of one of the visitors.

Mass testing of hundreds of people working at the market uncovered a further 45 asymptomatic cases. The market claims to be the largest wholesale agricultural market in Asia, and Beijing News reported that it supplies nearly 90% of the city’s fruit and vegetables.

«

Uh-oh.
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Google countersues Sonos for patent infringement • The Verge

Zoe Schiffer and Nilay Patel:

»

Google has countersued Sonos for patent infringement, following Sonos originally filing a patent lawsuit against Google in January. The lawsuit alleges that Sonos is infringing five Google patents covering mesh networking, echo cancellation, DRM, content notifications, and personalized search.

Google’s suit seems to serve a few purposes. One is obviously to countersue Sonos with its own patents. Another is for Google to show how it has been aggrieved after what it sees as helpful support for Sonos’ product development efforts.

“While Google rarely sues other companies for patent infringement, it must assert its intellectual property rights here,” the company says in its lawsuit. It characterizes the work it’s done to provide Google’s music services and Assistant voice assistant technology on Sonos products as “significant assistance in designing, implementing, and testing.”

The Sonos lawsuit filed in January alleged that Google had infringed five patents covering the setup, control, and synchronization of multiroom network speaker systems. Sonos claimed Google had stolen the technology after working with Sonos to integrate Google Play Music and had further insisted on harsh terms for Sonos to include the Google Assistant on its products, including sharing the full Sonos product roadmap for six months, even as Google was developing competing speaker products.

«

Shorter Google: “You’re so UNGRATEFUL!”
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The conspiracy theorists masquerading as journalists • The Atlantic

Helen Lewis on Nigel Farage’s “journalism” claiming to discover that people come over in boats illegally from France:

»

Of course, the BBC has reported on the migrant boats—at least seven times in the past month. Far from being a story that “isn’t to be told,” a parliamentary committee recently heard evidence on the issue, with testimony from a former head of Britain’s Border Force. The right-wing Telegraph and Daily Mail have both covered the story, as has the left-wing Guardian. The mainstream media’s treatment of the story does, in fairness, differ from Farage’s, largely by putting the actions into context: The French navy has a duty under maritime law to help boats in distress, and many migrants threaten to jump into the water if the vessel is boarded. The navy is then left with no option but to shadow the boats. (Also, although Channel crossings have risen, asylum applications in the U.K. have fallen since the start of the pandemic.)

None of this suits Farage’s simple, clean story of French treachery and immigrant invasion. The “migrant boats” are best thought of as what movie fans call a MacGuffin—a story element that drives the narrative, but whose actual nature is irrelevant, like Avatar’s unobtainium or the holy grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Here, the broader narrative is about British sovereignty, border security, and the alleged threat of immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Farage’s videos show him literally chasing after a boat—a classic use of a MacGuffin—but he doesn’t interview the migrants on board, attempt to tell their stories or uncover their motivations, or find out what happens after the Border Force intercepts them.

We could call this Potemkin journalism, after the villages consisting only of external facades designed to deceive outsiders. It looks like an investigation, but the conclusion is already determined, and any inconvenient facts are quickly airbrushed. And yet it gains gravitas and authority by copying the grammar of news reporting.

«

I love the phrase “Potemkin journalism”, and another that Lewis came up with – red string journalism”, which she explains at her Substack newsletter, which is free, weekly and excellent. You should sign up.
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Deepfakes aren’t very good—nor are the tools to detect them • Ars Technica

Will Knight:

»

Facebook’s Deepfake Detection Challenge, in collaboration with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, and the Partnership on AI, was run through Kaggle, a platform for coding contests that is owned by Google. It provided a vast collection of face-swap videos: 100,000 deepfake clips, created by Facebook using paid actors, on which entrants tested their detection algorithms. The project attracted more than 2,000 participants from industry and academia, and it generated more than 35,000 deepfake detection models.

The best model to emerge from the contest detected deepfakes from Facebook’s collection just over 82% of the time. But when that algorithm was tested against a set of previously unseen deepfakes, its performance dropped to a little over 65%.

“It’s all fine and good for helping human moderators, but it’s obviously not even close to the level of accuracy that you need,” says Hany Farid, a professor at UC Berkeley and an authority on digital forensics, who is familiar with the Facebook-led project. “You need to make mistakes on the order of one in a billion, something like that.”

… Farid questions the value of such a project when Facebook seems reluctant to police the content that users upload. “When Mark Zuckerberg says we are not the arbiters of truth, why are we doing this?” he asks.

Even if Facebook’s policy were to change, Farid says the social media company has more pressing misinformation challenges. “While deepfakes are an emerging threat, I would encourage us not to get too distracted by them,” says Farid. “We don’t need them yet. The simple stuff works.”

«

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GitHub to replace “master” with alternative term to avoid slavery references • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

GitHub is working on replacing the term “master” on its service with a neutral term like “main” to avoid any unnecessary references to slavery, its CEO said on Friday.

The code-hosting portal is just the latest in a long line of tech companies and open source projects that have expressed support for removing terms that may be offensive to developers in the black community.

