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Digital art swaggers down the cul-de-sac of obsolescence • The Register

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? Argh, where did I put that old comic? Someone told me it’s a collector’s item! It has value!

You may be disappointed to learn that I am not hunting down an issue #1 heirloom featuring caped billionaire fascists or drug-pumped soldiers in patriotic catsuits. What I’m searching for has less of the crime bashing and more, er, kangaroo snogging.

Found it! Found them all, in fact: a complete set of Deadline, all 64 issues from launch to collapse. Given that my move to France a couple of years ago effectively turned my house upside-down, it made sense that everything that used to be stored in the attic would now be in the cellar – and that’s where they were.

I’m not looking to sell. I’m trying not to buy.

Maybe you’re the same, I dunno, but I have an annoying habit of buying the same thing over and over again. The process goes like this:

1. I notice a serialised comic strip that appeals to me in an anthology that I subscribe to.

2. Months afterwards, I purchase the whole series anew when they are collected and republished as a graphic novel.

3. A decade later, I have forgotten where I put the graphic novel and end up buying the repackaged reprint all over again.

4. After reading the reprint, I pop it onto a bookshelf, only to find I have inserted it right next to the edition that I couldn’t find.

Determined not to make all the same mistakes over and over again, on the cusp of ordering Shaky Kane’s Good News Bible I went hunting for Mr Kane’s originals in my copies of Deadline that I bought in late 1980s and early 1990s from my local newsagent. Hmm, I see the pages have yellowed a bit, especially after they switched to cheaper paper a year after the launch. Maybe I should buy the digital edition.

Ah, now. I forgot to mention step 5:

5. Despite owning the original print run and two alternative collected volumes of the comic strip series, I convince myself that buying a digital edition of the same graphic novel will ensure longevity.

Photo of early issues of Deadline magazine

So 1980s! Some Deadline magazines in Dabbsy’s cellar

Here’s where things get sticky, because this is often followed by a step 6:

6. The company that sold me the digital comic goes out of business and its app stops working. So I feel obliged to buy it all over again on another platform – as before, for reasons of “longevity”.

Anyone would think the media format wars for video and music just passed me by, unnoticed. Yet I know plenty of people who own the same albums in multiple formats: on original vinyl, then cassette, CD with copy protection, post-1990s reissued CD without copy protection, Minidisc, MP3, FLAC, streaming and, of course, vinyl again.

It’s a similar story for many dedicated movie fans, whose attics and cellars are piled high with multiple copies of their favourite films on VHS or Betamax (or both), laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray, only to buy or rent them over and over again via download and streaming because they can’t find a working VHS/Betamax/laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray player compatible with their 8K TV which is equipped with an Ethernet port, an optical port and nothing else.

Which brings us to media content wrapped up in NFT platforms. By the power of Greysk… er, Ethereum and various copycat blockwagons delivering smart contracts, clever digital media such as animated, interactive 3D art can be bought, sold and generally pumped up in fiat currency value without losing track of ownership – even shared ownership of the same content.

Cryptocurrency trading simulator Crypto Parrot calculates that the cumulative trading volume of the 10 leading NFT marketplaces reached $1.63bn earlier this week. So disruptive!

Yes, it’s all hype, but what isn’t? If the art-as-investment market appears to be gambling on NFT, well, gambling on short-term value is what art dealers do. And who can blame the artists making a quick buck on the craze? It’s not just the Banksys and Winklemen, either: London-based artist Andrew Brown recently put 40 of his works up for sale at $500 each and sold the lot almost immediately, earning him $20,000 in 20 seconds. Its value then increased by 25 per cent a week and the last time I looked the collection was worth in excess of $300,000. That’s why art investors are interested.

None of this bothers me. I’m not an art collector, even less so if I can’t hang it on a wall or balance it on a shelf. All that interactive digital wank is like art installations: they belong in a gallery, museum or pretentious loft space, not squeezed between the sofa and coffee table in my living room. And certainly not locked away inside the same bloody computer I’ve been sitting in front of all day, not to mention an arcane proprietary NFT platform and obligatory wonky VR headset.

