28 September 2023

The Verge: “Apple’s new FineWoven iPhone cases are very bad”

I’m trying to imagine what this case would be like after a year of being subjected to the dust and lint at the bottom of my purse or the stray scratches from nails and keys. God help me if my toddler ever managed to put his grubby hands on it, which he absolutely would. I just don’t see any way that this material ages gracefully. The leather cases had their problems, but when leather gets old, it at least looks nice — a scuffed, dusty fabric case will not.

Maybe FineWoven would be acceptable in a less expensive case. Or maybe if Apple had never called it “durable”, I could accept it. But for $59? On a phone case that needs to stand up to daily abuse? Absolutely not. I would have been thrilled with a coarser fabric like the old Google Pixel cases, RIP, and those certainly stand up better to scratches and scuffs. I think Apple did a decent thing by discontinuing the leather cases, but FineWoven is just not the premium replacement we were looking for.

Allison Johnson

These new iPhone cases made from recycled materials have gotten a surprising amount of backlash for a product that’s not even a month old. Can’t quite decide what I find more amusing: that Apple fanboys are abruptly realizing how the company is selling overpriced and subpar accessories to prop up their margins, or how they’re discovering there’s a whole ecosystem of third-party accessories offering a larger variety of products at a fraction of Apple’s prices (which is bound to happen with charging cables as well, now that Apple was required to switch to USB-C by EU regulation). And, let’s face it, presenting FineWoven as a sustainable alternative to leather is most likely mere marketing aimed at justifying its high price. If people replace these more often because they’re less durable than leather, the overall carbon footprint of FineWoven cases will accumulate over time, even if individually each new case generates less emissions than a leather one.

25 September 2023

Export your Twitter archive – and practical ways to use it

As many feared previously, under Elon Musk’s management Twitter has been in a perpetual state of disarray, to the point of having its former identity erased when Musk decided to rebrand the site as X. Currently there doesn’t seem to be a clear alternative on the horizon, despite numerous attempts with different approaches. The constant erosion of the platform, and various rumors that Musk considers removing free accounts, have made me reflect on my options when this site – inevitably – goes dark. While I obviously can’t do anything to prevent it, like any other user I can at least backup my data. I gather links and various information in my Twitter likes, so this data is particularly important to keep for future reference.

X archive ready to download

The process is fairly straightforward: on the home page in the left-hand menu under ‘More’ go to ‘Settings and privacy’, then ‘Your account’ and finally ‘Download an archive of your data’. After confirming with your password and a verification code by email, Twitter will start generating the archive and will notify you with an in-app notification when it’s available for download. You receive a .zip file which can be quite large and contains a lot of files – mine is over 900MB and has more than 12,000 files.

19 September 2023

Apricitas Economics: “How Weight Loss Drugs stopped a Danish Recession”

So when a deluge of research came out suggesting that drugs commonly used to treat diabetes could be startlingly effective at inducing weight loss and mitigating the negative health effects of obesity, demand for those drugs skyrocketed. Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical giant behind Ozempic (a diabetes drug often sought for weight loss—though not FDA-approved for that purpose) and Wegovy (the new drug explicitly approved for treating obesity), has rapidly become the most valuable publicly traded company in Europe. Sales have risen 30% in the first half of this year, profits are up 40%, and the company is having to ration supply as production struggles to keep up with growth in orders.

In fact, demand for the drugs is so strong that it functionally prevented a recession in Denmark—headline GDP is up roughly 1.1% over the last year, but excluding the pharmaceutical industry it’s down -0.9%, meaning drugmakers alone have added roughly 2% to Danish economic growth. Booming exports and high dollar earnings are allowing Danmarks Nationalbank—the Danish Central Bank—to keep rates lower than they otherwise would in order to maintain their currency peg to the Euro. The boom’s timing was also almost perfect, helping to cushion Denmark’s economy against both the international shipping downturn that affected their massive international trade-related industries (especially Maersk) and the energy crisis that hit Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Joseph Politano

My first reaction to this fascinating piece of data is that it perfectly encapsulates America’s firm fixation with consumerism: instead of adopting a disciplined and balanced diet, American would rather consume one more thing to disregard the consequences. The next reaction: ironic for the people pointing out Europe’s supposed lack of innovation that such a popular drug – and inherently suited to the American lifestyle – would be developed overseas; perhaps Europe is not so insignificant as many would like the public to believe.

11 September 2023

The Verge: “Clubhouse reinvents itself as an audio messaging app”

Clubhouse is back, kinda. The app that popularized social audio rooms is reinventing itself to be more like a messaging app with new voice-only group chats called “chats”, as detailed in a blog post from the company.

Think of a chat as something like a group Instagram story that you contribute to with your voice. You kick off a chat by recording a voice message, and then you can send that chat around to your friends. They can then hop in and add their own voice recordings to create a kind of voice collage / conversation.

Jay Peters

So much of the so-called innovation coming from tech companies these days is either reinventing the wheel (copying features back-and-forth between competitors and redesigning perfectly usable software for no clear benefit), or over-hyping solutions in search of a problem (Bitcoin, NFTs, web3, and to some extent generative AI). Clubhouse never was more than a passing fad, and pivoting to audio messaging makes zero sense when every other major messaging app already has voice messages built-in. Some companies may be able to build successful niches, especially if they have a first-mover advantage (see Dropbox, Evernote, and recently Zoom), but over the long run most customers will favor network effects and better integration with other tools, not single-use apps with little interoperability.

10 September 2023

Empire: “Dune: Part Two will have Gurney Halleck playing The Baliset”

For the most part, Denis Villeneuve’s take on Dune was everything fans of Frank Herbert’s epic tome could ask for. Even though it only covered half of the original novel, he did justice to the fall of House Atreides, nailed the awe-inspiring heft of the sandworms, carefully lined up the cascading dominoes that fuel the swirling political plot – and even made it so that Spice was visibly glimmering in the air on Arrakis. But there was one detail from the novel that didn’t make it to the screen first time around – and if fans were sad to miss it, Villeneuve was even sadder.

That detail was, of course, the Baliset – the unusual musical instrument that’s a particular favourite of Josh Brolin’s warrior Gurney Halleck. While Villeneuve (and Hans Zimmer) gave us unexpected space bagpipes last time around, a scene shot for Dune in which Brolin’s Halleck mournfully plucked at the Baliset’s strings sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. But no more – speaking to Empire in our world-exclusive Dune: Part Two cover feature, the director confirms the Baliset is back, back, back in the follow-up. The Gurney song survived Part Two! he declares victoriously, the notion of bringing it to the screen clearly having played on his mind. It became a weird priority for me. But Josh Brolin is a poet and we played it together. It was awesome.

Ben Travis

That’s weird, I would have thought a faithful adaptation of the characters should have been a priority from the start 😏. Seems to me some of the fans’ criticism of the numerous scenes cut from the source text has made its way to Denis Villeneuve – and he has decided to include perhaps the least consequential aspect that was previously left out.

03 September 2023

Financial Times: “Estonian PM Kaja Kallas urged to clarify husband’s Russian business ties”

Kallas’s husband Arvo Hallik owns a 25 per cent stake in Stark Logistics, a trucking company that has transported goods that are not under EU sanctions between Estonia and Russia, according to Estonian public broadcaster ERR.

Kallas, who loaned €350,000 to her husband’s investment vehicle that owns the stake, said neither Hallik nor Stark had any customers in Russia but had been helping an Estonian customer end its activities in Russia in accordance with the law and sanctions.

The report adds to a growing scandal for Kallas, who emerged as one of the loudest and most influential voices in the west urging ever tougher action against Moscow after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year and calling on EU companies to refrain from trade with Russian businesses.

Richard Milne

Well, well, if it isn’t one of the Internet’s favorite Ukraine war hawks caught profiting from the conflict! Publicly shaming companies for doing business with Russia from a position of prominence is certainly a clever way to discourage the competition while covertly engaging in the same types of dealings. This reporting puts Kallas’ consistently tough stance in an entirely different light – one of blatant hypocrisy. Almost as if the more radical the position someone holds on this war, the bigger ulterior motives that person has…

The time traveler’s wife (HBO, season 1)

in Bucharest, Romania
Poster for the series The time traveler's wife on HBO

Since early childhood, Henry has found himself with a unique talent, or rather a curse in this particular situation: he can jump through time, backwards or forwards, to any place or time he has or will visit at any point during his life. The curse lies in how his power works: he has no control over when – or to when and where – the jumps occur (though he has noticed how they’re more likely to trigger as he experiences intense emotion), and he always arrives stripped of his clothes and nauseous (which evidently leads to awkward circumstances when he suddenly finds himself butt-naked in the middle of a busy street – and makes the series a prime target for a HBO adaptation). After a while, an interval that varies randomly and over which he has no control either, this superpower returns him to his proper time, naked once again.

The premise of the show, and the book it’s based on, is very compelling. Over the years, science-fiction has imagined various alternatives for time travel, one of which being that past, present, and sometime future, are immovable, thus any time traveler can observe events, but not influence them in a way that could cause changes or temporal paradoxes later. This story is largely based on this variant of time travel: Henry can live through his past from a different perspective, even interact with people close to him, but that never alters the outcome of events. The theme goes back further to philosophical debates over free will versus predestination – clearly this story leans heavily into the predetermined camp.