05 December 2017

The Next Web: “Instagram tests letting you follow hashtags instead of people”

Can’t get enough #content on Instagram? Is following individual people just not enough to fill the social media void in your heart? Fret no more, for Instagram appears to be testing the ability to allow you to follow hashtags instead of humans, as spotted by @Social_pip.

In all seriousness, it could be a handy feature. Say you want a regular influx of cute cat photos, but can’t be bothered to search for them or follow their owners. Maybe you want your daily dose of #fitspo to come from new sources. Or perhaps you just want to follow a niche topic, and don’t know who to follow – so why not just follow the topic itself?

Napier Lopez

Somehow one of my Instagram accounts was included in the test last week, so I can only assume this experiment is getting closer to being released. It’s an interesting concept, but its usefulness is limited by a couple of factors. First there’s the noise it would add to users’ feeds. In my case the impact is low for now, I would say one post from hashtags every 5 to 10 posts from users I follow; then again I started following one single hashtag. Instagram’s algorithms will definitely be involved in selecting relevant images to display in the feed, but do we really want to cede even more control to opaque, proprietary algorithms?!

27 November 2017

Motherboard: “One Bitcoin Transaction now uses as much Energy as Your House in a Week”

An index from cryptocurrency analyst Alex de Vries, aka Digiconomist, estimates that with prices the way they are now, it would be profitable for Bitcoin miners to burn through over 24 terawatt-hours of electricity annually as they compete to solve increasingly difficult cryptographic puzzles to “mine” more Bitcoins. That’s about as much as Nigeria, a country of 186 million people, uses in a year.

This averages out to a shocking 215 kilowatt-hours (KWh) of juice used by miners for each Bitcoin transaction (there are currently about 300,000 transactions per day). Since the average American household consumes 901 KWh per month, each Bitcoin transfer represents enough energy to run a comfortable house, and everything in it, for nearly a week. On a larger scale, De Vries’ index shows that bitcoin miners worldwide could be using enough electricity to at any given time to power about 2.26 million American homes.

Christopher Malmo

If you needed yet another reason to stay away from Bitcoin, here it is: its enormous energy consumption is hurting the environment. By comparison, the entire VISA network uses 55 times less energy that all Bitcoin operations, while executing 1000 times more transactions in the same timeframe. In the long run, Bitcoin is clearly unsustainable without a major redesign of the underlying technology to make it far more energy efficient.

Great Wall of Numbers: “Eight Things Cryptocurrency Enthusiasts probably won’t tell You”

Simultaneously, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by VCs and over a couple billion dollars raised through ICOs in the past year or so, not one entity has been created by the community with the power or moral authority to rid the space of bad apples and criminals. Where is the regulatory equivalent of FINRA for cryptocurrencies?2

Part of this is because some elements in the community tacitly enable bad actors. This is done, in some cases, by providing the getaway cars (coin mixers) but also, in other cases, with a wink and a nod as much of the original Bitcoin infrastructure was set-up and co-opted by Bitcoiners themselves, some of whom were bad actors from day one3.

Tim Swanson

Not a week goes by without a new story about some Bitcoin-related scam, theft or hack – not to mention, if you end up on the losing side of these fraudulent transactions, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever recover your investment. Everything I’ve read in the article above goes to confirm my initial reaction that Bitcoin is better suited as a tool for black market economy, not for open and legal exchange.

24 November 2017

The Verge: “Why Microsoft makes weird hardware”

We went inside Microsoft’s hardware lab to see how it developed the Surface Book and to explore this question: why such a big focus on hinges? Microsoft is teaching itself how to make weird stuff for a reason. Dieter Bohn

So… a smartphone with hinges? 🤔

Also, I love how the Head of Industrial Design dropped Nokia’s old slogan, “Connecting people”, into the conversation.

19 November 2017

Brandon Sanderson – Firefight

in Bucharest, Romania
Firefight: A Reckoners Novel by Brandon Sanderson

După Uciderea lui Steelheart, Newcago a devenit sub supravegherea Reckonerilor o neașteptată oază de libertate pentru oamenii asupriți de Epici. Însă evenimentul a atras atenția și furia celorlalți Epici, care atacă orașul dornici de răzbunare și de a lua sub control fostul fief al lui Steelheart. Echipa de Reckoneri observă în curând un tipar ciudat în atacurile acestora, care‑i face să bănuiască că în spatele lor se află un actor viclean: Regalia, suzerana actuală a orașului scufundat Babilar, fostul Manhattan. De vreme ce o cunoscuse personal dinainte de a deveni amândoi Epici, Profesorul pregătește o incursiune pe teritoriul ei pentru a‑i desluși, și eventual dejuca, planurile. David îl însoțește, dornic să cunoască o nouă echipă de Reckoneri, dar mai ales impulsionat de zvonurile că Megan s‑ar afla de asemenea în Babilar.

