The Download: a battle is raging over long covid in children

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

A battle is raging over long covid in children

Before Jasmin got covid-19 last year, she was an especially active 10-year-old. She loved dancing, swimming, and gymnastics. “She was always upside-down, doing handstands,” says her mother, Binita Kane. Although she only had a mild case of the virus, she developed lasting, debilitating symptoms that kept her out of school. Jasmin, now 11, has abandoned her activities. Today, she uses a wheelchair. 

Jasmin is one of an unknown number of children with long covid. She regularly suffers from fevers, a sore throat, weak and achy limbs, dizziness, and exhaustion, but the symptoms of long covid in children vary greatly. We don’t know how many children are affected, and we don’t know which symptoms result from infections, and which were caused indirectly by the pandemic. Scientists can’t even agree over what it means for children to have long covid.

This is more than just an academic spat. The lack of understanding means that, two years into the pandemic, potentially millions of sick children are still not getting the treatments they need. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Stop saying Ukraine is winning the information war
Look beyond the West, and you’ll see Russian disinformation is gaining a worrying amount of traction. (The Atlantic $)
  + Russia is targeting internet users who speak Spanish. (ABC)
  + Twitter has limited content from more than 300 official Russian government accounts. (BBC)
  + Russia has become a major target for hackers. (NBC)
  + Russian troops seem to have tortured and murdered civilians in the town of Trostianets. (The Guardian

2 Protection from second boosters wanes quickly, a large study found 💉
But protection against severe infection seems to hold up. (Reuters $)
  + Could computer models help us to make better covid vaccines? (Nature)
  + Covid deaths may rise among older people in England, experts have warned. (The Guardian

3 Elon Musk is going to join Twitter’s board
Instantly shattering any illusion he was going to sit quietly and collect his dividends. (WSJ $)
  + We can expect him to push for his version of free speech. (The Atlantic $)
  + This is going to be yet another headache for regulators. (WSJ $)
  + Twitter is going to get an edit button. (NBC

4 The global impact of the invasion of Ukraine is becoming clearer
Higher energy and food prices are going to have far-reaching consequences around the world.  (Nature)
  + Surging food prices will exact a huge toll on poorer countries, for example Sri Lanka. (The Economist $)
  + European companies are struggling to adjust to sanctions. (NYT $)
  + German law enforcement agencies have shut down a vast Russian-language dark web site. (Wired $) 

5 Women face relentless misogynistic abuse on Instagram
And it seems the platform does very little about it. (WP $)
  + Why are so many gaming communities still so toxic? (FT $)
  + A feminist internet would be better for everyone. (TR

6 The Amazon union wave may just be starting
Staff at more than 50 US warehouses have contacted organizers expressing an interest in creating unions of their own. (The Guardian)

7 Elizabeth Warren is frustrated by the lack of progress to break up Big Tech
She’s not the only one. (Recode)
  + Big Tech firms aren’t going to stop tracking you voluntarily. (NYT $) 

8 Can we teach computers common sense?
It’s much harder than it sounds. (New Yorker $)
  + Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task. (TR

9 NFT-based portrait piracy is a growing problem 
Who’s making money off your image? (Wired $)

10 Google Docs is getting emoji reactions 
👎 (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“I’m just wiped out. I don’t know how I used to do it.”

—Lauren Scott, a 37-year-old assistant at a media company, tells the Washington Post that even going into the office three days a week feels exhausting after two years of fully remote work.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  + This TikTok of a guy being fed a five-course meal via conveyor belt is horrifying and amazing in equal measure.
  + No way I’m going to share any controversial food takes on Twitter, but I’m enjoying reading other people’s
  + Prince had masses of respect for teachers.
  + You can book castles (yes, actual castles) on Airbnb.
  + The Bob’s Burgers movie looks like chaos. Fun, silly chaos. 
  + Christy Lee Rogers takes photos of people underwater, and they look totally otherworldly.
  + Tetris, but everyone gets to vote on the next move.
  + The Wordle clones just keep coming. This one’s for guessing movies.
  + A train is an excellent way to travel around Europe. 
  + Love surfing? Get yourself over to North Devon.

The Download: We spoke to a radiation expert in Kyiv about the current nuclear accident risk

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

We spoke to a radiation expert in Kyiv about the current nuclear accident risk

Russian troops have been bringing death and destruction to Ukraine since they invaded on February 24. But there’s a risk they could cause a nuclear accident too, according to Vadim Chumak, head of the external exposure dosimetry lab at Ukraine’s National Research Center for Radiation Medicine in the country’s capital, Kyiv.

Since Russia took control of two nuclear power plants inside Ukraine earlier this month, reactors inside those plants have been cut off from their power sources, and radiation-monitoring devices have been disconnected, leading to concerns of a potential nuclear disaster.

One particular worry is that if a nuclear catastrophe strikes, scientists might not be able to monitor it or measure its impacts, says Vadim Chumak, head of the external exposure dosimetry lab at Ukraine’s National Research Center for Radiation Medicine, who played a key role in dose assessment following the Chernobyl disaster. Today, he remains close enough to Kyiv to help should a nuclear disaster result from Russia’s invasion.

