10 February 2019

China Miéville – The City & The City

in Bucharest, Romania
The City & The City by China Miéville

Într‑o dimineață oarecare, într‑o suburbie sordidă a orașului Besźel, o gașcă de tineri delincvenți găsesc trupul unei femei, aruncat printre alte gunoaie și resturi. Chemat la datorie, inspectorul Tyador Borlú bănuiește imediat că nu e vorba de o simplă prostituată ucisă de un client violent. Odată ce descoperă identitatea victimei, lucrurile se complică mai mult: ca studentă la universitatea din Ul Qoma, Mahalia iritase numeroase grupări extremiste cu teoriile ei neconvenționale despre originea celor două orașe. Iar simplul fapt că cadavrul fusese aruncat în Besźel sugerează că criminalul riscase trecerea graniței dintre orașe, o abatere mai gravă decât omuciderea, pentru că de regulă atrage pedeapsa bruscă și fără drept de apel din partea Breșei.

In the morning trains ran on a raised line metres from my window. They were not in my city. I did not of course, but I could have stared into the carriages—they were quite that close—and caught the eyes of foreign travellers.

The City & The City este o altă carte pe care am cumpărat‑o cu multă vreme în urmă și a așteptat mult și bine pe Kindle până m‑am hotărât într‑un final să o încep. De data asta nu din cauză că eram nesigur de talentul scriitorului, cum a fost cazul cu Three Parts Dead, ci dimpotrivă, pentru că citisem Perdido Street Station și rămăsesem dezamăgit de modul în care o alcătuise autorul. Din fericire, The City & The City a reușit să‑mi schimbe subtil părerea despre China Melville, până la punctul în care aș încerca să citesc altceva scris de el.

31 January 2019

The New York Times: “Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger”

The effort has caused strife within Facebook. Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company abruptly last fall after Mr. Zuckerberg began weighing in more. WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, departed for similar reasons. More recently, dozens of WhatsApp employees clashed with Mr. Zuckerberg over the integration plan on internal message boards and during a contentious staff meeting in December, according to four people who attended or were briefed on the event.

The integration plan raises privacy questions because of how users’ data may be shared between services. WhatsApp currently requires only a phone number when new users sign up. By contrast, Facebook and Facebook Messenger ask users to provide their true identities. Matching Facebook and Instagram users to their WhatsApp handles could give pause to those who prefer to keep their use of each app separate.

Mike Isaac

If there ever was a time to launch a competing, privacy-focused messaging app, this has to be it. Unlike most of the tech press, I don’t think Apple will step in with the magical solution of iMessage on Android. For one, I doubt they have the engineering know-how to build quality Android apps. And secondly, the only way another messaging app has any chance to compete is to be completely free, something that doesn’t go well with Apple’s business model (even less now, while it’s feeling the pressure to pivot to service revenues because of lower iPhone sales).

21 January 2019

Columbia Journalism Review: “Apple News UK editors rely on six outlets for 75 percent of Top Stories”

Over three-quarters of all articles selected for the Top Stories section came from Sky News, BBC News, ESI Media stablemates the Evening Standard and The Independent, The Telegraph, and The Sun (77 percent combined). Two major broadcasters—BBC News and Sky News—consistently accounted for around 40 percent, or two out of every five, of articles featured; and The London Evening Standard was the third most featured publication in every analysis, averaging 11 percent of all articles, meaning that just three outlets—Sky News, BBC News, and the Evening Standard—consistently accounted for over half of all recommendations in Top Stories.

This habit—and the choice of outlets—supports an earlier Tow analysis of recommendations made by Apple News UK’s editors on @AppleNewsUK’s Twitter feed, which showed a tendency to prioritize a small group of major publishers.

Pete Brown

Interesting – and worrying – statistic. While Google, Facebook and Twitter all rely on algorithms to deliver ‘relevant’ news content to users – with the significant downside of spreading manipulation and hoaxes with unmatched speed – Apple has taken the opposite approach of having human editors manually curate news content. But this story highlights some of the downsides of this approach: compared to algorithms, humans simply cannot process the huge amount of news articles published online, so the readers are served a restricted number of ‘trusted’ sources, probably missing out on many relevant news because smaller local publishers aren’t ‘big enough’ to attract Apple’s attention.

