Start Up No.1634: Facebook launches ‘smart’ glasses, Apple’s bug bounty questioned, Kenya and Brazil’s social media distortion, and more


Ever wondered what sort of jokes the Romans found funny? Never fear – a few of their tropes have been excavated. CC-licensed photo by sheila_blige 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. Monitored for customer quality purposes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Ray-Ban Stories: hands-on with Facebook’s first smart glasses • The Verge

Alex Heath:

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Starting [next] Thursday, the first pair of smart glasses made by Facebook and Ray-Ban are going on sale for $299. They’re called Ray-Ban Stories, and you’ll be able to find them pretty much anywhere Ray-Bans are sold, including LensCrafters and Sunglasses Hut stores.

The frames feature two-front facing cameras for capturing video and photos. They sync with a companion camera roll app called Facebook View, where clips can be edited and shared to other apps on your phone (not just Facebook’s own). There’s a physical button on the glasses for recording, or you can say “Hey Facebook, take a video” to control them hands-free.

And, perhaps most importantly, they look and feel like regular glasses.

With their core ability of taking photos and videos, Ray-Ban Stories are essentially a sleeker version of Snapchat’s Spectacles, which first debuted in 2016 to a lot of hype that quickly fizzled. These Ray-Bans don’t have displays in the lenses, like the latest Spectacles that were unveiled earlier this year. However, speakers on both sides of the frame can play sound from your phone over Bluetooth, allowing you to take a call or listen to a podcast without pulling your phone out. A touchpad built into the side of the frame lets you change the volume or play and pause what you’re hearing.

Ray-Ban Stories are the first product in a multiyear partnership between Facebook and the European eyewear conglomerate EssilorLuxottica, Ray-Ban’s parent company. While they’re limited in what they can do, Ray-Ban Stories are the most normal-looking, accessible pair of smart glasses to hit the market so far.

Both companies also see them as a step toward more advanced augmented reality glasses that overlay graphics onto the real world.

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They basically do a bit of filming and can play your music. They’re not even as capable as Google Glass, which if Google were to have a go now could probably make a little more sense. In technology, timing is everything.
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Apple’s bug bounty program prompts frustration in security community • The Washington Post

Reed Albergotti:

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Hoping to discover hidden weaknesses, Apple for five years now has invited hackers to break into its services and its iconic phones and laptops, offering up to $1 million to learn of its most serious security flaws.

Across the tech industry, similar “bug bounty” programs have become a prized tool in maintaining security — a way to find vulnerabilities and encourage hackers to report them rather than abuse them.

But many who are familiar with the program say Apple is slow to fix reported bugs and does not always pay hackers what they believe they’re owed. Ultimately, they say, Apple’s insular culture has hurt the program and created a blind spot on security.

“It’s a bug bounty program where the house always wins,” said Katie Moussouris, CEO and founder of Luta Security, which worked with the Defense Department to set up its first bug bounty program. She said Apple’s bad reputation in the security industry will lead to “less secure products for their customers and more cost down the line.”

Apple said its program, launched in 2016, is a work in progress. Until 2019, the program was not officially opened to the public, although researchers say the program was never exclusive.

“The Apple Security Bounty program has been a runaway success,” Ivan Krstić, head of Apple Security Engineering and Architecture, said in an emailed statement. Apple has nearly doubled the amount it has paid in bug bounties this year compared to last, and it leads the industry in the average amount paid per bounty, he said.

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The topic of bug bounties was discussed on the Accidental Tech Podcast a few weeks ago, where everyoe ragged on Apple (rather like this story does), but the next week there was some followup. One tweet pointed out that “unfortunately Apple can’t just pay insane bug bounties, because if they did, all the internal bug hunters would quit and make more doing the same job from the outside. It’s a delicate balance and bug hunters have to want to do the right thing for it to work.”

The other point made in the program is that paying bug bounties relies heavily on trust. What if they tell you about it, and also sell it to someone else, to be exploited before it gets fixed? What if you don’t agree on the value? This is true, of course, for bounties with any company.

Apple, though, has a huge backlog of bugs needing to be fixed. That’s its real problem. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Inside the shadowy world of disinformation-for-hire in Kenya • Mozilla Foundation

Odanga Madung and Brian Obilo:

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Highlights of the investigation include:

Disinformation campaigns are a lucrative business. One interviewee revealed that disinformation influencers are paid roughly between $10 and $15 USD to participate in three campaigns per day. Payments are made directly to the influencers through the mobile money platform MPESA.

Twitter’s trending algorithm is amplifying these campaigns, and Twitter is placing ads amid all this misinformation. Eight of the 11 campaigns examined reached the trending section of Twitter. The campaigners we spoke to told us that this is their number one target, as it affords them the amplification they seek.

These campaigns run like a well-oiled machine. One of the influencers who researchers spoke to explained a complex system of using Whatsapp groups to coordinate and synchronize tweets and messaging. Anonymous organizers use these groups to send influencers cash, content, and detailed instructions.

These campaigns are increasingly targeting individuals. No longer focusing on just broad issues and events, disinformation campaigns are increasingly identifying and targeting individuals, like members of the Linda Katiba movement and the Kenyan judiciary. This work is also beginning to border on incitement and advocacy of hatred, which is against Kenyan Law.

Verified accounts are complicit. One influencer we spoke to claimed that the people who own coveted “blue check” accounts will often rent them out for disinformation campaigns. These verified accounts can improve the campaign’s chances of trending. Says one interviewee: “The owner of the account usually receives a cut of the campaign loot.”

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As I explain in Social Warming, campaigns like this are influential even if almost all of the population isn’t online or using social media because it affects those who make the high-level decisions.
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Brazil’s Bolsonaro bans social networks from removing some posts • The New York Times

Jack Nicas:

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President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is temporarily banning social media companies from removing certain content, including his claims that the only way he’ll lose next year’s elections is if the vote is rigged — one of the most significant steps by a democratically elected leader to control what can be said on the internet.

The new social media rules, issued this week and effective immediately, appear to be the first time a national government has stopped internet companies from taking down content that violates their rules, according to internet law experts and officials at tech companies. And they come at a precarious moment for Brazil.

Mr. Bolsonaro has used social media as a megaphone to build his political movement and make it to the president’s office. Now, with polls showing he would lose the presidential elections if they were held today, he is using sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to try to undermine the legitimacy of the vote, following the playbook of his close ally, former President Donald J. Trump. On Tuesday, Mr. Bolsonaro repeated his claims about the election to thousands of supporters in two cities as part of nationwide demonstrations on Brazil’s Independence Day.

Under the new policy, tech companies can remove posts only if they involve certain topics outlined in the measure, such as nudity, drugs and violence, or if they encourage crime or violate copyrights; to take down others, they must get a court order. That suggests that, in Brazil, tech companies could easily remove a nude photo, but not lies about the coronavirus. The pandemic has been a major topic of disinformation under Mr. Bolsonaro, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all having removed videos from him that pushed unproven drugs as coronavirus cures.

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That’s going to create quite the conundrum for the networks. Shut down in Brazil? Disobey, and remove posts anyway? Bolsonaro exploited social media last time. And he’s not relinquishing that.
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New Safety Tech Fund challenge • Home Office

Home Secretary Priti Patel:

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I am calling on our international partners and allies to continue to back the UK’s approach of holding technology companies to account and asking social media companies to put public safety before profits. They must not let harmful content continue to be posted on their platforms or neglect public safety when designing their products. We believe there are alternative solutions, and I know our concerns are shared by law enforcement colleagues and the most respected child protection organisations in the UK and around the world.

This is also a technical issue, so we are seeking technical solutions. Recently Apple have taken the first step, announcing that they are seeking new ways to prevent horrific abuse on their service. Apple state their child sexual abuse filtering technology has a false positive rate of 1 in a trillion, meaning the privacy of legitimate users is protected whilst those building huge collections of extreme child sexual abuse material are caught out. They need to see though that project. [Probably should read “They need to see through that project.” – CA]

But that is just one solution, by one company, and won’t solve everything. Big Tech firms collectively need to take responsibility for public safety and greater investment is essential. Today I am launching a new Safety Tech Challenge Fund. We will award five organisations from around the world up to £85,000 each to develop innovative technology to keep children safe in environments such as online messaging platforms with end-to-end encryption.

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Patel is fairly relentless in her backing of bad ideas – on the same day she said this, she backed a scheme to break international maritime law by “turning back” boats of refugees trying to cross the Channel from France. Which of course calls into question whether maybe the CSAM scanning is actually a bad idea after all.

Also, WhatsApp offered much the same in India in 2018 – $50,000 grants to those who could stop the spread of fake news on its platform. Didn’t succeed.
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Since there are mentions of
Social Warming, my latest book, you could buy it and find out more.


El Salvador bitcoin move could cost Western Union $400m a year • CNBC

MacKenzie Sigalos:

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Many in the 2.5 million Salvadoran diaspora send money to friends and family still living in El Salvador. Last year, they collectively transferred nearly $6bn, or roughly 23% of the country’s gross domestic product, and a chunk of that went to the middlemen facilitating these international transfers.

“Remittances are one area where the status quo in our legacy financial system is terrible, with extraordinarily high fees leveled at populations that can ill afford them,” said Matt Hougan, chief investment officer of Bitwise Asset Management.

“It’s a worn-out Twitter saying, but bitcoin really does fix this,” said Hougan.

The hassle around remittances is one chief reason El Salvador President Nayib Bukele cited for declaring bitcoin legal tender. As part of the rollout, the government has launched its own national virtual wallet — called “Chivo,” or Salvadoran slang for “cool” — which offers no-fee transactions and allows for quick cross-border payments. 

“It won’t be overnight; 100% of remittances aren’t going to move to the Chivo app tomorrow. These things take time, and people naturally worry about trying new things with money. But the current fee levels of charge for remittances are going to prove unsustainable,” Hougan said.

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That $400m on $6bn is 6.7% of the value of each transaction. Here’s one of the ways to see whether bitcoin does indeed fix this: see what the cost of transactions is for bitcoin transfers. (It’s not quite free, and it’s not quite instant.)
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No laughing matter? What the Romans found funny • Antigone

Orland Gibbs goes into some detail, though it was this bit that caught my eye:

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Roman comedy frequently makes use of a ‘game’ structure, and its frequency suggests its popularity. ‘Game’ structure is a key principle of many schools of improvised comedy today.  The Free Association in London, for example, one of the capital’s main improvisation schools, defines game as “a comedic pattern that repeats”. Actors play out a ‘grounded’ (=normal) scenario until the ‘shiny thing’ emerges: someone says something a bit weird that the audience respond to, most commonly with a laugh or a perceptible apprehension in the room. The other actor(s) might verbalise this apprehension by simply saying, “Sorry, what?” This ‘shiny thing’ is then developed into a point of view for the character, which either annoys / baffles other people on stage or is used to annoy the person with the point of view. A perfect example of this would be Keegan Key’s and Jordan Peele’s “Substitute Teacher” sketch, where a proud and hard-as-nails substitute teacher, Mr Garvey, cannot pronounce any names on the register correctly, but is increasingly incensed when the bearers of those names gently correct him.

We find Plautus using ‘game’ structure most famously in the “okay-yep” passage in Rudens (“The Rope,” lines 1212–27). The master of the house, Daemones, comes out to find Trachalio, the slave of the young romantic Plesidippus. Daemones gives Trachalio a list of instructions and, after every instruction, Trachalio says licet (“okay”). The schtick is then reversed as Trachalio gives Daemones a list of instructions, and every instruction is answered with licet. We can see how much this repetition has irritated Daemones, because after Trachalio leaves he calls upon Hercules to curse Trachalio (infelicet, a nonsense word that could be taken along the lines “Let him be damned!”, line 1225) for saying licet so much. In this instance, the game isn’t the repetitions, but rather what the repetitions are doing to Daemones: making him increasingly angry.

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Gibbs also points out that there was plenty of sexism in the humour, denigrating women and so on. This, of course, only began fading out in the late 1970s.
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Houseparty shut down to work on Epic Games vision of metaverse • The Washington Post

Gene Park:

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Houseparty, the social video app that launched in 2016 and soared in popularity during the pandemic, will be shutting down in October, the company announced Thursday. In a release, Houseparty said it will be absorbed into Epic Games to work on “creating new ways to have meaningful and authentic social interactions at metaverse scale across the Epic Games family.” The “Fortnite” developer acquired Houseparty in 2019 for a reported $35m, according to Business Insider.

“Since joining Epic, the Houseparty team’s social vision and core technology have already contributed to new features used by hundreds of millions of people in ‘Fortnite’ and by developers around the world,” Houseparty stated. “As a result, we can’t give the app or our community the attention that it deserves.”

The app will continue to function until October, when it will be removed from app stores. Users will be notified of the shutdown via in-app notifications.

Last year, Houseparty was integrated into the gameplay experience of Epic’s flagship battle royale title, “Fortnite,” by allowing users to engage in video chats while playing. Earlier this year, Epic Games raised $1bn in a round of funding to support its vision of building the metaverse, largely defined as the next iteration of the Internet that would focus on social interaction and interconnecting online properties and the real world.

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So I guess October marks Epic’s view of the end of the pandemic?

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Why eastern European truckers are not planning to return to the UK • Financial Times

Marton Dunai, Agata Majos and Peter Foster:

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Europe as a whole is short of truckers. “It is a global driver shortage across Europe, not an isolated problem of one country,” said Zsolt Barna, chief executive of Waberer’s, one of eastern Europe’s largest hauliers based in Budapest.

Some EU member states are proportionately worse off than the UK, Barna pointed out, including Romania, an important source of truckers for the UK over the years, which out of a population of 20m is 20,000 drivers short.

For the EU drivers that have left but still have the right to return and live in the UK, the prospects of higher pay that some UK companies are now offering was not enough. Many said they had already found work elsewhere on higher wages and in a better working environment.

Peter Kovecs, another Hungarian, lasted two years in England. After inheriting his family’s farm he came to the UK to earn money to reinvest in the business and had planned to stay for longer. But after his experience he said nothing would tempt him back.

“They bullied us while the drivers kept coming,” Kovecs said. “Now they are begging us.” Once he had saved £60,000 he decided to go home even though that was below the target he had set himself. “I will never go back. I like England, it’s a great country, I will take the family there one day, but to work, the way they treat people? Never again.”

Krzysztof, who declined to give his surname, worked for four years in the UK before returning to Poland in 2020. His wife became pregnant and they decided they wanted the child to be raised in their homeland.

He drives trucks in Poland and Germany and has no plans to return to the UK permanently, even if the pay was better. He said IR35 [preventing people setting up companies to hire themselves out as “contractors”] was the final straw for him and many Polish drivers he knew.

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The UK’s HGV driver shortage was 50,000 in 2015 – pre-Brexit. Now it’s 100,000. HGVs are essential to the supply chain. Now the links are starting to break.
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Introducing the Good Data Project • The Good Data Project

Nate Elliott:

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I can’t think of any business tool more important than data.

Good data tells stories that illuminate the world around us. It convinces cardiologists to prescribe meditation rather than medication. It tells farmers in Iowa how they can save crawfish in Louisiana. It even explains why Steph Curry is worth $215 million to the Golden State Warriors.

Bad data confuses and obscures. It hides the true urgency of climate change, makes politicians misunderstand the economy, and ruins your chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes, it costs lives.

Unfortunately there’s a lot more bad data in the world than good. Anyone armed with SurveyMonkey, LinkedIn Polls, and PowerPoint can create and display data. But most people never learned how.

My name is Nate Elliott and I plan to change that. For 12 years as a Forrester Research analyst I collected, analyzed, and explained data. For the past six years I’ve helped clients create surveys, uncover stories in their data, and tell those stories to the world. I don’t have an advanced degree in statistics, but for two decades I’ve made real-world data work in real-world marketing content, sales pitches, and business plans. I know that most polls and graphs would be a lot better if their creators knew a few simple rules.

For the next six months I’ll share what I know — and try to learn a lot more — about:
Creating and collecting data. How to create reliable surveys and polls, and how to find good data when you can’t collect it yourself.
• Depicting data with figures. How to choose the right chart type and highlight the data that matters, without deceiving the reader.
• Explaining data with words. How to discuss data accurately and in context, and present insights rather than just statistics.

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Microsoft indefinitely postpones return to US offices • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

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Microsoft said Thursday it will indefinitely delay the reopening of its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and its other US offices as the coronavirus continues to proliferate in the country. The software and hardware maker did not provide a new date to replace the Oct. 4 target it had announced in early August.

The decision, which will affect more than 103,000 Microsoft employees in the US, reflects the cautious approach large technology companies are taking to bringing employees back to facilities following a rise in hospitalizations and deaths tied to Covid.

In August, with cases of the virus’ delta variant mounting, Amazon said corporate workers in the US and some other countries will start returning to offices in January 2022. Around that time Microsoft said it had pushed back its reopening plan from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4. Now Microsoft is being less specific.

“Given the uncertainty of Covid-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our US work sites in favor of opening US work sites as soon as we’re able to do so safely based on public health guidance,” Jared Spataro, a Microsoft corporate vice president, wrote in a blog post.

Once the company is ready to welcome employees back, it will announce a monthlong transition period so workers can get ready, Spataro wrote.

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There’s going to be a lot of this; people I’ve spoken to, while obviously not in any way a statistical study, indicate that “hybrid” (or in IT companies “agile”) working is seen as the obvious expectation now.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1633: El Salvador’s rocky start, why science struggles with airborne disease, another fusion startup, TikTok in trouble?, and more


Business seats on planes might be sitting very empty for the next few months – and maybe longer. CC-licensed photo by dtrzolek 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. Savoury. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


El Salvador’s bitcoin experiment is a warning to other countries • CNN

Charles Riley, CNN Business:

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What went wrong [on the first day of bitcoin being legal tender in El Salvador]?

• “Chivo Wallet,” a storage app created by the government, wasn’t immediately available on major app stores. By the end of the day, it had appeared on Apple and Huawei platforms.
• Hundreds of people marched against bitcoin in various protests across the capital city, the Financial Times reported.
• The price of bitcoin started the day around $53,000 before plunging by as much as 19%, according to data from Coinbase. The digital currency has since recovered some losses to trade near $46,270.

President Nayib Bukele, a right-wing populist who is the driving force behind the bitcoin initiative, took the dramatic price drop in his stride. “Buying the dip,” he quipped on Twitter. He also joined online crypto supporters in praising major companies such as McDonald’s (MCD) for accepting bitcoin as payment.

Supporters have argued that adopting bitcoin as legal tender will help Salvadorans avoid costly fees on remittances from abroad, which totalled nearly $6bn last year — around a quarter of GDP.

Bukele may succeed in ironing out the initial technical glitches, but the biggest risks from bitcoin will persist long into the future.

El Salvador does not have a currency of its own, instead relying on the US dollar. Adding another currency to the mix that’s prone to wild changes in value will further complicate the government’s budget and tax planning.

It’s also a nightmare for households and businesses, who now have to devote time and resources to deciding whether to hold their funds in dollars or bitcoin. With crypto prices prone to wild swings, the stakes are high.
Another risk: Adopting bitcoin as legal tender may also encourage crime to flourish, according to the International Monetary Fund, which agreed to provide $389m in emergency funding to El Salvador in April 2020.

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One techbro proudly proclaimed how he had paid for his $5 meal with bitcoin, which prompted this rejoinder:

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At the time of posting this meal cost ~$5.00. Two hours later it would’ve cost $4.11. And right now it would cost ~$4.71. All the while a protest has started in the city over the adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender in El Salvador.

