27 February 2015

Business Insider: “Dear Silicon Valley: Here’s your wake-up call”

It is true that the iPhone’s success has been so astounding that anyone who hypothesized it a decade ago would have been laughed out of town. And, if nothing else, the iPhone does serve as a reminder that the future is unpredictable and that sometimes fantastically amazing and unpredictable things do happen.

What the existence of the iPhone does not do, however, is guarantee that Apple is going to do the same thing in the car business that it did in the phone business.

The important story here is that some of the smartest minds in Silicon Valley appear to have stopped thinking critically. Instead, after being surrounded by 15 years of unbridled, unpredicted success in the face of highly vocal skepticism, they have gotten caught up in their own natural and admirable optimism and have begun to regard it as a given that anything they dream up will come to fruition.

Henry Blodget

I don’t usually read Business Insider (too many click-bait headlines), but this article certainly hits a sore spot. There are signs in the skyrocketing valuations of new apps, in the unreasonable expectations about Uber, in articles such as this one mixing random facts with uncritical assumptions – and in the euphoric reaction of people reading them. It’s alright and even healthy to think about what’s possible in the future and how we might deal with new technologies; it’s quite another to confuse possibilities with probabilities and act as if every bit of rumor, every prototype is an established fact. Silicon Valley is drunk on the future, but at some point it will have to sober up again.

The Loop: “Apple announces media event for March 9”

Apple Spring forward March 2015 event

Apple on Thursday sent out invites for a special event to be held on March 9, 2015. The event will be held in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a venue that Apple has used many times before for special events.

It is widely expected that Apple will use the event to give more details about the Apple Watch, which was introduced last September.

Jim Dalrymple

It strikes me as odd that we haven’t heard anything about the iPad Pro lately, with the media focusing almost exclusively on the Watch. Maybe this event will surprise us with the introduction of a new, ‘professional’ iPad. After all, the Watch already had a launch event last year and there are plenty of advertorials for it in the press. Also, the Yerba Buena Center was the site of the original iPad launch in 2010 and of most the following iPad events. If the rumors about iPad Pro being available in ‘mid-2015’ are valid, this would be a good time to present the device.

26 February 2015

Fusion: “Meet the tweet-deleters”

Auto-deleting tweets is a novel solution to this problem. And in an age when Twitter misfires end careers and ruin lives every day, it’s not hard to see its usefulness. Ask Jeb Bush’s former chief technology officer if he wishes he’d auto-deleted his six-year-old tweets about “sluts.” Or ex-Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson, who was ousted from his position after unsavory tweets he’d posted years before made it into the social web’s spotlight. Or the three Toronto firefighters who lost their jobs after media outlets published tweets from them quoting sexist lines from TV shows.

Most tweet-deleters, though, are not trying to protect themselves from a dark past. (After all, the worst gaffes often stand in the public record, no matter whether the original offending tweet got deleted.) Instead, they want their Twitter accounts to reflect their present states of mind and interests.

Kevin Roose

Delete TweetI’ve seen this practice through my blog, where I embed tweets on some articles; some of them are no longer available later and following the embedded link shows they were deleted. To me, it makes little sense: it’s like having a conversation now and denying everything a week later. If you can’t handle your ‘opinions’ being public record, maybe you shouldn't express them publicly in the first place?

25 February 2015

Different perspectives on Uber

Hardly a week goes by without a story about Uber, the most controversial Silicon Valley startup, despised and loved at the same time. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the future of transportation and home delivery or an evil corporation preying on the poorer classes and undermining the social fabric of society. Here are some of my observations on different aspects of Uber.

Taxi vs. ‘ride-sharing’

The concept most associated with Uber is the ‘sharing economy’. As the story goes there’s higher demand for car rides than taxis can cover and Uber enables private car owners to share rides and make an extra buck, while satisfying some of that demand. The thing is though, if Uber really were operating a ride-sharing business, drivers could set their own prices by negotiating directly with the passengers – Airbnb lets home owners set their prices or how the German Mitfahrgelegenheit system works. But instead Uber controls the prices – and notoriously decides when they should ‘surge’ based on their opaque data about demand – and so the economic model is very similar to a taxi company. As someone observed on Twitter, a true ride-sharing company wouldn’t be so eager to cut drivers out of the picture as Uber seems by investing in autonomous cars. This probably explains why the company is fighting regulation every step of the way – being bound by the same strict regulations as taxis would push them into the same low-profit business.

23 February 2015

BBC Top Gear: “Why Apple won’t build the iCar”

Apple might well do a lot of research and early engineering on a car, but that doesn’t mean it won’t drop the idea before it hits the market. It’s done that with other new ventures before. I suspect this one will drop too.

Why? Because the car business is difficult, complex, sprawling and littered with legislation, lobbies and entrenched rivals. And its profit margins are tiny. BMW has done its i cars because it sees new mobility as the only way it can survive. Tesla launched itself because its founders have an evangelical mission: to end the grip of petroleum. Google posits its self-driving car as another project for the common good: to reduce the vast casualty toll especially in countries where mass motorisation is new.

But Apple isn’t an evangelist company any more. It looks that way, but what it really loves is profit. Why would it bother?

Paul Horrell

Tech writers have a habit of blowing every little rumor out of proportion, but it must have been a particularly slow news week for the Apple Car to become such a phenomenon. As the article above, others have expressed similar doubts about the viability of such projects.

22 February 2015

The New York Times: “Boston’s Winter From Hell”

But for those of us living here, it’s not a pretty picture. We are being devastated by a slow-motion natural disaster of historic proportions. The disaster is eerily quiet. There are no floating bodies or vistas of destroyed homes. But there’s no denying that this is a catastrophe.

In just three weeks, between Jan. 27 and Feb. 15, we have had four epic blizzards — seven feet of precipitation over three weeks — which crushed roofs, burst gutters, destroyed roads and sidewalks, closed schools and businesses, shut down highways, crippled public transit and trapped people in their homes. The infamous Blizzard of 1978 brought around 27 inches of snow and shut down the region for a week. In less than a month, we’ve seen more than three times as much snow. The temperature has hovered between 5 and 25 degrees, so the snow and ice haven’t melted.

E.J. Graff

But surely this means global warming is a myth! – you say.

Wrong, many models predict this precise consequence of global warming, caused by several mechanisms. In fact, this ‘blizzard from hell’ scenario was the subject of a SF novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Fifty Degrees Below, and the current situation looks pretty damn similar to how the author imagined it 10 years ago.

Brandon Sanderson – Steelheart

in Bucharest, Romania

Brandon Sanderson - SteelheartUndeva în viitorul apropiat, pe cerul Pământului își face apariția un fenomen misterios, o stea roșiatică botezată Calamitatea. În curând și aparent la întâmplare, oameni din toată lumea încep să descopere puteri supranaturale și, odată cu ele, să se comporte arogant și superior, ca niște zei nou-născuți. Lipsiți de scrupule și însetați de putere, acești Epici dărâmă ordinea socială, instaurând propriile regate bazate pe teroare și forță. La fel s‑a întâmplat în Chicago, unde Steelheart își începe regimul devastând o bancă și transformând orașul în oțel într‑un acces de furie. Singurul supraviețuitor a fost un copil de opt ani, David Charleston, care păstrează de atunci amintirea dureros de clară a asasinării tatălui său și un detaliu prețios: impenetrabilul Epic fusese rănit de arma acestuia!

He didn’t need a mask. This man had no reason to hide. He spread his arms out from his sides, and wind blew the doors open around him. Ash scattered across the floor and papers fluttered. Steelheart rose into the air a few inches, cape flaring out. He began to glide forward into the room. Arms like steel girders, legs like mountains, neck like a tree stump. He wasn’t bulky or awkward, though. He was majestic, with that jet-black hair, that square jaw, an impossible physique, and a frame of nearly seven feet. And those eyes. Intense, demanding, uncompromising eyes.