But what’s this? Oh no! The NFT craze is threatening to infect the comics industry!

The hugely talented, award-winning and very popular comics artist Nick Percival will see his forthcoming graphic novel Bloodlines published later this month in Terra Virtua NFT-only format. Good luck to him and all that but, kuh-rist almighty, not another format, surely?

“From any device, collectors can use the app to delve into Nick’s different creative layers,” says Terra Virtua’s Jawad Ashraf. Judging from the Terra Virtua site, I suppose “any device” is NFT disruptor slang for “Windows and Android only”.

Nick himself says: “I became fascinated in the ways NFTs enable people to experience art in ways that aren’t possible in print.” Examples of this experience might include animated artwork, being able to peel back creative layers to reveal original concept sketches, and discover “Easter eggs”.

Yes, yes, I remember all this being said about animated books created in Macromedia Shockwave format around the turn of the century. And what happened to my investment in Dr Seuss’s finest moments on CD? Now used as coffee coasters, the lot of them. And Shockwave’s successor, Flash? Urgh. I’d have a better chance of getting Peter Gabriel’s XPLORA1 interactive game from 1993 to run on a Hypercard emulator.

Do what you like with your Non-Fungible Tokens, kids, but I’ve been down the digital format detour too many times already and it always leads to a cul-de-sac. One day you’ll discover – just as with my Shockwaves, AVE comics, Minidiscs, VHS tapes and all – that NFT ultimately stands for “Not Fucking There”.

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He acknowledges that he may be wrong about all this, especially about the main aspect of collecting art, which is the process of building the collection rather than the art itself. He also sincerely hopes the NFT hype will prove to be a genuine and not-at-all virtual source of income for beleaguered comic artists. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.



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Big tech’s pro-climate rhetoric is not matched by policy action, report finds | Environment

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The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to using their corporate muscle to advocate for stronger climate policies, their engagement is almost nonexistent, according to a new report.

Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Microsoft poured about $65m into lobbying in 2020, but an average of only 6% of their lobbying activity between July 2020 and June 2021 was related to climate policy, according to an analysis from the thinktank InfluenceMap, which tracked companies’ self-reported lobbying on federal legislation.

The report also sought to capture tech companies’ overall engagement with climate policy by analyzing activities including their top-level communications as well as lobbying on specific legislation. It found that climate-related engagement levels of three of the five companies – Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft – had declined compared to the previous year.

Tech companies, which have some of the deepest pockets in corporate America, have been racing to come out with increasingly ambitious climate pledges. Amazon has a target to be net zero by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and Facebook has a target of net zero emissions for its entire supply chain by 2030.

In 2020, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 to have removed all the carbon the company has ever emitted. Apple has committed to become carbon neutral across its whole supply chain by 2030.

And Google has pledged to power its operations with 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, without using renewable certificates to offset any fossil-generated power. “The science is clear, we have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” the Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, said in a video announcing the policy.

Yet this strong pro-climate rhetoric is not being matched by action at a policy level, according to the report. “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all,” said the InfluenceMap executive director, Dylan Tanner.

Tech companies have not been entirely silent. Apple, for example, has expressed support for the Biden administration’s proposed clean energy standard, which aims for all US-generated electricity to be renewable by 2035.

But these efforts are significantly outweighed by those of big oil and gas companies, which have ramped up their climate lobbying over the same timeframe, according to the report. “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative,” said Tanner.

A lack of engagement is especially disappointing given the new momentum around climate action under the Biden administration, said Bill Weihl, a former Facebook and Google sustainability executive and now executive director of Climate Voice, which mobilizes tech workers to lobby their companies on climate action. “The dominant business voice on these issues is advocating against the kind of policies that we need,” he said.

Joe Biden’s $3.5tn budget reconciliation bill, which includes large investments for climate action, is facing fierce opposition from some industry groups. The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s most powerful business lobbying group, has said it will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. All of the tech companies, with the exception of Apple, are members of the Chamber.

“Our best chance to lead the planet to safety in the race against climate change is through this reconciliation bill, yet InfluenceMap has shown that big tech is still MIA on climate in Congress,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and longtime advocate for climate legislation.

Microsoft and Apple declined to comment on the report and Alphabet did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company engages at local, state and international levels to “actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system”.

A Facebook spokesperson said “we’re committed to fighting climate change and are taking substantive steps without waiting for any legislative action”, adding that the company supports the Paris climate agreement goals and helped found the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

But these actions are not enough given the scale of the crisis, said Tanner. The UN warned in a report published on Friday that even if current climate emissions targets are met, the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” for 2.7C of heating by the end of the century. “We’re running out of time,” Tanner said, “physically on climate but also on a public policy level.”

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Some of you have dirty green credentials • The Register

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TechUK – the UK’s digital trade association representing computer giants and start-ups alike – has called on firms to check their green credentials and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

The warning comes as UK businesses were told to brush up on their eco-claims or risk public humiliation and enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Businesses have until the New Year to make sure their environmental claims – such as those regarding energy consumption, packaging, recycling, and product lifecycle assessments – comply with the law and are not simply an exercise in greenwashing.

As part of its efforts to steer companies, the CMA has published a six-point Green Claims Code in a bid to make it clear that anyone spouting eco-friendly claims “must not omit or hide important information” and “must consider the full life cycle of the product.”

The CMA is targeting sectors that some onlookers may regard as low hanging fruit including textiles and fashion, energy-hungry travel and transport, and fast-moving consumer goods.

However, any sector and the companies that operate within it – including tech – could fall within the CMA’s crosshairs.

In a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief exec of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms don’t get the recognition they deserve. Any business that fails to comply with the law risks damaging its reputation with customers and could face action from the CMA.”

However, there are worries the new rules may lead to confusion. In its evidence to the CMA, techUK said the six principles set out in the guidance were “not specific enough” and also called for more information to help tech firms. It also warned that different variables made in lifecycle assessments could lead to misleading results [PDF].

In a statement, Susanne Baker, associate director for Climate, Environment and Sustainability, techUK, told us: “The CMA’s guidance is important for any company making a green claim about their services, products and company. With more green claims being made by the tech sector than ever before, it’s absolutely vital that these aren’t deemed to be greenwashing.

“Firms have until the new year to address this and will need to think carefully about any green claim they make, be sure they can substantiate them, that they aren’t misleading, and are truthful and accurate,” she said.

The CMA announced that it was investigating the impact of green marketing on consumers last year when it found that 40 per cent of green claims made online could be misleading – suggesting that thousands of businesses could be breaking the law.

In June, The Register reported how a shortage of plastics – rather than a desire to protect the planet — could be one reason why recycled plastics may be working their way into laptops and other gadgetry.

Amazon recently found itself fending off a whistle-blower’s claims alleging it dumped unsold goods to landfill, and later bragged that it had achieved lower carbon “intensity” in its business practices. The latter claim was shot down by an unimpressed scientist close to The Reg who remarked that the fact Amazon’s business was growing was not “helpful to Earth”, and the fact it polluted less per unit of activity didn’t change the bottom line “which is that they are polluting more this year than they did last year.”

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced the electric car maker will stop accepting Bitcoin payments for its vehicles, due to the “increasing use” of fossil fuels, particularly coal, to support Bitcoin’s electricity-hungry mining and transaction processing.

An Intel sponsored report by non-profit Resilience First, highlighted in June the role of tech in reaching net-zero carbon emission goals. However, making chips has been a dirty business, with a 2002 study concluding that a single 2g semiconductor chip required a whopping 1.6kg of secondary fossil fuels and 72g of chemical inputs to be put into production. ®

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Fivetran nears five times its unicorn valuation as it plans further growth

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The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.

Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.

This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.

The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.

In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.

‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’
– MARTIN CASADO, A16Z

For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.

“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”

Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.

Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.

In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.

“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.

The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.

Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.

“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.

“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”

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