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That last illustrates a lot of the problem. It’s inflationary! It’s deflationary! It’s bloody unstable.
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Fusion startup builds 10-foot-high, 20-tesla superconducting magnet • Ars Technica

John Timmer:

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On Tuesday, Commonwealth Fusion Systems announced that it hit a key milestone on its roadmap to bringing a demonstration fusion plant online in 2025. The company used commercial high-temperature superconductors to build a three-meter-tall magnet that could operate stably at a 20-tesla magnetic field strength. The magnet is identical in design to the ones that will contain the plasma at the core of the company’s planned reactor.

Giving yourself less than 10 years to solve a problem that an entire research field has been struggling with for decades is ambitious, but it reflects how relevant fusion could be to the climate crisis we’re facing. Several of the company’s leaders mentioned climate change as an inspiration for their work.

“The vision is simple: Can fusion energy be in time to make a difference to climate change?” said Dennis Whyte of MIT. “That’s what everybody on this team was dedicated to going toward. Fusion is the energy source that the world needs, and it needs [it] kind of fast. And we’re on the brink of harnessing that for humankind.”

Waiting for decades to get to fusion will allow renewable power to expand its current cost advantage over all other forms of energy generation. And the time will give engineers the opportunity to learn how to manage the challenges of the intermittency of wind and solar power. So fusion risks being irrelevant by the time it’s a solved problem.

That’s why by 2025, Commonwealth Fusion Systems wants to have a reactor that will break even—i.e., a system in which fusion reactions release as much energy as is needed to start them. That milestone will be followed by what the company hopes will be a commercially viable fusion plant in the early 2030s.

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Huge, expensive precision equipment? Yup. Not quite generating as much power as goes in? Yup. Going to be usable Real Soon Now Well Maybe Not That Soon? Yup. More of the classic elements of a fusion story.
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How TikTok serves up sex and drug videos to minors • WSJ

Rob Barry, Georgia Wells, John West, Joanna Stern and Jason French:

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TikTok served one account registered as a 13-year-old at least 569 videos about drug use, references to cocaine and meth addiction, and promotional videos for online sales of drug products and paraphernalia. Hundreds of similar videos appeared in the feeds of the Journal’s other minor accounts.

TikTok also showed the Journal’s teenage users more than 100 videos from accounts recommending paid pornography sites and sex shops. Thousands of others were from creators who labeled their content as for adults only.

Still others encouraged eating disorders and glorified alcohol, including depictions of drinking and driving and of drinking games.

The Journal shared with TikTok a sample of 974 videos about drugs, pornography and other adult content that were served to the minor accounts—including hundreds shown to single accounts in quick succession.

Of those, 169 were removed from the platform before the Journal shared them—whether by their creators or TikTok couldn’t be determined. Another 255 were removed after being shared with the company, among them more than a dozen portraying adults as “caregivers” entering relationships with people pretending to be children, called “littles.”

The woman in the role-playing video said she wished TikTok did a better job of keeping adult content out of minors’ feeds.

“I do have in my bio that is 18+ but I have no real way to police this,” she wrote in a message. “I do not agree with TikTok showing my content to someone so young.”

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Give it a few days and there will be furious Republicans pointing out that TikTok is based in China and has a secret algorithm and is debasing America’s youth.
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Climeworks is opening the world’s biggest carbon removal machine • Quartz

Tim McDonnell:

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The fossil fuel economy must be run in reverse, effectively. The simplest and lowest-cost way to do that—planting trees—requires a lot of land relative to the scale of intervention that’s needed. So a handful of companies have been tinkering with “direct air capture” (DAC)—essentially, big CO2-sucking machines.

The largest DAC plant in the world will open Sept. 8 in Iceland. Operated by the Swiss engineering startup Climeworks, the plant, known as Orca, will annually draw down a volume of emissions equivalent to about 870 cars. Orca will boost total global DAC capacity by about 50%, adding to the dozen or so smaller plants that are already operational in Europe, Canada, and the US.

The plant is composed of eight boxes about the size of shipping containers, each fitted with a dozen fans that pull in air. CO2 is filtered out, mixed with water, and pumped into deep underground wells, where over the course of a few years it turns to stone, effectively removing it from circulation in the atmosphere.

The Orca launch follows on the heels of a $10m contract Climeworks inked last week with reinsurance giant Swiss Re. The insurance company was essentially buying an undisclosed volume of carbon offset credits to count against its own carbon footprint. Climeworks hasn’t publicly disclosed its price per ton, but a Swiss Re press release described it as “several hundred dollars.”

This business model—the sale of offsets—is how Climeworks is approaching a key problem for the nascent DAC industry: How to make money. The alternative is to sell the captured CO2 to manufacturers who can use it as a raw material for cement and other products, or to oil companies that, ironically, use it to help dredge up more oil. But those customers are more accustomed to prices around $100 per ton.

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Sorry, eight hundred and seventy cars? And that gives DAC capacity a 50% boost, so up from about 1,700 cars? (Unfortunately this seems to be correct.) We also aren’t told quite how this is powered. It’s geothermal energy, right? Right??
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Why is email still so terrible? • Vox

Sara Morrison:

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Think of how many emails you get and what they say. Think of all the services that use your email address to grant you access to your account and reset your password for it. Think of all the information about you that those accounts contain. Now think of what could happen if those emails went to someone else.

Mat Honan doesn’t have to imagine that, because a version of it happened to him in 2012. A hacker tricked Apple into giving him access to Honan’s iCloud account, which was the recovery email for his Gmail account, which was the recovery email for his Twitter account. Honan’s Apple and Google accounts were erased, his Twitter was taken over, and his MacBook and iPhone were remotely wiped. Unsurprisingly, Honan has some thoughts on this topic.

“Having email be your unique identifier has been such a bad idea for such a long time,” said Honan, whose relatively common name and email domain means he, too, gets “weird, misdirected stuff all the time,” including many emails related to a social networking site for doctors he believes his address was erroneously signed up for several years ago.

“It’s just completely preposterous to me that it is still used in that way,” he added. “It’s obviously so fraught and so easy to send the wrong stuff to the wrong people.”

Despite decades of pronouncements that email is dead, it is very much alive. Technology research firm Radicati Group estimates that 4.1 billion users worldwide send 319 billion emails every day.

“For all of its flaws, email is still, by most measures, the most effective communication tool ever devised in human history,” Andy Yen, CEO of ProtonMail, told me. “It’s one thing that everybody has.”

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Well, yes. If you were to suggest that instead of email we use some sort of biometric authentication, there would be howls from privacy and rights groups pointing out that that carries all sorts of risks if compromised. Nor would it allow you to create different personae for different elements of your online life. Email is like democracy – the worst way to do things apart from all the others.
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Why admitting Covid is airborne is so hard • The Air Letter

Jeremy Chrysler argues that the centuries of “miasma” theory (that diseases were spread by breathing in bad-smelling air) only yielded very reluctantly to germ theory – but that brought its own inertia:

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It took decades to complete, but once germ theory finally took hold it wouldn’t just be added to the idea that air carried disease, it would create a new foundation of understanding for all scientists who came after.

The foundational belief that the air carried disease was effectively abandoned and replaced by the understanding that germs did. 

In 1910, Charles Chapin helped finalize this replacement when he published The Sources and Modes of Infection, a seminal work in which he systematically argues that infections are spread by close contact, when one person spreads germs – bacteria, parasites, and the like – to another through direct contact. 

Unlike the superstitious miasma theory of old, contact transmission was supported by real evidence – organisms that could be observed and cultured from surfaces. Chapin even cites [cholera documenter John] Snow’s work – he was effectively describing contact transmission before it had a name – among many documented examples of historical contact transmission that weren’t then recognised as such. And Chapin saw little reason to consider airborne transmission at all given what we now knew. 

Thus, belief in airborne transmission was discarded in favor of germ theory.

Chapin writes of airborne spread, “…without denying the possibility of such infection, it may be fairly affirmed that there is no evidence that it is an appreciable factor in…our common contagious diseases. We are warranted, then, in discarding it…and devoting our chief attention to the prevention of contact infection. It will be a great relief to most persons to be freed from the specter of infected air, a specter which has pursued the race from the time of Hippocrates…” 

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Having bounced away from the idea of air as a carrier of disease, science has been very, very, very reluctant to let it back. Which is why you see people superstitiously (there’s no other word for it) squirting hand sanitiser as they go into shops.
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‘Forever changed’: CEOs are dooming business travel — maybe for good • BNN Bloomberg

Alexander Michael Pearson, Tara Patel and William Wilkes:

»

From Pfizer Inc., Michelin and LG Electronics to HSBC Holdings, Hershey, Invesco and Deutsche Bank AG, businesses around the world are signaling that innovative new communications tools are making many pre- pandemic-era trips history.

Take Akzo Nobel NV, Europe’s biggest paint maker, for instance. At its Amsterdam headquarters, Chief Executive Officer Thierry Vanlancker has spent the past year watching his manufacturing head, David Prinselaar, flap his arms, madly gesticulate and seemingly talk to himself while “visiting” 124 plants by directing staff with high-definition augmented-reality headgear on factory floors. A task that meant crisscrossing the globe in a plane before is now done in a fraction of the time — and with no jet lag. For Vanlancker, there’s no going back.

“Trips to drum up business could drop by a third, and internal meetings by even more,” he said in an interview. “It’s a good thing for our wallets and helps our sustainability targets. Our customers have had a year of training, so it’s not a social no-no anymore to just reach out by video… There’s an enormous efficiency element.”

A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. A majority of the respondents cutting travel budgets see reductions of between 20% and 40%, with about two in three slashing both internal and external in-person meetings. 

The ease and efficiency of virtual software, cost savings and lower carbon emissions were the primary reasons cited for the cutbacks. According to the Global Business Travel Association, spending on corporate trips could slide to as low as US$1.24 trillion by 2024 from a pre-pandemic peak in 2019 of US$1.43
trillion. 

Business travel has “forever changed,” Greg Hayes, CEO of jet-engine maker Raytheon Technologies Corp., said in a Bloomberg Radio interview in July. About 30% of normal commercial air traffic is corporate-related but only half of that is likely mandatory, he said. While the market may eventually recover, sophisticated communication technologies have “really changed our thinking in terms of productivity,” Hayes said.

…“We don’t think business travel will ever return to 2019 levels,” said Will Hawkley, the global head of travel and leisure at KPMG LLP. “Corporates are looking at their bottom-line, their environmental commitments, the demand from employees for more flexible working and thinking: Why do I have to bring that back?”

«

Your planet thanks you. (As you might expect, the makers of jet engines think this is all foofarah.)
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LG Chem develops foldable display material using new material technologies • LG

»

LG Chem announced that it had developed the cover window for foldable IT devices called ‘Real Folding Window’ that applied specially developed coating materials to make the surface as hard as glass, while the folding parts as flexible as plastic.

Cover windows are core materials located on the outermost part of IT devices to protect the display from impact, while also delivering clear images.

It is featured by not only its durability and transmittance, but also the curved characteristics that can be folded flexibly.

A speaker from LG Chem said, “Unlike existing polyimide films and tempered glass-type materials, the cover window that applied LG Chem’s new coating technologies will maximize flexibility, while also providing optimized solutions for foldable phones such as making improvements to chronic issues like fold impressions on the connecting part of the screen.”

The ‘Real Folding Window’ that LG Chem developed coated a new material at a thickness of a few dozen micrometers on both sides of PET film, which is a type of thin plastic, to enhance heat-resistance and mechanical properties of plastic materials.

It is thinner compared to existing tempered glass and has the same hardness, but no cracking on the screen. The price competitiveness is superior compared to existing polyimide film and due to its outstanding flexibility, durability is maintained completely even when folding more than 200,000 times. LG Chem also made significant improvements to the fold lines that occur on the folding parts
of the screen.

«

Probably some distance off, but you can see that LG is eyeing foldable screens here. The thought is always that they have to be for phones (because volume pushes the price down) but I wonder if that’s not too limiting; that there are actually many consumer uses around the home or in retail that wouldn’t have to break an existing paradigm which people generally seem pretty happy with.
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Confirmation of COVID-19 in deer in Ohio • US Department of Agriculture

»

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) today announced confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in wild white-tailed deer in Ohio. These are the first deer confirmed with the SARS-CoV-2 virus worldwide, although earlier studies have shown both that deer can be experimentally infected with the virus and that some wild deer had antibodies to the virus.

Samples from the deer were collected between January and March 2021 by The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine as part of ongoing deer damage management activities. There were no reports of any deer showing clinical signs of infection.

Samples from the deer tested presumptive positive at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the cases were confirmed at NVSL. NVSL serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases.

…We are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 in animals. Based on the information available, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low.

«

Yes but first of all, we’re pretty confident that this virus, or its progenitor, was spread from animals to people. Secondly, this means there’s now a proven “animal reservoir” for Covid, which in turn means that it’s definitely endemic. (Also already shown to transmit from humans to mink, and back again.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Two, both relating to yesterday’s post: the forthcoming version of iOS is 15, not 14 (thanks, James and Stuart); the cost to GDP of each flight is per passenger (not per plane or per seat. Doesn’t that mean it’s better to fly empty? Surely it should be per seat…). Thanks, Cam.

Start Up No.1632: the cryptocruise cockup, El Salvador gets laser eyes, driver shortage hits drugs, new Apple MagSafe?, and more


The Japanese knotweed in the UK is almost all derived from a single female plant that doesn’t reproduce. It’s done pretty well, hasn’t it. CC-licensed photo by ☼☼Jo Zimny Photos☼☼ on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship • The Guardian

Sophie Elmhirst:

»

he announced the venture on Reddit: “So, I am buying a cruise ship and naming it MS Satoshi … AMA.” The responses were quick (“Need an apprentice aviation mechanic?” “I know how to use a yo-yo! Any room for me??”) and included the inevitable sceptics. (“Anyone remember the good old days of the Fyre festival?”) But plenty took the proposition seriously and wanted to go over the small print. (“Where is power coming from? Gas? Internet? Food? Water? Toiletries? What taxes will she be subject to?”)

Elwartowski answered every question with grave attention to detail. There would be generators at first, followed quickly by solar power. This would be an eco-friendly crypto-ship. High-speed wireless internet would come from land; utilities would be included in the fees at first, but would be metered when the systems were upgraded: “You don’t want to have pay for someone else’s mining rig in their cabin,” he wrote, referring to the resource-intensive computational process that introduces new crypto “coins” into the system. As for tax, you would not pay any on earnings made from ventures based in territory beyond Panama. You would be free to make, or mine, as much money as you liked. It would be a remote worker’s regulatory paradise.

But as the Reddit Q&A continued, Elwartowski’s meticulous responses revealed some of the more knotty practicalities of life on board. It turned out that the only cooking facilities would be in the restaurant. For safety reasons, no one was allowed to have a microwave in their rooms – though some cabins had mini-fridges, noted Elwartowski, determinedly sidestepping the point. He offered residents a 20% discount at the restaurant and mentioned that some interested cruisers had already talked about renting part of the restaurant kitchen so they could make their own food.

«

Of course you guessed that this libertarian dream went wonky. In its way, this reminds me of the (true) story about the libertarians who tried to take over a New Hampshire town that also had a resident population of bears.
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El Salvador’s bitcoin gamble is off to a rocky start • WIRED UK

Gian Volpicelli:

»

Crucial details regarding how the adoption of bitcoin will play out in practice are still unclear, or have only been disclosed in recent days. A government regulation issued on August 27 established that Salvadoran banks will have to offer the exchange of bitcoin for dollars and vice versa – when carried out through a government-backed wallet – without charging commissions; the regulation also requires that all companies providing bitcoin-related services register with a government body, and adopt anti-money laundering measures (it is not clear what the penalties would be for failing to do so.)

“This was done a week and a half before September 7,” says Mario Aguiluz, chief sales officer of IBEX Mercado, a Guatemalan firm that sells bitcoin exchange and payment solutions, which also operates in El Salvador. “You really have to ask whether the government is ready. It’s a mixed bag.”

There is also a dearth of information about the government’s own bitcoin wallet, called Chivo. It’s known that it will work in concert with 200 Chivo ATM machines where users would be able to exchange their bitcoin for cash, free of commissions (a recent Economist story reports a five% fee being charged when converting dollars into bitcoins, although the publication must have used a third-party wallet), and that each Chivo wallet will come complete with $30 worth of bitcoin as a government freebie. What we do not know is who exactly has developed the wallet or the ATM machines, and what technology will underpin it.

According to Chris Hunter, co-founder of bitcoin firm Galoy, such plans are changing “almost hour-by-hour”. Hunter, whose bitcoin payment service in the Salvadoran coastal village of El Zonte reportedly inspired the nationwide project, says that the situation was still “very fluid” as of early September. As recently as last week, he was convinced that Chivo would not be able to use the lightning network, a system that dramatically speeds up bitcoin transactions, which would otherwise take several minutes to be confirmed. “Now, it seems pretty clear to me – if you asked me to make a wager – that it will be enabled as of Tuesday,” Hunter says. El Salvador’s government did not reply to a request for comment.

«

Here’s what I don’t understand. If El Salvador wanted to make it easier for people to transfer money from other countries, why not set up its own cryptocoin and exchange, fix a rate with the dollar, and let El Salvadorans buy them in other countries to be exchanged in-country? And to be used in-country? Why use bitcoin, which is complex and liable to currency swings? (It fell by 10% on the day El Salvador made it legal.) Again, I still want to know what the PKIs for adopting bitcoin are.
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Exclusive: London hit with MDMA ‘drought’ because of shortage of lorry drivers • Metro News

Harrison Jones:

»

London is experiencing an MDMA ‘drought’ due to Covid and Brexit disrupting supply lines, experts say.

The wider drugs trade is thought to have been hit hard by the two issues for a number of months, but a recent reduction in Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) transporting items across the UK is affecting supplies of some illegal substances.

The cocaine market has been particularly impacted over the last 18 months, while other areas outside the UK capital have also seen drugs shortages.

Numerous factors are involved and some experts are downplaying the impact of Covid and Brexit – adding that they may not be behind a record number of drugs deaths or any changes in purity levels.

But Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of drugs charity Release, told Metro.co.uk: ‘The availability of MDMA has been severely reduced in some parts of the UK, with people in London describing it as a drought.

‘This could certainly be a result of the reduction of HGVs carrying goods in from Europe, where illegal goods would usually be concealed amongst legal products, and where suppliers have prioritised getting in more lucrative drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.’

She explained: ‘Like many other goods that are imported into the UK, we are seeing the supply chain for some illicit substances affected, although as this is an unregulated market it is hard to pin it down… and it is likely the result of a number of different factors.’

«

Wow. I thought raspberries was bad. But this is serious. (I like how this is “Exclusive”. I wonder – you know, just wondering aloud – how Jones came upon the story, if it’s exclusive, since a press release from Release would go to lots of outlets.)
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Climate impact of a transatlantic flight could cost global economy $3,000 • The Guardian

»

A return flight from the UK to New York could cost the global economy more than $3,000 (£2,170) in the long run, owing to the effects of the climate crisis, according to a report.

Researchers examined the economic cost of the climate crisis and found it would cut about 37% from global GDP this century, more than twice the drop experienced in the Great Depression.

For every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, the global economy would be $3,000 worse off by the end of the century, they estimated.

The research was conducted by experts from Cambridge University, University College London and Imperial College London, as well as international partners from Switzerland, Germany, the US and Austria.

