29 September 2014

Medium: “Announcing Circa News 3”

Circa news logo

When you first open Wire, you’ll be immediately introduced to your Daily Brief. Our readers have repeatedly told us that they’d like to cut right to the meat of the most relevant stories to get caught up on the day’s news. This made a lot of sense to us, given our uniquely mobile approach. With our Daily Brief readers can expect on average 10–20 succinct bits of news and quickly get informed.

[…]

If you happen to follow stories, as you enter Wire you’ll be greeted with all of the updates to those you’ve decided to follow. For many of our readers, following multiple stories has meant that their “queue” of updates got backed up based on our previous designs. Thankfully, we’ve completely redesigned the experience and replaced the list of stories that have updates with a slick, simple feed-like design to stay informed without having to re-read items you’ve seen before.

Matt Galligan

Great update for one of my favorite news apps, Circa! It’s basically the app I use to keep up-to-date with breaking news and world events, from airplane crashes and airplanes being shot down, to the Ebola epidemic and spacecrafts landing on comets. I’m still ambivalent on the new Daily Brief feature though. Specifically, including updates to stories I followed in the Brief feels a bit confusing to me, every time I checked the Daily Brief I got the impression that ‘my’ updates were missing or hidden among the other news selected by the app. I think I would prefer to have a separate screen for updates; the app already supports swiping between the main news feed and the wire, so it wouldn’t be very difficult to integrate another column in the current design.

Macworld: “Stacking the iPhone against every Android phone feature”

Look, all you need to do is get an Android phone from HTC for build quality. Then get an Android phone from Sony because their cameras are so good. Then get a Galaxy Note from Samsung for the largest screen. Then get a Nexus from Google to get a decent software experience. Finally, get a phone from Hauwei because they’re cheap. Then mash them all together and you’ve got one phone that’s better than the iPhone!

The Macalope

That’s one of the best ways to describe the advantage of the iPhone over most of the competition. My own iPhone is nearly three years old and, despite some software annoyances from iOS 7 and the slowly declining battery life, I am still very happy with it. While I’m increasingly tempted to upgrade to an iPhone 6, my 4S would probably work just as smoothly for another year or so (provided I stay away from iOS 8).

28 September 2014

Gary Gibson - Final Days

Gary Gibson - Final DaysLa două secole în viitor, tehnologia găurilor de vierme a permis oamenilor să se extindă în alte sisteme solare. Totuși, ca de obicei de‑a lungul istoriei noastre, lumea nu duce lipsă de conflicte: Coaliția Vestică menține monopolul asupra tehnologiei și porților către colonii, în timp ce alte puteri politice de acasă și grupări teroriste din colonii militează pentru accesul liber la porți, autonomia crescută a noilor teritorii și posibilitatea fondării de colonii proprii fără supravegherea Array Security and Immigration. ASI ascunde însă secrete mai bine păzite decât porțile: de ceva vreme, ei explorează în secret o rețea abandonată de porți, construită de o altă rasă botezată provizoriu Fondatorii. Acest sistem de găuri de vierme ajunge mult mai departe, nu numai în univers, ci și în timp, în viitorul imposibil de îndepărtat în care galaxiile s‑au îndepărtat atât de mult încât nu mai sunt vizibile și stelele se sting una după una fără să se nască altele noi. Aici începe romanul, cu o echipă explorând un grup de patru monoliți înțesați de labirinturi, tehnologie extraterestră și capcane. Și de aici, aceștia aduc înapoi pe Pământ o armă de neoprit, care, odată eliberată din greșeală, va reduce planeta la un deșert de cenușă în câteva săptămâni.

E ciudat cum un roman cu atât de multe ingrediente bune ca Final Days nu reușește să împlinească potențialul nici uneia. După debutul grandios cu artefacte extraterestre de calibrul lui Alastair Reynolds, viitorul în care au fost descoperite se estompează în fundal și nu mai e menționat decât în scurte conversații și dezvăluiri abrupte. Civilizația construită în jurul găurilor de vierme și complexitatea situației politice se apropie de Peter Hamilton, fără să atingă nivelul de detaliu și finețe cu care le construiește acesta. Până și bucla temporală care permite personajelor cheie să anticipeze devastarea Pământului și să‑și planifice mișcările este undeva la limita plauzibilității și a posibilităților fizicii contemporane.

27 September 2014

Vanity Fair: “Hell in the Hot Zone”

Even if you understood the reasons, the message from the government and the health workers (and the local media) had undercut the incentive to cooperate. If Ebola was a death sentence, what was the point? The public-service announcements had not been subtle—they didn’t explain that mortality rates vary or that, with supportive care, patients do survive (as half the Ebola patients at the M.S.F. treatment center in Conakry had done). To a villager, the isolation centers were fearsome places. They offered a one-way maze through white tarpaulins and waist-high orange fencing. Relatives or friends went in and then you lost them. You couldn’t see what was happening inside the tents—you just saw the figures in goggles and full-body protective gear. The health workers move carefully in order to avoid tears and punctures; from a distance, the effect is robotic. The health workers don’t look like any people you’ve ever seen. They perform stiffly and slowly, and then they disappear into the tent where your mother or brother may be, and everything that happens inside is left to your imagination. Villagers began to whisper to one another—They’re harvesting our organs; they’re taking our limbs.

Jeffrey E. Stern

I’ve been watching the development of the current Ebola epidemic closely and this is one of the more comprehensive accounts of how it got started, its elusive nature – and how, despite the strong initial reaction from heath authorities, the epidemic spread through remote communities because people were too frightened of the doctors coming to their aid. If this doesn’t change, the epidemic will continue claiming more lives and will probably reach and surpass the most pessimistic predictions, currently estimating more than half a million infections by the end of the year.

21 September 2014

Facebook Data Science: “Books that have stayed with us”

To answer this question we gathered a de-identified sample of over 130,000 status updates matching “10 books” or “ten books” appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014 (although the meme has been active over at least a year). The demographics of those posting were as follows: 63.7% were in the US, followed by 9.3% in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37. We therefore expect the books chosen to be reflective of this subset of the population.

Lada Adamic & Pinkesh Patel

I had no idea this ‘10 books’ meme was so widespread! The resulting top 20 list is unsurprising, reflecting the majority of American readers in the study. I’m sure the list would be quite different if would analyze posts in other languages than English, but it would be increasingly difficult to match book titles with their local translations, especially as some books are published in several editions with different titles. Here is my personal list, a bit longer than 10 though:

20 September 2014

The Telegraph: “Welcome to Paradise: inside the world of legalised prostitution”

Paradise is a brothel in Stuttgart. It’s one of Germany’s “mega-brothels” and, like a lot of those establishments, it has a Moroccan theme. Picture a Sultan’s palace crossed with a Premier Inn, then wedge it between anonymous office blocks on an endless industrial park and you’re there: Paradise.

Nisha Lilia Diu

From the department of ideas who look good in theory, but fail to live up to expectations: the legalization of prostitution in Germany has achieved little of the proposed goals. Stricter laws in the Nordic countries have had better success in fighting sex trafficking and abuse, while in Germany the former illegal system has thrived and diversified under the protection of lax laws.

The New Yorker: “Watching the Eclipse”

At first, Putin had little interest in ideology. Then a vision emerged of a Eurasian Russian imperium, fending off Western decay.
At first, Putin had little interest in ideology. Then a vision emerged of a Eurasian Russian imperium, fending off Western decay.

Illustration by Barry Blitt.

An avid reader about tsarist Russia, Putin was forming a more coherent view of history and his place within it. More and more, he identified personally with the destiny of Russia. Even if he was not a genuine ideologue, he became an opportunistic one, quoting Ivan Ilyin, Konstantin Leontiev, Nikolai Berdyayev, and other conservative philosophers to give his own pronouncements a sense of continuity. One of his favorite politicians in imperial Russia was Pyotr Stolypin, the Prime Minister under Nicholas II. We do not need great upheavals, Putin said, paraphrasing Stolypin. We need a great Russia. Stolypin had also said, Give the state twenty years and you will not recognize Russia. That was in 1909. Stolypin was assassinated by a revolutionary in Kiev, in 1911. But Putin was determined that his opportunity not be truncated: Give me twenty years, he said, and you will not recognize Russia.

David Remnick

A great account of the major changes in Russia’s attitude towards the West since the end of the Cold War, written from the perspective of the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Reading it, what struck me most was the similarity with the situation in Germany before the Nazi regime: a country defeated, deprived of its former glory, struggling to find a new sense of purpose and clinging desperately to the first leader promising to bring back the ‘good old days’. I’m pretty sure we should not give Putin twenty years with Russia.