Monday 22 February, 2021

Agribusiness: hot stuff

Lockdown news

From the BBC’s Health Correspondent…

  • No longer is controlling infection and keeping R below 1 seen as the be-all and end-all.
  • That much is clear from the government’s four tests for its roadmap to lift lockdown in England.
  • Infection rates are only being seen as a problem if they risk a surge in hospital admissions.
  • The reasons for that change can be found from the early results published on the UK vaccination programme.
  • Scottish researchers have found a “spectacular” reduction in the risk of serious illness four weeks after the first dose of the vaccine is given.
  • The link between infections and serious illness is being broken.
  • That is not to say a surge in infections can or will be tolerated – the number of Covid patients in hospital is still only just below where it was in the first peak and not all vulnerable people have been vaccinated yet.
  • But it does give ministers some room for manoeuvre. That is important. Schools are not seen as a significant driver of infection, but reopening them for all could push infection levels up.

Easing the lockdown will be a multi-stage process, it seems, with the first two change-points March 8 and 29,

From 8 March each care home resident in England can have one regular visitor, with whom they can hold hands. This is a really welcome development.

From 29 March outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed. It is understood this will include gatherings in private gardens. (Hooray!) Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts will reopen and organised adult and children’s sport, such as grassroots football, will also return. (Golf?) Also, people will once again be able to travel out of their areas – (although guidance will likely still recommend staying local, and overnight stays will not be permitted).

Hmmm… A day-trip to the coast, perhaps?

Quote of the Day

”But, good gracious, you’ve got to educate him first. You can’t expect a boy to be vicious until he’s been to a good school.”

  • Saki (Hector Hugh Munro), 1910.

Remind you of anyone?

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Schindler’s List | John Williams | Netherlands Orchestra


There’s a story in the comments that the oboist suffered from a neurological disease and had thought that she would never play again. And the day she did was also her daughter’s 18th birthday. No idea if that’s true but, as the Italians day, if it’s not true it ought to be.

There’s also a story that when Steven Spielberg showed John Williams an early cut of the film Williams was so moved that he left the room to compose himself. When he returned he said to Spielberg that the film deserved a better composer. “I know”, replied the director, “but they’re all dead.”

Long Read of the Day

What Tesla is up to

Interesting long blog post by Robert Scoble which may shed some light on Tesla’s current (and apparently insane ) valuation. Robert has been a tech enthusiast for decades, so a portion of salt is a mandatory supplement. On the other hand, he’s very well-informed and often perceptive. He understood the significance of blogging, for example, way before many of the tech crowd.

Hey Alexa what did I just type? Decoding smartphone sounds with a voice assistant

Fascinating paper (with the above lovely title) by Ross Anderson and two of his colleagues. Here’s the nub of it:

Physical keyboards emit sound on key presses. It is well known that captured recording of keystrokes can be used to reconstruct the text typed on a keyboard. Recent research shows that acoustic side channels can also be exploited with virtual keyboards such as phone touchscreens, which despite not having moving parts still generate sound. The attack is based on the fact that microphones located close to the screen can hear screen vibrations and use them successfully reconstruct the tap location. Such attacks used to assume that the adversary could get access to the microphones in the device. We take the attack one step further and relax this assumption.

In this work we show that attacks on virtual keyboards do not necessarily need to assume access to the device, and can actually be performed with external microphones. For example, we show how keytaps performed on a smartphone can be reconstructed by nearby smart speakers.

Moral: whenever you read the word “smart” replace it with “unauthorised conduit for funnelling your data to some outfit in the cloud”. It makes the sentence sound clumsy, I know, but it’s closer to the truth.

Later Bang on cue, I find this: Why you’ll be hearing a lot less about ‘smart cities’

Growing backlash against big technology companies, combined with the pandemic, has led to diminishing enthusiasm for a term that once dominated the conversation around the future of cities.

What will happen to WhatsApp users who don’t accept its new terms?

Now we know — from a TechCrunch report.

According to an email seen by TechCrunch to one of its merchant partners, WhatsApp said it will “slowly ask” users who have not yet accepted the policy changes to comply with the new terms over the coming weeks, “in order to have full functionality of WhatsApp” starting May 15.

If they still don’t accept the terms, “for a short time, these users will be able to receive calls and notifications, but will not be able to read or send messages from the app,” the company added in the note.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch that the note accurately characterizes its plan, and that the “short time” will span a few weeks. WhatsApp’s policy for inactive users states that accounts are “generally deleted after 120 days of inactivity.”

Now you know why you should be on Signal.

What the Supreme Court ruling on Uber means

From the FT

Lord George Legatt, who wrote the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, said “the question . . . is not whether the system of control operated by Uber is in its commercial interests, but whether it places drivers in a position of subordination to Uber. It plainly does.”

The judgment, however, rests on specific facts about the relationship between Uber and its employees. The court asserted that Uber set maximum fares, drivers had no say in their contracts and the application imposed penalties if drivers cancelled too many requests. This level of control meant drivers could not increase their income using “professional or entrepreneurial skill”, the court concluded, meaning they worked for Uber and not themselves.

It remains to be seen how Uber will react and whether it can tweak the platform so that it reduces this control, allowing drivers to be genuinely self-employed. If it does so, however, it will mean the taxi booking app will be less able to guarantee a uniform service. The alternative would mean raising prices to cover the additional costs associated with conforming to the law. Either way, the company’s business model in the UK — London is one of its few profitable markets worldwide — will have to change.


Other links

  • Draw an iceberg and see how it will float. Really sweet — try it. Link
  • Chromebooks are more powerful than people give them credit for. This matters because millions of schoolchildren are now dependent on them. Link
  • This is what happens when bitcoin miners take over your town. Thar’s gold in them there mining farms. Hint: they’re only after your cheap electricity. Link

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