18 August 2022

The Verge: “Windows 11’s widgets can now trigger notifications on your taskbar”

All Windows 11 users will start to see these new widget notifications in the coming days and weeks, thanks to an update to the Windows Web Experience Pack that powers Microsoft’s widgets feature. The notifications appear as live animations on the taskbar weather widget, and include alerts for thunderstorms and even ticker alerts when stocks you’re following go up or down.

When something important happens related to one of your other widgets, you may see an announcement from that widget on your taskbar, explains Microsoft in a support article. These announcements are meant to be quick and glanceable, and if you don’t interact with them, the taskbar will return to showing you the weather.

Tom Warren

I have noticed this change myself yesterday and I have to say, like many of the changes brought on by Windows 11, I am not a fan… Having regular weather updates in the taskbar felt fine, informative enough without becoming a distraction, but alternating these with stock notifications is rapidly becoming annoying. And unfortunately, as the article mentions, users don’t seem to have any controls over which notifications can appear on the taskbar widget, nor their duration or frequency. The only option available to escape these distractions for the time being is to… disable the widget button on the taskbar altogether – an extreme solution that likely goes against what Microsoft engineers intended for this feature.

29 July 2022

Platformer: “Why BeReal is breaking out”

Founded in January 2020 by the French developer Alexis Barreyat, BeReal is a photo sharing app for iOS and Android. Every day at a random time that varies by country, the app sends out a push notification — ⚠️ Time to BeReal. ⚠️ — and users have two minutes to take their pictures. The camera snaps a selfie and a rear-facing photo simultaneously, in a fashion reminiscent of the mid-2010s app Frontback. If you post after the two minutes expire, your photos are marked as “late”; you can’t view your friends’ posts unless you post first. (The post-to-view gimmick has also been used before; I remember when Facebook used it for Slingshot, one of its Snapchat clones.)

Why is all this resonating? On one level, BeReal is simply applying what we have learned about kickstarting new social networks over the past two decades. A creative constraint is essential — think Twitter’s 140 characters, or Vine’s 6-second loops — and BeReal’s two-minute countdown timer has inspired similar ingenuity. The company’s early focus on making inroads with college students is also straight out of the growth marketing handbook.

BeReal is also nostalgic, in the way that every new social network is nostalgic: yearning for a time when only your closest friends were on it, when you felt free to be a little more authentically yourself. That feeling, combined with the pride in being an early adopter of the next big thing, can take a new network a long way.

At the same time, I think all of this undersells just how weird BeReal can be. Your individual experience may vary — I’ve been out of college a long time, and most of my friends on BeReal seem never to leave their houses — but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a mundane collection of media in my entire life as I have while browsing BeReal.

Casey Newton

On the back of growing discontent with Instagram and the general lack of competing photo sharing apps, this alternative is apparently gaining popularity. Personally, even the simple description of its mechanic makes me suspect I would hate the app with a passion. It has a compulsory vibe that I don’t associate with social apps; having to post pictures at random times within two minutes of receiving a notification feels like a work task, not something I would want to do for fun and unwind. As for seeing other people’s BeReals… I would probably grow bored in less than a week – people my age don’t have such exciting lives to populate a feed each and every day.

27 July 2022

The Verge: “Zuck turns up the Heat”

Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here, Zuckerberg said on the June 30th call, according to a recording obtained by The Verge. And part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.

Almost immediately after the Zuckerberg all-hands, one question took hold in the minds of employees: Who exactly are the people who don’t belong here?

I don’t see people around me slacking whatsoever, one employee wrote on Workplace. I see smart hard workers. Honestly, hearing some of you don’t belong here from a leader instead of Here are the challenges. Let’s rally together and overcome them. is disheartening and might not be the best way to get this point across.

The term became a meme in no time. “Coast, Coasters, Me”, a riff on Meta’s recently introduced “Meta, Metamates, Me” mantra, made the rounds on Workplace. Employees mocked up posters for the walls of Meta’s headquarters that asked Should you be here? in bold, all-caps red letters, while others posted mockups of the question on literal coasters. Look at this dude coasting, one employee wrote above a picture of Zuckerberg hydrofoiling on a lake while holding the American flag.

Alex Heath & David Pierce

Honestly, if there’s anyone who shouldn’t be working at Facebook, that’s Mark Zuckerberg himself. He’s the one who dreamt up this pivot to the metaverse, and approved, if not proposed, the near-term chasing after short videos to compete with TikTok. But with his controlling interest, he can never be removed by the board, unless he steps down voluntarily. This finger-pointing towards low-level employees is bad form, demoralizing, and ultimately poor leadership. A good leader should assume his own errors in judgement and those of his subordinates, and propose a vision and plans how to rectify them. Blaming slackers for flawed strategic decisions and macroeconomic headwinds will only lead to more strategic failures and exacerbate the company’s problems.

25 July 2022

New Statesman: “The politics of lies: Boris Johnson and the erosion of the rule of law”

Oborne makes an important point which illustrates what really drives Johnson and his co-Brexiteers: While there is no doubt that Johnson is both deceitful and amoral, the Prime Minister’s war on the truth is part of a wider attack on the pillars of British democracy: parliament, the rule of law and the civil service. There is a reason for this. Truth and liberal democracy are intertwined. If a nation wishes to call its government to account, it needs access to objective truth, to verifiable facts. When that access is destroyed by an unassailable executive, there is the danger of an authoritarian government in the guise of democracy. Poland and Hungary have shown the way. Oborne believes that the UK government has already crossed that line, and he is not alone in thinking this. The Johnson government has long wished to weaken the British justice system’s ability to monitor the executive.

The crucial question now is who should publicly address these attacks and repel them. But British democracy is poorly equipped against attacks of this kind. Unlike in the US, where the Trump era has (for the time being) ended, there is no formal system of checks and balances in the UK, no coherently written, codified constitution that can be applied in times of crisis. Instead, the British constitution is a fragile fabric of conventions, age-old rules and precedents, with no clear framework to determine what applies when, and by whom it is decided. So far, it has worked according to the “good chaps principle”, that is, the assumption that politicians with moral integrity would interpret the essence of this muddle correctly. The British are ultimately dependent on the goodwill of the government they have elected. A prime minister who deliberately chooses not to adhere to the rules and spirit of this unwritten constitution, or who even seeks to actively undermine its principles, is an unforeseen circumstance with no effective remedy.

Annette Dittert

A more sober analysis of Boris Johnson’s term in office as British Prime Minister – though written around a year ago, it hasn’t lost its significance. Behind the appearance of a fool, Johnson has consistently undermined the rule of law in Britain to maintain and amass more power for himself. Even as he was losing party support, with his ministers resigning en masse and among revelations of private meetings with an ex-KGB agent, he was clinging to his position, and now is apparently telling aides that he’ll return as PM within a year – classic signs of an aspiring autocrat with no respect for democracy or the rule of law.

24 July 2022

‘Love, Death & Robots’ (Netflix, seasons 1–3)

in Bucharest, Romania
Poster of Netflix animated anthology series Love, Death and Robots

Short stories have a somewhat awkward place in the world of science-fiction. While there are many great ones, big authors are generally famous for their lengthier works, even as some started by publishing short stories and others can deliver gripping narratives in both short and long forms. In many cases, short stories serve to flesh out the world building of grand space sagas, as a string of satellites embellishes an already splendid planet.

Ironically the situation is largely reversed on screen, at least in my opinion. Short stories have served as inspiration for excellent movies, from Minority Report to The Adjustment Bureau, Predestination, Edge of Tomorrow, and Arrival, while renowned science fiction novels have struggled to receive on-screen adaptations to do them justice. The prime example is obviously Dune, where despite wide acclaim I found the recent movie lacking, unable to capture the complexity and subtlety of the written original.

With Love, Death & Robots (❤✖🤖), Netflix tried to go a different route and adapt several stories in animated format. The results were… mixed at best. I won’t comment much on the animation styles and quality, as many reviewers have done, as I don’t have much expertise in the area, nor do I think the visual aspect of the narratives is the most essential. Much more important to the overall impact are the science-fictional concepts, however summarily described, and the characters, their reactions and emotions, and how they develop in the short span depicted in the story.

In prime Netflix fashion, seasons 2 and 3 have dropped both in quantity and in quality; season one has more episodes than the other two taken together, and more quality stories. The titular thematic is also more closely followed in the first season, while in the others the themes veer towards fantasy and horror (not to mention the occasional vampire, werewolf, or zombie excursion, which I feel have little in common with science-fiction topics); I could barely pick out one or two stories that I would rate higher than three stars.

23 July 2022

The Guardian: “Do we need a new theory of evolution?”

In 1973, David Attenborough presented a BBC documentary that included an interview with one of the leading modern synthesists, Theodosius Dobzhansky. He was visibly distraught at the “non-Darwinian evolution” that some scientists were now proposing. If this were so, evolution would have hardly any meaning, and would not be going anywhere in particular, he said. This is not simply a quibble among specialists. To a man looking for the meaning of his existence, evolution by natural selection makes sense. Where once Christians had complained that Darwin’s theory made life meaningless, now Darwinists levelled the same complaint at scientists who contradicted Darwin.

Other assaults on evolutionary orthodoxy followed. The influential palaeontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge argued that the fossil record showed evolution often happened in short, concentrated bursts; it didn’t have to be slow and gradual. Other biologists simply found that the modern synthesis had little relevance to their work. As the study of life increased in complexity, a theory based on which genes were selected in various environments started to seem beside the point. It didn’t help answer questions such as how life emerged from the seas, or how complex organs, such as the placenta, developed. Using the lens of the modern synthesis to explain the latter, says the Yale developmental biologist Günter Wagner, would be like using thermodynamics to explain how the brain works.

Stephen Buranyi

I somewhat agree with the premise of the article – that we don’t have the complete picture about how life on Earth evolved – to which I would add that seeking clear-cut answers about events that happened millions to billions of years in the past is an utterly futile endeavor. We may not be able to fully trace how the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped to humans, which happened in our lifetimes, let alone discover the intricacies that led to the emergence of eyes in the animal kingdom.

22 July 2022

The Spectator: “My Boris Johnson story”

People were now, not just roaring with laughter, but listening. He continued.

Which is why my political hero is the Mayor from JAWS.



More guffawing around me. He spoke as if every sentence had only just occurred to him, and each new thought came as a surprise.

Yes, he REPUDIATED, he FORESWORE and he ABROGATED all these silly regulations on health and safety and declared that the people should SWIM! SWIM!

More uproar.

Now, I accept, he went on in an uncertain tone, that as a result some small children were eaten by a shark. But how much more pleasure did the MAJORITY get from those beaches as a result of the boldness of the Mayor in Jaws?

Brilliant. The whole room is hooting and cheering. It no longer matters that Boris has no script, no plan, no idea of what event he is attending, and that he seems to be taking the whole thing off the top of his head.

I realise that I am in the presence of genius.

Jeremy Vine

This story popped up in my Twitter feed along with the news that Boris Johnson was forced to step down by his party. I must agree that it reflects his character and leadership style perfectly. ‘Keeping the beaches open’ while Covid was (and still is) sweeping over Great Britain is precisely what Boris did, leaving a trail of death and suffering behind. But hey, he got to party all through lockdowns, so all good right? Be sure to read it until the end for the real punchline of the piece.