10 January 2019

End of life for free Flickr users

As of this week, the deadline for Flickr free users to upgrade to Pro has passed. As announced a couple of months ago, beginning with February the company will start deleting photos to keep free accounts under their arbitrary limit of 1000. In the meantime I have downloaded the few albums for which I didn’t have any local copies, mostly pics from the old days of Yahoo! Photos, and deleted a couple of albums containing hundreds of photos - and in the process ventured into forgotten areas of the Flickr interface that haven’t been updated for years. It’s beyond me how people imagine SmugMug will be able to modernize all this legacy code and make Flickr competitive again. At this point it would probably be easier to just start over.

Flickr free users delete notice on site

I haven’t been following the company closely, but a couple of things stood out lately, giving small hints about their real intentions and future plans, at least in my opinion.

06 January 2019

Eos: “Uranus and Neptune should be Top Priority, says report”

Launching a small orbiter with an accompanying atmospheric probe to the solar system’s ice giants—Uranus and Neptune—should be a top priority for NASA in the coming decade, say planetary scientists who conducted a review of potential missions to do so. Beyond being scientifically valuable, such a mission to each planet is technologically feasible, the team said.

“It is important that the next mission to an ice giant study the entire system: the planet itself, the atmosphere, the rings, the satellites, and the magnetosphere”, Mark Hofstadter, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Eos. Hofstadter is a coauthor of the June 2017 report that reviewed the mission potential for Uranus and Neptune. “Every component of an ice giant system challenges our understanding of planetary physics in a unique way”, he said.

Kimberly M. S. Cartier

Hard not to agree with this assessment. Alongside the five key questions highlighted in the article, there are other important mysteries to investigate in each of those systems, related to their formation and the early history of the solar system, for example the tilt of Uranus’ orbit, most likely caused by a giant impact, and the origin of Triton, Neptune largest moon with an unusual, retrograde orbit. Even if both worlds are further out in the solar system, it feels like a huge missed opportunity to not have visited either of them for the past 30 years.

Lens Rentals: “Disassembly of the Canon RF 50mm f1.2L”

What we did see, though, is the R lenses are not only entirely new optics, they are also largely new electrical and mechanical systems. There are a lot of different things in here that we haven’t seen in any Canon EF lenses. Some of them we should have expected, like the increased electronics going to the control ring. Others we don’t really understand yet, like the tension spring in the ring USM motor or the increased electrical shielding.


But one thing that is very clear: the RF lenses contain some new technology they haven’t used before. There’s a lot of engineering that’s gone into these. Things are different inside here. As we’ll see in the next teardown we do, some of that is carrying over to at least some EF lenses. What does this mean? It means Canon has invested very heavily into developing the lenses of the R system. This level of engineering didn’t all happen in the last year, they’ve been working on this for quite a while.

Roger Cicala

Fascinating article, both for the conclusions above, and the level of detail documenting the careful disassembly of one of Canon’s brand new full-frame mirrorless lenses. Coupled with recent rumors that multiple RF lenses are set to launch in 2019, along with maybe two EOS R bodies (an entry-level version and a high-end, 75 mp body), it sure looks like Canon is fully committed to expanding this new ecosystem, while also relying on their strengths by offering a wider selection of superior lenses.

05 January 2019

The New Yorker: “Virgin Galactic’s Rocket Man”

Two weeks later, Stucky completed the final glide test. It was time for a rocket-powered flight. After more than three years, Virgin Galactic had fought its way back to where it had been on the morning of the crash.

Branson started training, playing more tennis and rehabbing a shoulder that he’d injured while kitesurfing. I asked him if he and his wife had discussed the possibility of his meeting a tragic end. In the NASA Space Shuttle program, one in sixty-eight flights resulted in a fatal crash. “We’re a family that believes you should live life to its fullest”, Branson said. “I’ve done a lot of ballooning trips. My son climbed the Matterhorn a couple of years ago. We’ve been born under a lucky star, I think.”

As adventurous as Stucky was, he didn’t believe in lucky stars, or lucky breakfasts. “The only superstition I have is not to be superstitious”, he said. The same empiricism led him to keep urging Virgin Galactic engineers not to be spooked by the past. When some of them proposed redesigning the landing gear to make it stronger, Stucky argued that this was excessively cautious, and would cause needless delays. To make his case, he retrieved the destroyed spaceship’s landing gear from storage, and demonstrated that, after nearly forty flights and a catastrophic crash, the gear remained as good as new.

Nicholas Schmidle

Great story about the efforts behind Virgin Galactic’s efforts to make commercial spaceflight a reality. And a perfect time to share it, now that the team successfully completed the first roundtrip to the edge of space, at an altitude of more than 80 km. It’s a shame Virgin Galactic doesn’t get nearly as much press coverage as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, but unfortunately that’s how media works, regularly focusing on the people who make the most noise, not those delivering results.