Most estimates had assumed fires, floods, droughts and other impacts of the climate crisis did not affect economic growth, the authors said, but there was “mounting evidence to the contrary”.

“Climate change makes detrimental events like the recent heatwave in North America and the floods in Europe much more likely,” said Dr Chris Brierley from University College London. “If we stop assuming that economies recover from such events within months, the costs of warming look much higher than usually stated.”

«

There’s more to come on topics like this: scientists are not sitting around now. Not clear here whether it’s a per-passenger or per-seat or per-plane.
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Need another book? Try Social Warming, my latest, about how social media sows and amplifies division.


New Apple MagSafe charger spotted in FCC alongside four new phones • The Verge

Jon Porter:

»

Apple could have a new version of its iPhone MagSafe charging puck on the way. A new FCC listing for a “Magnetic Charger” first spotted by blogger Dave Zatz shows an accessory with a new model name (A2548) that looks otherwise identical to Apple’s existing charger (A2140). The new charger has been tested with a variety of devices including four marked as “New Phone,” which almost certainly correspond to Apple’s anticipated iPhone 13 models.

There aren’t too many hints about what’s new in the official FCC documents. 9to5Mac notes that it’s been tested with all four existing iPhone 12 models (marked as “Legacy Phone”) as well as the four unannounced devices, which suggests this new MagSafe charger should be compatible with both generations. And there’s also a diagram showing the puck being used to charge a pair of AirPods. That’s something the existing MagSafe charger can technically already do, although it won’t magnetically attach to the AirPods case like it will with the latest iPhones.

«

Bit by bit, everything about Apple’s announcement next week (apart really from names and prices) is leaking out, as happens every year. The formal video (no physical press show – wait another year?) is Tuesday next week. One expects that’s when iOS 14 will be released too.
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Could in-person conversations tone down the culture wars? • FT

Jemima Kelly:

»

While I can think of countless instances on social media in which anyone who dares to even question these ideas [about wokeness] is attacked viciously by online mobs, I can’t recall a single recent IRL (in real life) conversation in which I have come across the same lack of nuance and censorious moral grandstanding.

Perhaps some of the “consensus” that seems to have become so entrenched over the course of the pandemic might not be quite as widely shared as it appears to be. Maybe — though this might be a little optimistic — as we gradually return to face-to-face conversations, the culture wars that have raged online in recent months, often with real-world repercussions, might start to ebb.

One of the reasons the online discourse seems so polarised is the way that social media algorithms and 280-character limits favour simplistic and uncompromising points of view that play to a certain “side”. Also, those people who hold the most extreme views tend to share them more often. According to a poll by NGO More in Common, just 13% of the British population falls into the “progressive activist” category but they are about six times more likely than the other seven groups identified to share their political opinions on social media. The category of “loyal nationals”, who feel the most threated by immigration, are the second most likely to post their opinions online.

“We think we’re divided but the proportion that says we’re divided is lower than a few years ago,” says Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos-MORI, a polling group. “A lot of it is shouty media and shouty social media, and smallish numbers of people shouting at each other.”

It’s true that some of the blame must be taken by my profession. We, like the rest of the world, have been trapped online since early 2020 and have probably too often relied on social media as a gauge for how the general public thinks. “Journalism has always had the taxi driver bias — a journalist arrives in a new country and the people they speak to the most and first are taxi drivers,” says Martin Walker, a director at the Center for Evidence-Based Management. “Twitter is the new taxi driver.”

A further problem is that those of us who spend our time on the English-speaking internet falsely imagine that we are all living in the same society, when we are not. America is far more polarised than we are in Britain, and to a certain extent we have imported its culture wars (we even have a new Fox-News-alike channel dedicated to fighting them).

«

It’s as if social media amplifies extreme opinions, which are then taken up by other media and amplified too. I could recommend a book on the topic.
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The rise and fall of ‘ZuckTalk’ • The New York Times

John Herrman:

»

So, in spoken language, there are these things that just sort of show up over time, and then it seems like they’re everywhere, and so we call them trends, right? So in a world where there is more recorded speech than ever, and, um, more access to all of this speech, these changes can happen very fast, but they can also be harder to isolate, right? So there’s actually a whole field about this, and it’s actually called linguistics, and it’s a really good tool for understanding the world around us.

Right?

Maybe you know someone who talks like this. It’s a disorienting speaking style, one that marries supreme confidence with nervous filler words and a fear of pauses. Maybe you overhear this voice talking to a date about meme stocks.

Maybe you hear it pitching a counterintuitive regulatory proposal on TV, or on a podcast, explaining which complicated things are actually simple and which simple things are actually complicated. Maybe it’s an executive on an earnings call, in an interview or pacing around a stage, delivering a Jobsian message in a Gatesian tone.

Maybe you hear Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook. The style didn’t originate with him, nor is he responsible for its spread. He may, however, be its most visible and successful practitioner.

«

The tic of “So…” at the beginning of a sentence was apparently noticed by Michael Lewis (yes, him) back in 2005 among Microsoft programmers. Now you hear it on every Today radio interview. This is a fascinating piece though about the vocal tics that you’ll recognise in all the passive-aggressive and defensive interviews of techbros (and gals) you’ll hear. (Via John Naughton.)
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Exclusive: Amazon considers more proactive approach to determining what belongs on its cloud service • Reuters

Sheila Dang:

»

Amazon.com Inc plans to take a more proactive approach to determine what types of content violate its cloud service policies, such as rules against promoting violence, and enforce its removal, according to two sources, a move likely to renew debate about how much power tech companies should have to restrict free speech.

Over the coming months, Amazon will expand the Trust & Safety team at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) division and hire a small group of people to develop expertise and work with outside researchers to monitor for future threats, one of the sources familiar with the matter said.

It could turn Amazon, the leading cloud service provider worldwide with 40% market share according to research firm Gartner, into one of the world’s most powerful arbiters of content allowed on the internet, experts say.

AWS does not plan to sift through the vast amounts of content that companies host on the cloud, but will aim to get ahead of future threats, such as emerging extremist groups whose content could make it onto the AWS cloud, the source added.

«

So something of a step on from when it banned Wikileaks in December 2010 (which Amazon says wasn’t at the behest of the US State Department).
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How Facebook undermines privacy protections for its two billion WhatsApp users • ProPublica

Peter Elkind, Jack Gillum and Craig Silverman:

»

WhatsApp messages are so secure, he said, that nobody else — not even the company — can read a word. As Zuckerberg had put it earlier, in testimony to the U.S. Senate in 2018, “We don’t see any of the content in WhatsApp.”

WhatsApp emphasizes this point so consistently that a flag with a similar assurance automatically appears on-screen before users send messages: “No one outside of this chat, not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them.”

Those assurances are not true. WhatsApp has more than 1,000 contract workers filling floors of office buildings in Austin, Texas, Dublin and Singapore, where they examine millions of pieces of users’ content. Seated at computers in pods organized by work assignments, these hourly workers use special Facebook software to sift through streams of private messages, images and videos that have been reported by WhatsApp users as improper and then screened by the company’s artificial intelligence systems. These contractors pass judgment on whatever flashes on their screen — claims of everything from fraud or spam to child porn and potential terrorist plotting — typically in less than a minute.

Policing users while assuring them that their privacy is sacrosanct makes for an awkward mission at WhatsApp. A 49-slide internal company marketing presentation from December, obtained by ProPublica, emphasizes the “fierce” promotion of WhatsApp’s “privacy narrative.” It compares its “brand character” to “the Immigrant Mother” and displays a photo of Malala ​​Yousafzai, who survived a shooting by the Taliban and became a Nobel Peace Prize winner, in a slide titled “Brand tone parameters.” The presentation does not mention the company’s content moderation efforts.

WhatsApp’s director of communications, Carl Woog, acknowledged that teams of contractors in Austin and elsewhere review WhatsApp messages to identify and remove “the worst” abusers. But Woog told ProPublica that the company does not consider this work to be content moderation, saying: “We actually don’t typically use the term for WhatsApp.” The company declined to make executives available for interviews for this article, but responded to questions with written comments.

…This article is the first to reveal the details and extent of the company’s ability to scrutinize messages and user data — and to examine what the company does with that information.

…WhatsApp reviewers gain access to private content when users hit the “report” button on the app, identifying a message as allegedly violating the platform’s terms of service. This forwards five messages — the allegedly offending one along with the four previous ones in the exchange, including any images or videos — to WhatsApp in unscrambled form, according to former WhatsApp engineers and moderators.

«

This is essentially how WhatsApp moderators identify child abuse imagery and “terrorists”. So, dependent on user reports. As many have said, this doesn’t show that WhatsApp E2E is compromised.
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The Day of the Knotweed • Harper’s Magazine

Sam Knight:

»

In 1847, the Japanese knotweed won a gold medal from the Society of Agriculture and Horticulture in Utrecht for being the most interesting new ornamental plant of the year. It was another century before biologists began to realize that a systemic collision was taking place: humanity’s project to connect the world was overriding the earth’s natural barriers of water, mountain, and desert. During World War II, globalized supply chains introduced 140 alien species of grass into the forests of Finland. In the early Fifties, the brown tree snake, a native of Australia, arrived in Guam, where it has wiped out twelve bird species and reached a population density of 13,000 snakes per square mile.

Biologists sometimes use the term “enemy-release hypothesis” to describe the ability of foreign creatures to overwhelm a new habitat. If there is a food supply and nothing trying to eat you, then even humble beings can become monsters. In the case of itadori, her roots found new vigor in the tarmacked towns and polluted waterways of industrial Europe. The two hundred or so insects that plagued her in Japan and the stronger rivals that stole her light were nowhere to be seen.

In the 1970s, a plant biologist named Ann Conolly published the first maps showing the spread of the knotweed across the U.K. In 1981, itadori became one of the first plants named under Britain’s Wildlife and Countryside Act, which makes it a criminal offense to release the weed into the wild. But like many other well-meaning pieces of paper intended to stop invasions, the law against the knotweed didn’t change a damned thing.

«

A gentle, fascinating tour around how this invasive species has taken over chunks of Wales, having been tested in volcanic outlets and finding the slag heaps of mines much to its taste. The bad news: if it were ever to breed, we’d really be in trouble.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1631: Biden laptop repairman gets Twitter court bill, the supply chain lashes its tail, where crypto is really catching on, and more


Millions of people aren’t getting even as far as job interviews because automated software is wrongly rejecting them for consideration. CC-licensed photo by Andy Dayton 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. Honestly, it’s not prime. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Automated hiring software is mistakenly rejecting millions of viable job candidates • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

Automated resume-scanning software is contributing to a “broken” hiring system in the US, says a new report from Harvard Business School. Such software is used by employers to filter job applicants, but is mistakenly rejecting millions of viable candidates, say the study’s authors. It’s contributing to the problem of “hidden workers” — individuals who are able and willing to work, but remain locked out of jobs by structural problems in the labor market.

The study’s authors identify a number of factors blocking people from employment, but say automated hiring software is one of the biggest. These programs are used by 75% of US employers (rising to 99% of Fortune 500 companies), and were adopted in response to a rise in digital job applications from the ‘90s onwards. Technology has made it easier for people to apply for jobs, but also easier for companies to reject them.

The exact mechanics of how automated software mistakenly reject candidates are varied, but generally stem from the use of overly-simplistic criteria to divide “good” and “bad” applicants.

For example, some systems automatically reject candidates with gaps of longer than six months in their employment history, without ever asking the cause of this absence. It might be due to a pregnancy, because they were caring for an ill family member, or simply because of difficulty finding a job in a recession. More specific examples cited by one of the study’s author, Joseph Miller, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal include hospitals who only accepted candidates with experience in “computer programming” on their CV, when all they needed were workers to enter patient data into a computer. Or, a company that rejected applicants for a retail clerk position if they didn’t list “floor-buffing” as one of their skills, even when candidates’ resumes matched every other desired criteria.

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Does it scale? Yes, badly.
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Hunter Biden laptop guy owes Twitter money after failed lawsuit • Vice

Matthew Gault:

»

The guy who gave Hunter Biden’s laptop to Rudy Giuliani owes Twitter money thanks to a failed lawsuit. 

John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of the Delaware repair store where Biden allegedly left a MacBook Pro, attempted to sue Twitter for defamation in federal court. The judge tossed out the case with prejudice, meaning Mac Isaac can’t sue again, and ordered Mac Isaac to pay Twitter’s attorney’s fees.

According to copies of the lawsuit obtained by Law & Crime, Mac Isaac claimed Twitter defamed him when it locked The New York Post’s account following its publication of a story about Hunter Biden’s laptop. The reason Twitter gave for locking the account was that The New York Post had acquired the material published in the story via hacking. According to Mac Isaac, calling The New York Post a hacker implied that he was also a hacker. The New York Post never mentioned Mac Isaac’s name in its initial story.

“Defendant Twitter’s actions and statements had the specific intent to communicate to its users….that Plaintiff is a hacker and/ or hacked the published materials,” the lawsuit said. “According to Merriam-Webster, a ‘hacker’ is a ‘person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system.’ The term ‘hacker’ is not only widely disparaging, particularly when said about someone who owns a computer repair business but is also a criminal act. Plaintiff is not a hacker.”

The court said Mac Isaac’s theory was “flawed for several reasons.”

The biggest was that Mac Isaac’s lawsuit conceded that The New York Post never identified him or his store by name and that this information came to light only after journalists at other outlets had figured it out.

«

Not having been named in the alleged acts does indeed seem to my not-a-lawyer mind like a bit of an obstacle in a defamation lawsuit.
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Chip shortage curtails heavy-duty truck production • WSJ

Jennifer Smith:

»

The semiconductor shortage is short-circuiting heavy-duty truck production as supply-chain disruptions hamper efforts to meet robust demand for new big rigs.

North American production of Class 8 trucks, the big vehicles that haul most domestic freight, sank this summer to its lowest level since May 2020, when the coronavirus had shut down much of the U.S. economy. Equipment makers built 14,920 units in July, the most recent month for which figures were available, while the backlog of trucks ordered but not built nearly tripled from the same month a year ago, to 262,100, according to transportation data provider ACT Research.

The production problems began earlier this year and have persisted for months, driving up the cost of used heavy-duty trucks and straining supply lines ahead of the fall, when fleets typically place big orders for new equipment.

North American trucking companies, pushing to expand capacity to meet strong freight demand, ordered 36,900 heavy-duty trucks in August, the highest level in five months and up 90% from the prior-year period, according to preliminary figures from ACT.

“Everything you want to see for Class 8 demand is there in spades,” said ACT President and Senior Analyst Kenny Vieth. “What’s missing are parts.”

«

The chip shortage harms the delivery vehicles harms the chip supply harms the…
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One stuck box of fertilizer shows the global supply chain crisis • SupplyChainBrain

Ann Koh:

»

While the fertilizer has been stranded there since May, the port is just one stop on the long journey from central China to the US Midwest. Delays have stretched a delivery that ordinarily would take weeks to more than half a year. And that time frame will keep expanding, as the goods have barely started the roughly 15,000 kilometer (9,300 mile) trek.

This is the tale of one humble shipment and its arduous journey across the world. While some of the barriers keeping it from its final destination may be specific to this particular case, the journey is emblematic of the inertia that has gripped global trade during the pandemic.

From the US to Sudan to China, container boxes have been lying at ports, railyards and in warehouses as the pandemic rages on. In an industry with 25 million containers and some 6,000 ships hauling them, it’s easy to see disruptions as one big headache confined to the shipping world. But each container that’s delayed is economic activity that’s restrained, heaping costs one box at a time on consumers and making it more challenging to put corn on consumers’ tables or deliver presents for the holidays.

It’s also a lesson in the ripple effects across global supply chains, showing the limits of diversification as all networks are still closely connected with China. 

“All roads lead back to China, and that has a major effect across the entire supply chain,” said Dawn Tiura, head of US-based Sourcing Industry Group. “Congestion at one port or factory has far-reaching implications for neighboring facilities, which trickles out across the world.”

«

There’s an SF book called Infinite Detail by the British writer Tim Maughan set in a world where the internet is destroyed (he’s got an explanation), and with it every supply chain. He got the idea from riding on a container ship. Our supply chains are under a lot of strain at present. The SupplyChainBrain (and what looks like a sibling, Haulage News) give a peek into the scary problems there.
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Why many scientists say it’s unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a ‘lab leak’ • Science

Jon Cohen, with a thorough examination of everything we know (and don’t):

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on 23 May, The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of an “undisclosed U.S. Intelligence report” that said three WIV researchers “sought hospital care” in November 2019. The story had no details about their illnesses, and some have noted that Chinese hospitals provide care for all ailments, including minor ones.

Virologist Robert Garry of Tulane University finds it improbable that a Wuhan lab worker picked up SARS-CoV-2 from a bat and then brought it back to the city, sparking the pandemic. As the WIV study of people living near bat caves shows, transmission of related bat coronaviruses occurs routinely. “Why would the virus first have infected a few dozen lab researchers?” he asks. The virus may also have moved from bats into other species before jumping to humans, as happened with SARS. But again, why would it have infected a lab worker first? “There are hundreds of millions of people who come in contact with wildlife.”

Another data point argues against infected researchers playing a role, Garry says. As the WHO joint mission report spells out, clusters of early COVID-19 cases had links to multiple Wuhan markets around the same time, which Garry says supports the idea of infected animals or animal traders bringing the virus to the city. A lab worker with COVID-19 would have had to make “a beeline not just to one market, but to several different markets,” he says. “You can’t rule it out, but then why the markets? Why not a soccer game or a concert or 100 other different scenarios?”

But David Relman, a Stanford University microbiome researcher who also co-signed the Science letter, questions the “hopelessly impoverished” data on the earliest COVID-19 cases. “I just don’t think we have enough right now to say anything with great confidence,” Relman says.

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First US Covid deaths earlier – and in different places – than previously thought • Mercury News

Harriet Blair Rowan:

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In a significant twist that could reshape our understanding of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, death records now indicate the first COVID-related deaths in California and across the country occurred in January 2020, weeks earlier than originally thought and before officials knew the virus was circulating here.

A half dozen death certificates from that month in six different states — California, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — have been quietly amended to list COVID-19 as a contributing factor, suggesting the virus’s deadly path quickly reached far beyond coastal regions that were the country’s early known hotspots.

Up until now, the Feb. 6, 2020, death of San Jose’s Patricia Dowd had been considered the country’s first coronavirus fatality, although where and how she was infected remains unknown.

Even less is known about what are now believed to be the country’s earliest victims of the pandemic. The Bay Area News Group discovered evidence of them in provisional coronavirus death counts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) — widely considered the definitive source for death data in the United States — and confirmed the information through interviews with state and federal public health officials.

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Dowd’s death would be odd enough (though someone has to be first). But the revision puts the first death between Jan 4 and 11 of 2020, which given the typical three-week delay between infection and death suggests first infection in mid-December. Someone who visited China? Wuhan? Somewhere else? The earlier the first US death is confirmed to be (and this pulls it back from the 6 February, nearly a whole month) the earlier the original cases in China must have been.
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It’s called Social Warming because it’s all around us, the effects are tough to reverse, and we almost all contribute to it. But it’s an effect on society.