This includes dropping terms like “master” and “slave” for alternatives like “main/default/primary” and “secondary;” but also terms like “blacklist” and “whitelist” for “allow list” and “deny/exclude list.”

The concern is that continued use of these racially-loaded terms could prolong racial stereotypes.

“Such terminology not only reflects racist culture, but also serves to reinforce, legitimize, and perpetuate it,” wrote academics in a 2018 journal.

«

What, and places like Github only just noticed this?
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Anyone for Ukrainian table tennis? The shady sport that feeds online gambling • Forbes

Barry Collins:

»

The reader has seen my earlier article on how bookmakers are pumping virtual sports to make up for the lack of actual sports during the pandemic and he’s spotted something else that’s troubling.

On British gambling sites, he’s noticed “curious table tennis tournaments” in which “the same players seem to play continuously around the clock without sleep, food or rest”. Tournaments that seemingly originate from the Ukraine and Russia “that never existed before Covid-19 and seem only to be orchestrated to give the bookies something to offer punters”. OK, now he’s got me.

And he’s right. Or, at least, mostly right. Many of Britain’s biggest bookmakers are offering odds on tournaments such as the Sekta Cup or the Russian Liga Pro – tournaments that aren’t officially recognized, have brutally punishing schedules, don’t have any notable history and barely seem to exist outside the orbit of bookmakers’ websites. Oh, and the rules of one of them insists disputes are settled with a lie-detector test. Something is definitely not quite right here.

…The players are alone in the arena, save for an umpire sat behind a lectern with an electronic scoreboard that’s near impossible to read, even on my 27in computer screen. It’s hard to work out which player is which.

I can bet on almost anything in the game: the match winner, each individual point, the winning margin of each game, whether ‘extra points’ will be required. Everything, that is, except the outcome of the tournament itself, which is revealing. Imagine watching matches in the Super Bowl, the Premier League or the Australian Open but not being able to bet on the tournament winner? Wouldn’t that strike you as odd for a genuine sporting competition?

«

Among those offering odds on this 🤔 competition: Bet365 and William Hill. I detest online gambling (impossible to regulate, designed to draw in the vulnerable, almost always tax-averse), but this is off in bizarro world.
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Will the banks collapse? • The Atlantic

Frank Partnoy is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and points to the risks posed to the US (only? I hope) banking sector by “collateralised loan obligations” (CLOs) – which are very like the “collateralised debt obligations” (CDOs) that brought it crashing down in 2008, except those were house loans, and these are loans to businesses so financially stretched they can’t issue bonds.

CLOs have all the same assumptions as CDOs: that there will never be a “black swan” event that will make their businesses decline dramatically at the same time. Such as, say, a pandemic that shuts down businesses for extended periods:

»

What I’m about to describe is necessarily speculative, but it is rooted in the experience of the previous crash and in what we know about current bank holdings. The purpose of laying out this worst-case scenario isn’t to say that it will necessarily come to pass. The purpose is to show that it could. That alone should scare us all—and inform the way we think about the next year and beyond.

Later this summer, leveraged-loan defaults will increase significantly as the economic effects of the pandemic fully register. Bankruptcy courts will very likely buckle under the weight of new filings. (During a two-week period in May, J.Crew, Neiman Marcus, and J. C. Penney all filed for bankruptcy.) We already know that a significant majority of the loans in CLOs have weak covenants that offer investors only minimal legal protection; in industry parlance, they are “cov lite.” The holders of leveraged loans will thus be fortunate to get pennies on the dollar as companies default—nothing close to the 70 cents that has been standard in the past.

As the banks begin to feel the pain of these defaults, the public will learn that they were hardly the only institutions to bet big on CLOs. The insurance giant AIG—which had massive investments in CDOs in 2008—is now exposed to more than $9 billion in CLOs. U.S. life-insurance companies as a group in 2018 had an estimated one-fifth of their capital tied up in these same instruments. Pension funds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds (popular among retail investors) are also heavily invested in leveraged loans and CLOs.

The banks themselves may reveal that their CLO investments are larger than was previously understood. In fact, we’re already seeing this happen. On May 5, Wells Fargo disclosed $7.7bn worth of CLOs in a different corner of its balance sheet than the $29.7bn I’d found in its annual report. As defaults pile up, the Mnuchin-Powell view that leveraged loans can’t harm the financial system will be exposed as wishful thinking.

«

Maybe someone is figuring out The Second Big Short. (Via John Naughton.)
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Book excerpt: how Melania Trump, the first lady, blocked Ivanka Trump from encroaching on her domain • The Washington Post

Mary Jordan, from her new book on the “untold story” of Melania Trump:

»

The election night win came as a surprise even to Trump, according to many on his campaign, and little preparation had been done for what came next. Trump had even talked about going to one of his golf courses in Scotland immediately after the election so he didn’t have to watch Hillary Clinton bask in her success. One campaign aide recalled that candidate Trump had “told the pilot [of his private jet], ‘Fuel up the plane.’ ”

He didn’t receive as many votes as Hillary, but he won key states and the electoral college tally that made him president. Trump and his team scrambled to write an acceptance speech and begin a White House transition.

