26 May 2015

The New York Times: “Young Saudis, Bound by Conservative Strictures, Find Freedom on Their Phones”

Saudi Arabia has ideal conditions for a social media boom: speedy Internet, disposable income and a youthful population with few social options. Unlike China and Iran, Saudi Arabia has not blocked sites like Facebook and Twitter, although it occasionally prosecutes those seen as insulting public figures or Islam. The Saudi monarchy appears to have decided that the benefits of social media as an outlet for young people outweigh the risk that it will be used to mobilize political opposition, which it is quick to punish, harshly.

Ben Hubbard

There’s no doubt that social networking and smartphones have improved numerous lives and enabled new types of business, but that’s a long way away from freedom. In this context, (mostly!) unrestricted access to social media is a distraction for the masses, a concession the government uses to divert attention from their conservative society and social issues.

22 May 2015

Philadelphia City Paper: “I was an undercover Uber driver”

Driving for UberX isn’t the worst-paying job I’ve ever had. I made less scooping ice cream as a 15-year-old, if you don’t adjust for inflation. If I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week with one week off, I’d net almost $30,000 a year before taxes.

But if I wanted to net that $90,000 a year figure that so many passengers asked about, I would only have to work, let’s see…

27 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Emily Guendelsberger

Brutal. The situation is about to get worse still, as Uber is increasing the commission to squeeze more money out of its drivers. As they increasingly compete on cheaper prices instead of better experience, is it any wonder that Uber is quickly turning into just another taxi company?

20 May 2015

Wired: “Silicon Valley is Letting Go of its Techie Island Fantasies”

In a 2009 essay, Thiel described these island paradises as a potential “escape from politics in all its forms.” It wasn’t just desirable, he said. It seemed possible. “We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it will soon be feasible”, he wrote.

More than a half-decade later, the dream has yet to be realized. And optimism is starting to waver. Earlier this year, during a talk at George Mason University, Thiel said, “I’m not exactly sure that I’m going to succeed in building a libertarian utopia any time soon.” Part of the problem: A truly self-sufficient society might exceed the range even of Thiel’s fortune. “You need to have a version where you could get started with a budget of less than $50 billion”, he said.

Kyle Denuccio

If you thought the ‘island’ in the title is some kind of metaphor, think again! As megalomania goes, this is not even a particularly original idea, going back at least a century to Jules Verne’s novel Propeller Island. I guess it at least explains some of the more eccentric scenes in HBO’s show ‘Silicon Valley’…

19 May 2015

Baekdal: “The Thing about Facebook Instant Articles”

What many publishers don’t seem to understand is that Facebook is incredibly limited in terms of the behavior its audience has. People don’t go to Facebook for news. Instead, people primarily only use Facebook when they are having a quick break. That means that the audience is coming to Facebook without a specific intent. And because there is no specific intent, there is also almost no loyalty.

If you can optimize your content for that, then Facebook is amazing. Buzzfeed, for instance, have optimized almost entirely for people who are on a break, mostly bored, and with no specific intent. And because of this, Buzzfeed attracts quite a staggering level of traffic via the social sites, and primarily via Facebook.

Thomas Baekdal

The latest experiment in news delivery launched late last week and already there’s been an incredible amount of commentary about it – possibly more than the number of published Instant Articles. As the article linked above discusses at length, I see three main perspectives here:

18 May 2015

Outlook for iOS: a desktop-grade email client

After ignoring the and the mobile revolution for a long time, the past year saw Microsoft changing direction under new leadership and launching multiple apps for Apple and Android devices. The most important app in their portfolio is obviously Office, but curiously Microsoft didn’t have an Outlook app – until they acquired Accompli late last year. Without much change, the app was quickly re-launched as Outlook for iOS in January. After reading many positive reviews, I gave it a try as well. To my surprise, I was very impressed by the features and after a couple of days it replaced the built-in Mail app I’ve been using for years. While I try new apps regularly, in the end I usually stick with the default, because the benefits are marginal (like Chrome and Google Calendar) or the app is downright confusing, as it was the case with Google’s Inbox.

There are a number of features that make Outlook stand out from other mobile email apps. It has broad support for email providers, on par with the default Mail app, and much better than competitors, who usually only support Gmail and don’t bother with anything else. Outlook goes one step further and delivers notifications for new Gmail messages almost in real-time, something that the Mail app can’t offer anymore, since Google decided to drop Microsoft’s EAS from free Gmail accounts. The app provides swipe actions in-app (configurable by the user) and on lock screen notifications, message scheduling and conversation threads, all pretty standard features in mobile clients these days. More specific features are ‘Quick Filter’ to quickly see unread, flagged or messages with attachments, and the option to unsubscribe from email newsletters directly inside the app.

17 May 2015

Paul McAuley – Something coming through

in Bucharest, Romania
Paul McAuley - Something coming through
‘One day something will come through that will amaze us all. Perhaps you will be the first to see it.’

După o perioadă de recesiune, revolte și atentate cu mini-bombe nucleare, Pământul e confruntat cu un eveniment epocal: contactul mult-așteptat cu o rasă extraterestră. Jackaroo vin în pace, oferindu‑și ajutorul pentru problemele omenirii, împreună cu o duzină de planete pentru colonizare și explorare. În schimb refuză cu abilitate să răspundă la majoritatea întrebărilor, păstrând un mister ferm în jurul aspectului lor și a civilizațiilor dispărute, ale căror ruine împânzesc noile colonii. Treisprezece ani mai târziu, Chloe Millar, o tânără vânătoare de artefacte extraterestre, intuiește în desenele obsesive ale unui adolescent fugit de acasă posibile indicii către o descoperire majoră despre Vechile Culturi. În același timp pe Mangala, una din planetele populate predominant de europeni, polițistul Vic Gayle și partenerul lui, Skip Williams, au de rezolvat o crimă urâtă petrecută chiar în seara aniversării fondării coloniei.

Am ales cartea de față pentru că‑mi plăcuse povestirea 17 și s‑a vândut la reducere pentru Kindle înainte de lansare. Și la prima vedere a părut interesantă, ceva la intersecția între Sfârșitul Copilăriei (extratereștrii misterioși care ghidează omenirea), Avatarul (lui Poul Anderson) și Final Days al lui Gary Gibson (găuri de vierme, colonii și artefacte periculoase). Misterul promovat de Jackaroo și relicvele aduse pe Pământ întrețin o adevărată explozie de teorii ale conspirației și de culte care mai de care mai excentrice, vorbind în limbi de mult dispărute și proclamând salvarea în adâncurile spațiului. Autorul dezvoltă o serie de idei solide, plauzibile, de la mișcarea conservatoare care încearcă să limiteze schimbările produse de contactul constant cu necunoscutul, la tehnologii pe jumătate înțelese, la infiltrarea speciilor extraterestre în ecosistemele pământene.

10 May 2015

R. Scott Bakker – The Thousandfold Thought

in Bucharest, Romania

R. Scott Bakker - The Thousandfold ThoughtDupă Miracolul Circumfixului din Caraskand, opoziția ortodocșilor Inrithi față de Războinicul-Profet se transformă peste noapte în încredere și supunere necondiționată. Acum Războiul Sfânt se află complet sub controlul lui Kellhus, armatele Kian se retrag în dezordine, descurajate de înfrângerea neașteptată și de moartea Padirajahului sub zidurile Caraskand‑ului, lăsând drumul spre Shimeh larg deschis. Singura opoziție vine de la aroganța fără margini a Generalului Ikurei Conphas și de la încăpățânarea lucidă a lui Cnaiür, dar aceștia sunt îndepărtați cu repeziciune. Dar e posibil ca cucerirea Shimeh‑ului să nu fie cea mai importantă confruntare pentru viitorul lumii, ci întâlnirea lui Kellhus cu tatăl său, Moënghus, cel care a petrecut ultimele trei decenii în mijlocul magilor Cishaurim. Se va dovedi el un aliat împotriva forțelor întunecate din nord, sau cel mai periculos adversar al Profetului-Războinic?

Ultima parte a trilogiei Prințul Nimicului își pierde din păcate mult din suflul original și din tensiunea romanelor precedente. În mare parte problema provine din acumularea constantă de putere în mâinile lui Kellhus: la un moment dat e greu de imaginat o forță care‑i poate sta în cale. Inimile Inrithi sunt cucerite de predicile lui, spionii-piele din rândurile Războiului Sfânt sunt demascați. Însăși Școala Mandatului i se alătură și Achamian primește permisiunea de a‑l iniția în misterele Gnozei, pe care Kellhus le absoarbe cu aceeași ușurință cu care s‑a adaptat și a luat în stăpânire fiecare aspect al acestei lumi.

You are fallen from Him like sparks from the flame. A dark wind blows, and you are soon to flicker out.

Songs 6:33, The Chronicle of The Tusk