Pumpers, dumpers, and shills: the Skycoin saga • The New Yorker

Morgan Peck:

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In the spring of 2018, Skycoin climbed into the list of the top hundred coins, and appeared on a Nasdaq Web cast. That May, Binance announced that it would list Skycoin on its trading platform. Around the time of the listing, the price jumped thirty-eight%. Then, suddenly, it came crashing down. According to several people involved, Skycoin privately sold to investors at a steep discount—in at least one case, coins worth millions of dollars—inadvertently giving them an incentive to dump it on the market as soon as they could. (Smietana denied being involved in such sales.) Smietana had claimed on Telegram that the investors were restricted from selling. But, as soon as Binance listed Skycoin, the market flooded with sell orders. Freeman, from the C2CX exchange, had been acting as the project’s primary “market maker,” using a pool of reserves to provide market liquidity and stabilize prices. “I tried to hold at about twenty,” he told me. But the sell-off was too much to contain. Coinholders shared their misery on Telegram. “Its been fun guys, i’m gonns hang myself in 2 hours,” a user named Willy Jr. wrote. “Bought 20K at 20 dollars.” A user named Dante wrote, “synth told me this shit would moon,” adding, “i took a mortage on my house.”

A few weeks into the sell-off, a voice message from Smietana emerged on Telegram that seemed to imply that the biggest Skycoin investors were coördinating their moves in a secret chat room. Smietana said in the message, of the investors, “Everyone was basically doing the exact opposite of whatever the public was doing.” (Smietana acknowledged being in the chat room at one point but claimed that he was barely involved.) Rumor spread that the S.E.C. would investigate Skycoin as a result, and that Binance was considering delisting it. In the public chat, coinholders prepared for a death spiral. A user called Opaque wrote, “I want to say calm down guys, but its really doesnt look good.”

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That’s the western version. To set against that…
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Cryptocurrencies: developing countries provide fertile ground • Financial Times

Jonathan Wheatley and Adrienne Klasa:

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In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, a software coder bills her client in London and is paid in bitcoin, sidestepping a costly banking system and the naira currency’s miserly official exchange rate. In São Paulo, Brazil, a dentist puts his monthly savings into an exchange traded fund investing in a basket of cryptocurrencies that is the second most popular ETF on the local bourse. Individuals and businesses in Vietnam invest, trade and transact so much in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that the south-east Asian nation has the world’s highest rate of crypto adoption.

In advanced economies, cryptocurrencies are viewed by many in the financial world with suspicion — the domain of zealous “crypto bros” and a speculative and highly volatile fad that can only end badly. Regulators in Europe and the US have issued stark warnings about the dangers of trading crypto.

But in the developing world, there are signs that crypto is quietly building deeper roots. Especially in countries which have a history of financial instability or where the barriers to accessing traditional financial products such as bank accounts are high, cryptocurrency use is fast becoming a fact of daily life.

…Chainalysis ranks Vietnam first for crypto adoption worldwide — one of 19 emerging and frontier markets in its top 20, with only the US among advanced economies making an appearance at number eight in 2021. “It’s very striking this year, [adoption] is a story of emerging and frontier markets,” adds Grauer.

Separate data from UsefulTulips.org, tracking bitcoin transactions on the world’s two biggest peer-to-peer crypto trading platforms, show that in the past few weeks, sub-Saharan Africa has overtaken North America to become the geographical region with the highest volume of this kind of crypto activity.

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Rather like mobile banking (huge in Africa, completely mystifying to most Americans until recently) perhaps crypto is going to be big elsewhere, and more effectively. It will also be a struggle between the westerners wanting to use it for speculation – and so wanting its value to rise – and those using it as currency, who need stability.
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YouTube’s plan to showcase credible health information is flawed, experts warn • Scientific American

Grant Currin:

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These changes [in which searches on topics like ‘Covid-19’ turn up a sidebar of sanctioned videos] mark a “massive development in how the company envisions itself,” Donovan says. They suggest YouTube is seeking to become “an important source of information” rather than the digital equivalent to “the free bin at a record store.” Some experts, however, worry that identifying and elevating health care organizations and government agencies will not have the intended effect of encouraging people to view more accurate information.

“I’m just not sure that people are tuning in to YouTube to see more scientists or people who have been determined to be credible or authoritative,” says Corey Basch, a public health researcher at William Paterson University. Her studies of YouTube and TikTok reveal that videos produced by official organizations tend to be viewed far less often than content from creators who have earned the trust of communities on the platform. The move also does little to address “not unfounded” mistrust in many of the institutions that have been elevated by the change, she says. Basch thinks the problems run far deeper than access to facts. “Sometimes we miss the point that human emotion and behavior is often rooted in social and emotional factors versus cognitive ones,” she says. Graham acknowledges that “people trust sources for different reasons” and that information that does not originate from a “culturally relevant” source is unlikely to lead to a change in behavior. He says YouTube has plans to work with independent creators who make medical content that is engaging and reliable, but he would not discuss the plan in any detail.

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Basch has it exactly. People won’t trust “institutions”. If they could get Pewdiepie or Logan Paul to make a video telling them that ivermectin isn’t proven and that Covid is real, they’d be sorted.
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TrickBot gang member arrested after getting stuck in South Korea due to COVID-19 pandemic • The Record

Catalin Cimpanu:

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A Russian man was arrested last week at the Seoul international airport on accusations of developing code for the TrickBot malware gang.

The man, identified in local media reports only as Mr. A, was arrested trying to leave South Korea for his native home in Russia after he’d been stuck in the Asian country for more than a year and a half.

The suspect, who arrived in February 2020, was initially prevented from leaving after Seoul officials canceled international travel at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When air travel restrictions were lifted, the suspect’s passport had expired, forcing Mr. A to live in a Seoul studio apartment until this summer while the local Russian embassy issued a replacement.

However, while the suspect was awaiting a passport replacement, US officials started an official investigation against TrickBot, a Russian-based malware gang that had used its botnet to facilitate ransomware attacks across the US throughout 2020.

While a takedown operation spearheaded by several security firms failed in October 2020, US officials had more success on a legal front, announcing the arrest of a 55-year-old Latvian woman named Alla Witte, who US prosecutors said worked as one of TrickBot’s programmers.

Similar to Witte’s indictment, a South Korean judge said Mr. A was charged for working with the TrickBot gang and developing a web browser-related component for the group after answering a job ad in 2016 — the same way Witte was recruited.

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Right up there in “unluckiest criminals”.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1630: Apple delays CSAM rollout, the flaws in the collapsed Florida condo, Banksy was warned of NFT hack, and more


Polluters in the US have been able to count on a six-day cycle when their emissions won’t be monitored – because the regulators tell them when they’ll be off. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster 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. Zero primes this week. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple delays CSAM scanning rollout • The Washington Post

Reed Albergotti:

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While catching people who traffic images of exploited children is a noble cause, the idea of giving Apple customers no choice but to have software on their phones that would look for illegal activity was a step too far for many privacy advocates and security experts.

“It’s encouraging that the backlash has forced Apple to delay this reckless and dangerous surveillance plan, but the reality is that there is no safe way to do what they are proposing,” said Evan Greer, director of Internet advocacy group Fight for the Future, in a statement. “Apple’s current proposal will make vulnerable children less safe, not more safe. They should shelve it permanently,” she wrote.

John Tanagho, executive director of the International Justice Mission’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, disagreed with Apple’s decision to delay the software rollout.
“Apple’s changes are a positive step forward and must not be delayed,” he wrote in a statement. “The world should not elevate the hypothetical and unlikely corruption of child safety solutions over the known and rampant misuse of existing technology to harm children.” [Emphasis in original – CA]

Apple has similarly stepped back or delayed on other privacy changes following an outcry. For instance, after a backlash from the advertising industry, Apple delayed changes to the rollout of its new software that forces app developers to ask users if they want to be tracked. It also delayed and ultimately changed rules that would have prohibited kids apps from using analytics software after the owners of many kids apps said the move would put them out of business.

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Notably only the Washington Post and The Guardian had quotes from organisations which thought Apple should press ahead. And the WaPo made the good point about the long delay before the ad-tracking introduction. It’s been quite the mess for Apple PR – though the number of people who don’t understand the principles has been amazing.

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Why the industry should heed China’s crackdown on video game players • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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I know some western parents found themselves looking at the new [Chinese] rules wistfully. Imposing limits on surly children is hard and being able to – truthfully – tell a kid to stop playing video games on a weekday night because it’s against the law can sometimes feel like it would be a parenting superpower versus simply cajoling, pleading or threatening.

Ultimately, the Chinese state and British parents are tackling the same beast: a gaming industry that has, over the past 40 years, honed its product to such fine ends that it is sometimes plausible to talk about the output using the language of addiction and compulsion. I’m a huge gaming fan, but even I get uncomfortable when I look at the business models – and revenue – of some of the industry’s largest players.

From collectible card game Hearthstone to Zelda-esque hit Genshin Impact, a Chinese-made blockbuster on both sides of the Great Firewall, it’s all too common for games to be free to play, attracting huge audiences, and then funded by what is effectively a casino. Even games without that fundamentally exploitative underpinning can be all too manipulative. Daily and weekly use-it-or-lose-it quests, login rewards for continuous streaks of play, season passes that ask a player to grind out enough playtime over a couple of months to unlock everything: all are habit-forming practices that are explicitly designed to override a player’s sense of what a normal amount of play actually is.

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It’s always an open question when we’ll get a generation in charge who grew up with videogames and who will thus treat them appropriately. David Cameron, after all, loved playing stupid iPad games. But he didn’t understand the role they played in people’s lives. Possibly nobody who really gets into politics does because their respective time demands make them mutually exclusive. Result, mutual lack of understanding.
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Miami’s Surfside condo was flawed and failing. here’s a look inside • The New York Times

Anjali Singhvi, Mike Baker, Weiyi Cai, Mika Gröndahl and Karthik Patanjali:

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The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo left 98 people dead and triggered investigations that could last years. Such a catastrophic failure would almost certainly have many contributing factors, engineers said.

The New York Times created a 3-D model of the tower based on the original design drawings. That model, combined with a review of documents and interviews with structural experts, reveals how design errors, last-minute changes, dubious construction practices and years of worsening deterioration could have all contributed to the collapse.

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This is one of the NYT’s amazing graphic depictions of what happened in the collapse of the condo. A lot seems to rest on one particular pile in the car park – but equally, if it hadn’t been that one, it would have been another, in time. The other question is : how many more.
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PM’s former aide blames Whitehall for Covid ‘mixed messages’ • The Guardian

Heather Stewart:

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Boris Johnson’s former director of communications has blamed a lack of expertise in Whitehall for the government’s struggle to get its message across in the early days of the Covid crisis.

Lee Cain was a key adviser to Johnson, who boasted about shaking hands on a hospital visit, claimed the government could “turn the tide” within 12 weeks, and said it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas, days before ordering millions of people to spend the festive season at home.

But in a paper for the Institute for Government (IfG), the former Vote Leave staffer pointed to shortcomings in the government machine that he said led to “mixed messages”. He called for an overhaul, including a drastic reduction in staff numbers.

Cain claimed data visualisation skills were so lacking that there was “nobody with the ability” to create the slides for the daily Covid press conferences, fronted by the prime minister and watched by millions of people.

“Even when a system was designed, people struggled with the skills required and slides were often sent only moments before press conferences were due to begin,” he said.

Despite more than 4,000 communications staff being employed across the government, many departmental press offices are “unable to conduct the most basic functions”, Cain said.

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Cain’s paper is here, and there’s also a response to it which says “Cain overlooks the damage of a lack of honesty and transparency, especially by letting ministers off the hook, and gives too little time to underlying problems with the way policy is made.” (Emphasis added.) The quote about the lack of ability to make slides is quite scary for what it says about the skills – and age? – of the staff.
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Minus • Ben Grosser

Grosser has a fascinating take on social networks:

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what if social media wasn’t engineered to serve capitalism’s need for growth? How might online collective communication be different if our time and attention were treated as the limited and precious resources that they are? Minus is an experiment to ask these questions, a finite social network where users get only 100 posts—for life.

Rather than the algorithmic feeds, visible “like” counts, noisy notifications, and infinite scrolls employed by the platforms to induce endless user engagement, Minus limits how much one posts to the feed, and foregrounds—as its only visible and dwindling metric—how few opportunities they have left. Instead of preying on our needs for communication and connection in order to transform them into desires for speed and accumulation, Minus offers an opportunity to reimagine what it means to be connected in the contemporary age.

The work facilitates conversation within a subtractive frame that eschews the noise and frenzy for a quieter and slower setting that foregrounds human voices, words, and temporalities. Though it may be disorienting at first to navigate an online social space devoid of the signals and patterns Silicon Valley uses to always push for more, Minus invites us to see what digital interaction feels like when a social media platform is designed for less.

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If you only had 100 posts, would you use them interacting with other people? What is a social network if you don’t want to be social? (I spoke to Grosser and quoted him in Social Warming: his pointers to how social networks manipulate us to spend more time on them are very illuminating.)
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Banksy was warned about website flaw before NFT hack scam • BBC News

Joe Tidy:

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Artist Banksy’s team was warned his website had a security weakness seven days before a hacker scammed a fan out of $336,000 (£242,000).

On Tuesday a piece of art was advertised on Banksy’s official website as the world-renowned graffiti artist’s first NFT (non-fungible token).

A British collector won the auction to buy it, before realising it was a fake.

A cyber-security expert warned Banksy that the website could be hacked, but was ignored.

With NFTs, artwork can be “tokenised” to create a digital certificate of ownership that can be bought and sold. They do not generally give the buyer the actual artwork or its copyright.

Sam Curry, a professional ethical hacker from the US and founder of security consultancy Palisade, said he first heard that the site could have a weakness on the social network Discord, last month. “I was in a security forum and multiple people were posting links to the site. I’d clicked one and immediately saw it was vulnerable, so I reached out to Banksy’s team via email as I wasn’t sure if anyone else had.

“They didn’t respond over email, so I tried a few other ways to contact them including their Instagram, but never received a response.”

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Doctor says gunshot victims wait, ivermectin patients overwhelm hospitals • Rolling Stone

Peter Wade wrote a story and then there was a teensy bit of an update to his story about a doctor telling him that gunshot victims had been forced to wait while ivermectin idiots stuffed the ICU:

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UPDATE: Northeastern Hospital System Sequoyah issued a statement: Although Dr. Jason McElyea is not an employee of NHS Sequoyah, he is affiliated with a medical staffing group that provides coverage for our emergency room.

With that said, Dr. McElyea has not worked at our Sallisaw location in over 2 months. NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin. This includes not treating any patients for ivermectin overdose. All patients who have visited our emergency room have received medical attention as appropriate. Our hospital has not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.

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The original version of the story pinged all over Twitter, with many people commenting “tell me a more American headline if you possibly can”. At least one agency picked the story up and repeated it, and it went around the world.

McElyea’s comment was, as journalists say in the trade, too good to check for details such as whether he actually worked there.
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Poorly devised regulation lets firms pollute with abandon • The Economist

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Athletes don’t get advance warning of drug tests. Police don’t share schedules of planned raids. Yet America’s Environmental Protection Agency (epa) does not seem convinced of the value of surprise in deterring bad behaviour. Every year it publishes a list of dates, spaced at six-day intervals, on which it will require state and local agencies to provide data on concentrations of harmful fine particulate matter (pm2.5), such as soot or cement dust.

In theory, such a policy should enable polluters to spew as much filth into the air as they like 83% of the time, and clean up their act every sixth day. However, this ill-advised approach does offer one silver lining: it lets economists measure how much businesses change their behaviour when the proverbial parents are out of town.

A new paper by Eric Zou of the University of Oregon makes use of satellite images to spy on polluters at times when they think no one is watching. Nasa, America’s space agency, publishes data on the concentration of aerosol particles—ranging from natural dust to man-made toxins—all around the world, as seen from space. For every day in 2001-13, Mr Zou compiled these readings in the vicinity of each of America’s 1,200 air-monitoring sites.

Although some stations provided data continuously, 30-50% of them sent reports only once every six days. For these sites, Mr Zou studied how aerosol levels varied based on whether data would be reported.

Sure enough, the air was consistently cleaner in these areas on monitoring days than it was the rest of the time, by a margin of 1.6%. Reporting schedules were almost certainly the cause: in areas where stations were retired, average pollution levels on monitoring days promptly rose to match the readings on non-monitoring days.

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Strange thing: this paper has been kicking around since 2017. But it’s just been formally published, so I guess now it shows us how to do regulation badly. Zou has some interesting work around the topic of environment.
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Order Social Warming, my book about how social media inflames and outrages, polarises and undermines our social relationships.


How to properly load a dishwasher: ‘If you pre-rinse it might actually come out dirtier’ • The Guardian

Aleksandra Bliszczyk:

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A full dishwasher dries better than a half-full dishwasher. “The dishwasher dries by using the final rinse cycle to build up a heat load in your plates, and then it just sits there for a while and … the moisture will evaporate,” Iredale explains. Plastics have a much lower thermal mass than ceramics, so if you’re doing a load of plastic containers, you may want to crank the temperature to help them dry.

Without the force of mechanical scrubbing, or the abrasion of dish brushes, dishwashers need to be savage and inhospitable to get the job done. “It’s heat, water and chemicals,” Iredale says. “Dishwashing liquid’s pH is 10.5 to 12.5 [very alkaline] … water is pH7, and oven cleaner is pH12.5 to 13.5, so it’s pretty nasty stuff. You really don’t want to get it on your hands.”

Unlike dishwashing liquid for your sink, dishwasher detergents are abrasive – like toothpaste – to chip away at food particles. The cloudy film on your glassware is actually a lot of tiny, permanent scratches.

Many materials won’t withstand a high-pH hurricane every night. “A good rule of thumb is anything that predates the dishwasher shouldn’t go in one,” Iredale says.

Anything fragile, handmade or hand-painted should be left out. The same goes for wood, bone, copper, pewter, cast-iron, and non-stick coated pans and trays. Anything laminate can warp; anything glued can come unstuck; chefs’ knives will rust and dull; and lead can activate and leach out of lead crystal glasses.

Despite all the caveats, dishwashers are not only the convenient answer to our modernist woes, they’re actually more energy- and water-efficient than hand washing. A full dishwasher can clean 144 items with roughly 13 litres of water, or anything between eight and 20. According to a study by the University of Bonn, hand washing the same load uses, on average, 100 litres of water.

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Provided as a service for those who might still have discussions about it. (The article is from the day before Christmas 2020.) Also: do NOT rinse the plates. No guidance however on precisely how to stack, nor whether forks and knives should face up or down (or just be left out).
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Fossil fuels are dead (and here’s why) • Charlie’s Diary

Charlie Stross:

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[Elon] Musk owns Tesla Energy. And I think he’s going to turn a profit on Starship by using it to launch space-based solar power satellites (SBSP). By my back of the envelope calculation, a Starship can put roughly 5-10MW of space-rate photovoltaic cells into orbit in one shot. ROSA — Roll Out Solar Arrays — now installed on the ISS are ridiculously light by historic standards, and flexible: they can be rolled up for launch, then unrolled on orbit. Current ROSA panels have a mass of 325kg, and three pairs provide 120kW of power to the ISS: 2 tonnes for 120KW suggests that a 100 tonne Starship payload could produce 6MW using current generation panels, and I suspect a lot of that weight is structural overhead.

The PV material used in ROSA reportedly weighs a mere 50g per square metre, comparable to lightweight laser printer paper, so a payload of pure PV material could have an area of up to 20 million square metres. At 100 watts of usable sunlight per square metre at Earth’s orbit, that translates to 2GW. So Starship is definitely getting into the payload ball-park we’d need to make orbital SBSP stations practical. 1970s proposals foundered on the costs of the Space Shuttle, which was billed as offering $300/lb launch costs (a sad and pathetic joke), but Musk is selling Starship as a $2m/launch system, which works out at $20/kg.