Melania wasn’t prepared to move to Washington, either. It did not help that the campaign revelations of Trump’s alleged serial infidelities still stung. She learned many of the reported details along with the entire nation. While she very much wanted Barron to finish his academic year in New York and not be yanked from his friends, staying in New York also bought time to prepare for her new role as first lady. She needed her own staff. Trump’s staff had already pushed back on her desire to focus on online bullying, and there was huge interest in what she might do.

And, according to several people close to the Trumps, she was in the midst of negotiations to amend her financial arrangement with Trump — what Melania referred to as “taking care of Barron.”

«

Melania comes across as very wily and a quietly influential person on Trump. Though one can imagine that as an author (a) you’re not going to write a book saying she’s a dullard who sits in her room (b) the likely sources for the book might have an interest in upping her importance. But the above extract shows that she knows her value, and how to use leverage. She’s probably underestimated. The manoeuvring described in the piece to keep Ivanka out suggests someone who brooks no interlopers.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1329: Biden attacks Facebook, Snap adds mini-apps, the trouble with peer review, racial discrimination by country, and more


There’s an easier way to anonymise your photos if you’re protesting. Using machine learning! CC-licensed photo by See-ming Lee 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. Yet another week done. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Biden prepares attack on Facebook’s speech policies • The New York Times

Ceclia Kang:

»

The Biden presidential campaign, emboldened by a recent surge in support, is going after a new target: Facebook.

After months of privately battling the tech giant over President Trump’s free rein on its social network, the campaign will begin urging its millions of supporters to demand that Facebook strengthen its rules against misinformation and to hold politicians accountable for harmful comments.

On Thursday, the campaign will circulate a petition and an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to change the company’s hands-off approach to political speech. The petition will be sent to millions of supporters on its email and text message lists and through social media, including Facebook, imploring them to sign the letter. The campaign will also release a video this week to be shared across social media to explain the issue.

“Real changes to Facebook’s policies for their platform and how they enforce them are necessary to protect against a repeat of the role that disinformation played in the 2016 election and that continues to threaten our democracy today,” said Bill Russo, a spokesman for the Biden campaign.

The move puts the Biden camp in the center of a raging debate about the role and responsibility of tech platforms. Civil rights leaders, Democratic lawmakers and many of Facebook’s own employees say that big tech companies have a responsibility to prevent false and hateful information from being shared widely.

…The open letter being sent on Thursday will say that “Trump and his allies have used Facebook to spread fear and misleading information about voting, attempting to compromise the means of holding power to account: our voices and our ballot boxes.”

It calls on the company to take several steps to limit misinformation and hateful language on the site, including making clear rules “that prohibit threatening behavior and lies about how to participate in the election.”

«

Game very definitely on.
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Chris Cox returns to the fold as Facebook’s chief product officer • TechCrunch

Taylor Hatmaker:

»

After a very high-profile departure and a year away from the company, Facebook’s former chief product officer Chris Cox will return to his long-held position with the company.

Cox shared the news Thursday in a Facebook post with a photo of his company badge. Elaborating on his return to Facebook, Cox explained that the unique national and global climate of 2020 influenced his decision, particularly the coronavirus pandemic, its subsequent economic devastation and the nation’s current focus on “a reckoning of racial injustice.”

“Like many of you, I’ve been thinking hard about what I can do for our families and communities today, and for the world our children will live in tomorrow,” Cox wrote.

“Facebook and our products have never been more relevant to our future. It’s the place I know best, it’s a place I’ve helped to build, and it’s the best place for me to roll up my sleeves and dig in to help.”

«

There were rumours that he and Zuckerberg had a serious row over Zuckerberg’s plan to encrypt more content. Cox feels like a counterbalance to Zuckerberg’s position on content. Expect the discussion over what to do with political content to intensify.
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Snap announces Minis to bring other apps into Snapchat • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

Snap today announced Minis, a suite of miniature applications made by third-party developers that run inside of Snapchat. Minis are built using HTML and enable a range of experiences from meditating alone to buying movie tickets with friends. Minis, which are integrated into the chat window on Snapchat, were one of several new features announced today at Snap’s virtual Partner Summit.

The existence of Minis was first reported last month by The Information, which likened them to the mini programs that have turned WeChat into one of the most popular apps in China. The programs — which let users buy food, pay their bills, and complete other tasks — generated $113bn for WeChat last year, up 160% from the year prior, The Information reported. The company takes a cut of purchases made through the app.

Snap announced seven Minis to start. They include an app to coordinate your schedule at the next Coachella music festival; a mini version of Headspace to meditate and send encouraging messages to friends; Movie Tickets by Atom for choosing showtimes, picking seats, and buying tickets; and Tembo, which lets students create flash card decks for studying.

In an interview with The Verge, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said Minis would help the company extend its reach to include e-commerce, with more social shopping experiences that let friends browse together. “Let’s say you’re getting ready with your friends, or your school dance is two weeks from now — you can actually shop together with your friends, which I think could be a really fun experience,” Spiegel said.

