Alexa, Why Don't You Make Any Money for Amazon?
RTX 4090s melting their power cables, US broadband maps, Elon Musk news
Even as I am not playing the game, I am listening a lot to the soundtrack for Warhammer 40,000: Darktide — like this morning while writing this newsletter. It is quite good music. It is, of course, very dark and sufficiently 40K, with organs and choirs and a general tone of medieval sadness mixed with epic bits. But, very surprisingly, there’s a lot of EDM beats in there and parts of it can only be described as banging. Several of the tracks could be played at a gothic rave, I feel. Some of it reminds me of Paul Leonard-Morgan’s excellent music for the (equally excellent) film Dredd. Jesper Kyd, mostly known for his work on various Assassin’s Creed soundtracks, has done an amazing job here:
On Saturday, I was at a large journalism conference here in North Rhine-Westphalia. While it was nice to meet some fellow journalists and I had some very interesting discussions with people, listening to my colleagues talk about their jobs tends to reinforce my already very steadfast belief in how bad the current state of journalism has gotten. Most of these people aren’t critical thinkers at all. They are people who take the opinions of their various filter bubbles as fact and apparently never challenge most of the conclusions they collectively arrived at. And what makes it worse is their crybaby behaviour when confronted with audiences that rebel against their content, because it does not conform with what these people experience in their daily lives — or is just obviously wrong to people who know more about the subject matter being covered.
The most journalistic-minded person I saw give a talk was actually a former German military propagandist who now works for a PR agency. He was trying to explain to journalists why words and their meanings are important and why, for example, there’s a big difference between a machine gun and an assault rifle. Or a main battle tank and a self-propelled howitzer. The one moment that encapsulated the whole conference for me was when a young colleague got up and (in all earnestness) said that she didn’t understand what was so important about distinctions like that. At a conference, where otherwise everyone bent over backwards to gender every possible term in their spoken communication.
The current flock of journalists are a group of people that write about war and don’t think the distinction between a tank and a howitzer is something to pay attention to, but they consider people’s pronouns of vital importance. Just let that one sink in for a moment.
Suddenly, Amazon’s Alexa Isn’t the Greatest Idea Ever Anymore
I must confess I never understood why people use voice assistants. Having an always-on microphone in your living room seems a bad trade off to me, considering how little value these things add and how bad of a user experience these voice interfaces generally are. Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t work like Star Trek where you say something and the computer interprets what you mean. Most of the time, we change our speech to conform to the computer. Well, it looks like Amazon, too, is finally waking up to the fact that Alexa maybe wasn’t the best idea they ever had.
When the voice-assistant first launched in November of 2014, publications called it the "computer of the future." CNET described it as something out of the sci-fi series Star Trek. Computer World heralded the product as the "future of every home." Nearly 10 years since, the voice-assistant hasn't lived up to Amazon's expectations.
During the first quarter of this year, Amazon's "Worldwide Digital" unit, which includes everything from the Echo smart speakers and Alexa voice technology to the Prime Video streaming service, had an operating loss of over $3 billion, according to internal data obtained by Insider. The vast majority of Worldwide Digital's losses were tied to Amazon's Alexa and other devices, a person familiar with the division told Insider. The loss was by far the largest among all of Amazon's business units, and slightly double the losses from its still nascent physical stores and grocery business. While Amazon's business model has traditionally tolerated this kind of poor financial performance from its hardware businesses, that's no longer true. Amazon's Alexa and the devices team at large is now the prime target of the biggest layoffs in the company's history, according to press reports and an internal email seen by Insider.
"Alexa is a colossal failure of imagination," one former employee said. "It was a wasted opportunity." Employees told Insider a combination of low morale, failed monetization attempts, and lack of engagement across users and developers made them feel as though the team was deadlocked over the last few years.
Instead of harvesting data in our living rooms, Amazon has now apparently pivoted to harvesting data about our health. Great. 😐
While Alexa may have lost its luster under the largest shake-up in Amazon's history, employees said the company has a new favorite child: that title now belongs to its burgeoning healthcare business.
Nvidia RTX 4090 Lawsuit, US Broadband Maps
Nvidia is also in trouble with one of their products. The company’s newest graphics card, the RTX 4090 series, is apparently using so much power that it’s melting its power cable. Nvidia is now facing a class-action lawsuit because of this issue.
A lawsuit seeking class-action status has accused Nvidia of misleading consumers over the safety of the company's GeForce RTX 4090 graphics cards due to growing reports of melting cables. The lawsuit, filed on November 11 by Lucas Genova in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, looks to charge Nvidia with unjustly enriching itself, committing fraud, breaching the implied warranty, and violating two New York statutes in the sale of the faulty RTX 4090 cards.
The lawsuit cites several reports pointing to the RTX 4090's 12VHPWR power connector or the card's power socket melting after use. An ongoing Reddit post has identified 26 confirmed reports of RTX 4090 cards with melting cables, and they have occurred in Nvidia's Founders Edition board as well as cards made by third parties like Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI.
The company says its investigation has led it to believe the RTX 4090 power cable is melting because users are not fully plugging it in. Nvidia suggests users plug the connector into the graphics card before slotting it into the motherboard and provided an image of what a properly seated connector should look like. However, Nvidia did not rule out other issues. "We are investigating additional ways to ensure that the connector is secure before powering on the graphics card," the company says. Nvidia added that the company and its board partners will expedite authorized returns, regardless of the cable or card used.
As it turns out, Americans like to complain about how shit their internet infrastructure is as much as Germans do. In response, the FCC has now released it’s long-awaited broadband maps to chart the quality of internet connections across the United States. This means the federal government finally does not need to rely on internet service providers (ISPs) anymore when it comes to figuring out how much of the country is connected to the internet using fibre-optic cables.
Today, the FCC has finally put the first “pre-production draft” version of its new interactive broadband maps up on the web, and they’re absolutely better in one way — they no longer automatically assume you’re covered just because a single home somewhere in your census tract got internet. (Yes, that’s really how it worked before.) Now, you can see each individual address and hit a button to challenge what ISPs are reporting to the government.
Elon Musk News
In Elon Musk news, because apparently this is a thing now, things are continuing to fall apart apace at Twitter:
Just days since Musk appeared to ban working from home, Twitter has informed staff that the company's office buildings will be temporarily closed, according to reports. The move followed the passing of a deadline set by Musk, also CEO of electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, which required workers to opt into working long hours in an "extremely hardcore" environment. Those who failed to agree were told they would get a three-month severance package. Hours after the 5pm Eastern Time deadline on Thursday, hundreds of Twitter employees appear to have declined the offer. Another report said roughly three-quarters of the 3,700 employees remaining after the initial round of layoffs have chosen not to stay after the "hardcore" email.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported conversations with engineers who said there were six critical systems – such as "serving tweets" – that no longer had tech staff to support them. "There is no longer even a skeleton crew manning the system. It will continue to coast until it runs into something, and then it will stop," one said.
One laid-off staffer was in charge of managing the system which controls badge access to Twitter's buildings. He was called back in to help regain access to HQ by those who had locked themselves out. "Thanks for helping out. You're a lifesaver," Musk replied on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Musk — after conducting a vote among his Twitter followers — has re-instated the account of Donald Trump.
In other Elon Musk news, his electric car company Tesla is updating over 300,000 vehiclesbecause the taillights don’t work correctly because of a software bug. Tesla is fixing the issue with an over-the-air update. Let’s hope the update code isn’t buggy as well.
Tesla says the rear lights on one or both sides of the vehicle may “intermittently illuminate” due to an issue “that may cause false fault detections during the vehicle wake up process.” The NHTSA says this could “increase the risk of a collision” in dark conditions, but Tesla hasn’t received any reports of injuries or accidents related to this problem.
Nobody Cares about the World Cup, One-Sided Censorship in the US
Some ideas are obviously stupid but people go ahead with them anyway. One such idea was the folly of holding the football World Cup in Qatar in winter. German public broadcaster ARD is now reporting that most Germans probably won’t follow the event. Which is remarkable for a country where traditionally millions watch every game of a World Cup and the semifinals and finals are watched by virtually everybody. It’s not a huge surprise, though. World Cups are summer events, where people meet in their gardens around a barbecue or in front of restaurants and bars and in beer gardens to watch. You can’t do that in the winter. It’s 6°C here right now! And on top of that, nobody likes a host country that is notorious for treating people like shit. Who could have known? I wonder if this will actually hurt the FIFA World Cup as a brand or if things will just go back to normal in four years when it’s being held in the summer in North America?
And while we are on the topic of North America: I read an interesting article by Matt Taibbi here on Substack the other day which deals with one-sided censorship on YouTube and within the US political establishment in general. This is something I’ve run into myself in the past and in this case Matt is writing about someone who compared video evidence of Trump talking about not accepting an election result to Hillary Clinton doing the same thing. To YouTube, and a large part of the US press establishment, the former is despicable and probably should be a crime, while the latter is protected speech. This kind of one-sided judgment is a huge problem and, in my opinion, threatens our democratic institutions.
These videos made what we believe to be a powerful and legitimate point about the framing of the last two presidential elections. The first is that despite Hillary Clinton’s reluctant capitulation on Election Night in 2016, the Democratic Party as a whole as well as key officials in the government never recognized Donald Trump as a legitimate president. Clinton in fact spent four years leading a public relations campaign insisting that a) she actually won in 2016 b) Trump only won because of fraud and actual vote tampering and c) Democrats going forward should not recognize his victory should he win a second time.
Our view is that whether it’s Stop the Steal or Russiagate, denying a president’s legitimacy because you believe a conspiracy theory is the same behavior, and should be treated the same way. YouTube by administering a strike to Orfalea is sending a message that you may leave videos of Hillary Clinton saying “we know that they were into voting rolls” (they being the Russians), or Olbermann warning “It will not be a peaceful change of power!” or the current president and vice-president agreeing their predecessor “didn’t really win,” all without YouTube’s required Surgeon General-type warning called “EDSA” (YouTube’s clunky acronym for “Educational, Documentary, Scientific, or Artistic” context). In other words, you may leave up such statements without pointing out they’re unproven, incorrect, or irresponsible.
This is a de facto endorsement of such behavior when committed by certain people. When others do exactly the same thing, it’s conspiracy theory, incitement, even insurrection.
Matt’s whole article is well worth your time:
On My Desk Today
I’m currently working on a story of Twitch misdetecting audio and muting music in recorded live streams by mistake. Twitch uses an automated system to detect music that isn’t licensed to be played on the platform and muting the corresponding sections of audio to protect the streamer from reprisals by the copyright holder. Unfortunately, their system is broken and it will also do this to music that the streamer has specifically licensed — and paid for — to be streamed on Twitch. Or with music that the copyright holder has allowed to be streamed without paying. Or music that is in the public domain. What makes it worse is that Twitch’s support people that are dealing with these issues seem to have only a tenuous grasp on how copyright law works. If you ever had an experience like this with Twitch, or know people who did, please contact me. If necessary, I will provide anonymity and will protect you as a source. But I think this is an important topic and needs to be covered. These “AI” algorithms are shit at doing this, but our copyright laws are written by people who believed the hype and now creators are hurting.
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Well, about those daily updates. I have some bad news on that. When looking at my calendar this morning, I noticed that I will be extremely busy over the next two weeks. It seems unlikely that I will manage to write another newsletter before the week starting 5 December. I will try to get a newsletter or two out between then and now, but I can’t promise anything and it is not very likely. I will get back to my daily schedule afterwards, though. Please excuse this lapse of discipline, but sometimes the flexibility of being a freelancer also has some downsides and plans change relatively quickly. Thanks for reading! You’ll hear from me rather sooner than later.
Over 321,000 vehicles of the 2023 model year of the Tesla Model 3 and the 2020 - 2023 model years of the Tesla Model Y are affected.