So: disruptive launch system meets disruptive power technology, and if Tesla Energy isn’t currently brainstorming how to build lightweight space-rated PV sheeting in gigawatt-up quantities I’ll eat my hat.

Musk isn’t the only person in this business. China is planning a 1 megawatt pilot orbital power station for 2030, increasing capacity to 1GW by 2049. Entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the giant Long March 9 heavy launcher is due for test flights in 2030: ostensibly to support a Chinese crewed Lunar expedition, but I’m sure if you’re going to build SBSP stations in bulk and the USA refuses to cooperate with you in space, having your own Starship clone would be handy.

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Stross is a science fiction writer, but the future he describes here is a feasible technological solution for getting plentiful power from space (even at 70% loss). Over to you, Elon.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1629: Apple’s slow train to zero commission, Virgin Galactic grounded, Twitter seeks “social privacy”, and more


Looks like an ordinary USB-to-Lightning cable, but a hacker has made one with a built in Wi-Fi hotspot and keylogging software. CC-licensed photo by Richard Unten 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. Nope, not prime. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple concedes to let apps like Netflix, Spotify, and Kindle link to the web to sign up • The Verge

Sean Hollister and Sam Byford:

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Currently, the Netflix and Spotify apps on iOS are useless if you don’t already have a subscription: both of them only offer a sign-in page, with no link out to their website, and a cheeky apology. “You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know it’s a hassle,” reads the Netflix app’s splash page. The Amazon Kindle app, by contrast, offers a basic “Create a new Amazon account” page inside the app itself, but doesn’t let you buy books there, or even in the standard Amazon app. You have to go to a mobile browser to purchase.

The rule change has an extremely limited scope, as Apple claims it only agreed to let developers of so-called reader apps to “share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account.” Apple also says it will “help developers of reader apps protect users when they link them to an external website to make purchases,” which suggests it will have specific guidelines for how these links appear. It’s not clear whether developers will be able to mention pricing at all.

It’s also worth noting that when Apple rejected the Hey email app, and even after it later modified that controversial decision, the company was very clear that email apps do not count as “reader” apps, even if you similarly subscribe outside of the app and the only thing you can do without an account is sign in. Apple is the one that decides which apps qualify as reader apps to begin with.

It also seems like Apple may be slightly redefining what a “reader” app means: While the company’s App Review Guidelines suggest that a reader app “may” allow users to access previously purchased content (presumably alongside in-app purchases, like Netflix offered for years), Apple’s new press release specifies that “developers of reader apps do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase” (bolding ours).

That would mean that Apple’s only offering this exception to companies that aren’t contributing any in-app purchase commissions to Apple anyways. Which, admittedly, include some of Apple’s sternest critics like Spotify.

However, Spotify isn’t impressed: CEO Daniel Ek tweeted on Thursday that Apple’s move is merely “a step in the right direction,” and signaled that the company will keep pushing for new laws like the Open App Markets Act…

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Tim Sweeney of Epic isn’t pleased either, but he rarely is. Apple is very gradually opening the floodgates, trying to appear to concede the 30% while hanging on to it as long as it can (particularly in games). Ironically, the person overseeing this is Phil Schiller, who was one of those who originally called inside Apple for it not to hang on to the 30% cut once revenue (or maybe profit) passed a billion dollars.
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The red warning light on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space flight • The New Yorker

Nicholas Schmidle:

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On July 11th, nearly a minute into the rocket trip carrying Richard Branson, the British billionaire, to space, a yellow caution light appeared on the ship’s console. The craft was about twenty miles in the air above the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, and climbing, travelling more than twice the speed of sound. But it was veering off course, and the light was a warning to the pilots that their flight path was too shallow and the nose of the ship was insufficiently vertical. If they didn’t fix it, they risked a perilous emergency landing in the desert on their descent.

Riding rockets is dangerous stuff. Around 1.4% of Russian, Soviet, and American crewed spaceflight missions have resulted in fatalities. The foremost commercial space companies—Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin—must, over the coming years, bring that number down. Their profits depend on making frequent and safe human spaceflight a reality. “A private program can’t afford to lose anybody,” Branson has said.

…The rocket motor on Virgin Galactic’s ship is programmed to burn for a minute. On July 11th, it had a few more seconds to go when a red light also appeared on the console: an entry glide-cone warning. This was a big deal.

…I once sat in on a meeting, in 2015, during which the pilots on the July 11th mission—Dave Mackay, a former Virgin Atlantic pilot and veteran of the U.K.’s Royal Air Force, and Mike Masucci, a retired Air Force pilot—and others discussed procedures for responding to an entry glide-cone warning. C. J. Sturckow, a former marine and nasa astronaut, said that a yellow light should “scare the shit out of you,” because “when it turns red it’s gonna be too late”; Masucci was less concerned about the yellow light but said, “Red should scare the crap out of you.” Based on pilot procedures, Mackay and Masucci had basically two options: implement immediate corrective action, or abort the rocket motor. According to multiple sources in the company, the safest way to respond to the warning would have been to abort. (A Virgin Galactic spokesperson disputed this contention.)

Aborting at that moment, however, would have dashed Branson’s hopes of beating his rival Bezos, whose flight was scheduled for later in the month, into space. Mackay and Masucci did not abort. Whether or not their decision was motivated by programmatic pressures and the hopes of their billionaire bankroller sitting in the back remains unclear.

«

Roughly 18 hours after this article appeared, the US FAA grounded Virgin Galactic “until further notice”. (Near-)space travel: much harder than it looks.
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Twitter plans new privacy tools to get more people tweeting • Bloomberg (via Yahoo)

Kurt Wagner:

»

Twitter is planning to test new privacy-related features aimed at giving users greater control over their follower lists and who can see their posts and likes, an effort to make people more comfortable interacting and sharing on the social network.

The tools are related to what Twitter executives call “social privacy,” or how users manage their reputations and identities on the service. This includes information like a person’s list of followers, the tweets they like, and whether their accounts are public or private.

Among features being considered is the ability to edit follower lists, and a tool to archive old tweets so that they’re no longer visible to others after a specific amount of time designated by the user. Hiding past tweets could be a popular feature with people who don’t want their posts to exist online forever, offering an easier solution than manually deleting posts or combing through years-old messages to find those you wish you hadn’t sent.

Internal research found that many of Twitter’s users don’t understand the privacy basics, like whether their account is publicly visible, said Svetlana Pimkina, a staff researcher at the San Francisco-based company. Those users engage less on Twitter because they don’t know what other people will be able to see about them.

«

All good ideas (if a little tedious: are you really going to plough through your old tweets to hide them, or your follower list to eject them – and what point to the latter?). But the idea that people don’t understand their tweets are public really is a surprise.
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The rollable OLED revolution is here • LG Display Newsroom

»

the 65-inch Rollable OLED has been gathering glittering reviews wherever it goes. Having won numerous “best” awards from a range of publications at CES 2018, it then continued to win accolades at the same Las Vegas tech show in 2019 and 2020. More recently at SID’s Display Week this past May, it received the highest honor of Display of the Year.

So, how does it work? You have a base that acts as both a sound system and houses the rollable display, which unfurls with the option of multiple aspect ratios at the touch of a button “like a window shade,” according to CNET, which added back in 2018 that “you have to see it in action to believe it.” Well, if that is the case, then you can enjoy this impressive scene featuring a whole row of Rollable OLEDs – and then take a deeper dive here.

OLED enables a rollable TV to exist because its self-emissive nature requires no backlight unit and therefore the screen can be extremely thin and flexible – the OLED R’s screen is just 3mm deep. The brilliance of the innovation behind the display is that it can be rolled up and down repeatedly without breaking or losing the crisp sharpness and vivid colors of any other OLED TV. Apparently the OLED R’s good for 100,000 unfurls, which would allow it to be rolled up and down 20 times a day for 20 years.

And apart from the benefit of owning an example of awesome technology, consumers who are able to choose this very high-end TV also have the aesthetic and practical advantage of losing space constraints by making their screen disappear at will.

«

Well, “disappear at will” into a honking enormous base. It’s a nice idea in some ways, but really you’d want it to vanish into the ceiling. At the price this must go for (none is given; hence if you’ve got to ask you can’t afford), buyers can probably afford that.
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Last chance this week to click this link to order
Social Warming, my latest book about how social networks incite tribalism and fake outrage. And what is a scissor statement?


timefind: Search a website’s history • GitHub

Cykelero:

»

timefind lets you find the exact moment that something was added to a website.

It quickly flips through Web Archive snapshots using binary search, pinpointing the date of the modification.

For example, you can search for the first mention of the iPhone on Apple’s homepage:

$ timefind apple.com iphone

«

Requires Node.js, but then seems quite a simple interface. Give it a little while and I’d imagine there’ll be a GUI.
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This seemingly normal Lightning cable will leak everything you type • Vice

Joseph Cox:

»

This is the new version of a series of penetration testing tools made by the security researcher known as MG. MG previously demoed an earlier version of the cables for Motherboard at the DEF CON hacking conference in 2019. Shortly after that, MG said he had successfully moved the cables into mass production, and cybersecurity vendor Hak5 started selling the cables.

But the more recent cables come in new physical variations, including Lightning to USB-C, and include more capabilities for hackers to play with.

“There were people who said that Type C cables were safe from this type of implant because there isn’t enough space. So, clearly, I had to prove that wrong. :),” MG told Motherboard in an online chat.

The OMG Cables, as they’re called, work by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot itself that a hacker can connect to from their own device. From here, an interface in an ordinary web browser lets the hacker start recording keystrokes. The malicious implant itself takes up around half the length of the plastic shell, MG said.

MG said that the new cables now have geofencing features, where a user can trigger or block the device’s payloads based on the physical location of the cable.

“It pairs well with the self-destruct feature if an OMG Cable leaves the scope of your engagement and you do not want your payloads leaking or being accidentally run against random computers,” he said.

Motherboard only tested the cables in relatively close proximity, but MG said they’ve improved the range of the cables. “We tested this out in downtown Oakland and were able to trigger payloads at over one mile,” he added.

«

I don’t honestly believe the “one mile” claim, and Cox is a bit vague about how proximate “relatively close” is. Same building? Same desk? (Apple keyboards have Lightning connectors to charge.)
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Why William Gibson is a literary genius • The Walrus

Jason Guriel:

»

FOR ALL ITS obsession with the future, science fiction ages quickly. Still, some of the prognostications of “Johnny Mnemonic” have held up. “We’re an information economy,” narrates Johnny at one point:

»

They teach you that in school. What they don’t tell you is that it’s impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information. Fragments that can be retrieved, amplified.

«

Gibson didn’t quite predict cookies and social media, but “Johnny Mnemonic” nails our hermit-proofed paradigm. Even the story’s premise—that the most precious commodity is data—rhymes neatly with twenty-first-century anxieties about privacy and cryptocurrency.

And yet, the most radical thing about Gibson’s story is its realism. At the very beginning, Johnny delivers some tough-guy talk:

»

I put the shotgun in an Adidas bag and padded it out with four pairs of tennis socks, not my style at all, but that was what I was aiming for: If they think you’re crude, go technical; if they think you’re technical, go crude.

«

That Adidas bag was as stunning, in its day, as a phaser; sci-fi rarely deigned to mention such base details as brands. A year after the publication of “Johnny Mnemonic,” the movie Blade Runner posited a similarly radical (and radically banal) point in one of its most iconic scenes: the hover cars of the far-flung future, when they finally get aloft, will fling themselves past sky-high ads for Coca-Cola.

“Johnny Mnemonic” also reflects Gibson’s fascination with the cadged-together, a fixation, really, that runs through his work—from the artistic AI that remixes rubbish into dioramas in Count Zero to the squatter-occupied bridge in Virtual Light: a “patchwork carnival of scavenged surfaces.”

…When I tweeted once about the debris that fills his fiction, Gibson responded: “The mostly American sf I started with as a reader seldom got it that futures are built of pasts.”

«

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FTC bans SpyFone and its CEO from continuing to sell stalkerware • Malwarebytes Labs

David Ruiz:

»

Nearly two years after the US Federal Trade Commission first took aim against mobile apps that can non-consensually track people’s locations and pry into their emails, photos, and videos, the government agency placed restrictions Wednesday on the developers of SpyFone—which the FTC called a “stalkerware app company”—preventing the company and its CEO Scott Zuckerman from ever again “offering, promoting, selling, or advertising any surveillance app, service, or business.”

Wednesday’s enforcement action represents a much firmer stance from the FTC compared to the settlement it reached in 2019, when the government agency refrained from even using the term “stalkerware” and it focused more on lacking cybersecurity protections within the apps it investigated, not on the privacy invasions that were allowed.

FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who made a separate statement on Wednesday, said much of the same.

“This is a significant change from the agency’s past approach,” Chopra said. “For example, in a 2019 stalkerware settlement, the Commission allowed the violators to continue developing and marketing monitoring products.”

That settlement prevented the company Retina-X Studios LLC and its owner, James N. Johns Jr., from selling their three Android apps unless significant security rehauls were made. At the time, critics of the settlement argued that the FTC was not preventing Retina-X from selling stalkerware-type apps, but that the FTC was preventing Retina-X from selling insecure stalkerware-type apps.

«

Spyfone also has to tell everyone whose devices were surveilled using it. That’s going to open them up to lawsuits, of course.
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Texas’s social media law and abortion law mean must keep up AND take down info on abortion • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

»

[The Texas “abortion” law] is bizarre on multiple levels. First, it’s allowing anyone to sue anyone else, claiming that they “aided and abetted” an illegal abortion if they merely “induced” someone to get an abortion.

So… let’s say that someone posted to a Facebook group, telling people how to get an abortion. Under Texas’s social media law – remember “each person in this state has a fundamental interest in the free exchange of ideas and information” – Facebook is expected to keep that information up. However, under Texas’ anti-choice law (remember, anyone can sue anyone for “inducing” an abortion) Facebook theoretically faces liability for leaving that information up.

So who wins out? Well, it should be that both bills are found to be unconstitutional, so it doesn’t matter. But we’ll see whether or not the courts recognize that. Section 230 should also protect Facebook here, since it pre-empts any state law that tries to make the company liable for user posts, which in theory the abortion law does. The 1st Amendment should also backstop both of these, noting that (1) Texas’ social media law clearly violates Facebook’s 1st Amendment rights, and (2) the broad language saying anyone can file civil suit against anyone for somehow convincing someone to get an abortion also pretty clearly violates the 1st Amendment.

But, until the courts actually rule on this, we don’t just have a mess, we have a contradictory mess thanks to a Texas legislature (and governor) that is so focused on waging a pointless culture war against “the libs” that they don’t even realize how their own bills conflict with one another.

«

I say to anyone who’ll listen (and some who don’t) that America is utterly broken, and I no longer expect anything good to come from its politicians.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1628: Facebook insurrection posts vanish, Reddit bans antivaxxers, Google Play revenue revealed, and more


Which other one-hit wonder would you pair with Gangnam Style? An AI can help you with the mix and cut the video too. CC-licensed photo by Republic of Korea 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. No, not a prime. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Thousands of posts around January 6 riots go missing from Facebook transparency tool • POLITICO

Mark Scott:

»

Scores of Facebook posts from the days before and after the January 6 Capitol Hill riots in Washington are missing.

The posts disappeared from Crowdtangle, a tool owned by Facebook that allows researchers to track what people are saying on the platform, according to academics from New York University and Université Grenoble Alpes.

The lost posts — everything from innocuous personal updates to potential incitement to violence to mainstream news articles — have been unavailable within Facebook’s transparency system since at least May, 2021. The company told POLITICO that they were accidentally removed from Crowdtangle because of a limit on how Facebook allows data to be accessed via its technical transparency tools. It said that the error had now been fixed.

Facebook did not address the sizeable gap in its Crowdtangle data publicly until contacted by POLITICO, despite ongoing pressure from policymakers about the company’s role in helping spread messages, posts and videos about the violent insurrection, which killed five people. On Friday, U.S. lawmakers ordered the company to hand over reams of internal documents and data linked to the riots, including details on how misinformation, which targeted the U.S. presidential election, had spread.

It is unclear how many posts are still missing from Crowdtangle, when they will be restored, and if the problem solely affects U.S. content or material from all of Facebook’s 2.4 billion users worldwide. The academics who discovered the problem estimate that tens of thousands of Facebook posts are currently missing.

«

It’s hard not to feel suspicious about this, because Facebook was insistent that the attacks on January 6 weren’t organised through it; a plethora of evidence to the contrary would be embarrassing, to say the least.
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Reddit bans anti-vaccine subreddit r/NoNewNormal after site-wide protest • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:

»

Reddit has banned anti-vaccine and anti-mask subreddit r/NoNewNormal and has quarantined 54 other subreddits associated with COVID denial. A week ago, the company’s CEO said in a post that Reddit was meant to be a place of “open and authentic discussion and debate,” even for ideas that “question or disagree with popular consensus.” In today’s post, the company has clarified its rules with regard to health misinformation.

The subreddit NoNewNormal has been cited by many in the Reddit community as a source of vaccine misinformation, and it was known for “brigading” other subreddit’s discussions by butting in on conversations about COVID or related policies in other communities. NoNewNormal was the source of 80 such brigades in the past month, according to Reddit security, and the behavior continued after the community was warned, leading to its ban. The community had previously been quarantined. For the 54 other subreddits that have been quarantined, Reddit warns potential visitors that medical advice should come from doctors rather than forum members.

Reddit, along with other social networks and online marketplaces, has struggled with misinformation about COVID treatments in recent weeks. The platform has rules that seek to address the concerns but admits how it was interpreting and enforcing those rules hasn’t been clear. In today’s announcement, it stated that it classifies health misinformation as “falsifiable health information that encourages or poses a significant risk of physical harm to the reader.”

«

Medical advice from doctors rather than forum members. What a radical idea.
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This is the moment the anti-vaccine movement has been waiting for • NY Times

Tara Haelle is a science journalist who has been writing about the anti-vaccination “movement” for some time:

»

As the coronavirus began pushing the nation into lockdown in March 2020, Joshua Coleman, an anti-vaccine campaigner who organizes anti-vaccine rallies, went on Facebook Live to give his followers a rallying speech. He laid out what he thought the pandemic really was: an opportunity.

“This is the one time in human history where every single human being across this country, possibly across the planet, but especially in this country, are all going to have an interest in vaccination and vaccines,” he said. “So it’s time for us to educate.”

By “educate,” he meant to spread misinformation about vaccines.

The approach that Mr. Coleman displayed in his nearly 10-minute-long appearance — turning any negative event into a marketing opportunity — is characteristic of anti-vaccine activists. Their versatility and ability to read and assimilate the language and culture of different social groups have been key to their success. But Mr. Coleman’s speech also encapsulated a yearslong campaign during which the anti-vaccine movement has maneuvered itself to exploit what Mr. Coleman called “a very unique position in this moment in time.”

Over the last six years, anti-vaccine groups and leaders have begun to organize politically at a level like never before. They’ve founded state political action committees, formed coalitions with other constituencies, and built a vast network that is now the foundation of vaccination opposition by conservative groups and legislators across the country.