From a house in Ukraine’s countryside, just outside the capital, Chumak spoke to MIT Technology Review about his hopes and fears, the risks of radiation leaks from hospitals, and the fact that much of the country’s radiation monitoring equipment is obsolete. Read the full interview.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 What other sanctions can be imposed on Russia?
Cracking down on crypto, and banning oil and gas are hot topics among leaders. (FT $)
  +  Russia may start accepting bitcoin from China and Turkey for its oil and gas. (CNBC)
  + How the far right fell for Russian misinformation about Ukraine developing biological weapons with the US. (NPR)  
  + Four Russian officials have been charged with hacking the US energy sector. (WP $)

2 New York City’s long-running beef with Uber seems to be over
After years at each other’s throats, Uber is adding New York’s iconic yellow cabs to its ranks. (WSJ $)
  + It’s the end of the road for the company’s ‘brilliant jerks’ era. (The Information $)
  + Over on the west coast, Waymo claims it’ll soon start operating fully-driverless taxis. (Quartz)
  + Bad news for people who game while they drive in the UK. (BBC)

3 Europe has agreed laws to squash Big Tech monopoly abuse
WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger will be forced to interoperate with smaller players. (Politico
  + ButGoogle and Apple aren’t planning on making less money on their apps. (FT $)

4 Apple is reportedly considering a hardware subscription plan 📱
In a bid to encourage customers to keep buying increasingly-expensive devices. (Bloomberg $)

5 It’s time to rethink how we treat online game cheats
Working out what motivates players to cheat can make a game significantly better. (Ars Technica)

6 Social media’s response to Ukraine may come back to bite it
Tech giants weren’t prepared for war in Europe, and hasty new policies won’t help prime them for the future. (WP $)
  + TikTok must not fail Ukrainians. (Wired $) 

7 A mysterious ‘Fabergé egg’ space circle sighting has excited radio astronomers
They don’t know yet what caused it. (Nature
An astronaut found water inside his helmet at the end of his first space walk. (CNN

8 Seattle Pride has parted ways with would-be sponsor Amazon 👋
Organizers rejected the opportunity to rename the event ‘Seattle Pride Parade Presented by Amazon.’ (Quartz)
Amazon’s Staten Island employees are preparing to vote on whether to join a union. (NYT $)

9 Another day, another NFT scam
Unfortunate news for fans of colorful ice cream characters. (Protocol $)

10 Would you eat a fish if it could scream in pain?
We’re less adept at empathizing with non-verbal animals. (CNET)

Quote of the day

“Putin was banking on NATO being split. NATO has never, never been more united than it is today.”

—Joe Biden tells a Brussels press conference that the US will provide a further $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Ukraine, while other European nations pledged another $55 million.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

 + A very important lesson in hedgehog anatomy.
  + Don’t mess with Grimes—she claims to be behind a DDoS attack that took down blog Hipster Runoff in 2012. 
  + Would you be charmed or irritated by this copycat robot?
  + Goblins of the world, unite!
  + I’m living in fear of these vulnerable Furbies.
  + The anonymous mastermind behind celeb spotting Instagram account Deux Moi is writing a book—but it’s a novel.
  + Some solid advice on how to pick up a duck.

The Download: Ukraine claims it’s using facial recognition to identify dead Russian soldiers

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Ukraine claims it’s using facial recognition to identify dead Russian soldiers

Ukraine has started using facial recognition technology to identify dead Russian soldiers, a senior government official has claimed.

Mykhailo Fedorov, vice prime minister of Ukraine and minister of digital transformation, confirmed that Ukraine was using facial recognition software to find the social media accounts of deceased Russian soldiers, allowing authorities to contact their friends and families. The aim is to dispel misinformation surrounding the war in the country, and specifically Russian claims that it is just a special operation with few losses, he wrote on his Telegram channel.

While Fedorov did not mention which facial recognition provider had been used, Forbes reported it was New York-based Clearview AI, which claimed that Ukraine had started using its services for free earlier this month. 

Clearview AI claims to be the world’s “largest facial network,” drawing from a database of more than 10 billion images scraped from publicly-available websites, including social media profiles, for use by customers including law enforcement agencies. 

Ukrainian authorities are messaging relatives to suggest they come and collect the bodies, Federov told Reuters, adding that the percentage of soldiers the software had recognised claimed by families had been “high.”

The true number of Russian soldiers to have died in Ukraine is unknown. While the Russian defense ministry admitted 498 of its troops had been killed in early March, US and Ukrainian officials estimate the total number of deaths is significantly higher. Yesterday NATO released estimates that up to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or gone missing.

—Rhiannon Williams

Does China even want to know how the pandemic started?

An international group of scientists says it has zeroed in on a live animal and seafood market in the city of Wuhan as the place where the pandemic started. However, it’s incredibly hard to get hold of information on China’s wild animal trade, and the Chinese authorities are not keen to help. In fact, they’ve been actively obstructing efforts to learn more, spreading now widely-believed theories among China’s population that covid-19 came from the US. 

All of which raises a crucial question: will we ever find out how the pandemic started? And does China even want to know? And while the origins search is undoubtedly political, is it also driven by stereotypes? 

If you want to learn more, tune in to the fourth episode of our podcast series, Curious Coincidence, which delves into the pandemic and its origins. You can listen to it on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you usually go for audio. 

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 How do we want Putin to lose the Ukraine War?
Things are really bad now. They could get much worse. (Wired $)
  + Today marks one month since the war started. (The Guardian)
  + NATO is doubling its military presence on its eastern front. (NYT $)
  + Russia and the American far-right are propping each others’ lies up over the war. (NYT $)
  + Russia’s attacks on civilian targets have destroyed everyday life in Ukraine. (NYT $) 

2 How to talk to your kids about the permacrisis 🙃
You don’t have to lie, but full honesty is not always the best policy. (The Guardian)
  + Young people are pushing back against climate doom, which they say is just another form of denial. (NYT $)
  + That weird, gnawing anxiety? It doesn’t feel like a vibe shift, but a world set to be perpetually in chaos. (Buzzfeed

3 Israel blocked Ukraine from buying Pegasus spyware
Due to fears it’d anger Russia. (WP $)

4 The Lapsus$ hacks have been traced to a British teenager
Oh wow. He doesn’t know what’s about to hit him. (Bloomberg $)
  + These are the Russian cyberattacks the West most fears. (BBC