Dacă v‑a plăcut prima parte a trilogiei, ritmul rapid fără prea multe discuții și atmosfera de film cu supereroi, romanul de față deschide în aceeași notă, schimbând însă de la început personajele și decorul. Avem o altă componență a echipei, cu doi membrii din fostul New York, o nouă bază de operațiuni scufundată, noi arme derivate din abilitățile unor Epici răpuși, totul pe fundalul unui oraș acvatic, luminat noaptea de o fosforescență misterioasă și năpădit de plante bizare.

După tiranul absolutist Steelheart, adversarii de acum sunt mai variați și complecși, ridicând noi provocări pentru grupul de oameni. Regalia e în esență o eminență cenușie, ascunsă în bârlogul ei secret, de unde își plănuiește mișcările; din când în când își manifestă proiecția din apele orașului, pentru a tachina echipa de Reckoneri într‑un joc pervers de‑a șoarecele și pisica. Amenințarea mai urgentă este însă Obliteration, un mutant care acumulează energie termică pe care o poate elibera brusc sub forma unei explozii devastatoare, probabil de puterea unei mici bombe nucleare. Cu ceva timp în urmă a ras astfel de pe fața Pământului întregul Houston și pare destul de probabil să pregătească aceeași soartă pentru Babilar. Dar oare de ce ar dori Regalia să‑și distrugă propriul oraș și pe Epicii din el?

Brandon Sanderson – Mitosis

in Bucharest, Romania
Mitosis (Reckoners) by Brandon Sanderson

După bătălia disperată cu Steelheart și înfrângerea acestuia, orașul Newcago a fost eliberat de sub conducerea Epicilor. Echipei victorioase de Reckoneri îi revine sarcina de a reconstrui o oarecare ordine socială și de a organiza apărarea locuitorilor. Inevitabil, vestea despre actul lor fără precedent se răspândește rapid și atrage multă atenție. Pe de o parte, mulți oameni se îndreaptă spre această nouă oază de libertate; pe de alta Epicii sosesc pentru a revendica locul lui Steelheart și a se răzbuna pe Ucigașul acestuia.

The day had finally arrived, a day I’d been awaiting for ten years. A glorious day, a momentous day, a day of import and distinction.

It was time to buy a hot dog.

Someone was in line when we arrived, but I didn’t cut in front of her. She would have let me. I was one of the Reckoners – leaders of the rebellion, defenders of the city of Newcago, slayers of Steelheart himself. But standing in line was part of the experience, and I didn’t want to skip a moment.

După cum remarcam cu ceva vreme în urmă, am avut tendința de a abandona serii de romane după prima carte, și am încercat să rectific asta revenind la trilogia Reckoners a lui Brandon Sanderson, pe care o începusem acum mai bine de doi ani și jumătate. Titlul de față e doar o povestire de legătură înainte de romanul al doilea, și asta se simte destul de mult. Acțiunea și personajele sunt în mare aceleași ca în primul roman, condensate în câteva zeci de pagini: echipa Profesorului se luptă cu un nou Epic sosit în Newcago, căutându‑i slăbiciunea ascunsă și folosind‑o pentru a‑i nega puterile supranaturale. Deși nu e deloc rea, cu același ritm alert, nici nu aduce nimic în plus care nu se regăsește în următorul roman. Ar fi putut fi cu ușurință inclusă acolo ca un capitol suplimentar sau prolog, și publicarea separată mă face să cred că autorul a dorit să stoarcă pur si simplu câțiva bani în plus de la fanii lui loiali.

Nota mea: 3.5

16 November 2017

Fortune: “Trump’s Tax Reform could benefit Apple, other Multinationals”

For FY 2016, Apple booked total pre-tax earnings of $61.4 billion. On its income statement, Apple showed a “provision for taxes” of $15.685 billion. That number is an expense that’s deducted straight from pre-tax income of $61.4 billion to yield net income of $45.7 billion. Hence, its reported “effective tax rate” was 25.6% ($15.685 billion divided by $61.4 billion), well below the official 35%, but on the high side for multinationals, many of which are in the teens.

Apple, however, paid a lower number in cash. Apple’s 10K discloses that “cash paid for income taxes” was $10.444 billion for the year.

Shawn Tully

I’ve found this article shared on Daring Fireball – apparently the irony of using an article praising Trump’s tax reform to support Apple’s official position is lost on Gruber.

For someone with basic knowledge in accounting, even the paragraphs above should raise some alarm flags, as people often confuse accrual-basis and cash-basis accounting. A provision for taxes doesn’t mean that Apple effectively paid said amount of $15.685 billion – in fact the author explains immediately that the effective tax payout was only $10.444 billion, making Apple’s tax rate in FY 2016 a much lower 17%, around half the official 35% in the US. What the author doesn’t explicitly say is that the rest of the provision (a mere $5.241 billion) may in fact never be paid out, especially if Trump’s tax exemptions come into effect. In that case, the provision can be dissolved and Apple gets to keep the cash – and, presumably, book it as income.