«

The Information writeup was typically stodgy, so I didn’t twig this. It’s a big move – though the HTML nature of it reminds me of Apple’s “Dashboard widgets” from 2005, which were HTML+CSS+Javascript packages that could do limited functions. Everything old is new again.
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Critical lessons from last week’s retraction of two COVID-19 papers • MedPage Today

Milton Packer on, yes, the Surgisphere screwup:

»

What do we need to do now? The two COVID-19 paper retractions represent a real opportunity for us to reinvent peer review. We needed to do so before the pandemic; we desperately need to do so now. We must implement changes that will provide confidence in the validity of published work, and we need to revamp and strengthen the peer-review and editorial decision-making processes. The FDA imposes severe penalties on site investigators who submit fabricated data; many journal editors follow a similar policy. Fear of a potentially career-ending ban on publications in leading journals will certainly motivate most corresponding authors to perform the exceptionally high level of due diligence that is needed to restore the trust that the review process desperately depends on.

If academic medicine does not make these changes, then we only have ourselves to blame when the credibility of medical research in the public’s view crumbles.

«

Most of his annoyance is at the failings of peer review, which certainly looks a bit shaky just at the moment. Is Surgisphere the exception, or the tip of an iceberg?
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Anonymous Camera is a new app that uses AI to quickly anonymize photos and videos • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

with the help of advances in machine learning, it’s also easier than ever to anonymize photos and videos, removing information that would otherwise identify people.

The latest example of this is a new camera app called Anonymous Camera, that launches on the iOS App Store today. It’s the work of London AI startup Playground, whose founders built the app with the help of investigative journalists who wanted an easy way to record anonymous footage. Although it’s no silver bullet for privacy, Anonymous Camera offers the most comprehensive and easy-to-use features we’ve seen in an app of its kind.

Anonymous Camera uses machine learning to identify people in images and videos and then blur, pixelate, or block out entirely faces or whole bodies. Being able to block out feature altogether is important, as some blurring and pixelation methods can be reversed, and individuals can often be identified not just by their faces but by their clothing, tattoos, and other identifying markers.

The app can also distort voices in videos and strips any metadata that’s automatically embedded in files by cameras and phones. That includes the time a photo or video was taken and, depending on your privacy settings, where it was taken. Even if you anonymize individuals in photos, this information can reveal a lot, whether it’s shared accidentally online or retrieved later when a device is analyzed.

«

Because it’s not as if the police in the US or the UK have scrapped the facial recognition systems they bought.
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Do some countries discriminate by race in hiring more than others? • Sociological Science

Lincoln Quillian et al:

»

Evidence from 97 field experiments of racial discrimination in hiring…

In every country we consider, nonwhite applicants suffer significant disadvantage in receiving callbacks for interviews compared with white natives with similar job- relevant characteristics. This difference is driven by race, not immigrant status; our measures of native versus immigrant place of birth are not significant in predicting discrimination. White immigrants (and their descendants) are also disadvantaged relative to white natives but less so than nonwhites, and the difference between white immigrants and white natives is often small and statistically insignificant.

«

There’s lots of detail in this PDF. For the TL;DR just scroll to the graph on p483 (don’t worry, it starts at p467). It’s quite the eye-opener. The countries investigated: the US, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, UK, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden. See if you can guess which comes out “most racist” of those.
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Microsoft pledges not to sell facial-recognition tools to police absent national rules • WSJ

Asa Fitch:

»

Microsoft won’t sell facial-recognition technology to U.S. police until there is a national law regulating its use, the company’s President Brad Smith said Thursday.

Microsoft joined other big tech names including Amazon.com Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. to call for clearer rules around the surveillance technology amid widespread concern about its potential for racial bias.

The issue has attracted greater attention amid growing outcry about police brutality and what many see as institutionalized racism in law enforcement, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in police custody.

Microsoft has long taken a careful stance on facial recognition, putting self-imposed curbs on its sales of the technology to law enforcement. As a result of those limits, Mr. Smith said during a Washington Post event that the company wasn’t currently selling facial recognition to police in the U.S.

“We’ve decided that we will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” he said.

«

Technology companies discovering an interest in human rights. It’s quite a thing to watch.
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Used EV batteries could store energy from solar farms • IEEE Spectrum

Mark Anderson:

»

As the number of electric vehicles on the world’s roads multiplies, a variety of used EV batteries will inevitably come into the marketplace. This, says a team of MIT researchers, could provide a golden opportunity for solar energy: Grid-scale renewable energy storage. This application, they find, can run efficiently on batteries that aren’t quite up to snuff for your Tesla or Chevy Bolt.

There are now two million solar energy installations in the United States alone. This number, according to Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association, is expected to grow to three million next year and to four million by 2023. Yet such installations can only generate electrons when the sun is shining, which means plenty of solar power will be available during daytime hours, with a dearth of power on cloudy days or at night.

In other words, as solar (and wind) power expands, the need for energy storage only ramps up, says Ian Mathews, Marie Curie research fellow formerly at MIT (now at Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland).