5 Facebook is all-in on remote working
It kind of has to be, given its management is now scattered all over the globe. (WSJ $)
  + Instagram is now letting you view your feed in chronological order. (Mashable

6 It may be tiny nuclear reactors’ time to shine
They’re designed to be cheaper, quicker, and less financially risky to build. (The Economist $) 
  + High gas prices are getting Americans more interested in electric cars. (WSJ $) 

7 A new crypto project called ApeCoin looks… troubling
For all the talk of decentralization and democratization, these projects sure do love to benefit insiders first and foremost. (The Verge)
  + Some roller derby skaters tried to start an NFT project. The wider community was having none of it. (Vox

8 Shopping in the metaverse might be kinda fun
So much so that luxury goods are already being counterfeited on virtual platforms. (CNET)

9 The man who invented the gif has died 
But no, it’s not pronounced ‘jif.’ (The Verge)

10 Can you teach people to be happy? 😊
It seems so! But only if they want to be taught. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“It’s going to be more of a psychological effect. There’s no place to hide.”

—Ingvild Bode, an autonomous weapons researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, tells the Washington Post what impact new exploding ‘kamikaze’ drones will have in Ukraine, as both Russian and Ukrainian forces start to deploy them.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  + It’s only five seconds long, yet this video delivers on many levels. 
  + Tons of brilliant travel planning fodder
  + This looks like my kind of daiquiri
  + An excellent catalog of songs that come in under two minutes. Amazingly, none of them are punk tracks. 
  + Stressed? Have you tried dunking your head in icy water? No, seriously… 
  + Margaret Atwood’s dream dinner party. And speaking of novelists, they’ll be thrilled to learn that we are all reading more
  + The photos in this New York Times piece about Mexican stone carvers are amazing.

The Download: Part 3 of our investigation into Minnesota police

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Inside the app Minnesota police used to collect data on journalists at protests

Photojournalist J.D. Duggan was covering a protest in Minnesota in April 2021 when police officers surrounded him and others, and told them to get on the ground. 

Officers sorted the press from the protesters, walked them to a parking lot, and began photographing them, one by one, with cellphones, which they told Duggan would be stored in an app. 

A personal data request to the Minnesota State Patrol revealed multiple photos of Duggan, geolocation data about where the photos were taken, and information about the officer who took them. 

MIT Technology Review’s investigation has found the data was collected using a tool called Intrepid Response, an easy way to almost instantly de-anonymize protest attendees and keep tabs on their movements. The photos are kept in data repositories which include photos and personal information about individuals at protests and appear to be accessible to multiple agencies, including federal groups.

For some, the tool’s use is a dangerous step in the direction of authoritarianism. Read the full story

—Sam Richards & Tate Ryan-Mosley

This story is the third part of an investigative series into police surveillance in Minnesota. The first lifts the lid on a vast, sprawling program called Operation Safety Net which targeted civil rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The second reveals how the operation continued long after officials claimed it had ended. 

A locked-in man has been able to communicate in sentences by thought alone 

A completely paralyzed man has been able to communicate entire sentences using a device that records his brain activity. The man was able to train his mind to use the device, which was implanted in his brain, to ask for massages, soup, and beer, and to watch films with his son.

It is the first time a completely locked-in person—someone who is conscious and cognitively able but completely paralyzed—has been able to communicate in this way, say the researchers behind the work. The man, who lives in Germany, learned to communicate entire sentences to researchers and his family.

Researchers believe the “potentially life-changing” technology could be routinely offered to similarly locked-in individuals within the next 10 to 15 years. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Amid heavy losses in Ukraine, a blame game has started inside Russia
Even Putin’s supporters are having to concede how wildly he has miscalculated. (NYT $)
  + Hundreds of thousands of people are still stuck in dire conditions in Mariupol, say Ukrainian officials. (The Guardian)
  + A Kremlin spokesman refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. (CNN)
  + How likely is it that Russia will use them? (New Scientist $)
  + There are wildfires around Chernobyl. (NYT $)
  + It’s a golden age for armchair generals. (Vice)
  + The threat of Russian cyberattacks looms large. (New Yorker $) 

2 Are we on the cusp of curing sickle cell disease? 
Gene therapy might be about to deliver a cure. The big question is whether we ensure the people affected can afford it. (New Yorker $)
  + The first approved gene-edited babies could be for sickle cell disease. (TR

3 Europe lifted covid restrictions too quickly, says a top WHO official 
Cases are rising rapidly in many countries across the continent. (The Guardian)
  + Another covid surge in the US seems likely. Is it ready for it? (NYT $)
  + This app gauges your level of covid risk. (IEEE Spectrum)
  + What can we learn from covid’s data wizards? (Nature)
  + The CDC is still scrambling to get a better handle on public health data. (Politico)
  + If you’re doing a rapid test, do more than just one. (Ars Technica

4 Is Yandex too big to fail?
It took Arkady Volozh 20 years to build it into Russia’s biggest tech behemoth. It’s taken just 20 days for it to start to unravel. (Wired $)

5 Dopamine seems to help get you moving 🧠
A fascinating discovery about one of the brain’s most misunderstood chemicals. (Quanta)

6 There’s mystery swirling around an alleged hack of Okta
The identity management company’s response to claims of a breach by a hacking group has been confusing at best. (Wired $)
  + It says it’s not a new cyberattack. (WSJ $)
  + But Microsoft confirmed it. (The Verge)
  + And Okta has had to admit that hundreds of its clients may be affected. (CNN

7 San Francisco has gone off ride-hailing apps
Despite being the place where the most famous ones were founded. (FT $)
  + Uber is ditching its ‘split fare’ feature. (Mashable)
  + California’s plan to electrify Uber and Lyft doesn’t add up. (Wired $)
  + Elon Musk has opened Tesla’s first factory in Europe. (WSJ $) 

8 We’re spending less time on Facebook
It’ll be no time before it’s only the boomers left. (CNBC)

9 What transhumanists get wrong in their quest for human perfection
Quite a lot, actually. (Slate $)
  + It’s possible that geometry is something that only humans, not animals or machines, can grasp. (NYT $) 

10 ‘Digital resting points’ let you stop doomscrolling without logging off
They’re the nice things people post to cleanse our timelines—pretty photos, fun videos, and meditation tips. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“I can still feel a huge rush of adrenaline in my body because every flight is a fight.”

