30 April 2016

The Guardian: “The Louvre comes to Abu Dhabi”

When the French revolutionaries summoned it into existence in 1791, the Louvre in Paris marked a clear break from the past. The Louvre smashed apart the old tradition of cabinets of curiosities and of princely collections, which served primarily to dazzle visitors, glorify the monarchs who owned them, and solidify their claims to rule. The Louvre, by contrast, laid out paintings and sculptures in a procession of art-historical schools, each of which expressed a national or cultural “genius”, and addressed visitors not as aristocratic connoisseurs but as citizens. The museum sought to serve a public that, however shadowed by the spectre of the nation, was imagined in the broadest terms.

Without this clear relationship between art and society, the museums on Saadiyat Island turn back the clock. They may adopt sophisticated museographic practices and cherry-pick from the latest trends in cultural theory, but their main aim is to dazzle and awe, to plump the reputation of Abu Dhabi and its rulers. Western museums have been only too happy to abet this project and lap up the largesse of the Gulf. For the Etihad-pampered visitors to Saadiyat Island, the effect of touring its galleries will be much like that of seeing the royal collections of the 17th and 18th centuries. All the wonders they encounter within will be refracted through the inescapable power of the king.

Kanishk Tharoor

Fascinating insight into a massive cultural project laden with controversies, from the role of art in society to the exploitation of foreign workers for the Gulf’s construction work. Despite travelling extensively to Paris in the past years, I have yet to visit the original Louvre – I always seemed to find something better to do than waiting for hours in line for entry. But if I will get there eventually, I would feel obligated to visit its Middle East counterpart as well, which should open by the end of the year.

28 April 2016

Above the Crowd: “Why the Unicorn Financing Market just became Dangerous… for all involved”

Mo Money Mo Problems

Perhaps the biggest lapse in judgment for all of those involved is the assumption that if we can just raise “one more round” everything will be fine. Founders have come to believe that more money is better, and the fluidity of the recent funding environment has led many to believe that heroic fundraising is a competitive advantage. Ironically, the exact opposite is true. The very best entrepreneurs are relatively advantaged in times of scarce capital. They can raise money in any environment. Loose capital allows the less qualified to participate in each market. This less qualified player brings more reckless execution which drags even the best entrepreneur onto an especially sloppy playing field. This threatens returns for all involved.

The reason we are all in this mess is because of the excessive amounts of capital that have poured into the VC-backed startup market. This glut of capital has led to (1) record high burn rates, likely 5-10x those of the 1999 timeframe, (2) most companies operating far, far away from profitability, (3) excessively intense competition driven by access to said capital, (4) delayed or non-existent liquidity for employees and investors, and (5) the aforementioned solicitous fundraising practices. More money will not solve any of these problems — it will only contribute to them. The healthiest thing that could possibly happen is a dramatic increase in the real cost of capital and a return to an appreciation for sound business execution.

Bill Gurley

Finally a sane voice drawing attention to the problems of startup economics. Not that many people will listen to his advice…

27 April 2016

The New York Times: “iPhone Sales Drop, and Apple’s 13-Year Surge Ebbs”

From the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad, Apple created more than a decade’s worth of new gadgets to fuel its historic growth.

But the technology company’s dazzling 13-year run of quarterly revenue growth ended on Tuesday — a casualty of Apple’s already immense size, weakness in key global markets like China and the lack of another hot product to pry open the wallets of customers.

Apple, the Silicon Valley giant that has spent much of the last five years as the world’s most valuable company, said on Tuesday that revenue for its second fiscal quarter, which ended in March, declined 13 percent to $50.6 billion as sales of its flagship product, the iPhone, fell, with little else to take its place.

Vindu Goel

Hardly surprising given the poor growth in the previous quarter, when sales were just barely up compared to the previous year. The current weak demand may be caused, at least partially, by the abnormal surge in sales last year, when people got excited about finally getting larger screens in the iPhone 6 line – I was one of them after all! Somehow I doubt the smaller iPhone 5SE will generate the same flood of demand once it hits the stores – and at about half the price, it will make a significantly smaller contribution to Apple’s revenues.

25 April 2016

Stratechery: “It’s a Tesla”

Let’s start with the caveats: no, Tesla did not sell 276,000 Model 3’s in three days;1 that is the number of fully refundable pre-orders that required a deposit of “only” $1,000.2 And yes, Tesla has a history of delivering cars late and with a higher price than expected. Moreover, given the fact that Tesla only delivered just over 50,000 cars last year, no matter how quickly Tesla scales it will almost certainly be years before this first week of reservations is fulfilled, and even then Tesla will only control a fraction of the car market.

With that out of the way, can we marvel at what Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have accomplished? Nearly 300,000 people have willingly parted with $1,000 despite the fact they will not have a chance to purchase a car for years; an astounding 115,000 of them sent in their deposit before they even knew what the car looked like. A friend got in line to make his reservation at 6:45am and there were 123 people in front of him. This is, no matter how you measure it, a phenomenon that is nearly unprecedented; the only possible comparison is Apple and its iPhone.

Ben Thompson

Hmm… If I marvel at something, it’s at the consumers’ unlimited capacity for irrational behavior. Looking at the comparison with Apple’s iPhone from another angle, think about it this way: if you preorder a smartphone and it breaks, what’s the worst it can happen? You may lose a couple of phone calls or messages, you apologize to people, complain for a couple of days and end up buying another one. What happens if your car malfunctions? Worst case scenario: you die, together with everyone in it.

13 April 2016

re/code: “The Live Video Obsession”

The big challenge with live video is that it requires the serendipitous pairing in real time of a broadcaster with something to show and an audience that’s ready and interested in what’s being shown. Unlike the more typical asynchronous video we’re used to seeing online, to be really effective, live video needs to be consumed in the moment. I suspect that’s a big reason why these various companies are investing in live video — it gives people a reason to tune in at times when they might not normally think of checking in on that particular social network or app. But people’s actual ability to do so will continue to be limited by the realities of daily life. In addition, there just isn’t that much compelling in people’s everyday lives to be of interest as a live video. Most events can either be captured and shared non-live or broadcast live to a single other party — showing grandma the baby’s first steps, for example.

Jan Dawson

A valid point, and something I noticed myself recently. In my case I found what I thought it should make an interesting video hangout, but scheduled for later in the day. Too lazy to do time zone conversion to know exactly when it will start, I visited the page a couple of times during the day, only to be greeted each time by a message saying the hangout will start soon. I quickly got frustrated and gave up on the hangout.

11 April 2016

Nik Collection by Google: “Today we’re making the Nik Collection available to everyone, for free”

Photo enthusiasts all over the world use the Nik Collection to get the best out of their images every day. As we continue to focus our long-term investments in building incredible photo editing tools for mobile, including Google Photos and Snapseed, we’ve decided to make the Nik Collection desktop suite available for free, so that now anyone can use it.

Nik Collection

Over the years I’ve consistently heard good things about this photo editing suite, so after hearing the news I immediately installed it to try it out. I was mostly interested in the noise reduction module (Dfine), as my camera doesn’t handle low light and high ISO that well. Unfortunately it was soon clear that the usefulness of Nik Collection was highly overrated… Let me explain why:

10 April 2016

The Guardian: “14 years a fugitive: the hunt for Ratko Mladić, the Butcher of Bosnia”

Along with a formidable phalanx of guards, Mladić had a driver, his own cook, even his own personal waiter who would travel with him back to Rajac in the late winter of each year. When the season was over and the deer hunters had departed, the entourage would return like a travelling court. During this period, Mladić also spent a considerable amount of time in Belgrade, at his family home on Blagoja Parovića Street in the upmarket suburb of Košutnjak. He went out to restaurants and football matches in the Serbian capital. Video of these days shows a relaxed Mladić playing table tennis at Stragari, theatrically ruing a missed shot, and presiding over family celebrations.

The men and women who helped keep the fugitive general in this contented bubble saw him as a national hero, embodying the martial virtues of Serb legends from other eras. Somehow they managed to persuade themselves that within this crude stub of a man was an echo of Serbia’s heroic age. But just in case their loyalty should ever waver, they were shown photographs of their children – a characteristically direct reminder of the high price paid by informants.

Julian Borger

I’ve read the article a while back, but it seamed fitting to share it together with my review of The Cellist of Sarajevo, an excellent novel depicting the struggle to survive in a city under siege and constant bombardment.