19 October 2014

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse-Five

in Bucharest, Romania

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse-FiveDupă încheierea celui de‑Al Doilea Război Mondial, soldații americani care au supraviețuit bombardamentelor din Dresda încearcă să‑și reia viețile smulse din rutină. Și aparent lucrurile reușesc să reintre pe făgașul normal: protagonistul Billy Pilgrim se căsătorește, preia afacerea socrului său optician și acumulează o avere suficientă pentru un trai lipsit de griji. Dar amintirea războiului nu se lasă ușor înăbușită: naratorul nenumit obișnuiește să sune noaptea la numere de telefon aleatoare ca să discute cu străini, iar Billy Pilgrim, după șocul unui accident aviatic și al morții soției, începe să povestească tuturor cum a fost răpit de extratereștrii și cum aceștia i‑au arătat că timpul și moartea sunt doar iluzii umane. So it goes.

I say, Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead? What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too. And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

E destul de dificil să‑ți formezi o părere clară despre o carte complicată și în mod intenționat ambiguă ca Abatorul Cinci. Capitole de început și încheiere, redate din perspectiva naratorului, aici un alter‑ego al lui Vonnegut, încadrează (auto)biografia lui Billy Pilgrim, care se desfășoară neliniar, ca un pick‑up stricat al cărui ac nu mai poate urma șanțul gravat pe disc, ci sare aiurea înainte și înapoi. Urmând salturile haotice în timp ale conștiinței lui, alternăm între lunile în care fusese prizonier de război al naziștilor, viața ca membru respectat al comunității din Ilium (o aluzie, poate, la alt mare război, cel Troian?), devenit mai apoi un excentric privit cu exasperare, și perioada petrecută ca exponat într‑o grădină zoologică pe Tralfamadore. Iar în jurul lui moartea se manifestă în toate formele ei, de la deratizarea hainelor prizonierilor la decese banale, aproape comice în absurditatea lor, la bombardamentul devastator al Dresden‑ului la moartea finală a Universului, conștientizată de tralfamadorieni. So it goes.

18 October 2014

Vox: “How America lost the Middle East”

The problem isn’t that America has gotten weaker. It’s that the Middle East has changed. When the Middle East’s biggest problems were about conflict between formal governments, the United States had a lot more influence. But today, the Middle East is defined by a shifting, impossibly complicated web of ethno-religious tension, weak and failed states, and ascendant terrorist organizations. The collapse of central governments and rise of powerful non-state actors breed problems that foreign powers, even the world’s only superpower, simply cannot address.

This power struggle played up sectarian divisions in a very bad way. I don’t think that the Saudis and Iranians are engaged in a sectarian war with each other, said F. Gregory Gause, a University of Vermont professor who studies the politics of the Middle East. But they use sectarianism. This battle for influence is played out not in military conflicts between the two states, but in civil conflicts in weak Arab countries … the Saudis will back the Sunnis and Iranians will back the Shias because those are natural allies. And the Saudis and Iranians don’t have to force themselves into these fights; the local players invite them in. That’s exactly what happened in Syria and Iran. In both cases, Iranian-backed Shia central governments are fighting Sunni rebels that have received heavy Saudi support.

Zack Beauchamp

A thorough overview of a most complicated situation, where a satisfying solution is increasingly hard to find. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East seams to be playing out like a smaller version of the Cold War, where two powers of comparable strength avoid direct conflict, fueling local wars in their satellite states instead. The best (and maybe only) reasonable thing to do could be to try to prevent the crisis from growing even more violent and extreme and to support the feeble attempts at democracy in the other Arab states.

16 October 2014

What’s new in Chrome 39

After the numerous developer updates and APIs introduced in Chrome 38, this version focuses more on JavaScript, with ES6 Generators, improved animation controls and a new standard for defining mobile web apps, the Web Application Manifest. Of course, at some point adding features will lead to older ones being deprecated, and now it’s time for the chrome.pushMessaging API to be replaced by the newer Google Cloud Messaging service. Another change that should be live in this version is that people can install free Chrome apps without being signed in to the Web Store. Since I haven’t installed an app in a while I can’t verify this – I’m also almost constantly logged in to Chrome.

Security-wise, 39 marks the first step in the process of gradually phasing out support for the SHA-1 cryptographic hash algorithm, used in HTTPS certificate signatures, as detailed in the official announcement. SHA-1 is old and weak, and unfortunately widely used, so moving to the improved SHA-2 is scheduled to take at least a couple of years. Other big technology companies have similar plans, starting with Microsoft and most recently Mozilla.

12 October 2014

Jonathan Strahan - Edge of Infinity

in Bucharest, Romania

Jonathan Strahan - Edge of InfinityDupă succesul colecției Engineering Infinity, Jonathan Strahan a continuat după același model cu o nouă selecție, de data asta cu o temă mai aproape de casă, colonizarea sistemului solar. Fiecare dintre povestiri are ca fundal una din planete, deși nu sunt reprezentate toate (nimic despre Venus, Pluto sau Uranus, nici despre centura de asteroizi, din păcate) și nici ordinea în care sunt prezentate nu respectă nici o regulă aparentă.