—Ukrainian Air Force pilot Andriy tells the New York Times he and his fellow pilots are still prevailing against Russia, despite being vastly outnumbered. 

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)
  + McDonald’s is bringing back its Szechuan sauce! For how long? Who knows. So enjoy that while it lasts. 
  + Seems the moral of this tale is that impersonators of world leaders are much nicer than the leaders themselves.
  + Geography nerds, feast your eyes on this Instagram account
  + Baby penguin squeaks <3 
  + An utterly ridiculous Legally Blonde/A Few Good Men mash-up
  + The longest suspension bridge in the world is now in Turkey
  + Busting some myths about cooking beans.

The Download: Russia may resort to even more desperate tactics in Ukraine, Biden has warned

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Russia may resort to even more desperate tactics in Ukraine, Biden has warned

Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons is a “clear sign” Russia is considering using its own against the country, US President Joe Biden has warned.

“His back is against the wall,” President Biden said during an event on Monday. “He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what about—of what’s about to come,” he added.  

The President also advised businesses to brace themselves for potential cyber attacks from Russia in retaliation for the economic penalties imposed on Moscow. While there is no evidence that Russia is preparing a concentrated attack against the US, “preparatory activity” against critical infrastructure has been observed, Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, confirmed. Thus far, the worst fears of cyberwar have failed to materialize, but that could change as Russia comes under growing pressure amid huge, and mounting, losses in Ukraine.

Relations between Russia and the US continue to worsen. The Pentagon said it has “clear evidence” of Russia committing war crimes and that it was helping to collect further proof during a news briefing yesterday, days after President Biden called the Russian president a war criminal and “murderous dictator”. Putin has threatened to cut ties with the US over the comments, which the Russian ministry said “put Russian-American relations on the verge of a breach.”

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

Experts are baffled by the deadly airplane crash in China yesterday
The plane was flying normally then it suddenly nosedived, killing all 132 people on board. (Bloomberg $)
  + It’s yet more bad news for Boeing. (Quartz $)
  + China’s recent air safety record is strong. (NYT $) 

2 Russians are racing to download Wikipedia before it gets banned
Those who are trying to get their news from sources that aren’t Kremlin-approved, at least. (Slate $)
  + Why WhatsApp has survived the crackdown. (Wired $) 
  + A Russian court upheld the ban on Facebook and Instagram. (NPR)
  + Airbnb cracked down on listings in Ukraine, thwarting outsiders’ efforts to help fund stays for people fleeing their homes. (Wired $) 

3 New SEC rules would require companies to disclose their emissions 🏭
The devil will be in the detail here, as climate accounting is no stranger to chicanery. (TechCrunch)
  + How a new global carbon market could exaggerate climate progress. (TR)
  + We already have what we need to rapidly ditch fossil fuels. (New Yorker $) 

4 Facebook failed to detect hate speech against Rohyinga Muslims
Yet again, after it was found to have played a determining role in the genocide against them in Myanmar in 2016. (AP
  + How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation. (TR)

5 Cryptocurrency trading is mostly just gambling 🤑
Trouble is, the house (almost) always wins. (The Guardian)
  + You still need to understand crypto. (NYT $)
  + Someone’s launching a restaurant based on the Bored Ape NFT collection. (Nation’s Restaurant News)
  + Bitcoin miners are trying to rebrand themselves as environmentally-friendly. (NYT $)
  + More details emerged on India’s plan to tax crypto trades. (TechCrunch

6 Big Tech fought Europe. Europe won. 
It lobbied hard against stringent new antitrust and data rules, but they’re all but guaranteed to go ahead. (FT $)
  + Toronto’s tech sector is booming. (NYT $) 

7 NASA has confirmed 5,000 exoplanets beyond our solar system
And we might be on the cusp of finding many more, as the James Webb Space Telescope gets started. (Space)

8 Are we nearing peak metaverse already?
While virtual worlds have been around for decades, it took Mark Zuckerbeg to drag the metaverse into the mainstream—even if we don’t fully understand what it is (CNET)
  + Is the metaverse even technically feasible? (IEEE Spectrum

9 Video game preservationists are fighting to save older titles
When game makers shut down digital storefronts, preservationists rush to keep games accessible (Verge)
  + Video games are a welcome distraction, but also a source of guilt for Ukrainians. (Wired $)
  + Saudi Arabia is eyeing up esports and gaming as a way to bolster its reputation. (The Guardian

10 What does our desire to see people publicly shamed say about us? 
Online shaming appears to be not only relentless, but unavoidable. (New Yorker $)

Quote of the day

“Keeping 1.5 alive requires a 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century. That problem was not solved in Glasgow. In fact, the problem is getting worse.”

—UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns us of the still-worsening crisis of climate change.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  + This gorgeous drone footage of San Francisco is making me desperate to go back. 
  + I love these pavement mosaics.
  + An interview with indie icon Chloë Sevigny.
  + iPhone user? You’ll want to learn this trick for selecting multiple items. 
  + Yearning for travel? These destinations have just opened up to fully vaccinated travelers.
  + The Eiffel Tower has grown
  + Increasingly convinced that Caroline Calloway’s life is just an elaborate piece of performance art.
  + The world’s southernmost bar.
  + These newly-discovered ancient Egyptian tombs are amazing.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Download: Activists are targeting Russians with open-source ‘protestware’

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The Download: Activists are targeting Russians with open-source ‘protestware’

The news: The largest bank in Russia has warned its users to stop updating any software due to the threat of “protestware,” open source software projects whose authors have altered their code in opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Open source software is software that anyone can modify and inspect, making it more transparent—and, in this case at least, more open to sabotage.

Some context: Around two dozen open source software projects have been spotted adding code protesting the war. Most of the protestware simply displays anti-war, pro-Ukrainian messages when it is run but at least one project is believed to have had malicious code added which would wipe computers located in Russia and Belarus. 

Loss of trust: Some within the open source community worry that the possibility of sabotage can undermine the open source ecosystem. Although it is less well known than commercial software, open source software is enormously important to running every facet of the internet. Read the full story

—Patrick Howell O’Neill

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Food prices are soaring
Ukraine supplies much of the world’s wheat, corn, and barley—and its farmers are unlikely to be able to plant this season. (NYT $)
  + Climate change is compounding the problem. (Wired $)
  + A Ukrainian MP has accused Russia of trying to starve Mariupol into surrender. (BBC)
  + Russia is using cluster bombs, and they could pose a danger for decades. (Wired $)
  + 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine, according to the UN. (Axios

2 Is Russia holding back from cyberwar?
The most dire predictions haven’t come to pass—yet. (Vox)
  + Right now, the propaganda war is the most significant virtual battlefront. (TR)
  + Russian families are fighting over reality, as different members receive vastly different reports on the war. (WP $)
  + Ukraine is appealing to DJI to restrict where its drones can fly. (Vice

3 China reported its first covid deaths since January 2021
Omicron has arrived on its shores—but it’s meeting with stiff resistance. (The Guardian)
  + England’s health service has started giving out second covid boosters to people categorized as higher-risk. (The Guardian)
  + Hong Kong is emerging from some of the world’s strictest covid restrictions. (Nikkei)
  + But low vaccination rates and levels of immunity led to a heavy death toll. (The Guardian

4 What’s a “normal” amount of time to grieve?
Psychiatry’s most powerful body thinks it’s about a year. (NYT $)
  + How to mend your broken pandemic brain. (TR

5 Americans are hoarding nickels 💰
The ones who’ve noticed its price spiking recently, at least. (The Atlantic $)
  + The war in Ukraine looks likely to also cause a shortage of neon. (Recode)
  + It could be a major setback for electric car sales too. (NYT $) 

6 NASA’s giant new moon rocket has arrived at its launch pad 🚀
Marking a crucial milestone in NASA’s space exploration plans, though it may be months before it flies. (Ars Technica)
  + Russia sent three cosmonauts to the International Space Station amid turmoil over Ukraine. (WP $) 

7 Sounds like SXSW was… kinda depressing
There’s always hype in tech, but the gap between promises and likely outcomes looks like a giant chasm recently. (Vice)

8 Have iPhone cameras become too smart?
Some users are complaining that the latest iteration over-corrects their photos. (New Yorker $)

9 Why do video games keep getting longer? 🎮⌛
It’s a golden age for games—you just need to have the time to actually play them. (WP $)

10 What AI thinks an Emily Dickinson poem looks like
Truly otherworldly stuff. (Debugger $)

Quote of the day

“There can be no talk of any surrenders, laying down of arms. We have already informed the Russian side about this. Instead of wasting time on 8 pages of letters, just open a [humanitarian] corridor.” 

~Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk issues a defiant message as the Russian military deadline for the surrender of Mariupol passed today, news outlet Ukrainska Pravda reports.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  + Not NOW, Japanese demon
  + These physics toys look endlessly entertaining. 
  + Sean Connery’s Highlander voiceover dubbed over the opening of Teletubbies cannot be unheard—or unseen. 
  + Why you should embrace being boring
  + New Ben Affleck film Deep Water asks the eternal question: can a drone engineer be sexy

Posted in Uncategorized

The Download: Russia is risking the creation of a “splinternet”—and it could be irreversible

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Russia is risking the creation of a “splinternet”—and it could be irreversible

Cut off: Russia’s disconnection from the online services of the West has been abrupt and severe. Facebook has been blocked entirely by Russian authorities, while Twitter is almost completely cut off. Many more companies have voluntarily withdrawn from the Russian market—including Apple, Microsoft, TikTok, and Netflix. 

Deeper splits: But all these are just services that use the internet, rather than the technologies or agreements that power it. More profound splits are on the cards—provoked by action on both sides. The moves have raised fears of a “splinternet”, in which instead of the single global internet we have today, we have a number of national or regional networks that don’t speak to one another and perhaps even use incompatible technologies. 

Why it matters: That would spell the end of the internet as a single global communications technology. If countries like China, Russia, and Iran set up rival governance bodies and a rival network, only the mutual agreement of all the world’s major nations could rebuild it. Read the full story

—James Ball

What do psychedelic drugs do to our brains? AI could help us find out

The big picture: Psychedelic drugs have long been touted as possible treatments for mental-health disorders like depression and PTSD. But very little is really known about what these substances actually do to our brains. Understanding how they work could help unlock their potential.