«

This answers the question of who is pushing and how, though the question of why it finds resonance with people still seems tricky. I’d love to know whether there’s something in Americans’ flawed belief in “freedom” (for which read: selfishness) that makes them more susceptible to these beliefs, along with a political system that is utterly broken through its reliance on money for success.
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Google Play app store revenue hit $11.2bn in 2019, lawsuit says • Reuters

Paresh Dave:

»

Alphabet Inc’s Google generated $11.2bn in revenue from its mobile app store in 2019, according to a court filing unsealed on Saturday, offering a clear view into the service’s financial results for the first time.

Attorneys general for Utah and 36 other U.S. states or districts suing Google over alleged antitrust violations with the app store also said in the newly unredacted filing that the business in 2019 had $8.5bn in gross profit and $7bn in operating income, for an operating margin of over 62%.

The figures include sales of apps, in-app purchase and app store ads. Google told Reuters the data “are being used to mischaracterize our business in a meritless lawsuit.”

«

You start to understand why Google and Apple are so keen to keep hold of their grip on their app stores.
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We can pull the plug on the lab leak theory • The Editorial Board

Lindsay Beyerstein:

»

if there were a lab leak, the IC [US intelligence community] would be as well-positioned to prove it as anyone in the world. The IC’s expertise is uncovering secrets, and if covid leaked from the WIV, there are a lot of people keeping secrets. Scientists at the WIV would know. Elements within the Chinese government would probably know, too — either because they were monitoring the institute the whole time or because their own investigations later uncovered it. China has a lot of raw data about the earliest phase of the pandemic that it’s not sharing with the rest of the world. Lab leakers speculate that China is hiding the data because they’re covering up a lab leak, but there are many possible motives for secrecy, starting with the fact that China is a leading purveyor of conspiracy theories that a lab in the United States leaked covid. 

If anyone were keeping the secret of a lab leak, IC’s job would be to hack, bug, wheedle or bribe that secret loose. So far, they’ve come up short. It’s been almost two years. Not a shred of concrete evidence has emerged to tie covid to a lab. The unclassified summary tacitly admits as much. The one agency arguing for a lab leak reached this conclusion based on “the inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses.” They’re not claiming to have eyewitness accounts, intercepts, genomic analyses or anything specific to back up this hunch. 

Even if bat coronavirus research is risky in the abstract, a lab can’t leak what it hasn’t got. There’s no evidence the WIV ever had covid or any virus similar enough to covid to genetically engineer it from spare parts. Last month, the IC revealed they were using supercomputers to mine a database of viral sequences that the WIV took offline in September, but apparently those efforts haven’t panned out. 

Meanwhile the body of scientific evidence pointing to natural origin continues to expand. More and more viruses similar to covid-19 are being found in the wild. The emergence of increasingly infectious covid variants casts doubt on the lab leak boosters’ claim that covid was pre-adapted to be maximally transmissible to humans. The fact that covid can infect species as different as otters and tigers is further evidence it’s a natural virus.

«

Beyerstein is commenting in the aftermath of the publication late last week of the wholly inconclusive IC report on the origins of SARS-Cov-2.

(TEB isn’t the editorial board of anything, it’s a site in its own right.)
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‘I guess I’m having a go at killing it’: Salman Rushdie to bypass print and publish next book on Substack • The Guardian

Shelley Hepworth:

»

[Rushdie’s] novella, titled The Seventh Wave, is also linked to film. The 60,000 word text, which has now been slashed to 35,000 words, is about a film director and an actor slash muse written in the style of New Wave cinema, with “disjunctions and crash cuts and gangsters”.

“The infallible test of anything I write is embarrassment,” Rushdie says. “If I’m embarrassed to show it to you, then it’s not ready.

“There comes a point where I’m not embarrassed to show it and actually I’m kind of eager to show it. After the complete rethinking of this text – compressing, condensing, cutting, changing the narrative line somewhat – now I like it.”

It will be a digital experiment in serialising fiction (“the way [it] used to be published, right at the beginning”) with new sections coming out approximately once a week over the course of about a year, he says.

A surprising number of the classics were originally serialised: Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers is the best known example, but there is also Madame Bovary, War and Peace, and Heart of Darkness. Rushdie references the experience of Samuel Richardson, who serialised his novel Clarissa in 1748.

“His readers expected that she would, in the end, fall in love with the guy. But then he rapes her. Richardson had quite a lot of correspondence from readers who said that, in spite of that terrible act, they still wanted what they would consider to be a happy ending – and he very determinedly would not give it to them.

“I’ve never had that before, to be publishing something where people can say things about it while it’s going on.”

Is he open to the idea of feedback from readers shaping the story?

“It would have to be a very good suggestion,” he says. “But it does sometimes happen that somebody says something about a character, which you hadn’t thought about when you were writing it … If somebody were to say, for instance, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, I want to hear a bit more about that’, then maybe I’ll give them a bit more about that.”

«

I wonder, I really wonder, about the quality of comments that Rushdie will get on his Substack. And what price he’ll charge. Of course Stephen King tried this too, in 2000, but abandoned it, complaining that “most internet users seem to have the attention span of grasshoppers”. Plus ça change…
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Social Warming is my latest book: why social media is driving everyone a little mad, even if they don’t use it – and how to fix it.


How Facebook relies on Accenture to scrub toxic content • The New York Times

Adam Satariano and Mike Isaac:

»

Accenture has taken on the work — and given it a veneer of respectability — because Facebook has signed contracts with it for content moderation and other services worth at least $500m a year, according to The Times’s examination. Accenture employs more than a third of the 15,000 people whom Facebook has said it has hired to inspect its posts. And while the agreements provide only a small fraction of Accenture’s annual revenue, they give it an important lifeline into Silicon Valley. Within Accenture, Facebook is known as a “diamond client.”

Their contracts, which have not previously been reported, have redefined the traditional boundaries of an outsourcing relationship. Accenture has absorbed the worst facets of moderating content and made Facebook’s content issues its own. As a cost of doing business, it has dealt with workers’ mental health issues from reviewing the posts. It has grappled with labor activism when those workers pushed for more pay and benefits. And it has silently borne public scrutiny when they have spoken out against the work.

Those issues have been compounded by Facebook’s demanding hiring targets and performance goals and so many shifts in its content policies that Accenture struggled to keep up, 15 current and former employees said. And when faced with legal action from moderators about the work, Accenture stayed quiet as Facebook argued that it was not liable because the workers belonged to Accenture and others.

“You couldn’t have Facebook as we know it today without Accenture,” said Cori Crider, a co-founder of Foxglove, a law firm that represents content moderators. “Enablers like Accenture, for eye-watering fees, have let Facebook hold the core human problem of its business at arm’s length.”

«

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RaveDJ • Music Mixer

OK, so this uses AI to mix songs found on YouTube and/or Spotify. And it’s pretty good. Can definitely recommend Gangnam Style Touch This which is a mashup of.. oh, you worked it out.

Some of the mixes are more than two hours long, if you need some background music.
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Ben Dugan works for CVS. His job is battling a $45bn crime spree • WSJ

Rebecca Ballhaus and Shalini Ramachandran:

»

Ben Dugan sat in an unmarked sedan in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood one day last September waiting for the CVS to be robbed.

He tracked a man entering the store and watched as the thief stuffed more than $1,000 of allergy medicine into a trash bag, walked out and did the same at two other nearby stores, before loading them into a waiting van, Mr. Dugan recalled.

The target was no ordinary shoplifter. He was part of a network of organized professionals, known as boosters, whom CVS had been monitoring for weeks. The company believed the group responsible for stealing almost $50 million in products over five years from dozens of stores in Northern California. The job for Mr. Dugan, CVS Health Corp.’s top investigator, was to stop them.

Retailers are spending millions a year to battle organized crime rings that steal from their stores in bulk and then peddle the goods online, often on Amazon.com Inc.’s retail platform, according to retail investigators, law-enforcement officers and court documents. It is a menace that has been supercharged by the pandemic and the rapid growth of online commerce that has accompanied it.

“We’re trying to control it the best we can, but it’s growing every day,” said Mr. Dugan.

The Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, a trade association, which Mr. Dugan heads, estimates that organized retail theft accounts for around $45bn in annual losses for retailers these days, up from $30 billion a decade ago. At CVS, reported thefts have ballooned 30% since the pandemic began.

Mr. Dugan’s team, working with law enforcement, expects to close 73 e-commerce cases this year involving $104m of goods stolen from multiple retailers and sold on Amazon.

«

“Oh but you’re just blaming the internet”. Sure, but the internet has removed the role of the fence from the steal-sell-resell operation. And that’s a problem if Amazon can’t or won’t verify suppliers.
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Twitter launches Super Follows on iOS • The Verge

Kait Sanchez:

»

Twitter is starting to roll out Super Follows, its new feature that lets users charge for subscriber-only content. Creators can set their tweets to go out to Super Followers only, and the tweets will appear in the timelines of just those subscribers. The feature, announced in February, is currently only available on Twitter’s iOS app and is limited to a test group of people in the US who applied to try it out.

iOS users in the US and Canada can Super Follow accounts that are in the initial test group. Super Followers are identified to creators by a badge that appears under their name when they reply to tweets. Twitter plans to roll out the feature on iOS in more countries in the coming weeks and says it will be available on Android and the web soon.

Super Follows users can charge $2.99, $4.99, or $9.99 a month, with payments processed through Stripe. Twitter says users can earn up to 97% of subscription revenue after third-party fees, until they reach a lifetime earnings limit of $50,000 across all Twitter monetization products. After hitting that limit, Twitter says users can earn up to 80% of revenue after third-party fees.

People who don’t have the Super Follows feature can apply for a waitlist under the monetization tab in the Twitter app. To be eligible, people need to have at least 10,000 followers, be at least 18 years old, have tweeted 25 times in the last 30 days, be in the US, and comply with Twitter’s Super Follows policy.

«

The example Twitter offers of a Super Follower tweet being drafted is “Skincare Q+A exclusive for my super followers! Ask me anything.”

Unclear to me whether those outside your “super follow” group see any of the conversation – guessing not? A strange new form of gated community online. It’s like flipping between being a protected account or not, as you like. And charging.

Suspect it’s going to be super-popular with a certain class of influencers. (I don’t think that includes me, but if you think it should, send money.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1627: Google and Apple face app store law, Andreessen on investment (et al), did Covid kill 4.5 million in India?, and more


In the US, QR codes have begun to displace staff in retail outlets. CC-licensed photo by optiscanapp 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. Look up, it’s a prime number – the second in just over a week. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Google and Apple’s app stores hit by new South Korean law • Financial Times

Song-Jung-a:

»

Despite heavy lobbying by the tech giants, South Korea’s national assembly on Tuesday passed what has been dubbed the “anti-Google bill”; it will become law once signed by President Moon Jae-in.

The law bans Google and Apple, as well as other app store operators, from requiring users to pay for apps with their own in-app purchasing systems.

It also bans app stores from delaying approvals from apps or “inappropriately” removing them from their app stores, and from insisting on exclusivity with app developers. If they fail to comply, app stores can be fined up to 3% of their revenue in South Korea.

Apple and Google at present take a commission of up to 30% on sales of digital goods through their app stores, and of in-app purchases, such as subscriptions.

The legislation is likely to be closely examined by other regulators around the world, as concerns grow about the monopolies on app distribution enjoyed by Apple and Google.

Tim Sweeney, chief of Epic Games, which is suing Google and Apple for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, called the law’s passage a “major milestone in the 45-year history of personal computing”.

David Heinemeier Hansson, chief technology officer at Basecamp, called the bill “the first real, big crack in the monopoly app store dam”.

«

So this isn’t mandating alternative app stores; it’s saying that Apple and Google have to allow apps (including games) to take payment by methods that circumvent the IAP. Unclear at present: 1) whether that also includes buying directly on the app store 2) how long they have to implement this.

But it does mean that Apple (and Google) can no longer rely on the 30%. If Apple were to lose all of that, and Google stopped paying it for search preference, its profits would come down quite a bit.
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Flying X-Wings into the Death Star: Marc Andreessen on investing and tech • Richard Hanania’s Newsletter

Richard Hanania spoke to Andreessen:

»

If you go back thousands of years the thing was the gods, the tribe, the family, whatever cult you were in. If you progress through to the last 2000 years people got super into the big religions, Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and so forth. The rise of mass media, they got super into movies, media, and then some fringe political movements and actual cults. People got super into Scientology. But they were kind of these big movements, and a lot of other people were in them. It was never that distinctive or original to be Catholic or something like that. It was a marker of identity but it wasn’t a marker of uniqueness in the way that modern man looks for.

There used to be a term for activities that people would do to pass the time before the internet. The term has almost completely died and the term is “hobby.” People used to have hobbies. When I was a kid it was like “what do you do when you get home from work or school, you have a hobby.” And if you remember what hobbies were when I was a kid, it was like stamp and coin collecting. [laughs] It was like ham radio, wood-working. Maybe there were a few people who were into wood-working or stamp collecting and after the first couple months, it’s like “ok it’s just a bunch of stamps in a book, this is boring, onto the next thing.”

The internet has just killed hobbies. They’re dead, all gone, the concept doesn’t even exist. It’s funny, the concept of having a hobby died at the same time as the concept of “going online” was introduced, which is a phrase you heard constantly from 1994-2005. You would get home at night and you would go online. The big internet company in the 1990s was actually America Online; this was a big deal, Americans could go online. And starting in the mid-2000s Americans stopped going online because we’re now online all the time. The idea of not being online now is a weird thing.

So hobbies died when everybody went online. So what replaced hobbies? And to your point, what replaced hobbies was basically internet movements. The benign way to put it would be internet communities, the somewhat more intense way to put it would be internet cults, right? Now what are people into? They’re not into stamp or coin collecting. They’re into socialism online or MAGA or QAnon, or the Trump Russia conspiracy or bitcoin or Elon…

«

There are some bits of this conversation that are sensible, and some bits like this which just sound like someone who hasn’t stepped out of San Francisco’s environs in years.
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Google’s new AI photo upscaling tech is jaw-dropping • PetaPixel

Michael Zhang:

»

Photo enhancing in movies and TV shows is often ridiculed for being unbelievable, but research in real photo enhancing is actually creeping more and more into the realm of science fiction. Just take a look at Google’s latest AI photo upscaling tech.

In a post titled “High Fidelity Image Generation Using Diffusion Models” published on the Google AI Blog (and spotted by DPR), Google researchers in the company’s Brain Team share about new breakthroughs they’ve made in image super-resolution.

In image super-resolution, a machine learning model is trained to turn a low-res photo into a detailed high-res photo, and potential applications of this range from restoring old family photos to improving medical imaging.

Google has been exploring a concept called “diffusion models,” which was first proposed in 2015 but which has, up until recently, taken a backseat to a family of deep learning methods called “deep generative models.” The company has found that its results with this new approach beat out existing technologies when humans are asked to judge.

The first approach is called SR3, or Super-Resolution via Repeated Refinement.

«

Google was posting about this in 2017, but seems to have moved things on.

The concern, though, is that when people obscure photos by downscaling in order to protect identities, this technology could be used to un-obscure them. Technology is not good or bad, but neither is it neutral.
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Using household rosters from survey data to estimate all-cause mortality during COVID in India • NBER

Anup Malani and Sabareesh Ramachandran:

»

We estimate roughly 4.5 million (95% CI: 2.8M to 6.2M) excess deaths over 16 months during the pandemic in India. While we cannot demonstrate causality between COVID and excess deaths, the pattern of excess deaths is consistent with COVID-associated mortality.

«

From the paper:

»

The data set is the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s Con- sumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS). Its nationally-representative sample includes roughly 174,000 households with roughly 870,000 current members. The survey is conducted on the same households every 4 months, with a representative quarter of the sample surveyed each month. The survey keeps a roster of all current and past household members and provides reasons for attrition, including death. We count these deaths before COVID to estimate a baseline death rate, and dur- ing COVID to calculate excess deaths during the pandemic. An important feature of our data is that it is private and measures death incidentally. This means it is immune to political censorship and is unlikely to have investigator-side bias with respect to death reporting.

«

India has officially reported just under 440,000 deaths. Everyone has been sure the true figure is much, much bigger.
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Johnson & Johnson’s HIV vaccine fails first efficacy trial • Stat News

Matthew Herper:

»

An HIV vaccine using the same basic technology as Johnson & Johnson’s Covid shot failed to prevent infection, the company said Tuesday, dealing yet another blow to efforts to create a vaccine against the virus.

The study, called Imbokodo, enrolled 2,600 women in southern Africa who were at very high risk of HIV infection. J&J and its partners, including the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the study in 2017 and announced that all participants had received either a vaccine or a placebo last year. The goal of the vaccine was not to completely prevent infection, but to reduce the chance of infection by half.

“If a vaccine is 50% efficacious it can curb the future of the HIV pandemic,” said Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer and, before that, an HIV researcher. He said that the actual efficacy seen was 25.2%, meaning those that received the vaccine had their odds of becoming infected reduced that much compared to the placebo group 24 months after the first dose. That difference was not statistically significant, indicating that it is possible the result is due to chance.

«

Damn.
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Covid trends like ivermectin are deadly distractions. Why can’t we stop them? • NBC News

Dr Ryan Marino:

»

Ivermectin has shown antiviral effects at very high doses. However, it has never been proven to effectively treat or prevent viral infections in humans. Like much in vitro data, meaning research done on cell cultures in petri dishes, any positive findings have not been replicated in vivo in actual human subjects. And a quick look at this data suggests a reason why: The doses and concentrations necessary for antiviral activity are much higher than are safe for humans, and would be toxic to human life as well as viruses. If this sounds familiar it’s because the same misapplication of in vitro science has been used to promote hydroxychloroquine and disinfectants like bleach.

Meanwhile, the human data on ivermectin tells a much different story. The available scientific evidence has consistently shown a lack of benefit in both treating and preventing Covid-19, and empiric evidence from widespread off-label use has objectively not made a difference. Notably, the only papers that showed any significant benefit for ivermectin have been retracted because they were fraudulent, but not before being shared hundreds of thousands of times around the world. The same disgraced Surgisphere server — a data sharing and analytics company that rose to prominence early in the pandemic — that posted fraudulent hydroxychloroquine science shared another fraudulent paper on ivermectin that set off this current craze.

That paper and Surgisphere no longer exist, but the damage is done. Another popularly shared study on ivermectin, which claimed to demonstrate better success than almost any other medical intervention in modern history, was also found to be falsified and was retracted. But again, only after being shared extensively online.

The pro-ivermectin crowd would have you believe that the science on ivermectin is being “suppressed.” It is not.

«

Marino is frustrated as hell about the distractions, but doesn’t have any suggestions for how to stop them. I think that’s in common with everyone. There must have been a point in time when the many people who presently declare themselves against being vaccinated must have been undecided. So what changed their minds? Why did they decide that mRNA is “gene therapy” (a complete misunderstanding of gene therapy)?

That’s the research that would be really useful to have.
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Apple cares about privacy, unless you work at Apple • The Verge

Zoe Schiffer:

»

Jacob Preston was sitting down with his manager during his first week at Apple when he was told, with little fanfare, that he needed to link his personal Apple ID and work account.

The request struck him as odd. Like anyone who owns an Apple product, Preston’s Apple ID was intimately tied to his personal data — it connected his devices to the company’s various services, including his iCloud backups. How could he be sure his personal messages and documents wouldn’t land on his work laptop? Still, he was too giddy about his new job as a firmware engineer to care. He went ahead and linked the accounts.