“As you increase the penetration of solar energy on the grid, you need to start to do something to deal with the fact that solar energy produces a lot during the middle of the day,” Mathews said. “But often you want to meet loads later in the day. And obviously lithium-ion batteries are getting a lot of attention in this area—and are being deployed quite widely.”

«

Makes a whole boatload of sense. Though you might then need to improve the security around those solar farms a lot because those batteries would be valuable in all sorts of ways.
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Trump Solo • The New Yorker

Mark Singer:

»

Of course, the “comeback” Trump is much the same as the Trump of the eighties; there is no “new” Trump, just as there was never a “new” Nixon. Rather, all along there have been several Trumps: the hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit; the knowledgeable builder whose associates profess awe at his attention to detail; the narcissist whose self-absorption doesn’t account for his dead-on ability to exploit other people’s weaknesses; the perpetual seventeen-year-old who lives in a zero-sum world of winners and “total losers,” loyal friends and “complete scumbags”; the insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as “human garbage”; the chairman and largest stockholder of a billion-dollar public corporation who seems unable to resist heralding overly optimistic earnings projections, which then fail to materialize, thereby eroding the value of his investment—in sum, a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.

«

A long, beautifully detailed, skewering profile. Before you read it, try to guess what year the above paragraph (and the rest of the profile) was written.
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America is losing the stomach to fight Covid-19 • Financial Times

Edward Luce:

»

A few weeks ago Europe was far ahead of the US in terms of mortality rates. They have now switched places. America continues to lose about 1,000 people a day — and in some states that are relaxing social distancing rules, infection and hospitalisation rates are rising.

This week Berkeley scientists estimated the US had prevented 60m infections by taking early lockdown measures. That is roughly 250,000 deaths that did not happen. The period the scientists analysed was up to April 6, which implies many more lives have been saved since then.

That discipline is now dissolving. Mr Trump will restart his re-election campaign next week with a full-blown rally in Oklahoma — his first since early March. That will give a green light for Americans to crowd together again without censure.

Las Vegas is broadcasting even starker images. Its slot machines are ringing again. To judge by the footage, most punters are not wearing masks. Forget war. Going for the jackpot is a more fitting metaphor for America’s coming pandemic summer.

As scientists keep reminding us, the virus respects no boundaries. Unfortunately that applies as much to the Black Lives Matter protests as it does to armed paramilitaries crowding their state capitals. This has blunted the Democratic party’s ability to criticise Mr Trump for filling the stadiums, as he is likely to do next week.

Covid-19 does not distinguish between decent people and white nationalists. In a deeply polarised nation, ideology beats science.

So what is likely to happen? The most likely outcome is a second coronavirus wave in the coming months. Many assume the virus goes quiet when the temperature rises. There is no scientific consensus on this.

«

The daily toll of coronavirus deaths will become in the US a sort of background noise, like school shootings, that everyone in the rest of the world is shocked by.
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Apple pulls podcast apps in China after government pressure • The Verge

Sam Byford:

»

Apple has removed Pocket Casts, the popular iOS and Android podcast client, from the App Store in China. The Cyberspace Administration of China has determined that it can be used to access content deemed illegal in the country, and has demanded that Apple remove the app as a result. It’s the second major podcast app to be removed from China’s App Store this month.

“We believe podcasting is and should remain an open medium, free of government censorship,” Pocket Casts says in a statement posted to Twitter. “As such we won’t be censoring podcast content at their request. We understand this means that it’s unlikely that our iOS App will be available in China, but feel it’s a necessary step to take for any company that values the open distribution model that makes podcasting special.”

Pocket Casts tells The Verge that Apple didn’t provide specifics on which content violated Chinese law upon request, instead suggesting that the team reach out to the Cyberspace Administration of China directly. The app was removed around two days after Apple contacted the developer. China represented its seventh biggest market, Pocket Casts says, and it was considered to be growing.

«

“Content deemed illegal in the country”. Ben Thompson has a long analysis (subscriber-only) which suggests that Apple’s Podcasts app in China is tuned, unlike Podcasts outside China, only to allow feed URLs from iTunes, which the Chinese government monitors. If Pocket Casts let you add a random feed URL, you might get across the Great Firewall.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1328: Amazon suspends facial recognition system, Zoom blocks user over Tiananmen party, life in the US police, and more


Everybody is doomscrolling – flicking endlessly through screens, glued to what’s unfolding CC-licensed photo by verchmarco 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. Read them all! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon suspends police use of its facial-recognition technology • WSJ

Asa Fitch:

»

Amazon Inc said it is halting law-enforcement use of its facial-recognition technology for a year following budding congressional efforts to regulate such tools amid widespread criticism about racial and gender bias.

“We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested,” Amazon said in a blog post Wednesday. The retailing giant said it has been advocating for strong government regulation of the use of facial-recognition technology, and Congress appeared ready to take on that challenge.

A police reform bill House Democratic lawmakers introduced Monday would prohibit federal law enforcement’s use of real-time facial recognition.