A new methodology: Some scientists are using AI to figure it out. A team at McGill University in Montreal used natural language processing to study written “trip reports” of users’ experiences with a range of drugs. The team then integrated this data with records of which neurotransmitter receptors in the brain each drug is known to interact with. Together, these steps let the team identify which receptors are linked to specific drug experiences.  

What next: The work could shed light on how hallucinogens trigger specific mental states, whether that be euphoria, anxiety, or a sense of being at one with the world. It could also help design new drugs for mental health disorders—something some firms are already trying to do. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Russia has stepped up its campaign of bombing civilians in Ukraine
It just bombed a theater in Mariupol that hundreds of people had been sheltering in. (AP)
  + US intelligence estimates Russia has lost more than 7,000 troops already. (NYT $)
  + Zelensky urged more US companies to quit Russia. (Quartz)
  + Biden pledged a further $800 million for Ukraine’s war effort, including drones and anti-aircraft systems. (Reuters $)
  + The tractor has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. (Vice)
  + Ukrainian influencers are documenting what’s going on. (The Verge)
  + What’s the risk of nuclear war? It’s not zero. (NYT $) 

2 Facebook and YouTube removed a deepfake of the Ukrainian President 
It purported to show him surrendering to Russia—but it was quickly debunked. (CNN)
  + Not before causing a fair bit of chaos yesterday, though. (Vice)
  + The biggest threat of deepfakes isn’t the deepfakes themselves. (TR)  

3 There’s a link between covid-19 deaths and internet access
It’s not clear exactly why, though. (Vox)
  + Covid cases are on the rise again around the world. (Ars Technica)
  + Citizen science is making a comeback. (Wired $) 

4 NASA released its first image from the James Webb Telescope 🔭
And it’s a stunner. (Ars Technica)
 + NASA’s early warning system to detect asteroids got its first test. (CNN

5 Parts of Kenya are slowly sliding underwater 
And hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced as a result. (The Guardian)
  + How rising groundwater caused by climate change could devastate coastal communities. (TR)
  + The promise of solar canal panels. (The Next Web

6 How Chinese professors got caught up in a spying panic in the US
And, in some cases, saw their livelihoods torn to shreds as a result. (New Yorker $)
  + The US government is ending the China Initiative. Now what? (TR

7 Inside a ransomware gang’s group chats
The Conti gang extorted $180 million from companies last year. Now it wants to diversify into crypto projects. (Wired $)

8 Netflix thinks it can guilt you into paying for those passwords you share
Just after it significantly hiked prices. Good luck with that. (Gizmodo)

9 How is Instagram going to avoid hosting stolen NFTs?
It sounds like a minor consideration but it’s really not, given the world of NFTs is awash with them. (The Next Web)
  + Spotify is planning to join in the crypto craze. (FT $) 

10 Elon Musk is beefing with Chechnya’s brutal dictator on Twitter
Warning: extremely high levels of toxic masculinity detected. (Vice)

Quote of the day

“I think he is a war criminal.”

—President Joe Biden delivers his sharpest rebuke yet of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  + Happy St Patrick’s Day to those who celebrate it! And before you decide whether to celebrate it, you might want to take this quiz
  + These social media accounts are bound to cheer you up. 
  + A surprisingly touching interview with the living legend that is Denzel Washington.
  + GUTTED to learn the world’s largest ‘potato’ is, in fact, not a potato
  + Where you’ll find some of the best sunsets and sunrises in the world. 
  + My inner child was thrilled by this totally pointless, yet totally hilarious, weapon.
  + A type of bat not seen in 40 years has been found in Rwanda.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Download: The online volunteers hunting for war crimes in Ukraine

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The online volunteers hunting for war crimes in Ukraine

Read the full version of this story.

Like many people, Aeden felt helpless when Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. He was a 23-year-old based in the UK with no connection to the country, but he was good at open-source intelligence gathering, which involves scouring the web to collect publicly available data.  

So he put his hand up to volunteer for investigation outlet Bellingcat to help authenticate images and videos of possible war crimes being committed in Ukraine. The hope is that the work could lead to eventual prosecutions by the International Criminal Court.

Since the war started, people around the world have been trying to help refugees and the Ukrainian cause. For those with investigative skills like Aeden, that means using their time and effort to analyze material posted on the web by Ukrainians to document possible war crimes, and confirm their exact location.

Skills gained from the January 6 insurrection in the US and subsequent efforts to find the rioters online have translated to online sleuths using those same skills in the war in Ukraine. But whether and how that effort will actually result in admissible evidence for a potential war crimes prosecution is unclear, especially without a universal system to categorize the flood of incoming evidence. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Pfizer is seeking emergency FDA authorization for fourth covid shots
Just for the over 65s, for now. (Politico)
  + Wastewater monitoring suggests covid cases are rising again in many parts of the US. (Bloomberg $)
  + Vaccine supplies are finally reaching Africa, but it’s a logistical nightmare tracking who gets what when. (NYT $)
  + New Zealand is set to reopen to fully vaccinated travelers next month. (The Guardian)
  + Looks like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is more effective than previously thought. (NYT $) 

2 Inside Ukraine’s 300,000-strong volunteer hacker army
It sounds impressive, but it’s hard to measure the group’s true impact. (The Guardian)
  + It has brought down prominent Russian websites. (New Scientist $)
  + But the propaganda war has eclipsed cyberwar in Ukraine. (TR)
  + Digital repression has been on the rise in Russia for years now. (Scientific American $) 

3 This should be the perfect time for electric vehicles
But the industry just isn’t ready to take advantage. (Wired)

4 OpenAI’s new coding program is fun, fast, and full of flaws
This could help us automate boring life tasks. But it might also end up riddling the internet with bugs. (Wired $)
  + The FTC has a new enforcement mechanism: algorithmic destruction. (Protocol

