Start Up No.1565: Apple staff resist office return, the Tories’ NHS data grab, Nigeria bans Twitter, El Salvador to allow bitcoin, and more


Reworking Minesweeper so it wouldn’t mention mines provoked a conundrum from Microsoft: what should replace the mines? CC-licensed photo by yum9me on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Not banned in Nigeria (yet). I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple employees push back against returning to the office in internal letter • The Verge

Zoe Schiffer:

»

Apple employees are pushing back against a new policy that would require them to return to the office three days a week starting in early September. Staff members say they want a flexible approach where those who want to work remote can do so, according to an internal letter obtained by The Verge.

“We would like to take the opportunity to communicate a growing concern among our colleagues,” the letter says. “That Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit. Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.”

The move comes just two days after Tim Cook sent out a note to Apple employees saying they would need return to the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays starting in the fall. Most employees can work remotely twice a week. They can also be remote for up to two weeks a year, pending manager approval.

It’s an easing of restrictions compared to Apple’s previous company culture, which famously discouraged employees from working from home prior to the pandemic. Yet it’s still more conservative compared to other tech giants. Both Twitter and Facebook have told employees they can work from home forever, even after the pandemic ends.

«

The letter from the employees (which is embedded in the article) is a terrible example of corporate garblespeak. It’s 1,368 turgid words, which make it feel a lot longer. Compare it to Steve Jobs’s famous Thoughts On Flash, which is 1,671 words long, yet because it’s written in a style that talks to the reader, feels much shorter.

Most of all, though, the letter talks as though it’s in a culture apart from Apple. If the corporate culture starts to break down, that becomes a problem.
unique link to this extract


The Tories have worked out how to pull off an NHS data grab: do it during a pandemic • The Guardian

Marina Hyde:

»

Hand on heart, it’s difficult to summon anything other than deep suspicion, born of bitter experience, about the fact that NHS Digital has barely informed GPs, waiting till the last minute to order them to submit the records of every patient under their care, where they will become a permanent and irreversible part of the new database. Neither the British Medical Association nor the Royal College of GPs have endorsed this process. Patients have until 23 June to opt out, and most don’t even know about it.

Once again, a ragtag band of privacy campaigners, concerned doctors and David Davis MP are mounting a rearguard action, with legal threats sent to the government today.

Why are experts so worried, then, when Matt Hancock and friends only want to heal the world? Before we even answer that, do be aware that there is ALREADY a safe, secure way for researchers to access genuinely anonymised data on Covid – the Trusted Research Environment.

The data NHS Digital will store is pseudonymised, and it says it’ll only be shared with commercial third parties for “research and planning purposes”. But it would be relatively simple to re-identify that data – particularly for those with cross-referencing access to other databases, to say nothing of the risk of the third-party breaches it opens up. According to the very much un-promoted page on the NHS website, the NHS will be able to unlock the pseudonymisation codes “in certain circumstances, and where there is a valid legal reason”. (You might assume they’ve called the new data grab Honestlywhat’stheworstthatcouldhappen.data, but instead they’ve gone with GPDPR.)

«

Hyde usually satirises the idiocies of ministers, but this time she’s pointing out the underhanded sneakiness.
unique link to this extract


Nigeria bans Twitter after company deletes President Buhari’s tweet • CNN

Nimi Princewill and Stephanie Busari:

»

The Nigerian government says it has “indefinitely suspended” Twitter’s operations in the country, the Ministry of Information and Culture announced in a statement on Friday.

“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” it read.

The statement, which was posted on the ministry’s official Twitter handle on Friday evening, accused the American social media company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

Some pointed out the irony of announcing the ban on Twitter, with one person replying: “You’re using Twitter to suspend Twitter? Are you not mad?”

The suspension comes two days after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely perceived as offensive.

In that tweet on Tuesday, the Nigerian leader threatened to deal with people in the country’s southeast, who he blames for the recurring attacks on public infrastructure in the region.

“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari wrote in the now-deleted tweet, referring to the brutal two-year Nigeria-Biafra war, which killed an estimated one to three million people, mostly from the Igbo tribe in the eastern part of the country between 1967-1970.

«

The president’s tweet is arguably threatening imminent violence. Maybe he should have said that when the looting starts the shooting starts. That would be OK, apparently?
unique link to this extract


The UI design minefield – er… flower field?? • Shell Blog (archived at the Wayback Machine)

David Vronay worked on a Windows upgrade, and one key piece of work was on that old favourite Minesweeper (one of the original games in Windows 95 to get people used to the mouse – then an unfamiliar user interface method for many):

»

There have always been a small but persistent group of users who disliked minesweeper as a concept because they felt it trivialized the problem of land mines. For those of us living in North America, land mines are an abstract entity that you really only see in a movie, but in many parts of the world people are killed or maimed by mines on a daily basis. Over the years, these users have repeatedly asked us to either remove minesweeper or change the concept from landmines to something a little less obnoxious.

One of the realities of making something with the reach of Windows is that it is almost impossible not to offend someone somewhere with anything you do. (you would not believe how difficult it is to create default user tiles or desktop background images that are inoffensive to EVERYONE ON EARTH.) We do our best, but we also accept that we can’t please all of the people all of the time.

In the minesweeper case, since we were doing a rewrite anyway, we thought it would a good time to address these concerns. We added a preference that allows users to change it from looking for mines in a minefield to looking for flowers in a flower field. Now, personally I am not a fan of using flowers here – I mean, you WANT to find flowers, right? – but this was an established alternative in the market and none of the other ideas we had (dog poo? penguins?) could pass the legal/geopolitcs/trademark/etc. hurdles.

«

Here is the fact that will blow your mind. Ready? You could never lose Minesweeper on your first click. You could never click on a mine first go, because the computer first noted where you clicked and then laid out the mines.
unique link to this extract


US arrests Latvian woman who worked on Trickbot malware source code • The Record

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

The US Department of Justice has arraigned in court today a Latvian woman who was part of the Trickbot malware crew, where she served as a programmer and wrote code for controlling the malware and deploying ransomware on infected computers.

Alla Witte, 55, of Latvia, but who resided in Paramaribo, Suriname, was arrested on February 6 in Miami, Florida, the DOJ said in a press release today.

US officials said that Witte, who went online as “Max,” has been working with the Trickbot malware gang since the group formed in November 2015, when remnants of the Dyre malware gang assembled to create and distribute a revamped version of the Dyre trojan that was subsequently named Trickbot.

According to court documents, Witte was identified as one of 17 suspects behind the Trickbot malware, which is believed to have infected millions of computers across the world since 2015.

«

Have to say, my guess of what the programmer behind successful malware did not really include a 55-year-old Latvian woman sometimes resident in Suriname. Truly, a pursuit for all ages.
unique link to this extract


El Salvador president wants Bitcoin as legal tender • The Washington Post

»

The US dollar is El Salvador’s official currency. About one quarter of El Salvador’s citizens live in the United States and last year, despite the pandemic, they sent home more than $6bn in remittances.

[President Nayib] Bukele’s New Ideas party holds a supermajority in the new congress seated May 1, giving any legislative proposal from the president a strong likelihood of passage.

Additional details of the plan were not released. But Bukele in subsequent messages on Twitter noted that Bitcoin could be “the fastest growing way to transfer 6 billion dollars a year in remittances.” He said that a big chunk of those money transfers were currently lost to intermediaries and with Bitcoin more than a million low-income families could benefit.

He also said 70% of El Salvador’s population does not have a bank account and works in the informal economy. Bitcoin could improve financial inclusion, he said.

Riding his high popularity and his party’s dominance performance in Feb. 28 elections, Bukele has concentrated power. His party’s supermajority in congress ousted the justices of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court May 1. They then replaced the attorney general.

They had been critical of some of Bukele’s more drastic measures during the pandemic, including a mandatory stay-at-home order and containment centers where those caught violating the policy were detained.

«

Lots of ramifications from this, if it goes through. Bitcoin isn’t the best to use as a currency; Monero or others are. (Bitcoin has long ceased to work as a currency.) The US might respond by introducing regulation on cryptocurrencies, because of the potential for money to transfer in a different country directly into dollars. And in the short term, lots of people will lose money as their unfamiliar cryptowallets get hacked.
unique link to this extract


China reconsiders its central role in bitcoin mining • WSJ

James T. Areddy:

»

Chinese bitcoin production is reminiscent of the nation’s sway in other high-technology realms, from production of rare-earth mineral materials to video-surveillance equipment—with one main difference: Beijing’s distrust of cryptocurrencies.

On May 21, China’s government vowed to “crack down on bitcoin mining and trading behavior,” a statement widely interpreted as a warning that the cryptocurrency’s multibillion-dollar supply chain’s days are numbered.

In response, electricity producers are ejecting miners from grids and Chinese dealers are unloading computers designed to create bitcoin onto the secondhand market at huge discounts.

None of this means the world will run out of bitcoin. Instead, mining is likely to slow in China and accelerate elsewhere. Miners in other nations had already cut into China’s production dominance in the past 18 months or so, according to University of Cambridge figures, which estimated the U.S. share has been growing and accounted for around 7% last year.

But even amid some industry expectations that the U.S. share could expand to perhaps 40% in the next few years, the bitcoin community had believed China would retain nearly half of mining.

“In China, it’s always been the thinking that the government will crack down,” said Nishant Sharma, founding partner at Beijing advisory firm BlocksBridge Consulting Ltd.

Still, he said: “I’m seeing so much panic.”

«

Perhaps they could shift production to El Salvador?
unique link to this extract


Why the COVID lab-leak hypothesis is quackery • Los Angeles Times

Michael Hiltzik:

»

What remains of the lab-leak theory is half-truths, misrepresentations, and tendentious conjecture.

Consider one trigger of heightened speculation, a May 23 article in the Wall Street Journal reporting that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located in the community where the first major outbreak was identified, became sick enough in the fall of 2019 to seek hospital treatment. That was months before the start of the pandemic.

Yet the report offered no evidence linking the patients’ illness to COVID-19 research at the Wuhan lab. The report said the researchers had “symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness.” Well, yes: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that the symptoms of COVID and seasonal flu resemble each other.

There’s no evidence that the three researchers had contracted COVID-19 as opposed to flu or any other virus. Nor is there information about the clinical outcome of these three cases, which might tell us more.

Virologists point out, moreover, that it would be unlikely for COVID to affect only three people seriously enough to warrant hospital care without infecting hundreds of others in the lab or their households. The other victims might have had milder symptoms, but an outbreak of that magnitude would have been difficult to keep under wraps.

As for the letter in Science, some of its 18 signatories have taken pains to emphasize that they are not endorsing the lab-leak theory; some are highly skeptical of the hypothesis.

The organizer of the letter, David Relman of Stanford, told Nature’s Amy Maxmen, “I am not saying I believe the virus came from a laboratory.” Another signatory, Ralph S. Baric of the University of North Carolina, told the New Yorker, “The genetic sequence for SARS-CoV-2 really points to a natural-origin event from wildlife.”

Their goal in signing the letter, they said, was not to point fingers at the Wuhan lab, but to urge WHO to devote more effort to determining the origin, whatever it might be, before expressing a categorical opinion.

«

The head of the WIV said, in a series of responses to Science magazine last summer, that all of the WIV staff had tested negative to antibodies: “Recently we tested the sera from all staff and students in the lab and nobody is infected by either bat SARSr-CoV or SARS-CoV-2. To date, there is ‘zero infection’ of all staff and students in our institute.”

She might have been lying, of course. But it would be almost certain to leak (oops) out if so. (If you have trouble accessing the LA Times page for the full article, turning Javascript off works quite well.)
unique link to this extract


Apple’s tightly controlled App Store is teeming with scams • The Washington Post

Reed Albergotti and Chris Alcantara:

»

Of the highest 1,000 grossing apps on the App Store, nearly 2% are scams, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. And those apps have bilked consumers out of an estimated $48m during the time they’ve been on the App Store, according to market research firm Appfigures. The scale of the problem has never before been reported.

What’s more, Apple profits from these apps because it takes a cut of up to a 30% of all revenue generated through the App Store. Even more common, according to The Post’s analysis, are “fleeceware” apps that use inauthentic customer reviews to move up in the App Store rankings and give apps a sense of legitimacy to convince customers to pay higher prices for a service usually offered elsewhere with higher legitimate customer reviews.

Two-thirds of the 18 apps The Post flagged to Apple were removed from the App Store.

…Apple has long maintained that its exclusive control of the App Store is essential to protecting customers, and it only lets the best apps on its system. But Apple’s monopoly over how consumers access apps on iPhones can actually create an environment that gives customers a false sense of safety, according to experts. Because Apple doesn’t face any major competition and so many consumers are locked into using the App Store on iPhones, there’s little incentive for Apple to spend money on improving it, experts say.

“If consumers were to have access to alternative app stores or other methods of distributing software, Apple would be a lot more likely to take this problem more seriously,” said Stan Miles, an economics professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada.

«

It’s the fact that these apps are so visible that makes it galling. But I don’t see that other app stores are going to have the resources to get it all right either. Google has the same problem. (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract


Distancing from the vaccinated: viral anti-vaccine infertility misinfo reaches new extremes • NBC News

April Glaser and Brandy Zadrozny:

»

Yehuda Goldberg, owner of Brothers Butcher Shoppe in Ontario, updated the Covid-19 guidelines for people visiting his meat shop this month. He posted on Instagram that he would ask vaccinated people not to come in to protect his female customers.

“We have decided that since the majority of our customers are women and since women are most at risk for these side effects, we ask that if you’ve been vaccinated to please order for curbside pickup or delivery for 28 days after being vaccinated,” the post reads.

The reason, Goldberg said, is that evidence is surfacing that people who have been vaccinated are “shedding spike proteins,” which appears to be affecting women’s menstrual cycles. While medical experts say that isn’t true, Goldberg said that what he’s reading shows that just being around someone who has been vaccinated can cause reproductive health issues for women and that he doesn’t want to endanger any of his female customers.

«

What a load of crappe in the shoppe. The pandemic really is showing the limitations of science education in so many countries.
unique link to this extract


Five quick thoughts on Facebook’s Trump decision • Galaxy Brain

Charlie Warzel on the two-year ban handed out of course on Friday, the “take out the garbage” day:

»

“If conditions permit” is the weird, load bearing phrase in this announcement. Facebook suggests that Trump’s posts, in the run-up and aftermath of January 6th, helped or exacerbated what the company is calling “times of civil unrest and ongoing violence.” Donald Trump will be up for Facebook parole (lol) in January 2023 and at that moment the company says it plans to “assess whether the risk to public safety has receded.”

This logic strikes me as either weird or impossible or both. If Donald Trump’s posts and general rhetoric helped create the conditions for civil unrest or violence and removing him deescalates that threat, how exactly does one evaluate the risk to public safety in the moments before reinstating him? Put another way: if Donald Trump posting is the risk to public safety, how do you evaluate the risk to public safety in an environment you’ve removed him from?

Game theory aside, Facebook is unclear as to how it will assess public safety risk. It will rely on experts, but we don’t know which experts. And Facebook’s criteria seems, honestly, a bit narrow. The company said it will “evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest.”

…A two year time-out that expires right before an election season where he might run for president does not feel like a punishment that fits the crime, tbh.

…If you play it out, the rationale behind of Facebook’s decision is that Donald Trump is not a danger posting on Facebook unless the country is in an elevated state of civil, political, and cultural unrest/tension. This, of course, leaves out the fact that Donald Trump has historically proven himself to be a major factor for elevating civil, political, and cultural tension in the United States of America.

«

It’s ridiculous. “Well, he might become more moderate after being banned for that long.” I suspect the strategy is really just to punt this over the horizon and see whether he still poses any sort of threat in January 2023; he might have simply become such an irrelevance that it doesn’t matter. Secretly, I think that might be what Zuckerberg is hoping for.

unique link to this extract



Less time than ever to
preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, out 24 June.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1564: Twitter offers subscription, US equates ransomware with terrorism, 16in MacBook Pro at WWDC?, and more


Groovy, baby – Concorde’s coming back, but from United Airlines and promising to cross the Pacific.. with a refuelling stop. CC-licensed photo by Mark R Percival 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. Oh, I thought you pressed Record. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book; also available as a complete audiobook.


The Twitter Blue subscription service starts rolling out Thursday • The Verge

Jon Porter and Jay Peters:

»

Twitter has officially announced Twitter Blue, a paid subscription service that offers access to new features like undoing tweets and viewing threads in an easier to digest “Reader Mode.” Starting Thursday, it will roll out first in Canada and Australia, where the subscription will cost $3.49 CAD or $4.49 AUD per month, respectively. We already had a good idea of what features to expect from Twitter Blue thanks to sleuthing from app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, but now Twitter has detailed everything the service includes.

A new undo send feature gives you the option of retracting your tweets before they actually go live, and you can set a timer for undoing your tweets that can last up to 30 seconds. A Bookmark Folders feature lets you group saved tweets to make them easier to find later. “Reader Mode” lets you keep up with threads by “turning them into easy-to-read text” and mashing together tweets into one page. Other Twitter Blue features are purely aesthetic: it adds new color theme options as well as the ability to change the colour of Twitter’s app icon.

«

Change the colour of the icon! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Even so, the idea of adding a paid tier to what has always been a free service can have a ratchet effect if the financial people get too excited by the money.

(Undo is like Google’s don’t send; it’s also a sort-of Edit button, in effect.) I really don’t know who’s going to want this. I’m still happy with a paid-for third-party app which costs rather less. (The latest version of Tweetbot costs $1 per month and has access to the newer Twitter API.)
unique link to this extract


US to give ransomware hacks similar priority as terrorism, official says • Reuters

Christopher Bing:

»

The US Department of Justice is elevating investigations of ransomware attacks to a similar priority as terrorism in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline hack and mounting damage caused by cyber criminals, a senior department official told Reuters.

Internal guidance sent on Thursday to US attorney’s offices across the country said information about ransomware investigations in the field should be centrally coordinated with a recently created task force in Washington.

“It’s a specialised process to ensure we track all ransomware cases regardless of where it may be referred in this country, so you can make the connections between actors and work your way up to disrupt the whole chain,” said John Carlin, acting deputy attorney general at the Justice Department.

«

It’s a bit hard to see how this is going to change anything, unless it blocks American companies from paying ransoms (especially in cryptocurrency), which might have some impact – they’ll buy a lot more backup systems. Regulation of crypto exchanges so they can’t deal with more than a ceiling of transaction value might be a better solution.
unique link to this extract


United Airlines bets on supersonic future with $3bn Boom jet order • Bloomberg

Justin Bachman:

»

Boom [the company from which United is ordering the aircraft] is trying to surmount the aeronautical and financial challenges needed to bring back supersonic commercial flights for the first time since the demise of Europe’s Concorde in 2003. It’s still an uphill climb. Boom has raised more than $250m so far, and development costs to make the Overture’s first flight a reality are projected to be as high as $8bn, Scholl said.

The company, based in suburban Denver, announced the landmark deal with United less than a month since the collapse of Aerion Corp., which had amassed $11 billion in orders for a planned supersonic business jet. Aerion said May 21 it was unable to secure adequate funding to continue.

For Boom, the United pact marks the first time a customer has made a cash deposit for the carbon-fiber Overture. Japan Airlines Co. and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group have placed “pre-orders” for the aircraft, which essentially give them options to acquire the jet, Boom said.

United is confident in Boom’s path in getting “from point A to point B to point C” in the Overture’s development, Leskinen said. The Chicago-based airline declined to discuss financial details of the order.

The market for new supersonic aircraft could be $160bn by 2040, according to a December report by UBS Group AG analyst Myles Walton. The extra speed would be most alluring for business customers, but prices could be too high for some, Walton said.

«

Or if could be zero. Concorde was never profitable, and having more planes won’t suddenly make the service profitable. Supersonic only over oceans (because sonic booms are very unwelcome on the ground), doing London-NY and San Francisco-Tokyo supersonic, though with a refuelling stop in Alaska on the latter because the journey is 200 miles (out of 4,500) too far for a single hop.
unique link to this extract


LGBT+ conversion therapy: banned on Facebook, but thriving in Arabic • OPENLY

Avi Asher-Schapiro and Maya Gebeily :

»

In many Arab countries, homosexuality is not strictly illegal, but activists say police often persecute LGBT+ citizens using other laws, such as those covering public indecency. In Egypt, medical professionals offering conversion therapy services are part of the mental health care system, local LGBT+ groups say.

Following its ban on content promoting conversion therapy, Facebook took action against several English-language conversion promoters. But Arabic-language conversion content still thrives on Facebook, where practitioners post to millions of followers through verified accounts.

Not only do pre-ban posts advocating conversion therapy remain visible, but new posts continue to flood the site, and conversion therapists appear to promote their services freely. “From our experience, these posts are almost never taken down, no matter what the rules say,” said the executive director of one Egypt-based LGBT+ rights group, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of its work.

A Facebook spokeswoman said in emailed comments that “content that explicitly provides or offers to provide products or services that aim to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity is against our Community Standards and is not allowed on our platform”.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation provided Facebook with more than a dozen examples of conversion therapy promotion still on the platform, including a post by Wasfy promoting a Zoom event on “curing” homosexuality. Facebook subsequently removed most of the posts, including one by Wasfy promoting a Zoom event on “curing” homosexuality.

«

The now-familiar two-step: Facebook is bad at dealing with posts in non-English languages, and moderation is outsourced to journalists.
unique link to this extract


The lab-leak theory: inside the fight to uncover COVID-19’s origins • Vanity Fair

Katherine Eban:

»

Having connected online, Demaneuf and de Maistre began assembling a comprehensive list of research laboratories in China. As they posted their findings on Twitter, they were soon joined by others around the world. Some were cutting-edge scientists at prestigious research institutes. Others were science enthusiasts. Together, they formed a group called DRASTIC, short for Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19. Their stated objective was to solve the riddle of COVID-19’s origin.

«

Oh, this is wearying. Eban was very proud of this, retweeting the praise for it on Twitter, but not responding to my own queries (almost as soon as she tweeted) about the many disparities and elisions in the article. In fact, the article is mostly retreads of stuff you will (if you take any interest in the topic) have seen before.

There were a couple of useful bits, so praise is due there. The first was the NIH official who pointed out that “If you ban gain-of-function research, you ban all of virology”; every other article has implied that GOF is unusual rather than commonplace in virological research.

The second was a memo by Chris Ford, a “China hawk” and then under-secretary of state for Arms Control and International Security, who convened a meeting of those most convinced Covid came from a “lab leak”, and put them up against a panel of experts – who ripped their evidence to shreds.

Ford’s memo is four pages long and provides the best summation of the current state of knowledge about Covid’s origins that we have. Skim the feature, absorb the memo.
unique link to this extract


The WHO is acting like it wants to be defunded – so what are we waiting for? • CapX

Christopher Snowdon:

»

If the World Health Organization wanted to prove beyond doubt that it is no longer fit for purpose, it couldn’t have done a better job than to make the announcements it has made this week. 

On Monday, the WHO celebrated World No Tobacco Day by giving its Special Director-General Award to India’s Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan. What life-saving work has Dr Vardhan done to merit such a prestigious gong? One thing stood out, as WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained on Twitter: ‘His leadership was instrumental in the 2019 national legislation to ban E-cigarettes & heated tobacco products. Thank you, Minister!’

India has 120 million smokers. Thanks to Dr Vardhan, they no longer have the option of switching to a vastly safer substitute. The main beneficiary of the ban on e-cigarettes has been the India Tobacco Company, which is part owned by the Indian government. This should merit international condemnation. Instead, the WHO has slapped the Indian government on the back.

India is by no means the worst country to be honoured by the WHO. A few days earlier, the WHO gave Syria a seat on its executive board. Lest we forget, the Assad regime has been responsible for bombing hundreds of hospitals and has tortured, murdered and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people during what the WHO coyly describes as a “protracted political and socio-economic crisis”.

Belarus was also quietly appointed to the WHO’s executive board at the weekend despite recently forcing a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk to facilitate the capture, arrest and likely torture of a political dissident.

…Nobody’s perfect, but the WHO is almost a parody of corruption and incompetence. While it embraces regimes which slaughter doctors and congratulates politicians for protecting the cigarette industry, it focuses on policing language like a snowflake student union. It is almost as if it wants to be defunded and replaced with something better. So what are we waiting for?

«

The big, big, big, big problem is that the WHO can’t exclude countries based on their politics, because diseases don’t care about politics. It has to keep everyone, even murderous regimes, onside so that they will take part in vaccination programs and information-sharing programs. The WHO’s leader has one of the most ticklish diplomatic jobs in the world. The WHO is far from perfect – but that’s because humans are.
unique link to this extract


Big music needs to be broken up to save the industry • WIRED

Ron Knox:

»

Apple, Google, and Amazon are able to bankroll their music offerings through monopoly profits elsewhere. Spotify boasts 150 million subscribers, more than twice that of Apple, and its stock value has doubled during the pandemic. The stock market values the company at more than $50bn.

While streaming has helped most survive, it’s helped the major labels get even richer. In 2019, research group MBW figured the three major labels each made around $1m an hour from streaming; only the biggest independent labels clear that much in a year. The top seven artists on Spotify each earn around half a million dollars per year from streaming on the service, while Spotify royalties pay the bottom 99% of artists an average of $25 annually.

Per-stream revenues are often microscopic among all streaming services. YouTube pays the least: To earn its monthly minimum wage ($1,472), an artist needs more than 2 million streams. Spotify doesn’t pay much more; according to the Trichordist, an average midsize independent label can expect to make around a third of a penny per Spotify stream.

Streaming today accounts for 80% of all industry income. As much as the streaming services need the majors, the majors rely on streaming revenue even more.

That dominance means services like Spotify can charge exorbitant fees to labels big and small for the right to reach audiences. In the pre-streaming world, a record label would typically get 70% of every album sale, while the rest went to pay all of the labor-intensive services required to make, distribute, and sell a record. Today, that rate is about the same. Except the other 30% goes entirely to Spotify.

«

Knox is “a senior research and writer at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance”. I’m linking to it because it seems typical of the barely coherent articles that get written about the music business. He complains that three labels have control of 80% of the “physical record business”: hmm, OK, and how big is that compared to streaming. And who else should get the 30%, if not Spotify? It’s doing what retail stores used to. There are far better critiques to be written than this, but this one got into Wired somehow.
unique link to this extract


Apple bolsters AirTags privacy measures, to offer Android detector app later this year • CNET

Ian Sherr:

»

Apple said it’s adjusting its approach to its AirTags sensors, changing the time they play an alert when separated from their owner, and also creating new ways to warn people an unexpected AirTag or Find My network-enabled device is nearby.

The tech giant said Thursday it’s begun sending out updates to its AirTags, changing the window of time they’ll make noises when potentially being used to track another person. Initially, the Apple device would play in three days. Now it’ll begin to play at a random time inside a window that lasts between 8 and 24 hours.

To further reassure people about its AirTags, Apple said it’s developing an app for Android devices that will help people “detect” an AirTag or Find My network-enabled device that may also be unsuspectedly “traveling” with them. Apple iPhones already have a similar alert system built into their devices. The Android app will be released later this year.

«

Question is, why not announce the Android app when they were announced? Perhaps Apple felt it would take away from the Apple-ness of the event where it first showed them off. Not sure one can read anything about early success into this Android app announcement: it surely would have been planned quite some time before. (But Android users wouldn’t be able to set AirTags up, or search for them, because that involves the W1 chip for close location.)
unique link to this extract


Next-generation 16in MacBook Pro seemingly filed in regulatory database ahead of WWDC • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

Apple is widely rumoured to be planning new 14in and 16in MacBook Pro models, each with a mini-LED display and an improved iteration of the M1 chip. The notebooks are expected to feature a new design with a flatter top and bottom and more ports, including the return of an HDMI port, SD card slot, and a magnetic power cable. Rumors also suggest the Touch Bar will be retired in favour of physical Fn keys.

Lending further credence to these plans, MacRumors has potentially discovered the next-generation 16in MacBook Pro in a Chinese regulatory database. The listing, filed on April 14 by Apple supplier Sunwoda Electronic, is for a battery with an Apple-like model identifier A2527 rated at 8,693 mAh/11.45V. This is similar to the current 16in MacBook Pro’s battery, which is rated at 8,790 mAh/11.36V, according to iFixit.

«

There’s also an entry for a 14in MacBook Pro. So everything seems to be falling into place for them to be announced next week, as Apple gets further into shifting its lineup onto its ARM chips.
unique link to this extract


Trump deplatforms himself • Platformer

Casey Newton:

»

It’s true that Trump never would have attained the reach he got through Twitter were it not also the case that the entire Western media has the app open all day, often using the controversies found there as a de facto assigning editor. As with every platform story, social networks are not the only relevant actors here. A unified press corps that took Trump seriously as a mortal threat to democracy from the start, rather than as a clownish sideshow that was good for ratings, may have given him less airtime.

But after four blissful months of Trump-free Twitter, the platform’s value to him has never been more clear. Tweets are simply more powerful than posts on a website. They can be re-shared to a global audience with a single click; they can attract new followers by the millions; and they can set the agenda for many of the world’s most prominent journalists. Trump’s rapid retreat from blogging highlights the degree to which he depended on free reach — not free speech — to advance his malign agenda.

For platforms, there could hardly be a more powerful story about the significance of their amplification mechanics. By now, many of the platform executives I know are tired of the constant drumbeat of stories about how their networks spread misinformation, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and other harmful content. But the Trump story illustrates vividly why they matter. For the worst actors on their platforms, free reach is almost the entire appeal of using them.

«

This is absolutely how social warming works: outrage, amplified, riles people.
unique link to this extract


Using fake reviews to find dangerous extensions • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

After hearing from a reader about a phony Microsoft Authenticator extension that appeared on the Google Chrome Store, KrebsOnSecurity began looking at the profile of the account that created it. There were a total of five reviews on the extension before it was removed: Three Google users gave it one star, warning people to stay far away from it; but two of the reviewers awarded it between three and four stars.

“It’s great!,” the Google account Theresa Duncan enthused, improbably. “I’ve only had very occasional issues with it.”

“Very convenient and handing,” assessed Anna Jones, incomprehensibly.

Google’s Chrome Store said the email address tied to the account that published the knockoff Microsoft extension also was responsible for one called “iArtbook Digital Painting.” Before it was removed from the Chrome Store, iArtbook had garnered just 22 users and three reviews. As with the knockoff Microsoft extension, all three reviews were positive, and all were authored by accounts with first and last names, like Megan Vance, Olivia Knox, and Alison Graham.

Google’s Chrome Store doesn’t make it easy to search by reviewer. For that I turned to Hao Nguyen, the developer behind chrome-stats.com, which indexes and makes searchable a broad array of attributes about extensions available from Google.

«

John Gruber shakes his weary head about the presence of all these fake reviews, which literally mean you can barely trust anything, but I found Krebs’s piece rather encouraging: it suggests that there’s a web of these things which you can disentangle, and thus identify the fakes and scams.

Though as ever, the work of finding the scams seems to be outsourced to us, the users.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1563: the mystery app topping the charts, Trump quits blogging, Stack Overflow sold, Apple planning ‘homeOS’?, and more


An Italian artist has sold an “invisible sculpture” for €15,000. But how do you know if you’ve got the original? CC-licensed photo by VCU Capital News Service 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. Home and dry. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Preorder Social Warming, publication June 24. Also available as an audiobook (the first 300 pages, definitely).


Why a mediocre keyboard app is topping the App Store charts • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:

»

It’s hard to tell what will go viral online at any given time. Carp? Sure. Andrew Cuomo’s Nipples? That happened. The latest darling of the internet’s eye is less fishy and less… fleshy than both of the above, but no less bizarre: a low-grade knock-off of Apple’s Notepad app that was developed by a tiny Korean studio about two years ago. It’s called Paste Keyboard, and it’s the most popular iPhone app in the US right now.

An intrepid reporter at Mashable was the first to notice that the app isn’t only rocking the number one spot in the App Store right now, but it managed to snag that spot from TikTok. This is nothing to sneeze at; not only was TikTok the most downloaded iOS app in 2020, but it had also enjoyed its spot at the top of the charts for roughly a year, give or take some blips.

It’s impossible to say exactly what the tipping point was, but in the last few days of May, Paste exploded. An independent analysis by the mobile app researchers at AppFigures shows that the keyboard went from enjoying about 100 to 150 downloads per day, on average, to rocking 29,000 downloads on May 29th. The next day, more than 127,000 people downloaded it. Then 182,000. Over the past two weeks, the apps’ been downloaded more than 346,000 times—almost entirely from folks in the US.

The app went from being #910 in the App Store’s “Utilities” category to being #1 in literally four days. Its numbers are still skyrocketing. But why?

«

The answer to this is likely to make you feel really quite old.
unique link to this extract


Trump shuts down his blog, frustrated by its low readership • The New York Times

Annie Karni:

»

Still banned from Twitter and Facebook, and struggling to find a way to influence news coverage since leaving office, Mr. Trump decided on Wednesday to shutter his do-it-yourself alternative, a blog he had started just a month ago called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.”

Mr. Trump had become frustrated after hearing from friends that the site was getting little traffic and making him look small and irrelevant, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

The site, which cost a few thousand dollars to make and was put together for Mr. Trump by a company run by his former campaign manager Brad Parscale, was intended to be an online hub for supporters to see statements issued by the former president and communicate with him.

…Last month, after The Washington Post reported that the blog was attracting virtually no readership, Mr. Trump played down its purpose, calling it a stopgap measure until he figured out what came next.

“This is meant to be a temporary way of getting my thoughts and ideas out to the public without the Fake News spin, but the website is not a ‘platform,’” he said in a statement. “It is merely a way of communicating until I decide on what the future will be for the choice or establishment of a platform.”

Some people in his small circle of advisers said on Wednesday that they were frustrated by his decision to shut it down. Others tried to put a more positive spin on it.

Jason Miller, an adviser, said on Twitter that the decision to suspend the blog was a precursor to Mr. Trump’s joining another social media platform.

«

MySpace? Orkut? Bebo? Friends Reunited? He lasted just 29 days. That sets the bar that every other blogger who surpasses it can now wear as a badge of pride.
unique link to this extract


Stack Overflow sold to tech giant Prosus for $1.8bn • WSJ

Ben Dummett:

»

Based in New York, closely held Stack Overflow operates a question-and-answer website used by software developers and other types of workers such as financial professionals and marketers who increasingly need coding skills. It attracts more than 100 million visitors monthly, the company says.

Prosus, one of Europe’s most valuable tech companies, is best known as the largest shareholder in Chinese internet and videogaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. Listed in Amsterdam, Prosus signaled its appetite for deal making when it sold a small portion of its equity stake in Tencent in April for $14.6bn. The Stack Overflow deal ranks among Prosus’ biggest acquisitions.

Prosus invests globally across a range of online platforms focused on areas such as food delivery, classifieds and fintech. It also maintains a more than $200 billion holding in Tencent. Prosus’ parent company, Naspers Ltd. , acquired the Tencent stake in 2001 for $34 million.

The Stack Overflow deal is Prosus’ first outright acquisition in the educational tech space. Prosus already owns stakes in two educational tech companies—Udemy and Codecademy—servicing companies. It is set to make an investment in Skillsoft, a publisher of training software used by businesses as part of that firm’s plan to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital Corp II and list in New York.

Prosus is betting that companies will continue to build out technology to support remote working and online training long after the Covid-19 pandemic recedes.

«

Udemy is blah (lots of dubiously acquired content), Codecademy somewhat better. The best comment on this sale: “database of wrong answers sold for $1.6bn”.

Quite a coup for Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, the co-founders. And for 59 other Stack Overflow staff who have also become millionaires.
unique link to this extract


Biden allies urge Facebook to review spread of election fraud claims • POLITICO

Cristiano Lima:

»

A nonprofit advocacy group with close ties to President Joe Biden on Wednesday joined calls for Facebook to review whether its actions contributed to the spread of unfounded election fraud claims leading up to the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol.

Building Back Together, an outside coalition formed by top Biden allies and campaign advisers, urged Facebook in a letter reviewed by POLITICO to commit to an internal probe of the matter, something the company’s oversight board recommended last month.

Requirements vs. suggestions: The panel, which recently upheld Facebook’s decision to suspend former President Donald Trump, also called on the company to carry out “a comprehensive review of Facebook’s potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence in the United States on January 6.”

While the ruling on Trump’s suspension is binding, the board’s recommendations for changes to Facebook’s policies and for follow-up actions, such as the review, are not. Facebook is required to respond to the suggestions by Friday, though, and Biden’s allies are pressuring the tech giant to make good on the guidance ahead of the deadline.

«

It would be pretty much impossible for Facebook not to have been involved. It’s a no-win for Facebook, so it will doubtless resist getting involved for as long as it possibly can.
unique link to this extract


Apple ‘homeOS’ mentioned in job listing ahead of WWDC • MacRumors

Hartley Charlton:

»

An Apple job listing has mentioned “homeOS,” an otherwise never-before heard of Apple operating system, ahead of WWDC next week.

Spotted by developer Javier Lacort, the Apple job listing for a Senior iOS Engineer in Apple Music explicitly mentions “homeOS” on two occasions, alongside Apple’s other operating systems including iOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

»

You’ll get to work with system engineers across Apple, learning the inner-workings of iOS, watchOS, tvOS and homeOS, and optimizing your code for performance in ways only Apple can. Come join our team and make a real difference for music lovers worldwide.

The Apple Music Frameworks team owns the technology stack that enables the system-integrated Apple Music experience on all of our mobile platforms: iOS, watchOS, and homeOS.

«

Interestingly, the job listing mentions homeOS as a “mobile platform,” seemingly highlighting it as more akin to iOS and watchOS than systems like macOS and tvOS, but it is not clear why that would be the case.

The operating system could simply be a rebranding of Apple’s current smart home software, in much the same way iOS for iPad was rebranded iPadOS and OS X was changed to macOS, or potentially an entirely new OS.

«

“homeOS” was changed, once this story appeared, to “HomePod and tvOS”, the spoilsports. But it would make sense to recognise that there are some devices that are always going to be based in the home.
unique link to this extract


Judge dismisses charges against Apple security chief in gun-permit probe • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:

»

A court in California on Tuesday dismissed bribery charges against Apple’s security chief, writing that a key element of the case was “pure speculation” by prosecutors and unsupported by evidence.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in November had said a grand jury indicted Apple Chief Security Officer Thomas Moyer and two officers in the Sheriff’s Office.

Prosecutors alleged that Moyer had offered to donate iPads to the Sheriff’s Office after a 2019 meeting in exchange for help getting concealed-weapons permits for the company’s executive protection team.

It is illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in California, and county sheriffs have wide discretion over whether to grant them.

Judge Eric S. Geffon of the Superior Court of Santa Clara County found on Tuesday that Moyer had been in talks with the Sheriff’s Office about permits for more than a year by the time of the 2019 meeting. By then, Geffon wrote, the evidence suggests Moyer believed the permits were already approved and would be issued soon.

Geffon said prosecutors erred in alleging that Moyer had any corrupt intent in offering to donate the iPads.

«

This story included for completeness – otherwise things begin, but then linger in the ether. Mark this one “resolved”.
unique link to this extract


Elon Musk blames ‘supply chain price pressure’ for Tesla’s increasing prices • The Verge

Jon Porter:

»

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has blamed supply chain price pressure for incremental price increases the company has made to its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles over the past several months. “Prices increasing due to major supply chain price pressure industry-wide,” the CEO tweeted in response to a complaint about the changes. “Raw materials especially.”

Today, the CEO followed up to say that “microcontroller chips” are a particular challenge right now. But although Musk said that he’s “never seen anything like it,” he added that he doesn’t expect this to be a long-term issue. “Fear of running out is causing every company to overorder – like the toilet paper shortage, but at epic scale.”

Musk had previously indicated in an April earnings call that Tesla was well placed to weather the global chip shortage by “pivoting extremely quickly to new microcontrollers.”

Electrek has been tracking Tesla’s price changes in recent months. The Standard Range Plus version of the Model 3 has increased from $36,990 in February to $39,990 in late May, for example, while the Model Y Long Range AWD version has gone from $49,990 to $51,990 over the same period. Tesla has updated its prices almost half a dozen times since February this year.

«

Musk talks a bad game. The WSJ reports that the SEC is struggling to rein in his tweets, and has failed despite his commitments to it.
unique link to this extract


Stairway to Heaven (UNCAGED) • YouTube

I don’t have my glasses on, but these sound like terrific guest vocals from Robert Plant. (Via John Naughton.)

Extra unasked for bonus link: Nina Persson of The Cardigans performing Whole Lotta Love in front of Plant and Page at a tribute concert. The rabbit hole that this takes you down will surely be amazing.


unique link to this extract


AI prompts a scramble for healthcare data • Financial Times

Brooke Masters:

»

We are now seeing a mad rush to gain access to patient and hospital data and turn AI loose upon it. Last week’s deal that will see Google store HCA’s data and help the US hospital chain develop healthcare algorithms is one example. The UK NHS’s plan to consolidate 55m patient primary care records into a single database is another. Global fundraising for AI health start-ups has risen steadily since the end of 2019 and hit a new record of $2.5bn in the first quarter, says CB Insights.

In some ways, healthcare is following financial services. The 2008 financial crisis forced bankers to invest in better data collection and analysis to improve risk monitoring. The sector then started finding other ways to exploit it.

Healthcare has been slow to the data party, in part because so much of it is collected in ways that are hard to consolidate: in conversations, in different locations and using non-standard measurements and formats. Just having an electronic healthcare record system isn’t enough: it needs to be comprehensive and searchable.

“In a world where data is flowing in constantly [we need] something non-human to manage it,” says Robert Wachter, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of The Digital Doctor.

…Still, medical records include some of the most sensitive personal data, and it should not be shared too easily. A 2019 collaboration between Google’s health arm and Ascension, another US healthcare system, sparked outrage from advocates who feared the tech group would misuse the information. More recently, some efforts to use smartphones to track coronavirus exposures foundered on privacy concerns.

Google says it is simply providing storage and tools to HCA and will not get direct access to the data. The NHS says that identifying details will be stripped out and it will audit users to make sure data is not misused. But privacy groups remain concerned.

«

unique link to this extract


Cryptocurrencies: government needs to move fast to help shape the new financial world • Reaction

Tom Tugendhat:

»

There are a few quick warnings that are essential to understand. First, some of the transaction costs are astronomical. Switching currencies or wallets can cost 20% for the small sized moves. This is the charge for those who operate the network and verify the transactions and is an extraordinary tax on the market.

Second, the systems are awkward. Gone is the simple relationship between a sort code and account number, and instead there is a series of complex codes identifying a place on the blockchain with no correction if you get it wrong.

Third, not all systems are even vaguely user-friendly. Depending on the wallet, it can be near impossible to withdraw the money – there’s one wallet I can’t get £20 back from, and almost certainly never will. It’s not enough to worry about but it’s worth knowing.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, this is a world of believers and enthusiasts (if you’re feeling positive) or con artists and charlatans (if you’re not). The same has been true of technology booms and bubbles throughout the ages. This time is no different.

«

What’s unusual about this is that Tugendhat is the Conservative MP who chairs the Foreign Affairs select committee. His willingness to get involved and find out what’s going on is unusual – though of course he’s able to maintain enough distance to assess what’s going on.
unique link to this extract


Italian artist sells invisible sculpture for more than $18,000 • Newsweek

Sara Santora:

»

Anything can be a work of art, even nothing.

Italian artist Salvatore Garau recently auctioned an invisible sculpture for 15,000 euros ($18,300). According to as.com, the sculpture’s initial price was set between 6,000 and 9,000 euros; however, the price was raised after several bids were placed.

Titled ‘Io Sono’ (Italian for “I am”), the 67-year-old artist’s sculpture is “immaterial,” meaning that the sculpture does not actually exist.

Though he’s received much critique for the sale, Garau argues that his work of art isn’t “nothing,” but is instead a “vacuum.”

“The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that ‘nothing’ has a weight,” Garau said of the statue according to as.com. “Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.”

Italy 24 News reported that per Garau’s instructions, the sculpture must be displayed in a private home free from any obstruction, in an area that is about 5 ft. long by 5 ft. wide.

«

Wow, we’ve literally reached the literal Emperor’s New Clothes stage. It’s like the opposite of an NFT, which is something of which infinite copies can exist, and you pay for a single one.

Also, the insurance company rang and would like to know how you’d know if it had been stolen, or even if it had been swapped for a duplicate during transit.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1562: Twitter plans ‘wrongness’ markers, China’s coming pensioner boom, why UFOs aren’t aliens, more on Osaka, and more


Time to brush on your Greek alphabet – important Covid variants will now be assigned letters from it. The first four are already taken. CC-licensed photo by Dunk %uD83D%uDC1D 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. Just play the effing chord. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Preorder Social Warming, my book coming out June 24. Also available as an audiobook (the first 200 pages, definitely).


Twitter may start labeling your tweets based on how wrong you are • Gizmodo

Alyse Stanley:

»

Twitter is one of many social media companies that’s struggled to keep misinformation from running rampant on its platform over the years. Its latest attempt to move the needle looks to be a tiered warning label system that changes based on how wrong you are, according to app researcher Jane Manchun Wong.

So far, there are three levels of misinformation warning labels: “Get the latest,” “Stay Informed,” and “Misleading,” Wong tweeted on Monday. How accurate a tweet is determines if Twitter’s systems tack on one of these three labels, each of which includes a prompt directing users to additional information. Ostensibly, these would link to a Twitter-curated page or external vetted source, as is the case for Twitter’s covid-19 and U.S. presidential election misinformation labels.

Wong, who reverse engineers popular apps to uncover features still in development, shared a screenshot of her efforts experimenting with Twitter’s new system. For example, she tweeted, “Snorted 60 grams of dihydrogen monoxide and I’m not feeling so well now,” which triggered a “Get the latest” label with information about water.

«

I wonder if it’s going to be automatically appended by machine learning, which would create all sorts of problems, or by some sort of fact-checking system, which would be slow and out of date by the time it was implemented.

Worth nothing that there’s a cottage industry in watching Wong dissect apps to find out what’s coming up next. She’s rarely wrong.
unique link to this extract


Why Beijing has resisted raising the retirement age • Macro Polo

Houze Song:

»

Why hasn’t China raised its oddly low retirement age yet? After all, a key solution to its rapid aging problem is right under Beijing’s nose, and it knows it too. As early as 2013, Beijing made it clear that the official retirement age (60 for men and 55 for women) would be raised by 2020—a priority that made it into the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). Yet so far, no move has been made on the retirement age.

The short answer is that the Chinese government cannot afford to delay retirement at the moment. In the near term, postponing retirement will actually be negative for the economy. For one, since job creation is paramount amid the post-Covid recovery, Beijing needs retirees to vacate their spots that can then be filled by the unemployed, including many of the nearly 9 million recent college graduates.

In 2018, those between the ages of 55 and 59 accounted for 7.3% of China’s total urban labor force (see Figure 1). If Beijing had raised the retirement age by one year to 61 for men and 56 for women, a quick estimate suggests that would’ve translated into 5 million and 4.5 million fewer job vacancies and raised the unemployment rate by more than one percentage point in 2019 and 2020, respectively. And given the necessity of solving the unemployment problem during the current economic slowdown, delaying retirement has to be put on hold.

«

There are also budgetary reasons why it’s actually good, for now, for China to have lots of pensioners. But there’s bad news for men born in 1964 and women born in 1969 coming up: the retirement age is probably going to rise in 2023, as a colossal number of boomers come to cash in their pensions. That in turn could lead to big restructuring of the state. Mark it in your calendar.
unique link to this extract


If the lab-leak theory is right, what’s next? • The Atlantic

Daniel Engber:

»

Instead of calling for a new and better inquiry into origins, let’s stipulate that pandemics can result from natural spillovers or from laboratory accidents—and then let’s move along to implications. One important question has already gotten airtime (from right-wing media, at least): should scientists be fiddling with pathogenic genomes, to measure out the steps they’d have to take before ascending to pandemic-level virulence? Should the National Institutes of Health be funding them? This was the subject of a fierce, unresolved debate among virologists that started back in 2012; it still isn’t clear to what extent such research helps prevent devastating outbreaks, and to what extent it poses a realistic risk of creating them.

Other questions include: Should coronavirus samples gathered from the wild be studied at moderate biosafety levels, as appears to have been the case at the Wuhan Institute of Virology? Is there any significant cost, in terms of preparing for the next pandemic, from slowing down surveillance work with more demanding safety regulations? And should China end the practice of transporting virus-laden guano from sparsely populated regions to population centers, as appears to have been the case in Wuhan? (One might also ask: Should studies of Ebola, or other outbreak-ready pathogens, be carried out in Boston?) As Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute, told me this week, we may yet discover that the COVID-19 story is a variation on “a small-town virus brought to the city, and suddenly becoming a star.”

Or we might be due for a far more substantial inquiry into the risks of scientific research. If we’re ready to acknowledge that a lab-induced pandemic is possible, and that we may be seeing the result, then “we’ll need to understand that the next major threat to public health could come from something else in biology—something that destroys crops, or changes the ocean, or changes the atmosphere,” Sam Weiss Evans, a biosecurity-governance scholar, told me. “This could be a moment of reckoning for the much wider biological community.”

«

This is the far better way to deal with this possibility. There’s no proof (and nothing in the past few months has changed that), but it’s worth asking these questions and being sure of the answers.
unique link to this extract


Return to office: employees are quitting instead of giving up work from home • Bloomberg

Anders Melin and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou:

»

A six-minute meeting drove Portia Twidt to quit her job.

She’d taken the position as a research compliance specialist in February, enticed by promises of remote work. Then came the prodding to go into the office. Meeting invites piled up.

The final straw came a few weeks ago: the request for an in-person gathering, scheduled for all of 360 seconds. Twidt got dressed, dropped her two kids at daycare, drove to the office, had the brief chat and decided she was done.

“I had just had it,” said Twidt, 33, who lives in Marietta, Georgia.

With the coronavirus pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, the push by some employers to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.

While companies from Google to Ford Motor Co. and Citigroup have promised greater flexibility, many chief executives have publicly extolled the importance of being in offices. Some have lamented the perils of remote work, saying it diminishes collaboration and company culture. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said at a recent conference that it doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle.”

But legions of employees aren’t so sure. If anything, the past year has proved that lots of work can be done from anywhere, sans lengthy commutes on crowded trains or highways. Some people have moved. Others have lingering worries about the virus and vaccine-hesitant colleagues.

And for Twidt, there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.

“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”

«

If this really goes wider than just an example, this will be a fascinating shift in how people work. (Also, it’s that time of the month when Bloomberg definitely lets you read articles.)
unique link to this extract


The UFO sightings don’t impress this physicist • The New York Times

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, and works on detecting signals of alien life:

»

If we are being frequently visited by aliens, why don’t they just land on the White House lawn and announce themselves? There is a recurring narrative, perhaps best exemplified by the TV show “The X-Files,” that these creatures have some mysterious reason to remain hidden from us. But if the mission of these aliens calls for stealth, they seem surprisingly incompetent. You would think that creatures technologically capable of traversing the mind-boggling distances between the stars would also know how to turn off their high beams at night and to elude our primitive infrared cameras.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll read with great interest the U.S. intelligence report about U.F.O.s that is scheduled to be delivered to Congress in June; I believe that U.F.O. phenomena should be investigated using the best tools of science and with complete transparency.

But there may be more prosaic explanations. For example, it’s possible that U.F.O.s are drones deployed by rivals like Russia and China to examine our defenses — luring our pilots into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus revealing our electronic intelligence capacities. (The United States once used a similar strategy to test the sensitivities of Soviet radar systems.) This hypothesis might sound far-fetched, but it is less extreme than positing a visit from extraterrestrials.

What’s most frustrating about the U.F.O.s story is that it obscures the fact that scientists like me and my colleagues are on the threshold of gathering data that may be relevant to the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. But this evidence involves subtle findings about phenomena far away in the galaxy — not sensational findings just a few miles away in our own atmosphere.

«

It’s the banality of his points that seems to have eluded so many people for so long: they’re able to cross vast distances, but then they’re not able to stay out of the way of this traffic? They leave their lights on to cross the unfathomable void?

The puzzle is why people didn’t consider more quickly that these were weapons systems of some sort, either home-grown or from other countries. Perhaps it’s the timing: the first reports came about the same time as the space age was on the rise, and alien life was where the fun was. Not the Cold War and the prospect of being annihilated in a nuclear blast.
unique link to this extract


Philips Hue Wall Switch Module review: smart-ish, at last • The Verge

Thomas Ricker:

»

Many smart home fans can trace their obsession back to the very first Hue lightbulbs launched back in 2012 as an Apple Store exclusive. But Hue bulbs, like all smart bulbs, come with a few catches. First, they require a constant source of power to function. That means you’ll lose control over that fancy Hue bulb hanging above your kitchen table just as soon as someone flicks off the light switch. To solve this, many people disable the switch mechanism with tape or a dummy wall plate, only to realize that physical controls are useful when you or your housemates and guests can’t be bothered to yell a command or pull out a phone. So they buy a Hue remote control and tape it to the wall. This comedy of errors is then repeated over and over until they have a house full of mismatched wall switches and legitimate concerns about life priorities.

There’s a small cottage industry of aftermarket solutions for this, including Lutron’s Aurora dimmer that sits on top of a light switch. But Philips has never addressed it directly, until now. The new $39.95 Hue Wall Switch Module solves these issues by making most existing wall switches Hue-smart.

Note that I said Hue-smart, not smart. That’s because the switch you rewire to the Hue Module can only control Hue lightbulbs, not regular inexpensive lights like other smart switches. Nevertheless, it caters to fans of both smart lights and smart switches by offering the benefits of both, so long as they can stomach the cost and ecosystem lock-in.

«

Benedict Evans pointed to this in his newsletter and says it “unintentionally makes the case that smart lighting, and a lot of other smart home, is a waste of time only good for hobbyists”.

I disagree. I’ve got a ton of IKEA smart bulbs, and they are great – connect with HomeKit (and Google, and Amazon), can work to times, available in single or multi-colour, eminently controllable. And leaving them on all the time uses pretty much zero energy if they’re not lit.
unique link to this extract


Naomi Osaka’s complicated withdrawal from the French Open • The New Yorker

Louisa Thomas:

»

[Tennis post-match] Press conferences, as a rule, are tedious and outdated. Nobody really likes them—not reporters, who would prefer to speak to athletes privately and at length, and not players, who are asked the same questions repeatedly, sometimes by people whose main motivation is to encourage controversy. Press conferences can seem particularly pointless to players who don’t need the press to promote themselves or reach their fans, which they can do more efficiently, and perhaps more effectively, through social media.

The press, particularly at the Grand Slams, can include people who are not well versed in tennis; tabloid reporters; and, not infrequently, people who ask ham-handed and offensive questions, particularly of Black women. Just the other day, a reporter who wanted to get a quote from the seventeen-year-old star Coco Gauff about the possibility of playing Serena Williams began by saying, “You are often compared to the Williams sisters. Maybe it’s because you’re Black. But I guess it’s because you’re talented and maybe American, too.”

Press conferences also typically offer reporters their only chance to ask players questions on any subject, including difficult ones. Without press conferences, it seems quite possible that Alexander Zverev would not have been asked about the allegations of domestic violence against him. Without press conferences, reporters might get to talk to players only under terms established by the brands that sponsor them, or in exchanges that are heavily mediated by layers of managers and agents.

And, for all of their obvious problems and weaknesses, press conferences do sometimes yield original insights into both the technical aspects of matches and the people who play them. That often seemed particularly true when Osaka walked into the room—until she declared that she would stay out.

…Shortly after her announcement, the president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, read a statement wishing Osaka a speedy “recovery.” Without any apparent awareness of the irony, he did not take questions from the press.

«

Thomas makes a good point: that sometimes, these pressers are necessary to ask harder questions. Plus: it’s not the press obliging Osaka to attend. It’s the tournament organisers. I find it very hard to know quite where to place my sympathies. These days, doing press conferences is as much part of the job as actually turning up on the court. Is Osaka’s stance more like the woman Bloomberg found above, who didn’t want to turn up at “the office” because she could do her job fine from home? Or is it one that leaves her fellow pros labouring in the question mines, while she gets to pick and choose? (As ever, Marina Hyde guides you through the thickets. She’s not a fan of the organisers.)
unique link to this extract


Covid-19 variants to be given Greek alphabet names to avoid stigma • The Guardian

Edna Mohamed:

»

Coronavirus variants are to be named after letters of the Greek alphabet instead of their place of first discovery, the World Health Organization has announced, in a move to avoid stigma.

The WHO has named four variants of concern, known to the public as the UK/Kent (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1) and India (B.1.617.2) variants. They will now be given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta respectively, to reflect their order of detection, with any new variants following the pattern down the Greek alphabet.

The decision to go for this naming system came after months of deliberations with experts considering a range of other possibilities such as Greek Gods, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen who was involved in the talks.

The organisation said the labels do not replace existing scientific names involving numbers, Roman letters and full stops, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.

The WHO said: “While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall and are prone to misreporting … As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.

“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, [the] WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”

«

There are people who believe that the “Indian variant” only affected people of Indian heritage. So this naming system makes a lot of sense. Except when they come to the 25th variant. They’re already on four after, what, one proper year, but we’re already hearing about variants in Thailand and Vietnam. The virus is coming under a lot of evolutionary pressure.
unique link to this extract


Android 12 will spell the end of third-party share sheet replacements • Android Police

Scott Scrivens:

»

It’s no secret that Google has struggled to implement a satisfactory share sheet in Android — you could say it’s been one of the platform’s weakest features. Even now, when I attempt to share something with a friend, I’m greeted by direct share targets of no use whatsoever. Either that or you get an app’s custom sharing menu instead, with varying degrees of usefulness. Because of this inconsistent experience, many users like to replace the default share sheet using a third-party app like Sharedr. Unfortunately, as of Android 12, that’s no longer going to be possible.

With the Android 12 beta, the ability to set a third-party service as the default share dialog was seemingly being blocked as it would no longer show the prompt necessary to select a default app. The developer of Sharedr took to the Android IssueTracker (via XDA Developers) to complain but Google’s response clarifies that this is the intended behavior going forward:

«

It’s a long time since I used Android, but the share sheet that’s pictured with this post is quite the mess. Apple’s implementation has the virtue of not including every single app that might possibly want to share whatever you’re sharing, whether or not it’s capable of handling that content.

Very gradually, Google keeps on closing Android off. I’m not aware of any part where in the past five years it has become less rather than more restrictive.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1561: Amazon gets meshy outdoors, Winslet on Instagram, US laws restrict police DNA trawls, cloning WordStar, and more


Pretty soon you’ll be able to get a Raspberry Pi to emulate all your guitar pedals. But will that be as satisfying as a big pedalboard? CC-licensed photo by ArtBrom 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. Testing, 1-2. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Still some time to
preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. Also available as an audiobook – only the first 100 pages so far, though.


Amazon devices will soon automatically share your Internet with neighbours • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

If you use Alexa, Echo, or any other Amazon device, you have only 10 days to opt out of an experiment that leaves your personal privacy and security hanging in the balance.

On June 8, the merchant, Web host, and entertainment behemoth will automatically enroll the devices in Amazon Sidewalk. The new wireless mesh service will share a small slice of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbors who don’t have connectivity and help you to their bandwidth when you don’t have a connection.

By default, Amazon devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will enroll in the system. And since only a tiny fraction of people take the time to change default settings, that means millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they know anything about it or not. The Amazon webpage linked above says Sidewalk “is currently only available in the US.”

«

The maximum bandwidth that it will “share” is 80kbps, to a maximum of 500MB per month. From briefly reading the white paper from Amazon, this looks like a scheme where only Amazon devices will have access to these connections, and they’ll essentially be used to keep devices connected that might be just outside Wi-Fi connectivity, or where it might fall off and you want those surveillance devices to stay active. This isn’t really a privacy concern – unless you’re worried about those surveillance devices, which is a different question.
unique link to this extract


Maureen Dowd talks ‘Mare of Easttown’ with Kate Winslet • The New York Times

If you haven’t seen the series (which just concluded), you’ve got a treat in store. No spoilers in this article. But I was struck by this remark by Winslet, 43:

»

Ms. Winslet has been known to warn young actors on a set not to confuse social media fame with the hard work of acting.

“I have certainly heard, twice, of certain actors being cast in roles because they have more followers,” she said. “I’ve actually heard people say, ‘She’s not who we wanted to cast, but she has more followers.’ I almost don’t know what to say. It’s so sad and so extraordinarily wrong. I think the danger is not just for young actors but younger people in general now. I think it makes you less present in your real life. Everyone is constantly taking photographs of their food and photographing themselves with filters.”

She leans her face close to the camera, and noted her lack of filters, with an expletive.

“What worries me is that faces are beautiful. Faces that change, that move, are beautiful faces, but we’ve stopped learning how to love those faces because we keep covering them up with filters now because of social media and anyone can photoshop themselves, and airbrush themselves, and so they do. In general, I would say I feel for this generation because I don’t see it stopping, I don’t see or feel it changing, and that just makes me sad because I hope that they aren’t missing out on being present in real life and not reaching for unattainable ideals.”

«

unique link to this extract


Two new laws restrict police use of DNA search method • The New York Times

Virginia Hughes:

»

Beginning on Oct. 1, investigators working on Maryland cases will need a judge’s signoff before using the method, in which a “profile” of thousands of DNA markers from a crime scene is uploaded to genealogy websites to find relatives of the culprit. The new law, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, also dictates that the technique be used only for serious crimes, such as murder and sexual assault. And it states that investigators may only use websites with strict policies around user consent.

Montana’s new law, sponsored by a Republican, is narrower, requiring that government investigators obtain a search warrant before using a consumer DNA database, unless the consumer has waived the right to privacy.

The laws “demonstrate that people across the political spectrum find law enforcement use of consumer genetic data chilling, concerning and privacy-invasive,” said Natalie Ram, a law professor at the University of Maryland who championed the Maryland law. “I hope to see more states embrace robust regulation of this law enforcement technique in the future.”

Privacy advocates like Ms. Ram have been worried about genetic genealogy since 2018, when it was used to great fanfare to reveal the identity of the Golden State Killer, who murdered 13 people and raped dozens of women in the 1970s and ’80s. After matching the killer’s DNA to entries in two large genealogy databases, GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, investigators in California identified some of the culprit’s cousins, and then spent months building his family tree to deduce his name — Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. — and arrest him.

«

unique link to this extract


Instagram giveaways promise cash and cars, but who wins? • Vox

Allie Jones:

»

In 1851, the inventor and entrepreneur Benjamin T. Babbitt began traveling around the United States in a wagon, offering consumers free lithographic prints with the purchase of baking soda. According to historian Wendy A. Woloson, this new mode of marketing inspired enterprising salesmen to launch their own prize giveaways, many of which ended up being scams. We can trace the history of the giveaway from the 1850s right up through March 23, 2021, when Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian family known fondly for working harder than Satan, posted a photograph of herself on her Instagram page sitting on a grand staircase surrounded by thousands of dollars’ worth of Louis Vuitton luggage.

“Who wants a 20k USD preloaded credit card + the luxury purses pictured here with me,” she asked, adding a credit card emoji, four exclamation points, and two notices that the post was an #ad. (An ad for what, exactly? It’s complicated.) All entrants had to do, said Jenner, was follow a few dozen other Instagram accounts and comment on Jenner’s post.

Peering at the display, I wondered: Who wins these things? The answer has been difficult to ascertain.

I started paying attention to Instagram giveaways such as Jenner’s last year, when I was spending [redacted] hours per day on my couch, scrolling through Instagram. All of the Kardashians, save for Rob, have participated in one at some time or another, tempting their followers with Saint Laurent handbags, luxury baby strollers, and credit cards “preloaded” with thousands of dollars. (“Girl this looks like a scam,” said one commenter on a Kylie Jenner giveaway post from November 2020. “No one ever wins these,” said another.)

«

The lack of documented winners is always suspicious.
unique link to this extract


How bad is Google Photos’ compression anyway? • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

Google Photos has long offered one of the best deals in all of photo storage: it’ll back up your entire library for free, so long as it can compress the images a bit. But as of today, June 1st, that deal goes away, and you’re now eating through Google storage (which you may have to pay for) whether your images are compressed or not.

With the change looming, I’ve been wondering how bad Google’s compression actually is. Does the compression leave my photos in “High Quality,” as Google has claimed for years? Or does the compression degrade my photos enough to make it worth using more storage by switching over to “Original Quality” backups?

I ran some quick tests this morning to find out. I took some photos and videos from my Pixel 5 (one of a few phones that will continue to get free compressed storage) and a photo from my Fuji X-T30 and uploaded them to two separate Google Photos accounts, one with compression turned on and one that maintained original quality.

The results were mixed. For photos, the compressed versions were often indistinguishable from their uncompressed counterparts. But once you’re losing resolution, the compression really starts to show.

«

Have to admit.. I really couldn’t see the difference on my retina screen. I expect the difference is there but somehow hasn’t been transmitted.
unique link to this extract


Space debris has hit and damaged the International Space Station • Science Alert

Michelle Starr:

»

The inevitable has occurred. A piece of space debris too small to be tracked has hit and damaged part of the International Space Station – namely, the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The instrument is still operational, but the object punctured the thermal blanket and damaged the boom beneath. It’s a sobering reminder that the low-Earth orbit’s space junk problem is a ticking time bomb.

Obviously space agencies around the world are aware of the space debris problem. Over 23,000 pieces are being tracked in low-Earth orbit to help satellites and the ISS avoid collisions – but they’re all about the size of a softball or larger.

Anything below that size is too small to track, but travelling at orbital velocities can still do some significant damage, including punching right through metal plates.

Canadarm2 – formally known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), designed by the Canadian Space Agency – has been a fixture on the space station for 20 years. It’s a multi-jointed titanium robotic arm that can assist with maneuvering objects outside the ISS, including cargo shuttles, and performing station maintenance.

It’s unclear exactly when the impact occurred. The damage was first noticed on 12 May, during a routine inspection.

«

Not quite the opening sequence of Gravity, but worrying nonetheless.
unique link to this extract


Neural networks emulate any guitar pedal for $120 • Hackaday

Adam Zeloof:

»

It’s a well-established fact that a guitarist’s acumen can be accurately gauged by the size of their pedal board- the more stompboxes, the better the player. Why have one box that can do everything when you can have many that do just a few things?

Jokes aside, the idea of replacing an entire pedal collection with a single box is nothing new. Your standard, old-school stompbox is an analog affair, using a combination of filters and amplifiers to achieve a certain sound. Some modern multi-effects processors use software models of older pedals to replicate their sound. These digital pedals have been around since the 90s, but none have been quite like the NeuralPi project. Just released by GuitarML, the NeuralPi takes about $120 of hardware (including — you guessed it — a Raspberry Pi) and transforms it into the perfect pedal.

The key here, of course, is neural networks. The LSTM at the core of NeuralPi can be trained on any pedal you’ve got laying around to accurately reproduce its sound, and it can even do so with incredibly low latency thanks to Elk Audio OS (which even powers Matt Bellamy’s synth guitar, as used in Muse‘s Simulation Theory World Tour). The result of a trained model is a VST3 plugin, a popular format for describing audio effects.

«

Possibly only a saving if your time has no value, but the Elk Audio OS seems interesting. If you want a faintly breathless (and largely incomprehensible if you’re not acquainted with guitar synth tech; have a search tab at hand) account of how Matt Bellamy’s guitars got their own OS, that’s on this Elk page.
unique link to this extract


China allows three children in major policy shift • BBC News

»

The latest move was approved by President Xi Jinping at a meeting of top Communist Party officials.

It will come with “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure, fulfilling the country’s strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources”, according to Xinhua news agency.

But human rights organisation Amnesty International said the policy, like its predecessors, was still a violation of sexual and reproductive rights.

“Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than ‘optimising’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions,” said the group’s China team head, Joshua Rosenzweig.

“If relaxing the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have proven to be effective too,” Hao Zhou, a senior economist at Commerzbank, told Reuters news agency.

“But who wants to have three kids? Young people could have two kids at most. The fundamental issue is living costs are too high and life pressures are too huge.”

«

After the census last month showing India catching up, the problem of the one-child policy has come home to bite China. But there’s a generation which now thinks you need to spend so much on education to get your child ahead that they won’t countenance having two, and surely not three. China may have put itself into a demographic trap.
unique link to this extract


WordTsar: a Wordstar clone

Now it’s possible that you may be too young to remember (or have ever seen) WordStar, in which case congratulations. It’s also possible that you actually used it to create documents, and remember it a little fondly (especially because you’d reached the level where you didn’t need any of the permanent onscreen menus).

If you’re in the latter, and want to remind yourself why you gave up WordStar, you can get a cross-platform download from this site.

Alternatively, if you want to read a really quite old but still entertaining piece by a writer about why he keeps on using WordStar, your wish is fulfilled.

Old software never dies, it just gets emulated or rewritten in open-source form.
unique link to this extract


We’re not the good guys: Osaka shows up problems of press conferences • The Guardian

Jonathan Liew:

»

On Monday night, after being fined and threatened with expulsion, [four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi] Osaka quit the tournament altogether. Meanwhile her stance has been universally scorned by the print media, who as we know have traditionally been the best people to judge standards of behaviour. An “uppity princess”, one newspaper columnist wrote. Others have more soberly pointed out that for any athlete, facing the media is simply part of the job, and that by seceding from the process entirely Osaka is setting a “dangerous precedent”.

At this point, it’s worth considering exactly what this “danger” consists of. All over the world, the free press is already under unprecedented assault from authoritarian governments, tech giants and online disinformation. In many countries journalists are literally being killed for doing their job. Meanwhile in Paris, tennis journalists are facing the prospect of having to construct an article entirely from their own words. One of these things is not like the others.

The real problem here, it strikes me, is not Osaka or even the impressive self-importance of the written media. Rather, it’s the press conference itself, which when you think about it is quite a weird idea, and one that essentially fails at its central function. The great conceit of the press conference is that it is basically a direct line from the athlete to the public at large, that we humble scribes are but the people’s faithful eyes and ears in the land of the gods.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this hasn’t really been true for a while. Athletes now have their own direct line to the public, and spoiler: it’s not us. Hard as it is to believe, Osaka’s function as an entertainer and corporate billboard is contingent on her playing tennis at an appointed hour, rather than being forced to sit in a windowless room explaining herself to a roomful of middle-aged men.

And so the modern press conference is no longer a meaningful exchange but really a lowest‑common‑denominator transaction: a cynical and often predatory game in which the object is to mine as much content from the subject as possible. Gossip: good. Anger: good. Feuds: good. Tears: good. Personal tragedy: good. Meanwhile the young athlete, often still caught up in the emotions of victory or defeat, is expected to answer the most intimate questions in the least intimate setting, in front of an array of strangers and backed by a piece of sponsored cardboard.

«

I used to cover tennis, a long time ago, and I can tell Liew that it’s not just the modern press conference that fits that description. It’s been that was for at least 40 years. The amount of pointless media question answering that players have to do, though, has risen substantially.
unique link to this extract


All those pub apps you’ve downloaded are a privacy nightmare • WIRED UK

Chris Stokel-Walker:

»

It’s been a long 15 months and now people are heading back out into the world. Lots of people are understandably ready for a drink. Pub spending is up seven% compared to the equivalent week in 2019, according to data from Barclaycard. But the pub experience is a little different now. 

Rather than sidle up to the bar, you’re cemented to your seat. Table service is the new normal, at least until lockdown restrictions lift further. And small talk with the bar staff has been replaced with ordering through an app. Each pub, or chain, seems to have its own app that you need to download to book a table or make an order – and each of these collects information about you.

“When hospitality started to have an obligation to take contact details last year, there was no obvious privacy-preserving tool to do this with,” says Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights and regulations at University College London. “In many hospitality venues, they are still using the technology from the earlier part of the pandemic last year to fulfil orders and table service, which collect unnecessary information.”

So which apps collect what – and should you be worried?

«

The essential problem, as always, is that these companies don’t let you delete your accounts. It’s well-nigh impossible with any company these days: surprisingly it’s the big tech companies that make it (relatively) easy. All the others? Bah.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1560: an NFT purchase nightmare, WhatsApp reverses privacy policy threat, Google’s wearable problem, and more


a Polish keyboard: the Medium website discovered a strange problem with its S when users complained. The problem? Deeply embedded. CC-licensed photo by Marcin Wichary 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. Have a beer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Suggestion: preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, due out June 24. And in audiobook, which I’m going to record this week. Hot off the press.


Buying a pink NFT cat was a crypto nightmare • BBC News

Cristina Criddle:

»

I settled on Kim Catdarshian – a pink creature dotted with diamonds in her fur and a cocked eyebrow.

According to her profile, she has a “confuzzled” mouth and can be snappy, taking 10 minutes to “cool down”. Sounds about right, given her diva namesake.

NFTs are sold in cryptocurrency. My purchase was in ETH, known as Ether, which is stored on the Ethereum blockchain. Similar to Bitcoin, it is a highly volatile currency and relies on computers to verify transactions. This process – called mining – uses huge amounts of energy, often from fossil fuels.
Kim was on sale for 0.006 ETH, which at the time was worth about £13.

Using a Chrome extension called MetaMask, I set up a digital wallet to convert money from my bank account into cryptocurrency. I transferred the minimum amount: £30 and a “gas fee”, required for every ETH transaction to pay the miners who keep the network running. It is similar to tipping a waiter.

Depending on how many transactions are being processed on the Ethereum blockchain, and how many miners are available, the cost of gas can rise and fall. The higher your price, the faster your transaction goes through.

After my initial payment, all I could afford was less than half the recommended rate for gas. Transferring my ETH back into my bank account would have cost more money, so I reluctantly ploughed on, hoping a miner would take pity and process my NFT bid for a low fee. Then, I was left waiting in the ether for the sale to be approved.

While the value of my ETH shot up and down. I considered spending more money to speed up the transaction, but I held firm and my patience paid off three days later, when Kim Catdarshian finally became mine.

The whole experience sucked all the fun out of my fluffy pink friend and if I wanted to sell Kim, it would cost me. I should have done more research into all the extra charges involved in ETH, but it was just meant to be a whimsical joke present.

Unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of money and time learning the market – it is hard to imagine making money from NFTs. Even though I am a technology journalist (albeit not a crypto-expert), I was baffled by how complicated the process was, and realised I wasn’t alone.

Countless users have complained in online forums about transactions getting “stuck” after demand, and high gas prices clogging up the network.

«

13 years on, still not ready for prime time. The responses from the crypto bros, of course, was that (1) she was doing it wrong (2) it’s going to be much easier Real Soon Now.
unique link to this extract


WhatsApp now won’t limit functionality if you don’t accept its new privacy policy • The Verge

Jay Peters:

»

Earlier this month, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said that users would lose functionality over time if they didn’t accept its new privacy policy by May 15th. In a reversal, Facebook now says that plan has changed, and users who don’t accept the updated policy actually won’t see limited functionality (via TNW).

“Given recent discussions with various authorities and privacy experts, we want to make clear that we will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works for those who have not yet accepted the update,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. WhatsApp tells The Verge that this is the plan moving forward indefinitely.

The rollout of the policy has been a confusing mess, and raised concerns that WhatsApp would begin sharing more of users’ personal data with Facebook. (Some WhatsApp user data, such as users’ phone numbers, is already shared with Facebook, a policy that went into place in 2016.) WhatsApp has stressed this is not the case, though — the policy update is regarding messages sent to businesses via WhatsApp, which may be stored on Facebook’s servers.

«

Delayed and then revoked. Classic example of how management discovers that it has made a bad decision.
unique link to this extract


The curious case of the disappearing Polish S • Medium Engineering

Marcin Wichary:

»

A few weeks ago, someone reported this to us at Medium:

»

“I just started an article in Polish. I can type in every letter, except Ś. When I press the key for Ś, the letter just doesn’t appear. It only happens on Medium.”

«

This was odd. We don’t really special-case any language in any way, and even if we did… out of 32 Polish characters, why would this random one be the only one causing problems?

Turns out, it wasn’t so random. This is a story of how four incidental ingredients spanning decades (if not centuries) came together to cause the most curious of bugs, and how we fixed it.

«

Typewriters, communism, habits and – inevitably – Microsoft Windows.
unique link to this extract


By your powers combined: Is it too late for Google’s wearable alliance? • Android Authority

Adamya Sharma:

»

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 is perhaps one of the best premium smartwatches you can buy right now. Fitbit has devices like the Versa 3 and the Sense that bring good value to the table. Google still doesn’t have a Pixel Watch, but devices like the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 and Fossil Gen 5 perhaps represent the best of what Wear OS currently offers.

However, all three platforms and brands combined supply far fewer apps compared to the Apple Watch. While Samsung and Wear OS watches are better off than Fitbit, whose app selection is anemic, they are still not on a level playing field with Apple.

What’s also lacking with Samsung, Wear OS, and Fitbit wearables is the uncanny seamlessness of the Apple Watch. Aside from apps, its productivity features outnumber those of all three platforms.

The Apple Watch’s hardware is also far superior. The Series 6 runs on Apple’s new S6 SoC based on the A13 Bionic chip used on iPhone 11. That’s like an Android watch powered by the Snapdragon 888. Of course, the latter doesn’t exist.

There’s no guarantee that Google’s alliance with Samsung or Fitbit could ever result in the much-needed hardware boost for Wear OS smartwatches that are sluggish and slower in comparison.

Other Wear OS problems also hang in the balance right now. The most annoying thing about the software is the lack of timely updates. Even with Samsung’s collaboration, Google will most likely be the one to issue future Wear OS updates. However, unlike Android proper, it has never followed a regular schedule for Wear OS updates. The situation is reminiscent of LG’s awful update center that promised timely software updates but failed spectacularly in doing so.

«

“Uncanny seamlessness of the Apple Watch” is quite the phrase. It’s not uncanny; it’s the result of lots of iterations, and a relentless will to make it better. (Contrast how little effort went into the HomePod: two iterations over three years, with the most impressive one being discontinued after excessive sales predictions.)

By contrast, Google was ahead of Apple by about a year with Wear OS, but the lack of integration between Google and OEMs and chipmaker meant that was wasted. Neil Cybart suggests Apple now has a ten-year lead in wearables.
unique link to this extract


Friends don’t let friends become Chinese billionaires • Forbes

Ray Kwong:

»

I’m no statistics whiz, but it seems to me that a Chinese billionaire dies every 40 days.

China Daily reported Friday that unnatural deaths have taken the lives of 72 mainland billionaires over the past eight years. (Do the math.)

Which means that if you’re one of China’s 115 current billionaires, as listed on the 2011 Forbes Billionaires List, you should be more than a little nervous.

Mortality rate notwithstanding, what’s more disturbing is how these mega wealthy souls met their demise. According to China Daily, 15 were murdered, 17 committed suicide, seven died from accidents and 19 died from illness. Oh, yes, and 14 were executed. (Welcome to China.)

«

Possibly the “suicide” number might want re-examination, to see if any ought to be recategorised.
unique link to this extract


Ignore the naysayers – low emission zones do work • The Guardian

Gary Fuller:

»

Lessons from London’s [ultra low emission] zone [ULEZ] and the hundreds that operate in Europe counter many of the myths around these schemes.

First, the zones work, if they are sufficiently ambitious. London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) reduced nitrogen dioxide by 37%, compared with roads far outside the zone. Following Sadiq Kahn’s re-election as London mayor, the Ulez will become 18 times larger.

Second, benefits do not start when the charge starts. For the Ulez, a 20% decrease in nitrogen dioxide came as taxis, buses and delivery vehicles were upgraded ahead of charging. Pre-scheme benefits were also seen when London first introduced a low emission zone in 2008. In Leeds, the pre-charging gains were thought to be sufficient and the zone was cancelled in 2020. It remains to be seen if benefits will be locked in without the charge.

Third, air pollution does not get worse outside the zone due to diverting vehicles. Instead the experience from London and cities in Germany show that the cleaner vehicles are also used in the surrounding area, spreading the benefit.

Fourth, it is often said that the zone charges unfairly penalise the least well off. In fact, poorer communities have most to gain. They experience worse air pollution than their richer counterparts but, when it comes to driving, they contribute less to the problem. Yes, placing charges on older vehicles would have more of an impact in poorer areas, but this effect is small: a 2019 study found that cars in the UK’s poorest areas were, on average, just over a year older than those owned by the most well off. This was due to multi-car households in wealthier areas and the age of their second, third and in some cases fourth cars.

«

unique link to this extract


Divisive COVID ‘lab leak’ debate prompts dire warnings from researchers • Nature

Amy Maxmen:

»

US headlines are exploding with revived interest in the lab-leak hypothesis, many of them related to two articles in The Wall Street Journal. One story refers to an undisclosed document from an anonymous official who was part of former US president Donald Trump’s administration, suggesting that three WIV researchers were sick in November 2019. And the second says that Chinese authorities stopped a journalist from entering an abandoned mine where WIV researchers recovered coronaviruses from bats in 2012. The researchers have long maintained that none of the viruses were SARS-CoV-2. Responding to The Wall Street Journal, China’s foreign ministry said: “The US keeps concocting inconsistent claims and clamoring to investigate labs in Wuhan.”

Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, maintains that no strong evidence supports a lab leak, and he worries that hostile demands for an investigation into the WIV will backfire, because they often sound like allegations. He says this could make Chinese scientists and officials less likely to share information. Other virologists suggest that such sentiments could lead to more scrutiny of US grants for research projects conducted in China. They point to a coronavirus project run by a US non-profit organization and the WIV that was abruptly suspended last year after the US National Institutes of Health pulled its funding. Without such collaborations, says Andersen, scientists will have difficulty discovering the source of the pandemic.

More is at stake than the discovery of COVID-19’s origins, however. Global health-policy analysts argue that it’s crucial for countries to work together to curb the pandemic and prepare the world for future outbreaks. Actions needed, they say, include expanding the distribution of vaccines and reforming biosecurity rules, such as standards for reporting virus-surveillance data. But such measures require a broad consensus among powerful countries, says Amanda Glassman, a global-health specialist at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC. “We need to look at the big picture and focus on incentives that get us where we want to go,” she says. “A confrontational approach will make things worse.”

«

The real problem here is that you’re trying to prove a negative: that the virus absolutely positively didn’t leak from the laboratory. How do you prove that? You’d have to let investigators run riot through it, which the CCP wouldn’t like or approve one little bit. The whole scenario is strongly reminiscent of the runup to the Iraq war: the US and UK were insistent there were weapons of mass destruction there somewhere in Iraq. Hans Blix, who was on the ground visiting installations, said he’d found nothing. You know how that ended up.
unique link to this extract


Amazon Prime is an economy-distorting lie • BIG by Matt Stoller

Matt Stoller:

»

Shipping and logistics is extremely expensive, far more than the membership fees charged by Prime; Amazon spent $37.9bn on shipping costs in 2019, and much more in 2020. No matter how amazing your logistics operation, you can’t just offer free shipping to customers without having someone pay for it. Amazon found its solution in the relationship between Prime and Marketplace. It forced third party sellers to de facto pay for its shipping costs, by charging them commissions that reach as high as 45%, according to Racine, merely to access Amazon customers. That’s nearly half the revenue of a seller going to Amazon! And this high fee isn’t just because fulfillment or selling online is expensive; Walmart charges significantly less for its fulfillment services and access charges to its online market, and eBay’s market access fees are also much lower than Amazon’s.

…How does Amazon force sellers to pay such high fees? Monopolization! The scheme itself is subtle, and requires a bit of explanation. Nearly anyone may list their wares on Amazon, but the ability to actually get your wares in front of customers is dependent on being able to ‘win the Buy Box,’ which is that white box on the right-side that you get to after you search for an item on Amazon. Over 80% of Amazon purchases go through the Buy Box. The Buy Box is the lever Amazon uses to control access to customers.

…In addition, sellers are prohibited from charging for shipping from Prime members, though they are allowed to charge shipping from non-Prime members.

How do sellers handle these large fees from Amazon, and the inability to charge for shipping? Simple. They raise their prices on consumers. The resulting higher prices to consumers, paid to Amazon in fees by third party merchants, is why Amazon is able to offer ‘free shipping’ to Prime members. Prime, in other words, is basically a money laundering scheme. Amazon forces brands/sellers to bake the cost of Prime into their consumer price so it appears like Amazon offers free shipping when in reality the cost is incorporated into the consumer price.

«

If your monopolistic activity is raising prices to consumers, suddenly US antitrust gets interested. Stoller’s piece was triggered by the lawsuit filed last week by the Washington DC attorney, Karl Racine.
unique link to this extract


Unredacted Google lawsuit docs detail efforts to collect user location • Business Insider

Tyler Sonnemaker:

»

Newly unredacted documents in a lawsuit against Google reveal that the company’s own executives and engineers knew just how difficult the company had made it for smartphone users to keep their location data private.

Google continued collecting location data even when users turned off various location-sharing settings, made popular privacy settings harder to find, and even pressured LG and other phone makers into hiding settings precisely because users liked them, according to the documents.

Jack Menzel, a former vice president overseeing Google Maps, admitted during a deposition that the only way Google wouldn’t be able to figure out a user’s home and work locations is if that person intentionally threw Google off the trail by setting their home and work addresses as some other random locations.

Jen Chai, a Google senior product manager in charge of location services, didn’t know how the company’s complex web of privacy settings interacted with each other, according to the documents.

Google and LG did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The documents are part of a lawsuit brought against Google by the Arizona attorney general’s office last year, which accused the company of illegally collecting location data from smartphone users even after they opted out.

A judge ordered new sections of the documents to be unredacted last week in response to a request by trade groups Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance, which argued that it was in the public’s interest to know and that Google was using its legal resources to suppress scrutiny of its data collection practices.

The unsealed versions of the documents paint an even more detailed picture of how Google obscured its data collection techniques, confusing not just its users but also its own employees.

Google uses a variety of avenues to collect user location data, according to the documents, including WiFi and even third-party apps not affiliated with Google, forcing users to share their data in order to use those apps or, in some cases, even connect their phones to WiFi.

«

The Arizona AG’s site was unreachable when I tried to look at the documents, but others have seen them. They’re pretty damning.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1559: Citizen app’s wild inside rise, cause of vaccine clots found, Texas winter deaths ‘undercount’, Instagram’s unLikes, and more


Hard drives prices have risen 50% in the past few months as the Chia cryptocraze has taken off. Unfortunately. CC-licensed photo by Robert Scoble 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. Here for you. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘FIND THIS FUCK:’ inside Citizen’s dangerous effort to cash in on vigilantism • Vice

Joseph Cox:

»

Andrew Frame was excited. 

It was Saturday night two weeks ago, and Frame, the CEO of the crime and neighborhood watch app Citizen, was on Slack, whipping himself and his employees into what he’d later call at an all-hands meeting a “fury of passion” about a wildfire that had broken out earlier that afternoon in Los Angeles’ Pacific Palisades neighborhood. 

Citizen had gotten a tip that the wildfire was started by an arsonist, and Frame had decided earlier in the night that the fire was a huge opportunity. Citizen, using a new livestreaming service it had just launched called OnAir, would catch the suspect live on air, with thousands of people watching. Frame decided the Citizen user who provided information that led to the suspect’s arrest would get $10,000. Frame wanted him. Before midnight. As the night wore on, Citizen got more information about the supposed suspect. They obtained a photo of the man, which they kept up on the livestream for large portions of the night. More information trickled in through a tips line Citizen had set up. (Citizen said “The information about the person of interest came from an on-the-ground tip from an LAPD Sergeant, followed by emails from local residents who had been approached by LAPD officers.”)

“first name? What is it?! publish ALL info,” Frame told employees working in a Citizen Slack room who were working on the case. 

“FIND THIS FUCK,” he told them. “LETS GET THIS GUY BEFORE MIDNIGHT HES GOING DOWN.”

“BREAKING NEWS. this guy is the devil. get him,” Frame said. “by midnight!@#! we hate this guy. GET HIM.”

«

Slack really is a boon to journalism these days. Screenshot, email, boom. Also: here’s the problem with people who think they know they’re right, and never ask whether they might be wrong.
unique link to this extract


Industry groups sue to stop Florida’s new social media law • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

Two tech industry organizations have sued Florida over its newly passed rules for social networks. NetChoice and the CCIA — which represent Amazon, Google, Intel, Samsung, Facebook, and other tech giants — say SB 7072 violates private companies’ constitutional rights. They’re asking a court to prevent the law from taking effect, calling it a “frontal assault on the First Amendment.”

SB 7072, which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed earlier this week, restricts how large social apps and websites can moderate user-generated content. It makes banning any Florida political candidate or “journalistic enterprise” unlawful, lets users sue if they believe they were banned without sufficient reason, requires an option to “opt out” of sorting algorithms, and places companies that break the law on an “antitrust violator blacklist” that bars them from doing business with public entities in Florida. Notably, it includes an exception for companies that operate a theme park.

NetChoice and the CCIA say SB 7072 conflicts with both constitutional protections and federal Section 230 rules.

«

Didn’t take long.
unique link to this extract


Bitcoin rival Chia ‘destroyed’ hard disc supply chains, says its boss • New Scientist

Matthew Sparkes:

»

Chia, a cryptocurrency intended to be a “green” alternative to bitcoin has instead caused a global shortage of hard discs. Gene Hoffman, the president of Chia Network, the company behind the currency, admits that “we’ve kind of destroyed the short-term supply chain”, but he denies it will become an environmental drain.

Bitcoin requires so-called miners to do vast amounts of useless calculations to maintain the network, a system that is known as proof of work. The most recent studies show that bitcoin may currently consume 0.53% of the world’s electricity supply. Chia instead uses a proof-of-space approach that ditches these calculations and relies on empty hard disc space. The more space a miner devotes to the task, the higher their probability of receiving new coins.

In theory, this would consume less energy, but there has been a surge in demand for hard discs since the currency launched earlier this year. Around 12 million terabytes of hard disc space is currently being used to mine Chia, having risen on an exponential curve since its launch in March. When New Scientist first reported on Chia just two weeks ago, that figure was only at 3 million terabytes.

These discs still require energy to produce and run, and there are reports that the constant reading and writing involved in mining can wear them out in weeks, rendering them useless. Hoffman says this problem only affects the cheapest discs.

«

Well that escalated quickly. Prices for hard drives have risen by 50% at suppliers. To think there was a time when we thought email spam was a problem.
unique link to this extract


Texas’s winter storm death toll likely four times higher than reported • Buzzfeed News

Peter Aldhous, Stephanie Lee and Zahra Hirji:

»

The true number of people killed by the disastrous winter storm and power outages that devastated Texas in February is likely four or five times what the state has acknowledged so far. A BuzzFeed News data analysis reveals the hidden scale of a catastrophe that trapped millions of people in freezing darkness, cut off access to running water, and overwhelmed emergency services for days.

The state’s tally currently stands at 151 deaths. But by looking at how many more people died during and immediately after the storm than would have been expected — an established method that has been used to count the full toll of other disasters — we estimate that 700 people were killed by the storm during the week with the worst power outages. This astonishing toll exposes the full consequence of officials’ neglect in preventing the power grid’s collapse despite repeated warnings of its vulnerability to cold weather, as well as the state’s failure to reckon with the magnitude of the crisis that followed.

Many of the uncounted victims of the storm and power outages were already medically vulnerable — with chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney problems. But without the intense cold and stress they experienced during the crisis, many of these people could still be alive today.

«

unique link to this extract


“Vaccine-induced Covid-19 mimicry” syndrome: splice reactions within the SARS-CoV-2 Spike open reading frame result in Spike protein variants that may cause thromboembolic events in patients immunized with vector-based vaccines • Research Square

Eric Kowarz and others at Goethe University, Frankfurt:

»

Soluble Spike variants together with newly built antibodies against Spike protein as well as the highly specific blood flow conditions in the central venous sinus of the brain may result in the rare but severe events after vaccination observed with ADZ1222/Vaxzevria. Noteworthy, the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson appears to carry fewer splice donor sequences, especially SD506 and SD3614 (see Table 1B and 1C), which are the strongest predicted splice donor sites in the AZD1222 sequence (see Fig. 1A). This may explain the ~ 10-fold lower incidence of severe side effects with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when compared to the AZD1222 vaccine.

In principle, such thromboses may occur in any site of the human body where endothelial cells express ACE2. Soluble Spike proteins which still exhibit the important core portion of the S1 domain (R319-F551) will be able to bind these receptors. When the immune system starts to produce antibodies against the Spike protein, the endothelial cells will not only bind the soluble Spike protein variants, but would also be decorated with the newly formed antibodies. This will give rise to strong inflammatory reactions either by ADCC (antibody dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity) or CDC (complement dependent cytotoxicity) occurring in these vessels at various sites where such soluble Spike protein variants accumulate.

«

OK, so this is very technical, but it’s the explanation for why the non-mRNA vaccines (eg AstraZeneca, less so Johnson & Johnson) can occasionally provoke blood clots, particularly in the brain. It also explains what needs to be done to lessen that risk. If confirmed – it’s still a preprint – a very important paper.
unique link to this extract


What Instagram really learned from hiding like counts • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

After more than two years of testing, today Instagram announced what it found: removing likes doesn’t seem to meaningfully depressurize Instagram, for young people or anyone else, and so likes will remain publicly viewable by default. But all users will now get the ability to switch them off if they like, either for their whole feed or on a per-post basis.

“What we heard from people and experts was that not seeing like counts was beneficial for some, and annoying to others, particularly because people use like counts to get a sense for what’s trending or popular, so we’re giving you the choice,” the company said in a blog post.

At first blush, this move feels like a remarkable anticlimax. The company invested more than two years in testing these changes, with Mosseri himself telling Wired he spent “a lot of time on this personally” as the company began the project. For a moment, it seemed as if Instagram might be on the verge of a fundamental transformation — away from an influencer-driven social media reality show toward something more intimate and humane.

In 2019, this no-public-metrics, friends-first approach had been perfected by Instagram’s forever rival, Snapchat. And the idea of stripping out likes, view counts, followers and other popularity scoreboards gained traction in some circles — the artist Ben Grosser’s Demetricator project made a series of tools that implemented the idea via browser extensions, to positive reviews.

So what happened at Instagram?

“It turned out that it didn’t actually change nearly as much about … how people felt, or how much they used the experience as we thought it would,” Mosseri said in a briefing with reporters this week. “But it did end up being pretty polarizing. Some people really liked it, and some people really didn’t.”

«

Very meta, that people liked or didn’t like when there were or weren’t Likes.
unique link to this extract


Facebook no longer treating ‘man-made’ Covid as a crackpot idea • POLITICO

Cristiano Lima:

»

Facebook will no longer take down posts claiming that Covid-19 was man-made or manufactured, a company spokesperson told POLITICO on Wednesday, a move that acknowledges the renewed debate about the virus’ origins.

Facebook’s policy tweak arrives as support surges in Washington for a fuller investigation into the origins of Covid-19 after the Wall Street Journal reported that three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in late 2019 with symptoms consistent with the virus. The findings have reinvigorated the debate about the so-called Wuhan lab-leak theory, once dismissed as a fringe conspiracy theory.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he has ordered the intelligence community to “redouble” its efforts to find out the virus’ origin and report back in 90 days. Biden also revealed that the intelligence community is split between two theories about Covid-19’s origin, and said the review will examine “whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” Bipartisan support is also building on Capitol Hill for a congressional inquiry.

But the focus of late has been on the notion that the virus may have accidentally escaped from the lab, not that it was man-made or purposely released — theories that could now propagate on Facebook. Genetic studies of the virus have found flaws in the protein it uses to bind to human cells. Those are features that someone trying to engineer a bioweapon likely would have avoided.

Shifting definitions on social media: Facebook announced in February it had expanded the list of misleading health claims that it would remove from its platforms to include those asserting that “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured.”

«

This is slightly exhausting. I didn’t link earlier this week to the WSJ report (three people from the Wuhan Institute of Virology went to hospital, like everyone in China who’s a bit ill; that’s pretty much it) because of a comprehensive demolition on Twitter by an account I trust of the story’s lack of rigour, and obvious non-intelligence-community derivation.

But it’s been taken up as being somehow “evidence” that the lab leak hypothesis is more likely than it was a week ago. That’s not true. It’s still absurd to claim that SARS-Cov-2 is man-made or manufactured: that’s a fringe conspiracy theory. It’s possible to think there could have been an accidental leak of something, but there’s still zero evidence. A Congressional inquiry will discover absolutely nothing, except there’s lot of non-scientists who like the sound of their own prejudices.
unique link to this extract


Google medical researchers humbled when AI screening tool falls short in real-life testing • TechCrunch

Devin Coldewey, writing in April 2020:

»

The Google system was intended to provide ophthalmologist-like expertise in seconds. In internal tests it identified degrees of DR with 90% accuracy; the nurses could then make a preliminary recommendation for referral or further testing in a minute instead of a month (automatic decisions were ground truth checked by an ophthalmologist within a week). Sounds great — in theory.

But that theory fell apart as soon as the study authors hit the ground. As the study describes it:

»

We observed a high degree of variation in the eye-screening process across the 11 clinics in our study. The processes of capturing and grading images were consistent across clinics, but nurses had a large degree of autonomy on how they organized the screening workflow, and different resources were available at each clinic.

The setting and locations where eye screenings took place were also highly varied across clinics. Only two clinics had a dedicated screening room that could be darkened to ensure patients’ pupils were large enough to take a high-quality fundus photo.

«

The variety of conditions and processes resulted in images being sent to the server not being up to the algorithm’s high standards:

»

The deep learning system has stringent guidelines regarding the images it will assess…If an image has a bit of blur or a dark area, for instance, the system will reject it, even if it could make a strong prediction. The system’s high standards for image quality is at odds with the consistency and quality of images that the nurses were routinely capturing under the constraints of the clinic, and this mismatch caused frustration and added work.

«

Images with obvious DR but poor quality would be refused by the system, complicating and extending the process. And that’s when they could get them uploaded to the system in the first place.

«

Since I was wondering yesterday about Google’s deal with a US hospital, and how medical data had gone. The answer is: not always well. And then there’s the data….
unique link to this extract


A software error made Spain’s child Covid mortality rate seem to skyrocket • Slate

Elena Debré:

»

On March 10, a respected peer-reviewed medical journal, the Lancet, published Spain’s child Covid mortality rate as around two to four times that of the U.S., U.K., Italy, Germany, France, and South Korea. The paper said that 54 children (defined as below 19) had died of Covid in the small country, making Spain’s reported death rates a staggering 4.9% for kids aged 10-19—which is at least 2.92 percentage points higher than other country in the report.

Right after the Lancet paper was published, Pere Soler, a pediatrician at hospital in Catalonia, started getting calls. Concerned reporters were trying to reach him for comment. “The first question that I received was, ‘Have you been lying to us?'” Soler says. He and other prominent pediatricians around the country had been in close contact with a circle of reporters throughout the pandemic, keeping them updated on child Covid research and school reopenings. This high of a child mortality rate did not add up with the numbers doctors had been seeing and feeding to the media.

As a re-examination of the information would soon reveal, in reality, only seven children had died of Covid. (The Lancet data has since been corrected.)

“Even though I didn’t know what the problem was, I knew it wasn’t the right data,” Soler realized once he got his hands on the Lancet paper. “Our data is not worse than other countries. I would say it is even better,” he says.

«

Turned out the system they used couldn’t handle people aged over 100: it only expected people to live to 99.
unique link to this extract


Nine things we learned from the Epic v. Apple trial • The Verge

Russell Brandom:

»

It’s been just over three weeks since the Epic v. Apple proceedings kicked off, and the news has been relentless. So as we wait for a verdict to roll in, we’re taking a quick turn through all the biggest takeaways from the trial. A lot of the juiciest points didn’t speak directly to the verdict — like the profit structure of the Xbox or the troubled history of Fortnite crossplay — but that’s part of the fun of a massive trans-corporate dustup like this. Once you start digging through CEO Tim Cook’s inbox, all sorts of interesting stuff comes out.

«

It’s not just Apple stuff: there’s also Epic Games’s weird economics of its store, Xbox’s hardware economics, and how Apple slow-walks progressive web apps.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1558: Google gets US hospital data deal, USB-C adds power, Cummings v the system, WhatsApp sues India, and more


Activist shareholders backed by big pension funds have installed two directors pushing climate activism on Exxon’s board. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

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

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

Google strikes deal with hospital chain to develop healthcare algorithms • WSJ

Melanie Evans:

»

Google and national hospital chain HCA Healthcare have struck a deal to develop healthcare algorithms using patient records, the latest foray by a tech giant into the $3 trillion healthcare sector.

HCA, which operates across about 2,000 locations in 21 states, would consolidate and store with Google data from digital health records and internet-connected medical devices under the multiyear agreement. Google and HCA engineers will work to develop algorithms to help improve operating efficiency, monitor patients and guide doctors’ decisions, according to the companies.

“Data are spun off of every patient in real time,” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, chief medical officer of HCA, which is based in Nashville, Tenn. “Part of what we’re building is a central nervous system to help interpret the various signals.”

The deal expands Google’s reach in healthcare, where the recent shift to digital records has created an explosion of data and a new market for technology giants and startups. Data crunching offers the opportunity to develop new treatments and improve patient safety, but algorithm-development deals between hospitals and tech companies have also raised privacy alarms.

Google has previously reached deals with other prominent US hospital systems, including St. Louis-based Ascension, that granted access to personal patient information, drawing public scrutiny.

…HCA said Google isn’t permitted to use patient-identifiable information under the agreement. Dr. Perlin said HCA patient records would be stripped of identifying information before being shared with Google data scientists and that the hospital system would control access to the data.

…Google will access data when needed with consent from HCA, but the tech giant can develop analytic tools without patient records and allow HCA to test the models independently, said Chris Sakalosky, managing director of healthcare and life sciences at Google Cloud.

«

There have been quite a few of these deals, but nothing publicly announced. Power centres, the UK national grid, Moorfields Eye Hospital, and this. Have they ever been successful?
unique link to this extract


USB-C is about to go from 100W to 240W, enough to power beefier laptops • The Verge

Sean Hollister:

»

Soon, the majority of portable PCs won’t need to be equipped with an ugly barrel jack and a proprietary power brick to charge. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has just announced (via CNET) that it’s more than doubling the amount of power you can send over a USB-C cable to 240 watts, which means you’ll eventually be able to plug in the same kind of multipurpose USB-C cable you currently use on lightweight laptops, tablets, and phones to charge all but the beefiest gaming laptops.

Previously, the USB-C Power Delivery spec tops out at 100 watts, and it’s definitely held the industry back a tad — for example, while my own Dell XPS 15 can technically charge over USB-C, it needs 130W of power to charge and run at full bore simultaneously. Some manufacturers have sold off-spec USB-C adapters (I have a Dell dock that outputs 130W), but they don’t always come bundled with machines and generally have a fixed, non-detachable cable to prevent against misuse.

But with 240W of power — something that the USB-IF is calling “Extended Power Range” or EPR for short — you could theoretically charge an full-fat Alienware m17 gaming laptop over USB-C.

You’ll need new USB-C chargers and cables to take advantage of the new spec, of course, though you should hopefully be able to tell which is which: “All EPR cables shall be visibly identified with EPR cable identification items,” reads part of the USB-IF’s requirements for the new spec.

«

Without a doubt this is going to create even more problems as people try to use cables that arne’t suitable. I had a problem earlier this week with a USB-C disk connected by a USB-C cable: the disk had a ton of write errors, wasn’t working properly. I was going to junk it, when I wondered if it might be the (2m, Apple-brand) cable I was using: perhaps it wasn’t up to the job? Swapped for a 10cm cable: happy disk again. USB-C remains a pain.
unique link to this extract


Lone wolf Dominic Cummings continues to howl at the system • The Guardian

Martin Kettle:

»

There is a backbone of consistency in Cummings’s political career. He has always engaged in a battle against a largely imaginary elite conspiracy to hold back iconoclastic innovators of the kind he sees in the shaving mirror each morning. It takes the form of Cummings’s deep-rooted hostility to institutions – such as the civil service and the BBC – that seem to him to reproduce and strengthen the elite. It is suffused with a lone-wolf purism that enables Cummings to commit idiocies like the Barnard Castle incident and still present himself as a virtuous lone knight in an evil world.

This drove Cummings’s politics, long before the Brexit campaign. The Commons hearing shows it still drives him today, long after the Brexit triumph. When he first stepped across the threshold of the education department as Michael Gove’s adviser, Cummings is said to have promised to set the whole place on fire, such was his contempt towards what he famously dubbed “the blob”. Incineration was a suitably Wagnerian image for Cummings’s sense that it was, and still is, him against the system.

…People like him, by contrast, are holy solitaries rather than team players. Occasionally, his tweets will celebrate an ally who is deemed worthy – one is “a brilliant young neuroscientist I recruited to No 10”, another “a brilliant young woman” whose work averted some of the Covid social care crisis in 2020. Last week he approvingly retweeted that “It’s not only in actual politics that earnestness seems to be a handicap, but also in office politics and academic politics.” People like this, Cummings added, are “seen as mad/unreliable and are weeded out”.

If this makes Cummings in many ways the colleague from hell, it is important to also acknowledge that, in many respects, he was also right, more right than many of those around him, and that he had his supporters, notably the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.

«

American papers didn’t pick up on this, but the PM’s chief adviser during (most of) 2019 and 2020 gave an excoriating account of his former boss’s former and current failings. It was also an indictment of the British state, in its civil service form.
unique link to this extract


WhatsApp is suing the Indian government to protect people’s privacy • Buzzfeed News

Pranav Dixit:

»

Messaging service WhatsApp is suing the Indian government in the Delhi High Court, challenging new rules that would force it to break its encryption, potentially revealing the identities of people who had sent and received billions of messages on its platform, a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so.”

In a statement published on Wednesday morning, India’s IT ministry said it will only require WhatsApp to disclose who sent a message in cases related to the “sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material.”

It also pointed out that rumors and misinformation spreading over WhatsApp had caused lynchings and riots in the past.

“Any operations being run in India are subject to the law of the land,” the ministry’s statement added. “WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with the [rules] is a clear act of [defiance].”

More than 400 million of the 1.2 billion people who use WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, are from India.

«

The continuation of the deadline, which passed on Wednesday morning. It probably won’t take long for the first case where the Indian government wants that disclosure – and it will pick a case where public opinion is on its side.
unique link to this extract


Google launches its third major operating system, Fuchsia • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Fuchsia has long been a secretive project. We first saw the OS as a pre-alpha smartphone UI that was ported to Android in 2017. In 2018, we got the OS running natively on a Pixelbook. After that, the Fuchsia team stopped doing its work in the open and stripped all UI work out of the public repository.

There’s no blog post or any fanfare at all to mark Fuchsia’s launch. Google’s I/O conference happened last week, and the company didn’t make a peep about Fuchsia there, either. Really, this ultra-quiet, invisible release is the most “Fuchsia” launch possible.

Fuchsia is something very rare in the world of tech: it’s a built-from-scratch operating system that isn’t based on Linux. Fuchsia uses a microkernel called “Zircon” that Google developed in house. Creating an operating system entirely from scratch and bringing it all the way to production sounds like a difficult task, but Google managed to do exactly that over the past six years. Fuchsia’s primary app-development language is Flutter, a cross-platform UI toolkit from Google. Flutter runs on Android, iOS, and the web, so writing Flutter apps today for existing platforms means you’re also writing Fuchsia apps for tomorrow.

The Nest Hub’s switch to Fuchsia is kind of interesting because of how invisible it should be. It will be the first test of this Fuchsia’s future-facing Flutter app support—the Google smart display interface is written in Flutter, so Google can take the existing interface, rip out all the Google Cast guts underneath, and plop the exact same interface code down on top of Fuchsia. Google watchers have long speculated that this was the plan all along. Rather than having a disruptive OS switch, Google could just get coders to write in Flutter and then it could seamlessly swap out the operating system.

«

A suggestion in the comments is that this was done so that it’s completely, utterly clear of any Java/Oracle APIs. Perhaps a defensive move in case Google lost the Supreme Court case. In which case, not needed on voyage, as it turns out.
unique link to this extract


Huawei’s HarmonyOS: “Fake it till you make it” meets OS development • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Huawei wants independence from the worldwide smartphone supply chain. While hardware independence is something the company needs to work on, Huawei also needs to get free of Google’s software. So, as many companies have tried to do before it, Huawei hopes to make an Android killer.

The company’s attempt at an in-house OS is called “HarmonyOS” (also known as “HongmengOS” in China). “Version 2” was released in December, bringing “beta” smartphone support to the operating system for the first time. Can Huawei succeed where Windows Phone, Blackberry 10, Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS, Symbian, MeeGo, WebOS, and Samsung’s Tizen have all tried and failed?

To hear Huawei tell the story, HarmonyOS is an original in-house creation—a defiant act that will let the company break free of American software influence. Huawei’s OS announcement in 2019 got big, splashy articles in the national media. CNN called HarmonyOS “a rival to Android,” and Richard Yu, the CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, told the outlet that HarmonyOS “is completely different from Android and iOS.” Huawei President of Consumer Software Wang Chenglu repeated these claims just last month, saying (through translation), “HarmonyOS is not a copy of Android, nor is it a copy of iOS.”

That makes HarmonyOS sound super interesting. Naturally, we had to take a deep dive.

After getting access to HarmonyOS through a grossly invasive sign-up process, firing up the SDK and emulator, and poring over the developer documents, I can’t come to any other conclusion: HarmonyOS is essentially an Android fork. The way that Huawei describes the OS to the press and in developer documents doesn’t seem to have much to do with what the company is actually shipping.

«

But to get that far he had to upload his passport, and wait two days for it to be checked. So he could try being a developer? Huawei has entered a strange hinterland.
unique link to this extract


Inner Mongolia reinforces Beijing’s ban on mining with strict rules as more operators prepare to relocate offshore • South China Morning Post

Coco Feng:

»

Targeting industrial parks, data centres, telecoms companies, internet firms, and even cybercafes, the draft rules promise to punish bitcoin miners or those providing resources to miners by banning them from the region’s power trading scheme, revoking business licenses, and even shutting their businesses down completely, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the region’s top economic planner.

Under the new rules, which are available for public review until June 1, individuals who flout the regulations could be put on a social credit blacklist barring them from getting loans or making use of the country’s transportation system, as well as facing other legal consequences.

The draft rules mark a sharp escalation in an already surprising change in attitude by the central government towards bitcoin miners and come less than a week after the Inner Mongolia region called on citizens to report illegal bitcoin mines.

Although the creation and trading of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have been illegal in China since 2017 – a move that forced exchanges like Binance, Huobi and OkEx offshore – authorities have until recently turned a blind eye to the companies and individuals that “mine” bitcoin by operating the computers that make up the cryptocurrency’s decentralised network.

Miners who have taken advantage of cheap, coal-powered electricity in places like Xinjiang, Sichuan, and Inner Mongolia, are finding that this tolerance is fading fast.

«

“Coal-powered”? But I was told that bitcoin is all green! Also, this is going to start to squeeze bitcoin if the CCP really does follow through on this. Though as the story notes, it’s had the sword of Damocles hanging up there for four years already. (Iran is also banning bitcoin mining for four months.)
unique link to this extract


GameStop announces that it’s working on NFTs • HYPEBEAST

»

GameStop on Tuesday quietly announced that it was beginning to build out a team to develop NFTs.

The company teased the new operation through a website dedicated to the blockchain asset. The announcement, titled “Change the Game,” featured a gaming cartridge that slides into a handheld gaming console that resembles a GameBoy. “Power to the players. Power to the creators. Power to the collectors,” a message on the device reads.

Alongside the announcement is a callout for “exceptional engineers (solidity, react, python), designers, gamers, marketers, and community leaders.” The company provided an email for those who wish to be a part of the forthcoming NFT project.

Eagle-eyed Reddit users spotted a GameStop job listing from earlier this month, looking for an analyst with experience in “blockchain, cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens” to join their Grapevine, Texas, headquarters.

According to Etherscan, the company also appears to have recently created its own GME token.

«

Gamestop’s new slogan: if you can’t beat.. actually, what the hell, just join them, it’s a lot quicker.
unique link to this extract


Engine No. 1 wins at least 2 Exxon board seats as activist pushes for climate strategy change • CNBC

Pippa Stevens:

»

Activist firm Engine No. 1 won at least two board seats at Exxon following a historic battle over the oil giant’s board of directors, signaling investors’ support for greater disclosure from the company as the world shifts away from fossil fuels.

The vote over a third candidate proposed by Engine No. 1 was too close to call as of 3pm on Wall Street.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming the new directors,” Exxon CEO Darren Woods said Wednesday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “I look forward to helping them understand our plans and then hear their insights and perspectives.”

Engine No. 1, which has a 0.02% stake in Exxon, has been targeting the company since December, pushing the oil giant to reconsider its role in a zero-carbon world.

Wednesday’s vote came during Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting, where CEO Darren Woods fielded questions from shareholders ranging from the company’s dividend to Exxon’s investments in carbon capture technology.

…The activist firm nominated four independent director candidates and won support from large pension funds, including CalPERS, calSTRS and New York State Common Retirement Fund.

«

The board has 13 directors, so this might make some difference, but not – yet – a critical one. Notice how a tiny stake can have big leverage with the help of activist, er, pension funds.
unique link to this extract


Joe Biden opens up California coast to offshore wind • The Verge

Justine Calma:

»

Offshore wind is headed west. The Biden administration announced today that it will open up parts of the Pacific coast to commercial-scale offshore renewable energy development for the first time. The geography of the West Coast poses huge technical challenges for wind energy. But rising to meet those challenges is a big opportunity for both President Joe Biden and California Governor Gavin Newsom to meet their clean energy goals.

There are two areas now slotted for development off the coast of Central and Northern California — one at Morro Bay and another near Humboldt County. Together, these areas could generate up to 4.6GW of energy, enough power for 1.6 million homes over the next decade, according to a White House fact sheet.

“I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States, but it will take all of us and the best-available science to make it happen,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement today.

«

“For the first time”? There’s a lot of ocean out there, and a lot of coastline. Amazing that it has taken this long.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1557: Social media faces India ban, Russia funds vaccine disparagement, why robots need manners, vanishing pianos, and more


How good are you at counting items in a photo? Don’t worry, there’s an app that will do the job for you. CC-licensed photo by Trevor Haldenby 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. Counted by a computer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Will India ban WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter from May 26? Unlikely, but it is complicated • MSN.com

India Tech:

»

Almost all internet companies, whether they are social media networks, messaging services, news organisations or even streaming services like Netflix, all have to follow the new rules [announced in February with a three-month deadline]. The deadline to do so, that is to comply with the new rules, expires May 25. In other words, the next day means a big headache ahead for companies like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

First the big question: Will Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp be banned in India from May 26?

Unlikely. But if they do not comply with the new rules they will always be at risk of a significant government action against them. To understand this all, let’s first take a quick look at what the government is asking.

There are a number of new conditions and regulatory requirements that the government seeks to impose on social media companies. But a few significant ones are:

1- Big tech companies — the government calls them “significant social media” — must have a chief compliance officer in India who can respond to government demands and needs whenever required. For example, if the government requires data of User A from Twitter, and if the demand is legally valid, then this compliance officer will be responsible for producing this data.

2- The tech companies have also been asked to hire a nodal officer that will coordinate with law enforcement agencies 24 x 7 and whenever the government requires such coordination.

3- The social media companies have been asked to hire a grievance redressal officer, whom the social media users will be able to approach with their grievances if they have any.

4- And finally, companies like WhatsApp have been asked to ensure that they can trace a message to the original sender. Effectively this means breaking or circumventing end-to-end encryption on messages. Complying with such a request is incredibly challenging, if not outright impossible, for a service like WhatsApp.

«

This all depends on how long the Indian government waits to enforce the rules. So let’s see what happens.
unique link to this extract


This app will count literally anything you show it • Android Police

Michael Crider:

»

CountThings is basically an app version of those famous scenes from Rain Man. And though it has some definite novelty potential, it’s actually designed for straight-laced industrial applications. The system uses pre-existing templates to analyze still images, counting up all of the similar items even when they’re arranged in nonsensical patterns that makes our pathetic meat-powered brains spin.

Logs of lumber stacked on a truck are a perfect example: the irregular circles are surprisingly difficult to count up by hand, since they don’t stack into neat rows and columns. But CountThings can do it in just a couple of seconds, using the template provided by the developer.

Because CountThings is an industrial tool, it’s not free. In fact it’s a long way from free: its in-app purchases for counting templates start at $20 and go up to $120. And that’s relatively inexpensive compared to the enterprise options, which start at $20 for 24 hours, with $2000 per year (for one device!) for the most complex video-based version of the tool.

The tool managed to get every key except the space bar, but missed six screws.

But if you just want to make your phone count stuff, you can download the app and try a few free scans for kicks. My results varied: while it’s excellent at getting anything with a regular, repeating shape, more complex outlines could fool it. It managed to count every key on my keyboard correctly (except the space key), but consistently missed a few screws spilled out onto my desk because some of them were bunched up or sitting on their heads.

«

Seems like fun, and who wouldn’t want an app (available for all the platforms) that they could do some totally random counting with. The templates (in the link above) are fascinating: square bars, round bars, angle bars and so many more (all end-on of course).
unique link to this extract


Influencers say Russia-linked PR agency asked them to disparage Pfizer vaccine • The Guardian

Jon Henley:

»

French and German YouTubers, bloggers and influencers have been offered money by a supposedly UK-based PR agency with apparent Russian connections to falsely tell their followers the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Fazze, which said it was an “influencer marketing platform … connecting bloggers and advertisers”, claimed to be based at 5 Percy Street in London but is not registered there. On Tuesday, it closed its website and made its Instagram account private.

The agency contacted several French health and science YouTubers last week and asked them, in poor English, to “explain … the death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer is almost 3x higher than the vaccinated by AstraZeneca”.

The influencers were told to publish links on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok to reports in Le Monde, on Reddit and on the Ethical Hacker website about a leaked report containing data that supposedly substantiates the claim.

«

The Russian misinformation campaign goes on – because it’s relatively cheap. (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract


Apple employees are going public about workplace issues — and there’s no going back • The Verge

Zoe Schiffer:

»

The events [of García-Martinez’s firing] stunned even the letter writers. They’d expected the note to cause a stir inside Apple, but they hadn’t intended for it to become public. “The leak was very shocking to everybody who was vocal and involved in writing the letter,” says one worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation. “Either somebody is a very good actor or there’s someone else who felt like the letter was going to disappear unless it became public.”

A week after The Verge published the García Martínez letter, a group of Muslim employees at Apple penned a note calling for the company to release a statement in support of Palestine. When Tim Cook didn’t respond, the letter was leaked to The Verge.

The two letters, and their leaks, are signs of a slow cultural shift at Apple. Employees, once tight-lipped about internal problems, are now joining a wave of public dissent that’s roiling Silicon Valley. Employees say this is partly because Apple’s typical avenues for reporting don’t work for big cultural issues. They also note the company rolled out Slack in 2019, allowing workers to find and organize with one another.

Now, some are beginning to feel that the company culture has harmed diversity and inclusion efforts. “Apple’s secrecy works great for protecting our customers and our products, but it hinders inclusion and diversity,” says an anonymous employee. “There’s a lack of education around what is confidential versus what is your protected speech and you should speak up about.”

«

Very easy to claim everything is going to change, but the Palestine letter didn’t get any response, and Apple could – at the ultimate extreme – take the same approach as Basecamp and just tell people it’s not a topic to talk about inside the company any more. Sure, it’s a lot bigger, but journalistic confidence is cheap.
unique link to this extract


Galaxy upcycling: how Samsung ruined its best idea in years • iFixit

Kevin Purdy:

»

A small team of Samsung engineers showed us something exciting four years ago. It was novel, revolutionary, and not what you’d expect from the smartphone king. They wanted our help to make it real.

It wasn’t a folding phone, a robot, or a VR kit—this invention didn’t even have a price. It was a marketplace of clever uses for old, easily unlocked Samsung phones. This was exactly the kind of lifespan-prologinging idea that we love. We were instantly sold.

“There is another way to create even more value” than recycling, Samsung said in a video at the time. “It’s called upcycling.” With code and creativity, upcycling could turn a Galaxy S5 into a smart fish tank monitor, a controller for all your smart home devices, a weather station, a nanny cam, or lots more. Upcycling not only kept your old phone from being shredded or stuck in junk-drawer purgatory, it could keep you from buying more single-purpose devices. It was a smart way to reduce our collective upgrade guilt.

We were so excited, in fact, that when Samsung asked us to help launch the product in the fall of 2017, we jumped at the chance. You’ll see iFixit’s name and logo all over Samsung’s original Galaxy Upcycling materials. Samsung, a company without much of a public environmental message, was tossing around big ideas born at a grassroots level. This was something new. We were jazzed, and after validating the concept with working code in our labs, lent our name and credibility to the effort.

But sometimes well-intentioned projects get muzzled inside giant companies.

«

This is the story of how it got muzzled.
unique link to this extract


Robots, manners and stress • Light Blue Touchpaper

Professor Ross Anderson:

»

As robots develop situational awareness, like humans, and react to real or potential attacks by falling back to a more cautious mode of operation, a hostile environment will cause the equivalent of stress. Sometimes this will be deliberate; one can imagine constant low-level engagement between drones at tense national borders, just as countries currently probe each others’ air defences. But much of the time it may well be a by-product of poor automation design coupled with companies hustling aggressively for consumers’ attention.

This suggests a missing factor in machine-learning research: manners. We’ve evolved manners to signal to others that our intent is not hostile, and to negotiate the many little transactions that in a hostile environment might lead to a tussle for dominance. Yet these are hard for robots. Food-delivery robots can become unpopular for obstructing and harassing other pavement users; and one of the show-stoppers for automated driving is the difficulty that self-driving cars have in crossing traffic, or otherwise negotiating precedence with other road users. And even in the military, manners have a role – from the chivalry codes of medieval knights to the more modern protocols whereby warships and warplanes warn other craft before opening fire. If we let loose swarms of killer drones with no manners, conflict will be more likely.

«

The irony: Anderson’s team were invited to talk about this at a conference with two convenors, but one made too many difficult demands. Manners! But they’ve put a paper online.
unique link to this extract


COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections reported to CDC, US, January 1–April 30, 2021 • MMWR

The CDC has the latest data:

»

A total of 10,262 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine breakthrough infections had been reported from 46 US states and territories as of April 30, 2021. [A 0.01% incidence, given the 101 million people who were fully vaccinated.]

Among these cases, 6,446 (63%) occurred in females, and the median patient age was 58 years (interquartile range = 40–74 years). Based on preliminary data, 2,725 (27%) vaccine breakthrough infections were asymptomatic, 995 (10%) patients were known to be hospitalized, and 160 (2%) patients died.

Among the 995 hospitalized patients, 289 (29%) were asymptomatic or hospitalized for a reason unrelated to COVID-19. The median age of patients who died was 82 years (interquartile range = 71–89 years); 28 (18%) decedents were asymptomatic or died from a cause unrelated to COVID-19. Sequence data were available from 555 (5%) reported cases, 356 (64%) of which were identified as SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,§ including B.1.1.7 (199; 56%), B.1.429 (88; 25%), B.1.427 (28; 8%), P.1 (28; 8%), and B.1.351 (13; 4%).

As of April 30, 2021, approximately 101 million persons in the United States had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.¶ However, during the surveillance period, SARS-CoV-2 transmission continued at high levels in many parts of the country, with approximately 355,000 COVID-19 cases reported nationally during the week of April 24–30, 2021.**

«

Also worth noting: “The proportion of reported vaccine breakthrough infections attributed to variants of concern has also been similar to the proportion of these variants circulating throughout the United States.” Though they point out that they can’t be certain if this is all the cases that occurred, particularly because some might be asymptomatic.
unique link to this extract


Share of time spent listening to audio at home in the US increases 44% during COVID-19 disruption • Edison Research

»

Edison Research measures the location of all listening, and the table below shows the share of time spent with audio by location. Findings show that while total time spent listening was only slightly lower during the COVID-19 disruptions in the United States, there was a considerable shift in where that audio consumption happened. While 48.5% of all listening occurred at home before COVID-19 (and this finding has been very consistent since Share of Ear began in 2014), 70.0% of all listening was at-home in May.  All three other locations – car, work and ‘other’ — dropped. 

“It’s important to recognize that our survey asks where the respondent is when they are listening to audio – not what they are doing,” said Edison Research director Laura Ivey.  “The shift to ‘work-from-home’ for so many, especially office workers who tend to spend a lot of time with audio, is clearly reflected.” 

The enormous changes in daily life for so many Americans led to changes in what people are listening to and what device they are using to access their audio. 

Podcasting’s Share of Ear jumped significantly – up 26% from the Quarter 1 2020 report to this new update. During COVID-19 restrictions, 5.4% of all time spent with audio was with podcasts, up from 4.3% in Q1. While podcasting share increases with every update, this represents an all-time high for podcast listening share of all audio. 

Smart Speakers also hit a new high, with its share leaping by more than 40% (albeit from a relatively low base). During COVID-19 restrictions, 5.3% of all time spent with audio was through a smart speaker, up from 3.7% in Q1. 

«

The podcasting feels like a slight surprise – weren’t people listening while they commuted before? – but the only surprise in the shift to home is that it isn’t more like 100%.
unique link to this extract


David Berglas: how to make a concert grand vanish in a crowded room • YouTube

»

«

I came across this in a Jason Kottke post: Berglas is now 94, and still being coy about how he does some of his tricks. But not this one, where he made a concert grand piano (the very biggest kind) disappear while he was speaking to an audience.
unique link to this extract


Why Florida’s social media law will be struck down • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

Experts who say the new law is unconstitutional cite a previous case in which a similar Florida law was struck down. After [Florida governor Ron] DeSantis announced the proposal in February, First Amendment attorney Ari Cohn told Law & Crime that it “raises the same issue as a previous Florida law which required newspapers that criticized a political candidate to publish that candidate’s response.” In the 1974 case, Miami Herald v. Tornillo, “the Supreme Court struck down the law, ruling that it violated the newspapers’ First Amendment right to choose which content to run or not run,” Cohn said. That case involved a law enacted in 1913.

The Law & Crime article continued:

»

Professor Daxton “Chip” Stewart, a media law expert who referred to the proposal as “hilariously unconstitutional,” said that DeSantis exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of corporations’ rights.
“Basically, DeSantis seems to forget that private companies like Facebook and Twitter have First Amendment rights, too,” Stewart noted. “The government can’t force them to host speech they don’t want to, or threaten punishment like these absurd fines for refusing to give platforms to people they find intolerable. Just as a platform can remove accounts of terrorists or the KKK or a cabal that conspires to violently overthrow the government, they can remove accounts of any other individual.”

«

The Electronic Frontier Foundation cited the same case. “Since Tornillo, courts have consistently applied it as binding precedent, including applying Tornillo to social media and Internet search engines, the very targets of the [Florida] Transparency in Technology Act (unless they own a theme park),” EFF General Counsel Kurt Opsahl wrote earlier this month. “Indeed, the compelled speech doctrine has even been used to strike down other attempts to counter perceived censorship of conservative speakers.”

On the Lawfare blog in March, TechFreedom Internet Policy Counsel Corbin Barthold and President Berin Szóka also pointed to the Miami Herald v. Tornillo case as an example of why the new law won’t pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court “has repeatedly held that digital media enjoy the same First Amendment protection as traditional media,” they wrote.

«

I’ve changed the title on this article; it’s about the passing of the law, but adds these informed explanations of why it will fail. As I said, its intention is just to wind people up – on both sides.
unique link to this extract



Please preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. It’s full of words.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1556: Florida’s barmy social media law, self-driving cars still lost, India hassles Twitter, Amazon dings fake reviews, and more


If you think you can discern lossless audio, good news – we’ve got the audio tests so you can prove it. CC-licensed photo by Jim 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.

Florida governor signs law to block ‘deplatforming’ of Florida politicians • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

»

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that bars social media companies like Twitter and Facebook from “knowingly” deplatforming politicians.

The bill, SB 7072, was proposed in February, weeks after former President Donald Trump was banned from Facebook and Twitter after the deadly right-wing riot at the US Capitol. The law bars social media platforms from banning Floridian political candidates and authorizes the Florida Election Commission to impose fines if these candidates were to be deplatformed. The fines range from $250,000 per day for statewide office candidates and $25,000 per day for non-statewide offices.

“This will lead to more speech, not less speech,” DeSantis said during a press conference at the Florida International University in Miami Monday. “Because speech that’s inconvenient to the narrative will be protected.”

Many are already skeptical about the new law’s legality, with the tech-friendly Chamber of Progress calling it “clearly unconstitutional.” As a state law, the measure could be overturned if courts find it conflicts with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which broadly immunizes platforms from liability for good-faith moderation activity. It could also be subject to a constitutional challenge under the First Amendment, which has been interpreted to broadly prevent government interference to corporate speech.

But regardless of its legal status, the measure will help establish DeSantis’ political bona-fides among the anti-tech wing of the Republican Party. For years, Republicans have pressured platforms like Facebook over their content moderation policies, accusing the companies of being biased against conservative speech online. DeSantis’ bill is one of the first major victories for populist Republicans in opposition to the power of Big Tech.

«

Hilariously, the bill makes an exception for companies (in Florida) which own a theme park more than 25 acres in size. You may have heard of it: starts with D, ends with -isney. Not sure if it runs a social network, but just in case! Got to keep those funders happy. Which offers the exciting prospect of Twitter World – run the rollercoaster of angry tweets! – and Facebook Land, where everyone is your Friend.

The number of Floridian politicians likely to be permanently deplatformed is roughly zero, at a guess (it’s not retrospective; there is one ex-politician living in Florida who has been deplatformed). The aim of this law is to be repealed, to create anger, the one true fuel for life online. Social warming: it’s all around us.
unique link to this extract


The costly pursuit of self-driving cars continues on. And on. And on • The New York Times

Cade Metz:

»

The tech and auto giants could still toil for years on their driverless car projects. Each will spend an additional $6bn to $10bn before the technology becomes commonplace — sometime around the end of the decade, according to estimates from Pitchbook, a research firm that tracks financial activity. But even that prediction might be overly optimistic.

“This is a transformation that is going to happen over 30 years and possibly longer,” said Chris Urmson, an early engineer on the Google self-driving car project before it became the Alphabet business unit called Waymo. He is now chief executive of Aurora, the company that acquired Uber’s autonomous vehicle unit.

So what went wrong? Some researchers would say nothing — that’s how science works. You can’t entirely predict what will happen in an experiment. The self-driving car project just happened to be one of the most hyped technology experiments of this century, occurring on streets all over the country and run by some of its highest-profile companies.

…“You have to peel back every layer before you can see the next layer” of challenges for the technology, said Nathaniel Fairfield, a Waymo software engineer who has worked on the project since 2009, describing some of the distractions faced by the cars. “Your car has to be pretty good at driving before you can really get it into the situations where it handles the next most challenging thing.”

Like Waymo, Aurora is now developing autonomous trucks as well as passenger vehicles. No company has deployed trucks without safety drivers behind the wheel, but Mr. Urmson and others argue that autonomous trucks will make it to market faster than anything designed to transport regular consumers.

Long-haul trucking does not involve passengers who might not be forgiving of twitchy brakes. The routes are also simpler. Once you master one stretch of highway, Mr. Urmson said, it is easier to master another. But even driving down a long, relatively straight highway is extraordinarily difficult. Delivering dinner orders across a small neighborhood is an even greater challenge.

«

unique link to this extract


ABX High Fidelity Test list

»

IS YOUR AUDIO SYSTEM REALLY READY FOR LOSSLESS SOUND?

Here you will find a set of ABX tests allowing you to compare lossless and lossy compression in a variety of formats and bitrates. This site is still in its infancy, and the number of tests available will probably grow over time.

«

Created in November 2014, last updated.. well, minor additions aside, not since then. But it’s a useful list if you’d like to find out whether you’ve got “golden ears” – that is, your ears are so good that you’re going to have to sell a lot of gold in order to satisfy them. (Not really. It means that your ears are terrific.) You have to take multiple tests, not knowing which one you’re hearing.

If you succeed on recognising the difference, do get in touch. And, of course, you’ll qualify to justifiedly turn on the “lossless” settings on Apple Music or Amazon Music next month. (Thanks Geraint P for the link.)
unique link to this extract


lofi.cafe – lofi music 🎧

Rather neat: background music to work by, with lots of different “radio” stations to choose from. Saves the mental effort of choosing music, which so often is the most time-consuming part of getting some background music on. OK, might not be just what you want but at least you’ve got more choices now for your new life back perching on cafe tables asking for the Wi-Fi password. Not lossless, obviously. Sorry about that.
unique link to this extract


Bitcoin’s troubles go far beyond Elon Musk • The New Yorker

John Cassidy:

»

Early last week, three state-run Chinese financial agencies warned Chinese banks not to provide their customers with any services relating to bitcoin and other virtual currencies, including trading, storage, or acceptance as a means of payment. Later in the week, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a statement that said, “We should crack down on bitcoin mining and trading activities and prevent individual risks from being passed to the whole society.” Since the bitcoin-mining system relies heavily on power provided by Chinese power plants, this was no idle threat. And China has accompanied its moves against bitcoin by taking steps to roll out its own digital currency, which will initially circulate alongside cash.

The United States and other Western countries haven’t yet gone as far as China has, but their governments aren’t standing idle, either. Earlier this year, Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, described bitcoin (correctly) as an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions,” and pointed out (equally correctly) that it is used “often for illicit finance.”

…In India, where investing in bitcoin has become popular, there have been reports that the government is preparing to ban people from owning the digital currency. Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund, has suggested that, under certain circumstances, even the U.S. government could outlaw bitcoin, to protect its monopoly on the supply of money. At this stage, such a development doesn’t seem likely. Still, the ultimate outcome is uncertain—a fact that Musk acknowledged over the weekend. In yet another tweet, he wrote, “The true battle is between fiat & crypto. On balance, I support the latter.” That pledge of allegiance came as no surprise. But, if investors have learned anything over the past few decades, it is that fighting the feds can be costly.

«

More mood music. Bad mood music.
unique link to this extract


Police in Delhi have descended on Twitter’s headquarters in the country • Buzzfeed News

Pranav Dixit:

»

On Monday, a team of officers from the Special Cell, an elite branch of the police in charge of investigating terrorism and organized crime in New Delhi, descended on Twitter’s offices in the city to “serve a notice” to the head of Twitter in India. Police also attempted to enter a Twitter office in Gurugram, a location that has been permanently closed, a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

The move came three days after Twitter put a “manipulated media” label on the tweets of half a dozen members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in which they had accused the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, of scheming to damage Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of the second wave of India’s coronavirus pandemic.

In an image the members circulated, they claimed that the Indian National Congress was giving special medical favors to journalists affected by the pandemic among other things. AltNews, an Indian fact-checking website, found that the image was forged. (Congress has also filed a police complaint against Sambit Patra, the BJP spokesperson who initially shared the image.) On Friday, India’s IT ministry sent a letter to the company asking it to remove the labels. Twitter did not.

«

The temperature is rising, and there’s no obvious way that this is going to be resolved except through the Indian government banning Twitter – as it already has done with TikTok (as part of a feud with China).
unique link to this extract


Amazon removes popular tech brands amid fake review leak • Digital Trends

Andrew Martonik:

»

If you go to Amazon looking for a new charger or a pair of headphones today, your options will be limited. People have started noticing that chargers, cables, webcams, keyboards, mice, speakers, and headphones — likely among other categories — from popular companies are either unavailable for shipping or gone from the platform entirely. Aukey and Mpow, extremely well-known companies with popular products, have all but disappeared from Amazon.

And we have a good idea of the reason: Fake reviews.

Online safety advocate SafetyDetective uncovered a massive trove of data pointing to wide-reaching pay-for-play review systems purportedly focused on China-based phone and computer accessory companies that primarily sell on Amazon. The leak exposed a system of companies paying to generate real-looking — but completely falsified — reviews for new products. The goal is simple: shoot up the Amazon rankings for having a high number of reviews and an average rating, which starts the waterwheel of purchases and real reviews.

The system would essentially have third-party companies buy products, submit favorable 5-star reviews from fake user accounts, and then be reimbursed for the products (and then some) via a separate payment platform to protect the integrity of the “verified purchase” denotation on Amazon. The leak shows over 75,000 Amazon accounts being used for the services, though the true scale isn’t yet known. There could be many more individuals or smaller groups implicated in the scheme.

«

The discouraging thing is that it wasn’t Amazon that found this. As so often, the task of improving the site feels like it’s being outsourced to the users.
unique link to this extract


Smart guitar will practically play itself • Hackaday

Kristina Panos:

»

Honestly, the guitar is kind of an unwelcoming instrument, even if you don’t have any physical disabilities.

A Russian startup company called Noli Music wants to change all of that. They’re building a guitar that’s playable for everyone, regardless of physical or musical ability. Noli Music was founded by [Denis Goncharov] who has a form of muscular dystrophy. [Denis] has always wanted to rock out to his favorite songs, but struggles to play a standard guitar.

If you can touch the fretboard, it seems, you can whale away on this axe without trouble. It’s made to be easier to play all around. The strings aren’t fully tensioned, so they’re easy to pluck — the site says they only take 1.7oz of force to actuate.

Right now, the guitar is in the prototype stage. But when it’s ready to rock, it will do so a couple of ways. One uses embedded sensors in the fretboard detect finger positions and sound the appropriate note whether you pluck it or simply fret it. In another mode, the finger positions light up to help you learn new songs. The guitar will have a touchscreen interface, and Noli are planning on building a companion app to provide interactive lessons.

«

Seems like this would be a recipe for a lot of bum notes as you accidentally touch the strings or move your fingers around the frets. The requirement to press a little hard on the strings to begin to generate a note (which you then have to pluck) is a feature, not a bug. Sure, this will be good for someone with muscular dystrophy. But it’s going to create a different kind of guitar sound.
unique link to this extract


Google’s new Samsung smartwatch partnership looks a lot like giving up • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

»

or the past few years, there’s been no cohesive vision for what Wear OS should be; Google hasn’t offered one. And by the looks of the recent Samsung partnership, it’s choosing to punt on the issue entirely, handing off the business of imagining the future of Android wearables to one of its partners instead.

Samsung used to offer an Android Wear watch, until it jumped ship for its own Tizen platform. OnePlus’ recent smartwatch also skips Wear OS entirely. You have to have screwed up badly to get partners to forgo the deep built-in integration and the wealth of apps on the Play Store, but Google has managed to accomplish it with Wear OS.

Maybe the Tizen-hybrid Wear will fix that. It’s certainly a win for Samsung, the hero that gets to provide the essential backbone for Google’s third-act of wearable hardware while reaping the benefits of the massive Android developer community.

And Google does get some big benefits here. There’s one fewer competitor for its future smartwatch platform (something that there were already relatively few of outside of Apple after Google bought Fitbit.) And there’s also the potential of gaining Samsung’s semiconductor expertise for future smartwatch chips, which would certainly help with the Qualcomm issues that the company has had in the past.

But Google hasn’t shown yet that it’ll handle the next phase of its wearables any better than the first two. And it’s a concerning start that a company that’s best known for leading on software innovation had to go and outsource its next wearable operating system to Samsung instead.

«

Part of the problem is Qualcomm, whose chips haven’t been up to the task. But wearables are a little business compared to YouTube, Android, search. Ditto for Chromebooks and tablets.
unique link to this extract



Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. That’s all.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified