31 July 2014

re/code: “Stories: Google’s Way of Organizing Your Digital Life”

Google+ Photos new stories ready to view

I think of Google Stories like a complex cocktail that someone else is mixing for me: With high-quality ingredients and the right proportions, it’s refreshing and delightful. But when the bartender thinks she knows what I want without asking, there’s a big risk of getting it wrong, which may discourage me from regularly patronizing the same bar.

Katherine Boehret

Earlier this week I got a Google+ notification that I had ‘stories ready to view’. Curious, I clicked through and my first impression was far from delightful. It was quite the opposite: the cover photos for stories were cropped in a horribly ill-suited panorama format that removed most of the subject I had captured, making them next to unrecognizable and stripping them of my original intention. Scrolling down I discovered other cropping failures, for example chopping off people’s heads in group photos. It’s unclear to me how Stories got released in this state; did anyone even check how the algorithm generating stories works in a desktop browser? The least they could do is look for the photo orientation and lay out portrait photos differently that landscape photos – Flickr for example does a very nice job of fitting together different aspect ratios into a beautiful mosaic on their desktop page. While you can customize stories later, the options are extremely limited; why would I waste my time when, no matter what photo I feature on the cover, it will get cropped in a way I can’t control? I guess that’s what you get when you blindingly trust algorithms over human selection…

28 July 2014

Medium: “Number Games”


400,000,000 uses per year, if every user uses it seven days a week on average, means 1,095,890 customers globally. Whereas if each user is using it four times a week, that’s 208 uses per year. That would point to 1,923,077 customers.

(a side note: switching from Hulu to Netflix counts as two sessions. Disconnecting and having to re-connect is two sessions as well. For these numbers, I’m ignoring these situations, but they’re certainly not uncommon, and would inflate the numbers.)

Jon Bell

I saw the ‘Happy Birthday Chromecast’ post last week and I immediately thought: 400 Million uses is pretty weak. Fortunately someone already did the math for me. Unit sales in the range of 1 to 2 Million devices are weak; the number is comparable to Samsung’s yearly tablet sales or the Nook’s, and I don’t think anyone would say those are successful products (except for the companies selling them). Personally I use the app on my iPhone to stream videos on my Sony SmartTV probably 5 to 10 times a week; that’s slightly higher than the average assumed in the calculation here and it would drop the projected sales even lower (not to mention the Chromecast can stream more that just YouTube videos, which should translate to more use). I think many people originally bought the device thanks to the low price and later discovered they could do many of its tricks with their existing gear, so the Chromecast got abandoned bit by bit until many stopped using it altogether.

26 July 2014

Pacific Standard: “Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World”

The test that Henrich introduced to the Machiguenga was called the ultimatum game. The rules are simple: in each game there are two players who remain anonymous to each other. The first player is given an amount of money, say $100, and told that he has to offer some of the cash, in an amount of his choosing, to the other subject. The second player can accept or refuse the split. But there’s a hitch: players know that if the recipient refuses the offer, both leave empty-handed. North Americans, who are the most common subjects for such experiments, usually offer a 50-50 split when on the giving end. When on the receiving end, they show an eagerness to punish the other player for uneven splits at their own expense. In short, Americans show the tendency to be equitable with strangers—and to punish those who are not.


When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American. To begin with, the offers from the first player were much lower. In addition, when on the receiving end of the game, the Machiguenga rarely refused even the lowest possible amount. It just seemed ridiculous to the Machiguenga that you would reject an offer of free money, says Henrich. They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game.

Ethan Watters

From a little game experiment to big conclusions on the role played by culture and society in shaping our personality and behavior, often in subtle ways. There is still a really long and winding road ahead before understanding the human mind, what shapes it, what drives it and possibly how to artificially re-make it. This also opens new research areas that have been largely ignored until now by Western sociologists:

24 July 2014

AVC: “Platform Monopolies”

For this is the truth that we are now facing. For all of its democratizing power, the Internet, in its current form, has simply replaced the old boss with a new boss. And these new bosses have market power that, in time, will be vastly larger than that of the old boss.

Fred Wilson

The Internet is a continuous revolution for businesses and our personal lives, its size and network effects enabling a new class of fast-growing, global monopolies, from Amazon to to (maybe) Uber. The upside: because the entry barriers are low and things are evolving so fast in the new digital economy, competitors can emerge and grow just as fast.

23 July 2014

The Official Motorola Blog: “Now You Can Unlock Your Moto X with a Digital Tattoo”

Made of super thin, flexible materials, based on VivaLnk’s eSkinTM technology, each digital tattoo is designed to unlock your phone with just a touch of your Moto X to the tattoo, no passwords required. The nickel-sized tattoo is adhesive, lasts for five days, and is made to stay on through showering, swimming, and vigorous activities like jogging. And it’s beautiful—with a shimmering, intricate design.

The Official Motorola Blog

It’s always exciting to see technology imagined by science-fiction authors come to life, but… I’m pretty sure it’s just as fast to unlock your phone with a fingerprint scanner (if not faster). Bonus: you don’t need to replace fingerprints every five days!

22 July 2014

What’s new in Chrome 36

I’m a little late with this article, as the stable version was already released last week, but if you’re interested, here are the significant updates in this version of . An important change around the security model of extensions is being added on Windows, in order to limit the incidents of browser settings highjacking. With this new Settings API implemented, extensions that change the behavior of the new tab page and search provider will be clearly labeled in the browser settings screen, so that users can easily identify and disable them. Chrome 37 settings controlled by third-party extensionOther minor user-facing changes include:

21 July 2014

NYTimes: “Transit Cards to Replace Cash on Kenyan Minibuses Are a Hard Sell”

The other day, Hitler’s driver, a short, chatty guy named Nicholas, was breaking about five laws at once: talking on his phone, running red lights, pumping Rihanna way too loud, not wearing a seatbelt, and cutting off other cars. Nicholas preferred that his last name not be revealed, lest he face consequences for his merciless style of dispatching with traffic.

The idea to use technology to tackle the matatu problem started on a rainy day a couple of years ago when some executives at Google were staring out their plate-glass windows at the matatus stacked up on Uhuru Highway, watching passengers pay double for a ride (matatus always jack up fares on rainy days). The Google executives said, What about a transit card?


Google provided the technology for free, with one condition: Everyone who wants a new BebaPay card (“beba” means “carry” in Swahili) must sign up for Gmail, the company’s free and ubiquitous email service.

Jeffrey Gettleman

A couple thoughts on this:

  • It’s tempting to think that technology can solve all the world’s problems, but the reality on the ground is a little more complicated. Fighting corruption is never as easy as passing laws from the top government, it requires convincing and educating regular people, driving change from the bottom up, giving them alternatives. In this case, the police officers taking bribes have no incentive to stop doing it, they aren’t going to support a new system that takes away their illicit source of easy cash.
  • matatus always jack up fares on rainy days – sounds familiar? This is how a completely deregulated transportation market looks like, and the tech world is still rooting for Uber to create one everywhere.
  • I guess that’s one way to artificially pump up Gmail – and by association Google+ – usage numbers…