Week 46

November 2022


A quick overview of this week’s content
  • The Week that Was: KFC’s Kristallnacht chicken, Big tech’s blood sacrifices, and cyberwarfare evolves
  • Whomst? Sam Bankman-Fried’s fall from grace and Elon Musk’s downward spiral
  • Rules of Engagement: Apple drops airdrop altitude lowers, mastodon and twitter friction, , and big tech is really, really sorry


The ‘Kristallnacht’ or ‘night of broken glass’ happened on the eve of 9-10 November in 1938. It was called the night of broken glass because of all the shards of glass left on the streets after a large crowd destroyed the windows of Jewish stores and synagogues. The Kristallnacht is commonly considered the beginning of the Holocaust. Fast food restaurant KFC urged its German customers to commemorate this dark chapter of their history with…cheesy chicken…? The company sent out a push notification (in German) reading “It's memorial day for Kristallnacht. Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken. Now at KFCheese!” According to KFC, one of its internal processes failed, both interesting and concerning given the present circumstances in the tech sector. LINK


Meta and Amazon are laying off workers, 11000 for Meta and 10000 for Amazon respectively. This is a trend sweeping the tech industry, as the present economic downturn and overinvestment during the COVID pandemic are coming back to bite it. Facebook has never in its history had a round of redundancies like this, its workforce peaking at 87,314. 11000 is 12,5% of that and laying off 10-15% of the workforce is the magic number for almost everyone it would seem. I was immediately reminded of history class back in school, of the Aztecs sacrificing slaves and citizens of lesser standing to appease their gods. The gods that Silicon Valley prays to are investors. Laying off 10-15% of staff is enough of a blood offering to appease the gods whilst also being a good excuse to ‘trim the fat’ accrued by failed projects and ambitions over the years. LINK


I don’t know how many of you have played the game Fallout 3, but it starts with a rather melodramatic quote, “war…war never changes…” So anyway, here’s an item about how much war is changing. Cyber security experts warned that Egypt’s regime appeared to be using the COP 27 climate summit as a ploy to make foreign dignitaries install a cyberwarfare weapon on their phones, whilst North Korea appears to have cemented a position at the top of the crypto crime food chain, highlighting the increasingly blurred lines between cybercrime and cyberwarfare. These issues have European governments openly wondering whether they are doing enough to prepare for further escalation of cyberthreats from abroad. Given that Russia was able to fool the US army into using malicious code for quite a while, the answer to that open question is ‘probably not.’ LINK


Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) was the founder of FTX, one of the two most prominent crypto currency exchanges in the world until its dramatic and messy demise. How quickly former adoring fans turned on Bankman is whiplash inducing, even in light of ‘interesting’ new revelations such as a personal backdoor into the FTX treasury. Bankman’s actions are rightfully being closely scrutinised, yet finance analysts and insiders warn against letting him be made into a scapegoat. Finance influencers benefited greatly from their association with Bankman whilst he was the golden boy of crypto. These influencers are now being asked whether they are sorry for what they themselves call ‘mistakes’, or whether they are sorry for being caught out. LINK


There’s a meme that goes something like this “everyone always asks where is X, nobody ever asks how is X.” In this case, X is a stand in for the name of the subject of the meme. But X is also the name of the super app Elon Musk wants to build. He calls it the everything app. Way back in 2018, Wired published an article with the title Dr. Elon and Mr. Musk (a Jekyll and Hyde reference). It came to mind now that amidst the deafening noise about what Musk is doing, a few people are indeed asking about how Elon might be doing. If his biographer is to be believed, ‘everything’ is perhaps proving to be too much for him. LINK


In newsletter #7 I covered the way Chinese iPhone owners were able to avoid state censorship during the CPP’s 20th national party congress using Apple’s airdrop file sharing feature. The item was called ‘communication breakdown.’ Apple has now limited the airdrop to everyone option to 10 minutes in China. There’s a lot at stake for Apple when it comes to staying on Xi Jinping’s good side, since it is presently the most profitable company is China by doing exactly that. In general, super apps such as Tencent’s WeChat dominate online life in China. These apps are vital to daily life there and they’re heavily moderated to avoid exactly these kinds of incidents. In cases where users are banned, they’ve been forced to do such things as sending handwritten apologies. That’s why this airdrop issue was so serious for the CCP, it was a rare hole in China’s robust censorship apparatus at the most embarrassing possible time. LINK


Against the backdrop of the ongoing twitter drama there’s also an important conversation about the user experience of apps to be had. Namely, one of friction. Simply put, if your user’s experience with your service is shit, they won’t get invested. If your user’s experience is too smooth and seamless, they’ll take it for granted and overreact to disruption. Mastodon and twitter were on entirely opposite ends of the spectrum in this regard. Mastodon’s infrastructure collapsed under the weight of all the migrating birds landing on its back, and when it did work, it’s confusing user experience discouraged the less determined. Meanwhile Elon clipped the part of twitter’s wings that was responsible for 2 factor authentication (2FA) and fraud with the ‘new’ tick got really out of hand, about as fast as all the experts warned that it would. The result? Cooling mastodon hype and ever louder questions about twitter’s future as ‘the town square.’ LINK


There’s a famous fragment from South Park’s season 14 episode 11 in which the South Park version of CEO Tony Hayward feigns an apology for the disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The current apologies being issued by big tech CEO’s, regardless of the reasons, are being interpreted by critics in the same manner. The number and bloodlust of these critics is on the rise. That’s interesting for two reasons. First of all, despite South Park poking fun at it, the BP apology largely worked. The second interesting thing is that bloodthirst. Successful so called ‘tech barons’ often develop cults of personality around them. This helps humanise their companies and drive brand loyalty. But what we’re seeing now is this strategy beginning to turn on them. It’s no longer enough that the company suffer, they want the figureheads of the companies to personally suffer in a way that we haven’t really seen before. LINK 

Ant Farms LINK 
Crappy Crafting LINK
Open Source Stats LINK
Invisibility Cloak LINK
ML Animation LINK
Space Plane LINK
Banksy in Ukraine? LINK 
AI's Emissions LINK
Universal Unlock LINK


In Japanese ‘Chimatsuri’ roughly translates to ‘blood festival’ but the more common English equivalent would be bloodbath. It can also be shortened to ‘bloodfest.’ I first learned about this term from a game I used to play quite a lot, final fantasy 14, where it’s a powerful ability of the ninja class. This week I kept summarising the major events that were happening to myself as the ‘Big tech Bloodfest’ because it rolls off the tongue and fits the situation so well. I feel a bit uneasy about how much these mass firings feel like used up cash cows being sent to the slaughterhouse. Or perhaps what makes them so scary is how much sense they make when viewed from a cold rational angle? At the same time, it’s interesting to observe how the sacrificial rituals that have long kept big tech’s leaders safe from harm seem to be losing their effectiveness. I don’t really worry about tech titan’s falls from grace too much, their golden parachutes alone are worth more than most will ever make in a lifetime. The collective bloodthirst on display during the fall of SBF, and the schadenfreude at Elon Musk’s potential mental breakdown though… That does worry me. I want them to get their comeuppance, but most people seem to be forgetting something very important. They are indeed burning in a hell of their own making, but we’re all in there with them. You can only comfortably watch something burn when you yourself have the luxury of not being on fire.
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