Amazon has sold its Rekognition face-recognition software widely, including to police departments and other U.S. enforcement agencies. The company said it would continue to allow the use of its tools by organizations that deploy facial recognition to combat human trafficking and find missing children.

«

So the police won’t have it. But read on…
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This simple facial recognition search engine can track you down across the internet • OneZero

Dave Gershgorn:

»

Ever wondered where you appear on the internet? Now, a facial recognition website claims you can upload a picture of anyone and the site will find that same person’s images all around the internet.

PimEyes, a Polish facial recognition website, is a free tool that allows anyone to upload a photo of a person’s face and find more images of that person from publicly accessible websites like Tumblr, YouTube, WordPress blogs, and news outlets.

In essence, it’s not so different from the service provided by Clearview AI, which is currently being used by police and law enforcement agencies around the world. PimEyes’ facial recognition engine doesn’t seem as powerful as Clearview AI’s app is supposed to be. And unlike Clearview AI, it does not scrape most social media sites.

PimEyes markets its service as a tool to protect privacy and the misuse of images. But there’s no guarantee that someone will upload their own face, making it equally powerful for anyone trying to stalk someone else. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

PimEyes monetizes facial recognition by charging for a premium tier, which allows users to see which websites are hosting images of their faces and gives them the ability to set alerts for when new images are uploaded. The PimEyes premium tiers also allow up to 25 saved alerts, meaning one person could be alerted to newly uploaded images of up to 25 people across the internet. PimEyes has also opened up its service for developers to search its database, with pricing for up to 100 million searches per month.

Facial recognition search sites are rare but not new. In 2016, Russian tech company NtechLab launched FindFace, which offered similar search functionality, until shutting it down in a pivot to state surveillance. Its founders described it as a way to find women a person wanted to date.

«

And now it’s a way to find a person who’s wanted from a particular date! Brm-tish! Oh, suit yourselves. The lack of social media input on this makes it not that much different from many other image searches. And it will definitely get used for stalking.
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Why Facebook staffers won’t quit over Trump’s posts • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

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It’s easier for tech workers to talk about taking a stand than to do so. For one, big technology companies such as Facebook and Google are viciously competitive about acquiring talent. They hire or poach the best people, sometimes just to prevent a competitor from having access to them instead. Some workers don’t want to rock the boat for fear they might get blacklisted, McCarthy said. And ironically, the brokenness at companies such as Facebook and Uber can also make their jobs enticing. Disruption is appealing, and the promise to move fast and break things (even priceless and irrecoverable ones, such as democracy) can be a recruiting tool.

Others already in a company’s employ may see an opportunity to fix some of its ills. One product manager at a large tech firm, who also advises many early-career professionals, spoke with me on the condition of anonymity because she fears reprisal from within the industry. She told me about her “activist” friends who refuse to leave jobs at Facebook, even if they disagree with the company’s practices. “They came to change the world,” she said, “and stayed to work within the system on issues they cared about.” The same drive that makes these workers care about the consequences of Facebook’s impact on democracy also makes them want to stick it out in an effort to improve the service.

Even so, Facebook seems to have crossed the line of tolerable abhorrence for some tech workers. Inside the business, nextplayism may offer the best, and maybe the only, way for them to show their distaste. “The vast majority of people I know at the director-and-up level, when they are leaving a company and looking for a new gig, they’re Never Facebookers,” McCarthy, who is also an occasional collaborator of mine, said, referring to senior-level roles. “They’re offended if you even offer to do introductions to someone at Facebook.”

But that is a privileged attitude. Much of the magical operation of online services is driven by rote laborers, such as moderators, AI-training wranglers, and gig workers. They aren’t counted as members of the industry, except perhaps as its casualties.

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Facebook helped the FBI hack a child predator • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

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For years, a California man systematically harassed and terrorized young girls using chat apps, email, and Facebook. He extorted them for their nude pictures and videos, and threatened to kill and rape them. He also sent graphic and specific threats to carry out mass shootings and bombings at the girls’ schools if they didn’t send him sexually explicit photos and videos.

Buster Hernandez, who was known as “Brian Kil” online, was such a persistent threat and was so adept at hiding his real identity that Facebook took the unprecedented step of helping the FBI hack him to gather evidence that led to his arrest and conviction, Motherboard has learned. Facebook worked with a third-party company to develop the exploit and did not directly hand the exploit to the FBI; it is unclear whether the FBI even knew that Facebook was involved in developing the exploit. According to sources within the company, this is the first and only time Facebook has ever helped law enforcement hack a target.

This previously unreported case of collaboration between a Silicon Valley tech giant and the FBI highlights the technical capabilities of Facebook, a third-party hacking firm it worked with, and law enforcement, and raises difficult ethical questions about when—if ever—it is appropriate for private companies to assist in the hacking of their users. The FBI and Facebook used a so-called zero-day exploit in the privacy-focused operating system Tails, which automatically routes all of a user’s internet traffic through the Tor anonymity network, to unmask Hernandez’s real IP address, which ultimately led to his arrest.