The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi de Pat Cadigan se petrece în sistemul jupiterian, în timp ce numeroasele stații și habitate se pregătesc să observe un nou impact de dimensiunile lui Shoemaker-Levy. Majoritatea muncitorilor nu sunt însă bipezi, ci diverse forme de animale acvatice, membrii echipajului pe care‑l urmărim fiind de exemplu caracatițe. De‑a lungul povestirii descoperim că toți au fost la un moment dat oameni, care la sfârșitul vieții au ales să reînceapă într‑un corp nou, de unde și expresia din titlu. O idee interesantă, dar redată stângaci, din perspectiva unui sushi care pare puțin încet la minte, sau cel puțin atât de detașat de lumea înconjurătoare încât lasă o impresie ștearsă.

Pentru The Deeps of the Sky de Elizabeth Bear rămânem pe Jupiter, de data asta chiar în straturile superioare ale atmosferei tumultoase, populate de numeroase specii, inclusiv una inteligentă cu un ciclu de viață deosebit. Stormchases ia parte la activitatea obișnuită de minare a unei furtuni gigantice pentru mineralele ridicate din adâncuri când observă cum un fel de meteorit se prăbușește din cer la marginea furtunii. Relatată cu stil și în detaliu, povestirea se mișcă destul de încet, și de‑abia în final avem parte de un ritm mai alert și ceva clarificări.

11 October 2014

The Economist: “Economic convergence: The headwinds return”

Closing In

Since 2008 growth rates across the emerging world have slipped back toward those in advanced economies. When the new ICP estimates are applied, the average GDP per head in the emerging world, measured on a purchasing-power-parity (PPP) basis, grew just 2.6 percentage points faster than American GDP in 2013. If China is excluded from the calculations the difference is just 1.1 percentage points. At that pace convergence with rich-economy incomes happens over a period of time more like a century than a generation. If China is included, emerging economies could expect to reach rich-world income levels, on average, in just over 50 years. If China is left out, catch-up takes 115 years.

The Economist

A worrying trend for the future of the global economy. Although in retrospect not exactly surprising: the rapid growth in developing countries was largely powered by their lower labor costs and shifting standardized manufacturing from developed economies. As the contribution of industrial output to the GDP creation in developed countries decreased over the years, services now contribute more GDP than any other branch. This area, including healthcare, education, leisure, is harder to ‘outsource’ to other countries, because it requires specialized education and a degree of ‘closeness’ – you want your doctor to be close by in case of emergency. Or, as in the case of financial services or technical support, outsourcing is taking predominantly low-tier jobs, which are easier to automate and less value-added. It’s no wonder these types of jobs were at the top of the 2014 job creation charts in the US. This makes another wave of growth in emerging economies less likely in the near-term, and difficult in the medium term, without reform and substantial investment in education and governance.

07 October 2014

Ars Technica: “Continuum: Microsoft finally makes touch and mouse make sense together”

As shown off today, Windows 10 offers environments that are more tailored to mouse and keyboard users—the hybrid Start menu, the windowed Metro apps—and environments that are more tailored to touch users—the full screen Start screen and full-screen apps. But these dual-mode machines should use both, depending on how they’re being used. With its keyboard covers attached, a Surface Pro 3 should probably use the desktop-oriented mode. But with the covers removed, it should probably use the more finger friendly interface style.

This is where Continuum comes into play. Windows 10 will switch modes depending on how it’s being used. Continuum switches the system behavior depending on what hardware is available, and it will dynamically change the interface paradigm as that hardware changes. So plug the keyboard into your Surface Pro 3 and it’ll switch from touch-oriented to mouse and keyboard-oriented.

Peter Bright

As much as people hated Windows 8, I don’t think this is the right solution. It’s hard to draw conclusions from a single concept video and with the final release probably a year away, but the entire reasoning seems backwards to me. People complained about the interface constantly switching between classic desktop and the Metro mode and now Microsoft wants to add another trigger for the OS to switch behavior all the time?! Laptops don’t suddenly change the layout of windows depending on the touchpad being turned on or not or when the user connects an external mouse, why should external keyboards behave differently? This will just confuse people even more.

06 October 2014

A quick look at Twitter analytics

About a month ago, opened up access to its analytics tool – until now available for advertisers only – for a larger percentage of users. There are still some restrictions, mostly around the primary language of the account, but if you’re tweeting mainly in English you can certainly go check it out. I looked around a couple of times and it shows interesting bits of data about followers and tweet impressions (including replies!). As far as I can tell, it’s restricted to the past four weeks, so I’m not sure how useful it would be for people trying to extract patterns and improve engagement. I presume advertisers have access to longer time-series and more detailed insight about followers.

Twitter analytics impressions last 28 days