5 The Swiss cartographers scrubbing out the Alps’ glaciers by hand 🏔️
This must be such an anxiety-producing job. (NYT $)

6 How Amazon traps you into Prime
There are underhand shenanigans at work right from when you sign up. (Insider $)

7 El Salvador’s bitcoin gamble is falling apart
This has been a slow-motion car crash right from the start. (Rest of World)
  + The crypto scene seems so cliquey. (The Guardian

8 Interest in the metaverse and NFTs is dropping off a cliff 📉
That level of hype was never going to be sustainable. (Forbes)
  + Mark Zuckerberg is still pressing ahead with plans to bring NFTs to Instagram. (Engadget

9 Daylight saving time might become permanent in the US ☀️
The proposal got a rare unanimous vote from senators yesterday. (Ars Technica)

10 An American astronaut has broken the record for longest time in space
Mark Vande Hei has been on the International Space Station since April 2021. (CNET)

Quote of the day

“It’s one thing to control a population’s information flow from day one, like a China or North Korea. It’s another to give them access to western culture and internet freedom and… then take it away.”

—Graham Shellenberger, global team director at Miburo Solutions, which tracks online extremism, tells the Financial Times why we shouldn’t underestimate the anger that suddenly losing access to platforms like Instagram may cause in Russia.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

 + Love this insight into how David Byrne writes lyrics. 
  + We have another stuck ship! It’s a pale imitation of its predecessor, but I can’t pretend I’m not slightly thrilled anyway. Especially because the ship is called “Ever Forward.”
  + A beautiful timber bridge in China.
  + Technology, such a marvel. Until it stops working.
  + This flower looks like it belongs on another world. 
  + I really want to know where this bird-based warfare in Japan escalates to next. 
  + This Crufts version of Swan Lake is the most unhinged thing I’ve ever clapped eyes upon.
  + If you’re celebrating Easter, this is the place to go for food inspiration.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Download: China just reported its biggest one-day covid case increase yet

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The news: China reported 5,370 new covid cases today, the biggest one-day increase since the pandemic began, and more than double the number reported yesterday. It’s a tiny proportion of China’s population of 1.4 billion people, but it has prompted the government to extend an existing lockdown to the entire Jilin province, meaning over 80 million people in China are now locked down. 

A major test: Right from the start, China has pursued a “covid zero” policy of eliminating the virus through lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing. However, omicron, which is far more transmissible than any previous covid variant, will make this policy harder than ever to achieve. Although China has reportedly vaccinated over 85% of its population, omicron is better than any previous variant at evading immunity from vaccines (although vaccines still hold up well at preventing severe disease.) China is hampered by the fact that it doesn’t have access to mRNA vaccines, which have proved especially effective against omicron. Although China is working on its own mRNA vaccines, it will be many months before any shot could become available to the general population there. 

Global impact: One of the areas under lockdown, Shenzhen, is a major tech hub and home to companies like Foxconn which supply Western companies, including Apple. It’s scheduled to remain under lockdown for at least another five days while local residents undergo several rounds of testing, meaning some degree of impact on global tech supply chains is inevitable. 

What’s happening elsewhere: Meanwhile, Europe also seems to be starting to enter another covid surge, with cases ticking up in countries across the continent. In the UK, cases are up nearly 50% week-on-week and, worryingly, hospitalizations are up by 17%. A combination of looser restrictions, waning immunity and BA.2, a more transmissible omicron sub-variant, are believed to be behind the increase in cases.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Clearview says Ukraine is using its facial recognition AI to identify Russian soldiers
But is it accurate enough to be relied upon? (Reuters $)
  + Kyiv is under increasingly heavy fire. (AP $)
  + Cheap drones are making a major dent in Russia’s aerial assault. (NBC)
  + The UN’s chief says a nuclear conflict remains a possibility. (Axios)
  + Maps that track the invasion. (NYT $)
  + The war is jeopardizing hundreds of clinical trials in Ukraine. (Wired $) 

2 A NASA spacewalk is going ahead today despite international tensions
Space-based cooperation between the US and Russia is still holding, for now. (WP $)
  + Russia says it will not leave an American astronaut stranded in space. (The Verge

3 Pfizer says we are going to need fourth covid shots
Given that less than half of fully vaccinated people in the US have even got a third dose, this feels ambitious. (Ars Technica)

4 Is tree planting going to help, or harm, the planet? 🌳
It largely depends on how it’s done. (NYT $)
  + The UN’s climate report highlights the dangers of natural solutions. (TR

5 It’s getting a lot harder to be an influencer in Russia
They’re seeing entire livelihoods disappear overnight as platforms get banned. (The Guardian)
  + Russia has followed through on its promise to ban Instagram, which had 80 million users there. (The Verge)
  + The far-right in the US is boosting Russian propaganda. (NBC)
  + Facebook says users can’t call for Putin’s death (but Russian soldiers are fair game.) (CNBC)
  + A website lets people email Russians to tell them the truth about the war. (WSJ $)
  + An employee for a Russian TV station interrupted a live broadcast with a protest. (The Guardian

6 Crypto miners are having to flee Kazakhstan just months after arriving
It looked like a safe haven after China’s ban came in. Now blackouts and government pressure are pushing them out. (Rest of World)

7 TikTok is getting philosophical
And philosophy professors are not entirely sure how to respond. (Slate $)

8 TV is still too dazzled by tech founders ✨
New shows about Uber, Theranos and WeWork end up pulling their punches. (Vox)
  + It’d be good if they could focus more on the people impacted by their dramatic rise. (Wired $)
  + Tech companies have been rebranding recently. Don’t buy it. (WSJ $) 

9 Astronomers keep finding black holes in unexpected places 🕳️
Dwarf galaxies weren’t supposed to be able to handle objects of this size and mass. (Quanta)

10 Why we’re all going ‘goblin mode’ 
We’ve lived through two years of a pandemic, and have now thoroughly embraced the comforts of depravity. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“I’m thinking there are a lot of honest people in the world, and some of them are on Tinder.”

—Anastasia Tischchenko, a 31-year-old woman fleeing Ukraine, tells the New York Times she and a friend used Tinder to find a place to temporarily stay in Romania.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  + (Very!) High tea.
  + It looks like these giant tortoises have been mislabeled for a very long time. 
  + Going to have to watch Pixar’s new movie, Turning Red.
  + Music critics from the New York Times talk about the songs they turn to when times get tough. 
  + Does it really matter all that much where Scotch malt whisky is made?
  + This question on Reddit about how to translate board games for Ukrainian refugees gave me some hope for humanity today.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Download: Russia is spreading misinformation about chemical weapons in Ukraine

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Western officials are increasingly worried that Russia is preparing to use chemical weapons to attack Ukraine, then spread disinformation that the attack came from the Ukrainians themselves. On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program yesterday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Russia’s accusations that the West is preparing to launch chemical attacks are a “good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves.”

Russia is making false claims that Ukraine is running chemical weapons labs with US assistance, according to a statement by Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US State Department. These conspiracy theories are then being repeated by Chinese officials.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag yesterday that any Russian chemical weapons attack would constitute a war crime.

Officials from the US and China are set to meet in Rome today as part of diplomatic efforts to head off growing tensions between the two countries linked to events in Ukraine. Talks between Russia and Ukraine are also due to resume today, with both sides expressing cautious hopes of progress. 

Tensions between Russia and NATO escalated over the weekend after Russia launched a barrage of attacks against a military base in Ukraine that’s located just 11 miles from the Polish border, killing at least 35 people. Poland is a member of NATO, raising fears the conflict could spread beyond Ukraine. 

The war on the ground is inevitably mirrored and accompanied by a fierce battle over the information people see online. The White House briefed TikTok stars about the war last week, in a nod to the significant role the platform has been playing throughout the war so far.

The information getting through to Russians is increasingly tightly controlled and filtered amid a broad crackdown on dissent inside the country. A block on Instagram comes into force today, and Facebook and Twitter have been cut off in Russia too. 

In the West, many tech platforms are giving up on the illusion of neutrality. Facebook has lifted its ban on calls for violence in the case of Russian soldiers, and even DuckDuckGo, which has previously promoted itself as apolitical and neutral, has announced it will start downranking sites associated with Russian disinformation (a decision that provoked a swift backlash from the far-right.)

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Parts of China have gone back into lockdown
A surge of cases in Shenzhen is likely to be linked to the crisis in neighboring Hong Kong. (Bloomberg $)
  + Foxconn has had to shut its plants. (FT $)
  + South Korea reported over 380,000 new cases in just one day. (NYT $)
  + Covid is not over yet. In fact, some countries still haven’t even got through the worst of it. (NY Mag)
  + It’s been two years since covid-19 became a pandemic. (TR)
  + A better pandemic response would have saved millions of lives. (NYT $)
  + Vaccinating kids has never been easy for any disease. (The Atlantic $) 

2 Tech companies are racing to hire Ukrainians
The country has a well-respected tech sector with a deep pool of talented people. (CNBC)
  + Meanwhile, tech workers are fleeing Russia, along with much of its middle class. (Rest of World

3 Can you inherit cryptocurrency?
In theory, yes. In practice it’s often impossible. (Vox)
  + How people make (and lose!) money from crypto. (Wired $)
  + It’s a year since Beeple’s $69 million NFT sale. (NBC)
  + Some NFT myths, busted. (Wired $) 

4 Facebook office workers are going to have to start doing their own laundry
My heart bleeds, it really does. (NYT $)
  + Facebook has a major child safety problem. (Wired $)  

5 What Google Search doesn’t show you 🔍
It’s getting worse, yet it’s so deeply embedded now that we struggle to imagine using anything else. (New Yorker $)

6 Your Uber journeys are going to get even more expensive
It’s implementing a fuel surcharge to offset rising gas costs. (WP $)
  + To weather the Putin price hike, Americans could try driving a bit slower. (The Atlantic $) 

7 Where does captured CO2 go?
Shipping companies are rushing to join in the nascent carbon capture boom. (IEEE Spectrum)
  + The plant that captures carbon from the air. (TR

8 Your bosses start spying on you before you even start 👀
Delete those embarrassing social media posts. (The Economist $)

9 The psychology that explains why conspiracy theories take off
They can be a collective response to threats. (Wired $)
  + Gen Z isn’t immune to misinformation. TikTokers are trying to set them straight. (NBC)
  + How to talk to conspiracy theorists—and still be kind. (TR

10 How Chico the cow went from social media star to therapist 🐮
And helped to heal a regretful game designer in the process. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“It is an epidemic in the making.” 

—Felicia Grondin, the executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, tells Recode that Americans should be more worried about the explosive growth of gambling apps.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

  • An amazing photo of the International Space Station crossing the moon.
  • How BBC 6 Music became the UK’s coolest radio station.
  • Read the story of the one-legged Paralympic snowboarder who built an ingenious prosthetic for himself—and his opponents.
  • Another Batman-related ranked list! This one’s of the villains
  • If you haven’t read Vanity Fair’s bonkers interview with Grimes (in which she reveals she has a second, secret baby with Elon Musk), now’s your chance.
  • RIP Mary Coombs, the first woman to program a commercial computer. 
  • If you’re also a sucker for red carpet snaps, check out the ones taken at the BAFTAs last night.