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Facebook felt it had no choice: that this wasn’t an encryption backdoor, that he represented a unique threat, that there weren’t wider privacy risks. Still controversial inside the company, though. This happened two years ago.
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Mark Zuckerberg is on the wrong side of history • Fast Company

Maelle Gavet:

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last week when I saw Mark Zuckerberg on Fox News defending Facebook’s laissez-faire approach to the content that populates its site, I thought, “Ok, this is it. Surely when they see their boss on the side of bigotry, hate, and racism, they are going to realize that they are on the wrong side of history.”

So, I called my friends at Facebook to ask them how they were feeling, and to see if they needed to vent. But instead of expressing doubt about the company’s position, most of them doubled down, telling me that “Mark is really the only grownup,” that Twitter is acting irresponsibly by “censoring” President Trump, and that free speech is fundamental—too essential to democracies for Facebook to stifle it.

As I think about these phone calls, it is painfully obvious to me that future dinner parties with these pals will get heated. So, I put together my own cheat sheet to keep in my back pocket for heated conversations to come. Here are my friends’ claims (in italics) and my responses:

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There are a lot of points, too long to excerpt, on being the arbiter of truth, “letting people decide”, “ending free speech”, Section 230, fact-checking, “all sides”, bias, and “distractions”. It’s thorough. (Gavet is a CEO in the tech industry.)
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Confessions of a former bastard cop – Officer A. Cab • Medium

Officer A. Cab:

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let me tell you about an extremely formative experience: in my police academy class, we had a clique of around six trainees who routinely bullied and harassed other students: intentionally scuffing another trainee’s shoes to get them in trouble during inspection, sexually harassing female trainees, cracking racist jokes, and so on. Every quarter, we were to write anonymous evaluations of our squadmates. I wrote scathing accounts of their behavior, thinking I was helping keep bad apples out of law enforcement and believing I would be protected. Instead, the academy staff read my complaints to them out loud and outed me to them and never punished them, causing me to get harassed for the rest of my academy class. That’s how I learned that even police leadership hates rats. That’s why no one is “changing things from the inside.” They can’t, the structure won’t allow it.

And that’s the point of what I’m telling you. Whether you were my sergeant, legally harassing an old woman, me, legally harassing our residents, my fellow trainees bullying the rest of us, or “the bad apples” illegally harassing “shitbags”, we were all in it together. I knew cops that pulled women over to flirt with them. I knew cops who would pepper spray sleeping bags so that homeless people would have to throw them away. I knew cops that intentionally provoked anger in suspects so they could claim they were assaulted. I was particularly good at winding people up verbally until they lashed out so I could fight them. Nobody spoke out. Nobody stood up. Nobody betrayed the code.

…I want to highlight this: nearly everyone coming into law enforcement is bombarded with dash cam footage of police officers being ambushed and killed. Over and over and over. Colorless VHS mortality plays, cops screaming for help over their radios, their bodies going limp as a pair of tail lights speed away into a grainy black horizon. In my case, with commentary from an old racist cop who used to brag about assaulting Black Panthers.

To understand why all cops are bastards, you need to understand one of the things almost every training officer told me when it came to using force:

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Impossible to be certain if it’s true, of course, but it’s persuasive in its low-key attitude.
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I was a white woman driving a car. Why did the police keep pulling me over? • FranklyWrite

Cynthia Franks:

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I have not told this story before. I worry how it will be received. I don’t know the right language to express it other than my own thoughts and feelings. This post is not for people of color because they already know it. This is for white people living in suburbs and small towns who think this is a big city problem and “It’s not my town.”

Before moving to New York City, I drove every where. I got pulled over 3 times in 15 years; two speeding tickets and an illegal left hand turn.

The first year I was back in Michigan, I got pulled over 5 times. Each time it was for impeding traffic and I did not get a ticket.

I drove a dark grey, 1998 Chevy Venture van that was in storage for several years. It was in good shape.

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I’ve changed the headline on this story because it’s so essential that you don’t know the twist. I read much of the story not knowing the writer’s name or colour, and thinking “she” was a black man. Read like that, it became even weirder. But not as weird as the reality.
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Zoom closes account of U.S.-based Chinese activist after Tiananmen event • Axios

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian:

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Zhou Fengsuo, founder of the U.S. nonprofit Humanitarian China and former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, organized the May 31 event held through a paid Zoom account associated with Humanitarian China.

About 250 people attended the event. Speakers included mothers of students killed during the 1989 crackdown, organizers of Hong Kong’s Tiananmen candlelight vigil, and others.

On June 7th, the Zoom account displayed a message that it had been shut down, in a screenshot viewed by Axios. Zhou has not been able to access the account since then, and Zoom has not responded to his emails, he told Axios.

A second Zoom account belonging to a pro-democracy activist, Lee Cheuk Yan, a former Hong Kong politician and pro-democracy activist, was also closed in late May. Lee has also received no response from Zoom.

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Zoom said it “had to comply with local law” – the people were outside China. But it reopened his account. Doesn’t look good at all.
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Doomscrolling: why we just can’t look away • WSJ

Nicole Nguyen:

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I fixated on the glow in my hand, lighting up an otherwise dark bedroom. In the past few months, after-hours screen time had become a ritual. Last night—and the night before, and the night before that—I stayed up thumbing through tweets, grainy phone-captured videos, posts that gave me hope and posts that made me enraged. I felt like I needed to see it. All of it.

I was “doomscrolling.” Also known as “doomsurfing,” this means spending inordinate amounts of time on devices poring over grim news—and I can’t seem to stop. My timeline used to be a healthy mix of TikTok memes and breaking-news alerts. Now the entire conversation is focused on two topics: the pandemic and the protests.

People are logging on to keep up with it all. This past week, as demonstrations swept the globe, videos from the protests garnered millions of views on social-media platforms. One compilation has been watched more than 50 million times. For the quarter that ended in March, Twitter reported a 24% increase in daily active users over the same period last year. On June 2, Twitter ranked No. 7 in Apple’s App Store—above Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Snapchat.

On April 24, Merriam-Webster added “doomscrolling” to its “Words We’re Watching” list but the term has circulated since at least 2018. For many, myself included, it has become an irresistible urge, in part because we’re stuck at home, spending too much time on our screens, and in part because that’s precisely where social media’s power over us is amped up.

This has a lot to do with our primal instincts, say experts. Our brains evolved to constantly seek threats—historically, that might mean poisonous berries or a vicious rival tribe, explains Mary McNaughton-Cassill, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “That’s why we seem predisposed to pay more attention to negative than positive things,” she says. “We’re scanning for danger.”

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Well, there’s a lot of doom about, after all.

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Why Twitter didn’t label Trump’s tweet on Martin Gugino • The New York Times

Kate Conger:

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The simple answer: The tweet did not violate the company’s rules, a spokesman said. What Mr. Trump posted about Mr. Gugino, a peace activist who was still in the hospital recovering from a serious head wound, did not cross into narrow areas of content that the company has staked out for closer scrutiny.

Twitter adds fact-checking labels to tweets that contain misinformation about civic integrity or the coronavirus, and tweets that contain “manipulated media,” like photos or videos that have been doctored to mislead viewers. It also places warnings on tweets from world leaders that violate its policy against promoting violence. Similar tweets from regular users are often removed.

No other content — even offensive or inaccurate claims like the ones Mr. Trump posted about Mr. Gugino — gets a label.

The disconnect between putting labels on some of Mr. Trump’s posts and ignoring arguably more offensive content is indicative of how difficult — and confusing — it will be for the company to more closely moderate what the president and other political figures post.

“This case absolutely illustrates the challenges Twitter is facing right now: How can, and how should, a platform moderate a president who regularly pumps polluted information into the ecosystem?” said Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University. “No decision, whether it’s to respond or not to respond, will be consequence-free.”

Last month, Twitter began adding labels to Mr. Trump’s tweets. The company fact-checked comments he made about elections and placed a warning label over a tweet in which, it said, Mr. Trump glorified violence.
It was the first time that Twitter had taken any action against Mr. Trump, who has long enjoyed free rein on the platform and used it as his preferred method of lobbing insults against rivals and revving up his supporters.

Twitter’s move was met with anger from Mr. Trump and prominent conservatives, who said the company was censoring their voices. Mr. Trump signed an executive order intended to chip away at legal protections for Twitter and other social media companies. That order is already facing a lawsuit challenging its legality.

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Alternative: Twitter has to fact-check the internet.
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Britain goes coal free as renewables edge out fossil fuels • BBC News

Justin Rowlatt:

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Britain is about to pass a significant landmark – at midnight on Wednesday it will have gone two full months without burning coal to generate power.

A decade ago about 40% of the country’s electricity came from coal; coronavirus is part of the story, but far from all.

When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted; the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network. The four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down.

The last coal generator came off the system at midnight on 9 April. No coal has been burnt for electricity since. The current coal-free period smashes the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes which was set in June last year.

The figures apply to Britain only, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid. But it reveals just how dramatic the transformation of our energy system has been in the last decade. That the country does not need to use the fuel that used to be the backbone of the grid is thanks to a massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade.

Two examples illustrate just how much the UK’s energy networks have changed. A decade ago just 3% of the country’s electricity came from wind and solar, which many people saw as a costly distraction. Now the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, as well as the largest single wind farm, completed off the coast of Yorkshire last year.

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fyi: You can bypass YouTube ads by adding a dot after the domain • webdev

“unicorn4sale”:

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On desktop browsers.

For example,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuB8VUICGqc // will occasionally show ads

https://www.youtube.com./watch?v=DuB8VUICGqc // will not show ads

It’s a commonly forgotten edge case, websites forget to normalize the hostname, the content is still served, but there’s no hostname match on the browser so no cookies and broken CORS – and lots of bigger sites use a different domain to serve ads/media with a whitelist that doesn’t contain the extra dot

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Just trying to be helpful, that’s all, not at all to defund YouTube.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified