21 June 2018

Mobile Opportunity: “Here Comes the Hammer: The Tech Industry’s Three Crises”

The challenge to tech is especially daunting because the industry doesn’t actually have just one problem, it has three: a PR problem, a legal problem, and a political problem. They’re all coming to a head at once, and they all interact to reinforce each other. I'm going to write a few posts exploring the problems, what caused them, and what we can do about them.


There are so many examples of this that they could fill a book. But here are three recent incidents:

1. Elon Musk’s decision to sell flamethrowers. What in the name of God is he thinking? Democracy is in trouble, nukes are proliferating, there’s Ebola in Africa -- and Elon and his buddies play with fire guns. If you want to convince people that you’re an unstable man-child unworthy to plan the future, I can think of no better way to do it. Elon’s poor judgment and lack of self-control is especially troubling because he’s running businesses that rely on public trust: trust me not to kill you with my car, trust me not to blow up your astronauts, trust that my tunnels under Los Angeles won’t collapse in an earthquake, etc.

Michael Mace

Not that other tech giants don’t have their own image problems, but Elon Musk’s behavior is increasingly bizarre – I would even venture to call it paranoid. He treats the slightest criticism in media as a personal affront and pushes back hard, accusing journalists of bias, of faking stories for traffic – kind of like Donald Trump. Just this week Tesla sued a former employee, accusing him of stealing massive amounts of confidential data and of sabotage. In an email to staff, Musk basically blames the alleged sabotage on Tesla’s ‘many enemies’, a tactic often applied by dictators to gain popular support against imagined threats. A classic paranoid thinking, always passing blame onto others, never looking inward for the real causes.

18 June 2018

PaulStamatiou.com: “Made on an iPad Pro”

The limitations don’t end there. Files can’t access any connected external storage devices, even if you find a way to hook one up via a USB adapter. I had hopes of being able to import RAW photos to the iPad Pro, then move them to a much larger external SSD as I travel. That’s unfortunately not possible at this time. You also can’t do simple things like put a few files into a zip archive. Some of these limitations with local files can be worked around with a third-party app like Documents by Readdle.


I tapped to select and import the 2,500+ 42-megapixel RAW photos on that SD card. I quickly learned that you cannot do anything while importing photos. If you background the Photos app, the import pauses.13

Long story short, it was so extremely slow that I gave up after an hour or two. It wasn’t worth it for me.14

Paul Stamatiou

A $1,000 computer that can’t multitask – that’s what you get if you replace your laptop with an iPad, Pro or otherwise.

31 May 2018

The Washington Post: “Why WhatsApp may present a greater challenge to democracy than Facebook”

India’s “WhatsApp First” election, as it has been dubbed, comes at a time when parent company Facebook has been accused of undermining democracy by failing to control hate speech, Russian disinformation and inaccurate news. In developing countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka, false stories on Facebook have sparked riots, lynchings and religious violence. In the United States, accounts run by Russian operatives shared disinformation and divisive messages to up to 126 million people.

But activists in many parts of the world say WhatsApp — used by 1.5 billion people globally and known for its encrypted messages that even company executives can’t read — presents an even greater challenge to democracy.

The platform is ripe for abuse because so many of its users are new to the Internet and not digitally literate, activists say. And because conversations happen within private groups, it can be difficult for the broader public to correct false information.

It is getting out of hand, and WhatsApp doesn’t know what to do about it, said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist. The difficulty with WhatsApp is that it’s impossible to know how this information is spreading. It’s very easy for a political party to spread misinformation and no one can trace it back to them.

Annie Gowen & Elizabeth Dwoskin

Let’s encrypt everything”, they said; “This is to ensure people’s privacy!” they said. All fine, until people engage in criminal acts, spread disinformation and incite violence, with no way to trace them and hold them accountable. If tech companies don’t make some changes to their products, I am increasingly convinced that the recent trend of governments blocking social networks and messaging apps will soon become the norm rather than an exception.

27 May 2018

Vox: “Alien: Covenant is too muddled to pull off its deeply ambitious Satan allegories”

Satan is the kind of figure we’re familiar with today, both on TV and in real life: arrogant, charismatic, refusing to be subjugated to anyone, with a will bent only toward power and destruction. His rebellion is absolute; he’s less like those antiheroes for whom we cling to the possibility of redemption (Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Walter White) and more like those who are so unrepentant that they don’t seem human at all — think of The Dark Knight’s Joker, Hannibal Lecter, or The Knick’s Dr. William Thackery.

Alien: Covenant starts to flesh out a character — and an origin story for the whole franchise — in which Milton’s Satan is the defining, driving force. But that characterization is cut off at the knees by the fact that God in the Alien universe is still a giant mystery, even six movies in. He certainly didn’t create humans: They were created by an alien race, which the humans call “Engineers” — whose origin is itself a mystery — and in turn, the humans created an android race. There’s also a much more primal race of alien life forms (introduced in Alien) that is the embodiment of pure rage and destruction, with no drive to create, only to reproduce. And that reproduction can only happen by destroying other lives.

The creation-and-fall narrative that began to emerge in Prometheus and continues in Alien: Covenant is more ouroboros than straight line. The Engineers created humans; the humans created androids; the androids created pure evil. As such, there is no one force for a Satan figure to rebel against, pridefully or otherwise, in the Alien universe.

Alissa Wilkinson

I’ve recently watched the movie as it became available on HBO. It’s fun to read a couple of reviews afterwards, to discover hidden subtleties you might have missed in the film. While it did enjoy it enough to finish it, if felt much more like a horror movie than science-fiction. The setting, from the ark with frozen colonists, to the mysterious planet and androids, is certainly SF, but the plot is designed like a second-rate horror, at best. I mean, the characters go out of their way to make stupid choices practically every time, walking headfirst into trouble.

22 May 2018

Baekdal Plus: “Inside Story: What I did to get GDPR Compliant”

GDPR is now putting a stop to this by turning the first rule of privacy into law. On top of this, one of the big differences that GDPR makes is that the implied consent that we have always had is no longer enough. Compared to the past, we now have to be in control of the data, which we weren’t; We need to have data transparency, which we didn’t; We have to be able to show our audience exactly what data we have collected about them and where it is, which we couldn’t… and we have to give readers a way to delete their data.

So, in this rather long article, I’m going to tell you exactly what I did, why I did it, how I implemented my new system, as well as how I am now doing analytics.

Thomas Baekdal

After complaining about bad practices in dealing with GDPR, it’s time to share some good practices. Some of the advice is not directly applicable to everyone, since the case in point here is a publisher with paid membership, but hopefully people can be inspired enough to think outside the box and implement genuine changes to their data collection policies. And, I must confess, I’m a little biased, since I contributed a tiny bit of information about Twitter’s privacy options for embedded tweets. The author has written a lot more on the subject, here are other articles that are worth a read: ‘Publishers haven't realized just how Big a Deal GDPR is’ and ‘Putting GDPR into Action for Publishers’ – the second behind his paywall.

The Guardian: “Most GDPR emails unnecessary and some illegal, say experts”

Many companies, acting based on poor legal advice, a fear of fines of up to €20m (£17.5m) and a lack of good examples to follow, have taken what they see as the safest option for hewing to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): asking customers to renew their consent for marketing communications and data processing.

But Toni Vitale, the head of regulation, data and information at the law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said many of those requests would be needless paperwork, and some that were not would be illegal.

Businesses are not required to automatically ‘repaper’ or refresh all existing 1998 Act consents in preparation for the GDPR, Vitale said. The first question to ask is: which of the six legal grounds under the GDPR should you rely on to process personal data? Consent is only one ground. The others are contract, legal obligation, vital interests, public interest and legitimate interests.

Alex Hern

I’ve seen a lot of confusion around this. I think most companies still mishandle it pretty badly because they simply don’t grasp the privacy principle underlying the regulation: businesses can collect and process data from customers (as they need to do for any business transaction), as long as they don’t share this data with third parties. It’s only at this point that they should start thinking about getting consent and additional controls. An email newsletter is perfectly fine as long as you don’t use the subscriber data for other purposes – for example selling the database to other companies for their own marketing and targeting.

15 May 2018

The Washington Post: “Yes, Pluto is a planet”

Most essentially, planetary worlds (including planetary moons) are those large enough to have pulled themselves into a ball by the strength of their own gravity. Below a certain size, the strength of ice and rock is enough to resist rounding by gravity, and so the smallest worlds are lumpy. This is how, even before New Horizons arrives, we know that Ultima Thule is not a planet. Among the few facts we’ve been able to ascertain about this body is that it is tiny (just 17 miles across) and distinctly nonspherical. This gives us a natural, physical criterion to separate planets from all the small bodies orbiting in space — boulders, icy comets or rocky and metallic asteroids, all of which are small and lumpy because their gravity is too weak for self-rounding.

David Grinspoon & Alan Stern

This article kicked off once again the heated debate of Pluto’s planethood. Scientific arguments aside, it feels there are a lot of ambitions at stake here: on one side the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto; on the other the self-titled ‘Pluto killer’ – hard to see how these two could ever come to a compromise on this matter.