Three years later, when Preston handed in his resignation, the choice came back to haunt him. His manager told him to return his work laptop, and — per Apple protocol — said he shouldn’t wipe the computer’s hard drive. His initial worry had come to pass: his personal messages were on this work laptop, as were private documents concerning his taxes and a recent home loan. Preston pushed back, saying some of the files contained highly personal information and there was no reasonable way to make sure they were all removed from the laptop without wiping it completely.

He was told the policy wasn’t negotiable.

Preston’s story is part of a growing tension inside Apple, where some employees say the company isn’t doing enough to protect their personal privacy and, at times, actively seeks to invade it for security reasons. Employees have been asked to install software builds on their phones to test out new features prior to launch — only to find the builds expose their personal messages. Others have found that when testing new products like Apple’s Face ID, images are recorded every time they open their phones. “If they did this to a customer, people would lose their goddamn minds,” says Ashley Gjøvik, a senior engineering program manager.

…The blurring of personal and work accounts has resulted in some unusual situations, including Gjøvik allegedly being forced to hand compromising photos of herself to Apple lawyers when her team became involved in an unrelated legal dispute.

«

Very strange. I suspect it stems from old practices that haven’t been updated. And Apple does let people create new Apple IDs at the point where they join. But most don’t. Related: Apple just banned a pay equity Slack channel but lets fun dogs channel lie complains that the rules on channels inside work aren’t being equally enforced.
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Largest real-world study of COVID-19 vaccine safety published • Medical Xpress

Clalit Research Institute:

»

The [Pfizer] vaccine was found to be safe: Out of 25 potential side effects examined, 4 were found to have a strong association with the vaccine.

Myocarditis was found to be associated with the vaccine, but rarely—2.7 excess cases per 100,000 vaccinated individuals. (The myocarditis events observed after vaccination were concentrated in males between 20 and 34.) In contrast, coronavirus infection in unvaccinated individuals was associated with 11 excess cases of myocarditis per 100,000 infected individuals.

Other adverse events moderately associated with vaccination were swelling of the lymph nodes, a mild side effect that is part of a standard immune response to vaccination, with 78 excess cases per 100,000, appendicitis with 5 excess cases per 100,000 (potentially as a result of swelling of lymph nodes around the appendix), and herpes zoster with 16 excess cases per 100,000.

In contrast to the relatively small number of adverse effects associated with the vaccine, high rates of multiple serious adverse events were associated with coronavirus infection among unvaccinated patients, including: Cardiac arrhythmias (a 3.8-fold increase to an increase of 166 cases per 100,000 infected patients), kidney damage (14.8-fold increase; 125 excess cases per 100,000), pericarditis (5.4-fold increase; 11 excess cases per 100,000), pulmonary embolism (12.1-fold increase; 62 excess cases per 100,000), deep vein thrombosis (3.8-fold increase; 43 excess cases per 100,000), myocardial infarction (4.5-fold increase; 25 excess cases per 100,000), and stroke (2.1-fold increase; 14 excess cases per 100,000).

«

Be interested to see the Astra Zeneca equivalent. The clotting/low platelet problem has led to some deaths.
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Social Warming: it’s a book.


Surreal photos show the fierce battle against Caldor fire at a Tahoe ski resort • Gizmodo

Brian Kahn:

»

The Caldor Fire forced the evacuation of basically the entirety of South Lake Tahoe, a resort community of 22,000, on Monday. Firefighters are waging an all-out battle to keep the fire from reaching the town and wreaking havoc in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Among the tools at their disposal are the snow guns used at the ski resorts that dot the surrounding mountains. On Sunday night, remarkable scenes unfolded at Sierra-at-Tahoe, a resort located along Route 50 and smack in the middle of the Caldor Fire’s path. There, firefighters and the resort stood against the flames.

The resort’s snow guns usually sit idle in summer, waiting for below-freezing temperatures to make artificial snow. The high-pressure water lines used to spray frozen faux precipitation also make them a valuable tool in case of summer fire. “We are prepared to fight the good fight with fire crews + apparatus on-site,” the resort wrote in an Instagram post on Sunday morning.

That included the snow guns, which were used to wet vegetation and structures in hopes of protecting them from the advancing wall of flames.

«

The photos truly are surreal: visions of a fiery future, acid-orange and with some weird sci-fi structures.
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QR codes replace service staff as pandemic spurs automation in US • Financial Times

Taylor Nicole Rogers:

»

American workers in manufacturing plants and distribution centres have long worried that their employers would find ways to replace them with robots and artificial intelligence, but the Covid-19 crisis has brought that threat to service workers, too. Businesses are increasingly turning to automated tools for customer service tasks long done by low-wage staff.

But rather than robots, it is the ubiquitous QR matrix bar codes that are replacing humans.

Many restaurants have begun to experiment with QR codes and order management systems such as Toast that allow diners to order food to their table from their phones instead of with human servers. Grocery stores have increased their investments in self-checkout kiosks that replace human cashiers, and more convenience stores including Circle K are experimenting with the computer vision technology pioneered by Amazon Go to allow customers to make purchases without standing in a checkout line at all.

The shifts mean that some of the 1.7m leisure and hospitality jobs and 270,000 retail jobs the US economy has lost since its February 2020 high are unlikely to return.

“With these jobs, there was always some risk of automating but the push was not there,” said Casey Warman, a professor at Dalhousie University who specialises in labour economics. “Covid nudged those jobs.”

Many business owners including Allamano say they are still desperate to hire human workers, but a months-long worker shortage has made them hard to find. Economists say the risk of contracting the Delta coronavirus variant combined with expanded unemployment benefits and closed schools have kept some workers at home.

«

The retail sector in the US looked precarious in 2019 (lots of links here about how problematic it was) but this is a dramatic shift. And who’d have guessed it would be QR codes that would do it.
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You won’t believe the clickbaity chaos of Chinese apps • QQ.com

Wang Wenqing:

»

In Luo Weiyong’s line of work, success means crafting a 7 a.m. push notification catchy enough that his company’s app is the first thing people open when they wake up in the morning. Or, it means sending messages personalized according to users’ online behavior every 39 minutes — an interval extensive testing proved optimal.

For the companies Luo has worked at, as well as for countless competitors vying to get noticed, time equals money — literally. More user attention translates to higher advertising income. But Chinese apps are finding they need ever more aggressive tactics to achieve their growth goals.

For years, China’s internet industry knew nothing but rapid expansion as millions upon millions of people went online for the first time. But with smartphones now in the hands of just about everyone who wants one, growth has slowed to a crawl. According to business intelligence service provider QuestMobile, the number of active monthly mobile internet users in China reached 1.135 billion in 2019, just 2.3% more than a year earlier. In 2020, this figure fell further to 1.7%.

The only way to increase traffic is to out-compete other apps for users’ time, a battle in which push notifications are the most potent weapon. To wield them most effectively, apps collect and analyze all possible user data, reducing every one of China’s 1.1 billion phone owners to a set of tags that can be used to target them with barrages of tailor-made messages.

«

Love the clickbait headline to talk about the clickbait nature of an industry that’s now at the top of the adoption S-curve. (Via Benedict Evans’s newsletter.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1626: Apple’s internal culture conflict, China’s three-hour game-kid mandate, study says trolls always trolls, and more


Very soon, Instagram will demand to know when your birthday falls – but don’t expect it to buy you a cake. CC-licensed photo by Dark Dwarf 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. Also not a prime number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How workers at Apple are building a movement • Protocol

Anna Kramer:

»

When Apple security engineer Cher Scarlett opened the anonymous worker forum Blind on Friday afternoon, she saw that one of the most popular posts accused her of ruining the company. When we chatted just a few minutes later, I asked her how she was doing and she could only respond with a long sigh.

Scarlett has become the de-facto face of the new #AppleToo movement, a group of workers who have gathered together to ask their peers and former Apple employees to share their stories of issues in the workplace, ranging from harassment and discrimination to bullying and feeling unheard by management. #AppleToo first shared its callout for stories just over a week ago, and the group has already received nearly 500 varying reports from people all across the company. The most common theme from the stories? Workers who feel as if they’ve been ignored by human resources.

“There’s this culture within Apple that is very rewarding of secrecy and loyalty, and when I have read some of these posts about me, it’s very much seeping through, people are feeling that I’m leaking confidential data.” But Scarlett doesn’t see it that way — she works in corporate security and legal, and she said that she would never leak product information (and that her direct team supports her, and condemns the abuse she’s receiving). Talking publicly about issues within the workplace is, to her, an entirely different question.

While #AppleToo is not a union per se, the group’s website says that it wants to use the power of a collective movement to bring attention to the hundreds of Apple workers who have long felt invalidated by the company. Scarlett, who had a well-known online presence in the software world even before she became an Apple worker, is the group organizer who has spoken the most publicly, and who publicly led the effort to create the informal pay equity survey against Apple’s wishes.

«

This is indicative of a big cultural shift – but an external one, in society, which has happened among those who have grown up in the past 20 years or so. They’re not prepared to stay quiet about conditions in the way that those who worked there in the 70s, 80s, 90s were. Quite how Apple, the company with its particular, peculiar structure adapts (or doesn’t?) is going to be quite the question for the next few years.
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China limits videogames to three hours a week for young people • WSJ

Keith Zhai:

»

China on Monday issued strict new measures aimed at curbing what authorities describe as youth videogame addiction, which they blame for a host of societal ills, including distracting young people from school and family responsibilities.

The new regulation, announced by the National Press and Publication Administration, will ban minors from playing videogames entirely between Monday and Thursday. On the other three days of the week, and on public holidays, they will be only permitted to play between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The announcement didn’t offer a specific age for minors, but previous regulations targeting younger videogamers have drawn the line at 18 years old.

Enforcement measures weren’t detailed, but in response to previous moves by the government to limit videogame playing by young people, Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the world’s largest videogame company by revenue, has used a combination of technologies, automatically booting off players after a certain period of time and using real-name registration and facial-recognition technology to limit game play for minors.

«

South Korea tried something similar a few years back, banning “children” from playing games after midnight, with age verification done by credit card details. Led to a lot of children learning their parents’ credit card numbers; had no effect on time spent playing games. China might be a bit different, of course, in its enforcement.

The US right wing is going to go nuts about this. On the one hand, it’s exactly what they think should be done. On the other, they’ll hate the idea of copying something China does. (The authoritarian nature of it will be neither here nor there to them, of course.)
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Disgraced Theranos founder will blame ‘abusive’ ex-boyfriend in fraud trial • The Guardian

Richard Luscombe:

»

The disgraced founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos plans to blame emotional and sexual abuse by her former boyfriend, also a senior executive at the company, at her federal fraud trial beginning next week, according to legal papers published on Saturday.

Elizabeth Holmes, 37, says she is not responsible for decisions she made as head of the company because her mind was impaired by “manipulation” from Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, 56, the chief operating officer of Theranos who faces a separate fraud trial next year.

Holmes and Balwani, who was also the company’s president, have both pleaded not guilty to charges they defrauded investors, doctors and patients.

The filing in US district court in San Jose, California, by Holmes’s lawyers was published on Saturday by NPR. It outlines for the first time her strategy to defend herself against claims she ripped off patients and investors for hundreds of millions of dollars. It says Holmes is likely to take the stand.

The trial, delayed earlier this year by Holmes’s pregnancy, is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and last several months.

Jurors will hear allegations that Holmes raised more than $700m from investors on claims Theranos invented a revolutionary machine that could conduct hundreds of laboratory tests from a single finger-prick of blood, but was actually using other companies’ technology for the tests. The company folded in 2018.

«

They’re being tried separately – Holmes, then Balwani. Which gives Holmes, ever the slippery customer, the chance to blame the empty seat. And presumably will do the same for Balwani.
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Why doesn’t the United States have test abundance?! • Marginal REVOLUTION

Alex Tabarrok:

»

We have vaccine abundance in the United States but not test abundance. Germany has test abundance. Tests are easily available at the supermarket or the corner store and they are cheap, five tests for 3.75 euro or less than a dollar each. Billiger! In Great Britain you can get a 14 pack for free. The Canadians are also distributing packs of tests to small businesses for free to test their employees.

In the United States, the FDA has approved less than a handful of true at-home tests and, partially as a result, they are expensive at $10 to $20 per test, i.e. more than ten times as expensive as in Germany. Germany has approved over 50 of these tests including tests from American firms not approved in the United States. The rapid tests are excellent for identifying infectiousness and they are an important weapon, alongside vaccines, for controlling viral spread and making gatherings safe but you can’t expect people to use them more than a handful of times at $10 per use.

«

The contrast in test availability between the US and UK is pretty dramatic. Then again, the comments on the post show that it probably wouldn’t help much. They don’t believe all this “science” malarkey.
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Online trolls also jerks in real life, says Aarhus University study • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

»

The internet doesn’t turn people into assholes so much as it acts as a massive megaphone for existing ones, according to work by researchers at Aarhus University.

In a study published in the American Political Science Review, the researchers used representative surveys and behavioral studies from the U.S. and Denmark to establish the reason why people broadly perceive the online environment as more hostile than offline interaction. A pre-print version of the article is available.

The team considered the mismatch hypothesis, which in the context of online behavior refers to the theory that there is a conflict between human adaptation for face-to-face interpersonal interaction and the newer, impersonal online environment. That hypothesis more or less amounts to the idea that humans who would be nicer to each other in person might feel more inclined to get nasty when interacting with other pseudonymous internet users. The researchers found little evidence for that.

Instead, their data pointed to online interactions largely mirroring offline behavior, with people predisposed to aggressive, status-seeking behavior just as unpleasant in person as behind a veil of online anonymity, and choosing to be jerks as part of a deliberate strategy rather than as a consequence of the format involved. They also found some evidence that less hostile people simply aren’t as interested in talking about politics on the internet. These results were similar in both the U.S. and Denmark, even though the two countries have very different political cultures with differing levels of polarization. (For example, a hostile far-right mob organized on social media didn’t recently storm the Danish Parliament.)

«

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Surely by now you’ve bought Social Warming, my latest book, on how social networks drive us all a little bit mad – even if we don’t use them.


ARM China reportedly seizes IP, relaunches as an ‘independent’ company • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

»

The onetime CEO of ARM China, Allen Wu, has reportedly seized control of ARM’s Chinese business venture, ARM China. Mr. Wu is accused of attempting to launch his own company, Alphatecture, by leveraging his position at ARM China to do so. Companies were reportedly offered discounts on ARM China products if they would invest in Alphatecture. Investors and ARM agreed to oust Wu for this behavior in a board vote, 7-1, but Wu still possessed the seal of the company, which makes him its legal representative as far as Chinese law is concerned.

Wu hired security to keep ARM employees from entering ARM China, fired employees who did not wish him to take over the company, and has sued ARM China to declare his own dismissal as CEO illegal. This means Allen Wu (person) is suing Allen Wu (ARM China). As Devin Patel reports, ARM has responded by refusing to transfer any IP from its new products. The newest CPU core ARM China has access to is the Cortex-A77.

Wu has responded in turn by holding an event declaring that 安谋科技 (this appears to mean ARM Limited) is an enormous success, and that it would soon ship a new “XPU” line of products consisting of AI accelerators and processing units, image signal processors, security processors, and video processors. Most of this equipment is targeting the IoT market.

Patel claims that Softbank’s “short-sighted profit-driven behavior” is at the root of this problem. In 2018, Softbank agreed to cede control of ARM’s Chinese operations to the ARM China joint venture. ARM/Softbank owns 49% of the company while the Chinese own 51 percent. The Chinese government’s goal for the merger, according to Nikkei Asia, was “[T]o secure sources of technology, especially for some sensitive chips that later go into government or other security uses,” an anonymous chip executive stated.

«

I used to ask ARM how it would protect its IP from people in China who would want it. I guess now it’s finding out.
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Asking people for their birthdays • Instagram Blog

Pavni Diwanji is VP of Youth Products:

»

We’ve been clear that we want to do more to create safer, more private experiences for young people. To do that we need to know how old everybody is on Instagram, so we’ve started asking people to share their birthday with us if they haven’t shared it previously.

This information allows us to create new safety features for young people, and helps ensure we provide the right experiences to the right age group. Recent examples include changes we made in March to prevent adults from sending messages to people under 18 who don’t follow them, and last month we started to default new accounts belonging to people under the age of 16 into a private setting.

…First, we’ll start to ask you for your birthday when you open Instagram. We’ll show you a notification a handful of times and if you haven’t provided us with your birthday by a certain point, you’ll need to share it to continue using Instagram. This information is necessary for new features we’re developing to protect young people.

«

Interesting: other services tend to demand your age in order to give you access to adult content (ie check you’re over 18). But this is demanding your age for the benefit of those under 16.
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Scepticism grows in El Salvador over pioneering Bitcoin gamble • The Guardian

Mat Youkee:

»

The ratings agency Moody’s downgraded El Salvadoran debt over fears of “weakened governance” evidenced by the new law, and the IMF – with which the government is negotiating a $1bn loan – published a blogpost highlighting the risks of adopting crypto as national currency.

“The shift from euphoria to scepticism has been very fast,” says Castañeda.

The potential benefits identified by the Bank of America are probably overstated. A paper by Johns Hopkins University says the cost of remittances via Bitcoin will be higher than traditional methods, and a July survey found that nearly two-thirds of El Salvadorans would not be open to accepting payment in Bitcoin.

Eric Grill, CEO of Chainbytes, which produces Bitcoin ATMs, told the Guardian that his plan to relocate manufacturing to El Salvador had faced serious challenges in sourcing parts. Local geothermal energy experts say Bukele’s plan to power energy-intensive Bitcoin mining activities from the country’s volcanoes are wildly optimistic.

The government insists that El Salvadorans will be free to exchange their Bitcoin for US dollars, which the country adopted as national currency in 2001, and has proposed a $150m fund to ensure convertibility. Given popular scepticism, however, critics say this is unlikely to be sufficient. It would also open the door for illegal actors to convert Bitcoin – which rose to prominence on Silk Road, an online black market, and prides itself on the anonymity of transactions – to dollars via a national bank and thereby launder their gains.

Perhaps the biggest concern, however, is that it exposes a population with little financial education – for the most part, without an economic safety net – to the fate of the highly volatile cryptocurrency markets.

«

Goes legal tender on September 7. Questions: how long will it take to be clear whether it has “worked” or not? And how precisely do we judge whether it has worked?
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People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

»

Like many students, Liri has had several part-time jobs. A 23-year-old in Israel, she does waitressing and bartending gigs in Tel Aviv, where she goes to university.

She also sells cars, works in retail, and conducts job interviews and onboarding sessions for new employees as a corporate HR rep. In Germany.

In 2020, AI-synthetic media started moving away from the darker corners of the internet.
Liri can juggle so many jobs, in multiple countries, because she has hired out her face to Hour One, a startup that uses people’s likenesses to create AI-voiced characters that then appear in marketing and educational videos for organizations around the world. It is part of a wave of companies overhauling the way digital content is produced. And it has big implications for the human workforce.

Liri does her waitressing and bar work in person, but she has little idea what her digital clones are up to. “It is definitely a bit strange to think that my face can appear in videos or ads for different companies,” she says.

Hour One is not the only company taking deepfake tech mainstream, using it to produce mash-ups of real footage and AI-generated video. Some have used professional actors to add life to deepfaked personas. But Hour One doesn’t ask for any particular skills. You just need to be willing to hand over the rights to your face.

Hour One is building up a pool of what it calls “characters.” It says it has around 100 on its books so far, with more being added each week. “We’ve got a queue of people that are dying to become these characters,” says Natalie Monbiot, the company’s head of strategy.

