03 August 2015

‘Touch to Search’ coming to Chrome on iOS

About two months ago, a new search feature was launched for on Android called Touch to Search. And now I noticed the prompt to enable it on my , so I gave it a try. For now, the feature is apparently not available to everyone, according to the support documentation – maybe it rolls out to more powerful devices first. It can be turned on and off from the browser Settings, under ‘Privacy’ ► ‘Touch to Search’.

As the name implies, when you tap a word in Chrome a new card shows up at the bottom of the screen with the logo and the highlighted text. Tap it or drag up to expand the card on the bottom half of the screen – at this point you can see a definition of the word or the first search results for the phrase. You can also drag it all the way to the top, in which case the search results will replace the original page and you can browse through them like on any regular Google search. When you’re done you can dismiss the overlaid results by dragging down. Or you can tap on the search term at the top to search for something else or refine the query, but it that case the results break off from the original page and to return you need to switch to that tab in the background. It’s a useful feature, a good touch-based implementation of the desktop version, where you right-click a text selection to search with the default search engine. Safari has something similar, but it’s a multiple-step process: highlight some text, click ‘Define’ (which shows results from the local dictionaries) and then ‘Search Web’.

02 August 2015

Kim Stanley Robinson – Icehenge

in Bucharest, Romania

Kim Stanley Robinson - IcehengeÎn urmă cu câteva săptămâni, sonda New Horizons a străbătut cu succes sistemul Pluto, începând să transmită regulat noi imagini și măsurători către echipele de cercetători care așteptaseră momentul de ani întregi. Ca să marchez oarecum acest eveniment, am început să citesc o carte care era de mult pe lista de așteptare, legată de Pluto: Icehenge de Kim Stanley Robinson. Premisa e destul de transparentă din titlu: undeva în secolul 26, prima expediție umană pe planetă descoperă un monument gigantic la polul nord format din zeci de blocuri de gheață aranjate în cerc după modelul megaliților de pe Pământ.

Din păcate cam atât se alege din ideea asta interesantă de‑a lungul romanului: în jurul ei se țes numeroase ipoteze, de la cele mai trăsnite legate de Atlantida sau alte civilizații preistorice ori extraterestre la cele cu ceva plauzibilitate științifică. Dar de‑abia în ultima din cele trei părți Icehenge ocupă un rol relativ central, în timp ce prima se desfășoară cu mult înaintea descoperirii (și probabil a construcției) monumentului și nu are vreo legătură cu el în afara unor schițe vagi menționate în treacăt.

Legăturile dintre aceste trei fragmente sunt clare, dar destul de largi, fiind despărțite de zeci sau chiar sute de ani și având personaje diferite. Fiecare ia forma unui jurnal relatat la persoana întâi, cu multe divagații și întoarceri înapoi în timp pentru a retrăi amintirile personajelor. Prima voce este a Emmei Weil, un inginer biolog care se trezește implicată într‑o revoltă împotriva guvernului autoritar marțian și obligată să lucreze la sistemul de menținere a vieții al navelor rebele. În a doua parte, cea mai lungă din câte țin minte, arheologul Hjalmar Nederland se străduiește să scoată la iveală dovezi concrete despre istoria zbuciumată a lui Marte, pe care guvernul a mușamalizat‑o cu grijă de sute de ani. În timpul excavărilor din New Houston descoperă jurnalul Emmei și devine fascinat de el, atât ca mărturie a perioadei revoluționare cât și prin posibilele conexiuni cu recent-descoperitul Icehenge. În final, Edmond Doya, un strănepot îndepărtat al lui Nederland, devine el însuși interesat de Icehenge în urma unei întâlniri neașteptate pe Titan. Convins că teoria predecesorului său e eronată, el conduce o nouă expediție către Pluto pentru a elucida misterul și a‑și valida propria versiune a genezei monumentului.

01 August 2015

The Guardian: “Farewell to America”

Obama’s ascent, I was told by many and frequently during his campaign, would change these odds. Whenever I asked How? no one could say exactly. But his very presence, they insisted, would provide a marker for my son and all who look like him. I never believed that. First of all, one person cannot undo centuries of discrimination, no matter how much nominal power they have. Second, given the institutions into which Obama would be embedded – namely the Democratic party and the presidency – there would only ever be so much he could or would do.

This most recent episode of racial awakening has lasted longer than most. For the last couple of years the brutal banality of daily life for some people in this country has become visible and undeniable to those who have no immediate connection to it. But nothing new has happened. There has been no spike in police brutality. What’s new is that people are looking. And thanks to new technology (namely the democratisation of the ability to film and distribute), they have lots to look at. As a result, a significant section of white America is outraged at the sight of what it had previously chosen to ignore, while a dwindling but still sizeable and vocal few still refuse to believe their eyes.

Gary Younge

30 July 2015

The New York Times: “How Television won the Internet”

Millennial Dropouts
Change in hours spent watching traditional TV per week since 2010

Television, not digital media, is mastering the model of the future: Make ’em pay. And the corollary: Make a product that they’ll pay for. BuzzFeed has only its traffic to sell — and can only sell it once. Television shows can be sold again and again, with streaming now a third leg to broadcast and cable, offering a vast new market for licensing and syndication. Television is colonizing the Internet.

Streaming video is now not only the hottest media draw — 78 percent of United States Internet bandwidth — but, defying the trend, many of its creators are getting paid. Netflix bills itself as a disrupter of television — except that it is television, paying Hollywood and the TV industry almost $2 billion a year in licensing and programming fees.

The fundamental recipe for media success, in other words, is the same as it used to be: a premium product that people pay attention to and pay money for. Credit cards, not eyeballs.

Michael Wolff

In the internet era, TV is going through a transformation similar with music: yesterday a lot of content offered as bundles, even though consumers were only interested in a small portion of it (cable subscriptions and music albums), or ad-supported, with limited control over what content was playing (radio). Now both are moving to the on-demand model with streaming, but apparently only TV is managing to attract healthy revenues, whereas the music business is shrinking. Meanwhile, most Internet sites are stuck in the older model, chasing clicks and ad revenue, a practice that will probably prove unsustainable for most of them.

28 July 2015

The New York Times: “Decoding the Enigma of Satoshi Nakamoto and the Birth of Bitcoin”

Many concepts central to Bitcoin were developed in an online community known as the Cypherpunks, a loosely organized group of digital privacy activists. As part of their mission, they set out to create digital money that would be as anonymous as physical cash. Mr. Szabo was a member, and in 1993, he wrote a message to fellow Cypherpunks describing the diverse motivations of attendees at a group meeting that had just taken place. Some people, he wrote, are libertarians who want government out of our lives, others are liberals fighting the N.S.A., others find it great fun to ding people in power with cool hacks.

Nathaniel Popper

I admit I haven’t paid much attention to Bitcoin, I don’t understand how it works and why it should exist and this article hasn’t helped clarify these questions. The paragraph above caught my attention though: so the main ‘advantage’ is as anonymous as physical cash. The thing is, physical cash comes with a lot of downsides as well. It can be stolen much easier, because there is no verification that a certain person owns a certain amount of cash. It’s also an easy way to avoid taxes, since no central authority can control how much cash you receive or pay. This makes cash the preferred currency for the underground economy: prostitution, drug dealers, trading in illegal weapons and the list goes on. Bitcoin may sound good in an utopian anarchy, but in our real world I think it will do more harm than good.

27 July 2015

Google Photos: a missed opportunity

I’ve been meaning to write a couple of things about Google Photos ever since its launch about two months ago, but I kept putting it off because there’s not much to say. It was met with excitement in the press, mixed with a touch of Schadenfreude as takes another step away from Google Plus. Personally I’ve yet to find something exciting about this new product, probably because Flickr (which I doubt the tech press remembers still exists) had a very similar offer just days before: virtually unlimited storage, native apps to automatically upload your photo collection from the desktop, iOS and Android, object recognition in photos. There’s practically no reason to switch from one to the other currently.

26 July 2015

The Guardian: “Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world”

Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”. All manner of borrowings from Dune litter the Star Wars universe, from the Bene Gesserit-like mental powers of the Jedi to the mining and “moisture farming” on Tattooine. Herbert knew he’d been ripped off, and thought he saw the ideas of other SF writers in Lucas’s money-spinning franchise. He and a number of colleagues formed a joke organisation called the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.

Hari Kunzru

I always had the impression that the better the book, the harder it gets to translate it into a great movie – and Dune is the perfect example. It’s remarkable how it stayed relevant throughout the decades thanks to its varied themes and complexity. I got introduced into the universe by the original David Lynch adaptation, which sparked my interest for the books about 15 years ago. After reading the first novel I was amazed by how much better the book was, how much more there was to discover in the long, six-books series. I definitely recommend it in full!