Anyone can apply to become a character. Like a modeling agency, Hour One filters through applicants, selecting those it wants on its books. The company is aiming for a broad sample of characters that reflect the ages, genders, and racial backgrounds of people in the real world, says Monbiot. (Currently, around 80% of its characters are under 50 years old, 70% are female, and 25% are white.)

To create a character, Hour One uses a high-resolution 4K camera to film a person talking and making different facial expressions in front of a green screen. And that’s it for the human part of the performance. Plugging the resulting data into AI software that works in a similar way to deepfake tech, Hour One can generate an endless amount of footage of that person saying whatever it wants, in any language.

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Two GPT-3 AIs talking to each other • Reddit

It’s two AI-generated deepfaked human faces talking to each other. Someone said that “it’s like every room in Clubhouse” (remember Clubhouse? Anyway), which if true makes me very happy that I never joined Clubhouse.
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Climate target too low and progress too slow: top scientist • Phys.org

Marlowe Hood:

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The world must sharply draw down greenhouse gas emissions and suck billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air if today’s youth are to be spared climate cataclysm, a top scientist has warned.

“This reality is being ignored by governments around the world,” said James Hansen, who famously announced to the US Congress 30 years ago that global warming was underway.

“To say that we are ‘moving in the right direction’ just isn’t good enough anymore,” he said in an interview.

Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies until 2013, Hansen and his 18-year-old granddaughter—who is suing the US government for contributing to the problem—delivered that message this week at UN climate negotiations in Bonn.

Thousands of diplomats at the 12-day, 196-nation talks are haggling over the fine print of a “user’s manual” for a treaty that will go into effect in 2020.

Inked in the French capital in 2015, the Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit).

With the planet out of kilter after only one degree of warming—enough to amplify deadly heatwaves, superstorms and droughts—the treaty also vows to explore the feasibility of holding the line at 1.5ºC.

“That is a good impulse, because if we go to 2ºC, it is guaranteed that we will lose our shorelines and coastal cities,” said Hansen. “The only question is how fast.”

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Start Up No.1625: web media’s uniqueness problem, Google’s $15bn gift to Apple, Covid oxygen need hits rocket launches, and more


Why is it everyone but road planners knows that adding lanes won’t reduce traffic jams? CC-licensed photo by formulanone on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Not a prime number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Making algorithmic dog food for the content factory • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick’s often-daily email had this take on Vice, which has laid off a number of senior staff because it is *checks notes* pivoting to TikTok and YouTube, despite having no real presence there:

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when it comes to digital video, the majority of it is captioned anyways, making the average viral video closer to a blog post full of animated GIFs than a feature film.

The problem is not words, the problem is that digital media, as a business, is broken. The companies that dominate online publishing right now grew from blogs and those blogs became popular because they offered something that people couldn’t get in newspapers or magazines: takes, baby. People, Americans, specifically, have a national compulsion for consuming and dissecting each other’s opinions and blogs filled a void left by the rise of the 1990s Objective Journalism fad.

These blogs, that became websites, that then became digital media companies, though, quickly decided that takes were bad. Around 2012, in a moment of tremendous self-destruction, online publishers, fat with VC [venture capital] money, all started saying “no hot takes.” It’s like that Stephen King story where a whole fishing village goes insane in a snowstorm and walks into the ocean to kill themselves. A whole industry of self-serious bloggers-turned-editors decided that they would no longer do literally the only they were good at and the only thing that their readers actually liked. And now, every 16 months, one of these sites will contort itself into a ridiculous reorg because it has let investors or online platforms or advertisers convince it that it needs to produce every single kind of internet content that exists. In all honesty, why does your website need a Snapchat? Because that’s where people are? OK, well, if you can’t get enough people to visit you from Snapchat, then why does your Snapchat need a website? See how circular and crazy this all this?

But there is also one other piece to all this that I think is actually the real secret to the completely dysfunctional state of online media. Many of these companies like VICE started out with devoted readerships. These websites published distinct content for specific kinds of people to not just share, but also, just, you know, read. But, due to the same forces that pressured these companies into launching Live Facebook studios or whatever in 2017, now most of these outlets no longer actually do anything particularly unique.

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The whole thing is an Alien-blood-cutting take on what’s gone wrong with modern web news media. Except his newsletter and mine, obviously.
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Bernstein says Google’s FY21 payments to Apple might reach nearly $15bn • PED30

Philip Elmer-DeWitt:

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From a note to [analyst] Bernstein clients that landed on my desktop Wednesday:

“We now estimate that Google’s payments to AAPL to be the default search engine on iOS were ~$10B in FY 20, higher than our prior published model estimate of $8B. Recent disclosures in Apple’s public filings as well as a bottom-up analysis of Google’s TAC (traffic acquisition costs) payments each point us to this figure…

“We now forecast that Google’s payments to Apple might be nearly $15B in FY 21, contribute an amazing ~850 bps to Services growth YoY, and amount to ~9% of company gross profits.

“We see two potential risks to GOOG’s payments to AAPL: (1) regulatory risk, which we believe is real, but likely years away; we see a potential 4-5% impact to Apple’s gross profits from an adverse ruling; & (2) that Google chooses to stop paying Apple to be the default search engine altogether, or looks to renegotiate terms and pay less.”

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I have to admit it’s a mystery to me why Google continues to pay this. I can’t think that Microsoft would really pony up anything like that to get Bing made the default. Would Apple change the default to something else? Meantime, this is free money for Apple.
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Mojo Vision crams its contact lens with AR display, processor and wireless tech • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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A sci-fi vision is coming into focus. [Last week], startup Mojo Vision detailed its progress on a tiny AR display it embeds in contact lenses, providing a digital layer of information superimposed on what you see in the real world.

The Mojo Lens centerpiece is a hexagonal display less than half a millimeter wide, with each greenish pixel just a quarter of the width of a red blood cell. A “femtoprojector” – a tiny magnification system – expands the imagery optically and beams it to a central patch of the retina.

The lenses are ringed with electronics, including a camera that captures the outside world. A computer chip processes the imagery, controls the display and communicates wirelessly to external devices like a phone. A motion tracker that compensates for your eye’s movement. The device is powered by a battery that’s charged wirelessly overnight, like a smartwatch.

“We have got this almost working. It’s very, very close,” said Chief Technology Officer Mike Wiemer, detailing the design at the Hot Chips processor conference. Prototypes have passed toxicology tests, and Mojo expects a fully featured prototype this year.

Mojo’s plan is to leapfrog clunky headwear, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, that have begun incorporating AR. If it succeeds, Mojo Lens could help people with vision problems, for example by outlining letters in text or making curb edges more apparent. The product also could help athletes see how far they’ve biked or how fast their heart is beating without checking other devices.

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“We have got this almost working” has to be one of the all-time technology startup quotes. Theranos: “we have got this pinprick blood test almost working.” Believe it when I see it in the shops. AR contact lenses have been tried a few times before – you can’t have forgotten Microsoft’s, then Google’s, diabetes-monitoring contact lens which came to nothing.

Meanwhile, smartwatches are here, now, and available on a wrist near you if desired.
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Facebook used facial recognition without consent 200,000 times, says South Korea’s data watchdog • The Register

Laura Dobberstein:

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Facebook, Netflix and Google have all received reprimands or fines, and an order to make corrective action, from South Korea’s government data protection watchdog, the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC).

The PIPC announced a privacy audit last year and has revealed that three companies – Facebook, Netflix and Google – were in violations of laws and had insufficient privacy protection.

Facebook alone was ordered to pay 6.46bn won (US$5.5m) for creating and storing facial recognition templates of 200,000 local users without proper consent between April 2018 and September 2019.

Another 26m won (US$22,000) penalty was issued for illegally collecting social security numbers, not issuing notifications regarding personal information management changes, and other missteps.

Facebook has been ordered to destroy facial information collected without consent or obtain consent, and was prohibited from processing identity numbers without legal basis. It was also ordered to destroy collected data and disclose contents related to foreign migration of personal information.

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Please stop adding more lanes to busy highways—it doesn’t help • Ars Technica

Jonathan Gitlin:

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[Texas] wants to build more lanes [on interstate 35], which it thinks will ease congestion. At some points, this could leave I-35 as much as 20 lanes wide; this will require bulldozing dozens of businesses along the way. An alternative that would have buried 12 lanes of the highway in two levels of underground tunnels was apparently considered too costly.

But it would be wrong to single out this 8-mile proposal as an outlier. In Houston, the state plans to widen I-45 despite plenty of opposition, including from the Federal Highway Administration. And you don’t have to look far to see other state governments wanting to build new roads to reduce congestion.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan wants to add four more lanes to I-270 and I-495 to funnel commuters into the District of Columbia and its surrounding office parks more quickly. In the Chicago suburbs, an eight-year project to add more lanes to a 22-mile stretch of I-294 began in 2018. And Atlanta might soon be entirely paved over, such is the rate that Georgia plans to add new highway lanes. And these are just three examples of state governments blindly following the trend.

The infuriating bit is that the evidence is pretty clear: these are deeply misguided policies. While it seems intuitive that the solution to three lanes of gridlock is to spread the same number of cars over four lanes, it fails because of a phenomenon called induced demand.

Reducing traffic might make sense if the only variable were the number of road lanes. But it isn’t—as Ray Kinsella was told in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Except this time, “they” refers to more cars. When people know a particular route is congested, some of them will choose not to drive. But once you tell everyone that you’ve added more lanes to that road, that latent demand has an outlet—at which point the traffic jams return, but now with even more cars in them.

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Is there some sort of Laffer curve for motorway lanes? The trouble is that unlike tax rates, traffic conditions are a future condition, liable to chaotic derangement by accidents and so on. You go in the hope the roads will be open and empty, while frequently being disappointed. Having more lanes feels like rolling more dice in the hope of getting sixes.
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Apple promises tiny App Store changes to drop class action case • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

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While the Epic case is still ongoing, Apple has worked out a settlement on a class action filed by developers, pledging to make some changes to the App Store model. They are very minor changes, though, which serves as a reminder of how little power developers have in the relationship. 

The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed in 219 by two developers who accused Apple of abusing its monopoly over iOS software. Rather than take the case before a judge while also fighting Epic on another front, Apple and the plaintiffs have reached a proposed settlement, which the court can choose to accept or reject. 

According to the filing, Apple has pledged to set up a fund that will make payments to small and medium developers. The total payout will be $100 million, and roughly 67,000 devs will be eligible. Payments could go as high as $30,000 for devs that made over $1 million in calendar years 2015 through 2021. Almost all members of the class would get between $250 and $2,000, though. 

More interestingly, Apple promises it will amend its rules to clarify that developers can offer subscriptions outside the App Store. There have been several instances where Apple suspended or rejected an app based on the developer pushing subscriptions outside of the App Store, which circumvents Apple’s 30% cut. This was never technically against the rules, but Apple will now codify this right in its developer agreement. Apple also says it will ensure that its App Store search will rely on objective signals like downloads, star ratings, text relevance, and user behavior. However, it won’t have to change anything about search for the next three years. 

At the end of the day, these are pretty minor changes. The Coalition for App Fairness, a group backed by Epic, Basecamp, and others, calls the settlement a sham.

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It’s no concession at all, though Mark Gurman at Bloomberg insists that Apple must have settled because it knew it was in the wrong. Allowing developers to mention in email that you can sign up by non-App Store methods is pretty daft. How is that helpful?
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There had to be a link to my book Social Warming, didn’t there?


Microsoft won’t stop you installing Windows 11 on older PCs • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Microsoft is announcing today that it won’t block people from installing Windows 11 on most older PCs. While the software maker has recommended hardware requirements for Windows 11 — which it’s largely sticking to — a restriction to install the OS will only be enforced when you try to upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11 through Windows Update. This means anyone with a PC with an older CPU that doesn’t officially pass the upgrade test can still go ahead and download an ISO file of Windows 11 and install the OS manually.

Microsoft announced its Windows 11 minimum hardware requirements in June, and made it clear that only Intel 8th Gen and beyond CPUs were officially supported. Microsoft now tells us that this install workaround is designed primarily for businesses to evaluate Windows 11, and that people can upgrade at their own risk as the company can’t guarantee driver compatibility and overall system reliability. Microsoft won’t be recommending or advertising this method of installing Windows 11 to consumers. In fact, after we published this post, Microsoft reached out to tell us about one potentially gigantic catch it didn’t mention during our briefing: systems that are upgraded this way may not be entitled to get Windows Updates, even security ones. We’re asking Microsoft for clarification.

Overall, it’s a big change that means millions of PCs may not be left behind, technically. Consumers will still need to go to the effort of downloading an ISO file and manually installing Windows 11, which the vast majority probably won’t do.

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So you can upgrade manually, but might not even get security updates? That’s pretty rough. Can’t see that as a policy with any legs.
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Man robbed of 16.4 bitcoin in 2018 sues young thieves’ parents • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

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One of the defendants —Hazel D. Wells — just filed a motion with the court to represent herself and her son in lieu of hiring an attorney. In a filing on Aug. 9, Wells …volunteered that her son had been questioned by U.K. authorities in connection with the bitcoin theft.

Neither of the defendants’ families are disputing the basic claim that their kids stole from Mr. Schober. Rather, they’re asserting that time has run out on Schober’s legal ability to claim a cause of action against them.

“Plaintiff alleges two common law causes of action (conversion and trespass to chattel), for which a three-year statute of limitations applies,” an attorney for the defendants argued in a filing on Aug. 6 (PDF). “Plaintiff further alleges a federal statutory cause of action, for which a two-year statute of limitations applies. Because plaintiff did not file his lawsuit until May 21, 2021, three years and five months after his injury, his claims should be dismissed.”

Schober’s attorneys argue (PDF) that “the statute of limitations begins to run when the Plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury which is the base of his action,” and that inherent in this concept is the discovery rule, namely: That the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of both the existence and cause of his injury.

The plaintiffs point out that Schober’s investigators didn’t pinpoint one of the young men’s involvement until more than a year after they’d identified his co-conspirator, saying Schober notified the second boy’s parents in December 2019.

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In 2018, the 16.4 bitcoin were worth £145,800. Presently, £587,400 or so.
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EU set to launch formal probe into Nvidia’s $54bn takeover of Arm • Ars Technica

Javier Espinoza and Kate Beioley:

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Brussels is set to launch a formal competition probe early next month into Nvidia’s planned $54bn takeover of British chip designer Arm, after months of informal discussions between regulators and the US chip company.

The investigation is likely to begin after Nvidia officially notifies the European Commission of its plan to acquire Arm, with the US chipmaker planning to make its submission in the week starting September 6, according to two people with direct knowledge of the process. They added that the date might yet change, however.

Brussels’ investigation would come after the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority said its initial assessment of the deal suggested there were “serious competition concerns” and that a set of remedies suggested by Nvidia would not be sufficient to address them.

The UK watchdog said it feared the deal could “stifle innovation across a number of markets” including by giving Nvidia the power to hurt its rivals by limiting their access to Arm’s technology.

Nvidia announced a plan in September last year to buy the UK chip designer from SoftBank, the Japanese investment conglomerate.

But rival chip companies have raised objections to the deal, noting that Arm’s chip designs were widely licensed through the chip industry and that Nvidia would have the power to restrict rivals from using Arm technology, something the US company has denied it would do.

The CMA recommended an in-depth investigation into the deal, but the UK may also decide to block the takeover on national security grounds.

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Once the UK and EC get onto this, it’s hard not to think that the US will join in too.
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SpaceX says liquid oxygen shortage due to COVID-19 delaying rocket launch • Science Times

Aubrey Clarke:

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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell warned earlier this week that liquid oxygen issues were making it even challenging to launch rockets and that anybody with extra should email her.

Most launch providers, heavy industries, and municipal water systems rely on liquid oxygen (LOX), Click Orlando said. Rockets like United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 combine supercooled oxygen with rocket-grade fuel to create the power required for liftoff.

LOX is also needed in hospitals to treat COVID-19-infected patients and for water purification, and supplies are running limited. Space News said the city of Orlando requested people to reduce their water consumption on Friday so that more liquid oxygen might be diverted to hospitals.

In a video uploaded to YouTube by ExpovistaTV (which was later deleted), Shotwell stated at a Space Symposium panel that SpaceX’s launches would be hampered this year due to a scarcity of liquid oxygen. Without going into detail, she said that SpaceX would ensure hospitals get the liquid oxygen they require.

…Shotwell, who also serves as SpaceX’s chief operations officer, reportedly stated that a worldwide microprocessor shortage had caused new workstations for the company’s Starlink satellite internet project to be delayed.

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SpaceX uses liquid oxygen to create thrust in its Merlin engines fuelled by kerosene. Perhaps not a bad thing that it’s delayed? By a pandemic?
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Confirming the pedigree of uranium cubes from Nazi Germany’s failed nuclear program • American Chemical Society

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In the early 1940s, several German scientists were competing to exploit nuclear fission to produce plutonium from uranium for the war. The teams included Werner Heisenberg’s group in Berlin (later moved to Haigerloch to try to avoid Allied troops) and Kurt Diebner’s team at Gottow. Uranium cubes were produced to fuel nuclear reactors at these sites. Measuring about 2 inches on each side, hundreds of the cubes were hung on cables submerged in “heavy” water, in which deuterium replaces lighter hydrogen. The scientists hoped radioactive decay of the uranium in the assemblies would unleash a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction—but the design failed.

U.S. and British forces seized some of the Heisenberg uranium cubes at Haigerloch in 1945, and more than 600 of these cubes were shipped to the U.S. Some may have been used in the U.S. nuclear weapons effort—which was launched in part due to fears that Germany was developing nuclear weapons—and a few belong to collectors and sites including PNNL. The whereabouts of the others, including hundreds of Diebner cubes, are unknown.

PNNL uses its sample to help train international border guards and nuclear forensics researchers to detect nuclear material. It’s labeled as a Heisenberg cube, but support for that assertion is anecdotal, says Brittany Robertson, who is presenting the work at ACS Fall 2021. “We didn’t have any actual measurements to back up that claim,” says Robertson, a doctoral student who works at the lab. To prove the cube’s origins, she began modifying some analytical techniques to combine with Schwantes’ established forensic methods. Robertson turned to radiochronometry, the nuclear field’s version of a technique that geologists use to determine the age of samples based on radioactive isotope content.

…While the scientists are intrigued about working with material from the dawn of the nuclear age, these objects are undeniably linked to a horrific time in history. “I’m glad the Nazi program wasn’t as advanced as they wanted it to be by the end of the war,” Robertson says, “because otherwise, the world would be a very different place.”

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Well, yes.
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11-year-old drummer Nandi Bushell got to jam on stage with Foo Fighters • Boing Boing

Rusty Blazenhoff:

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Here’s a feel-good story for you. Dave Grohl’s “arch nemesis,” 11-year-old Nandi Bushell, finally got her chance to jam live with the Foo Fighters. Grohl and the musical prodigy have been going back and forth online in drum battles but it’s been her dream to play on stage with the band. At their sold-out show Thursday night at The Forum in Los Angeles, Grohl announced her surprise appearance and the crowd went wild. And she started the set like every pro drummer does—by spinning a drumstick in the air. She and the band then brought the house down with “Everlong.”

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Last week we lost Charlie Watts. This week, see someone who could be part of the future. (Bear in mind that professional musicians do not under any circumstances let rank amateurs onstage to play with them. If you’re up there, you’re really, really good.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified