30 November 2014

Jonathan Strahan - Reach for Infinity

in Bucharest, Romania

Jonathan Strahan - Reach for InfinityDupă primele două volume din Proiectul Infinity, al treilea abordează o gamă largă de subiecte, dar și calitatea povestirilor variază puternic, de la cele scurte și emoționale, la unele lungi și greu de citit.

Colecția începe bine cu Break My Fall de Greg Egan, care inventează un sistem ingenios de propulsie pentru convoaiele de coloniști marțieni. O întreagă familie de asteroizi a fost mutată pe orbitele perfecte, așa încât de‑a lungul traiectoriei spre Marte navele cu coloniști se conectează la fiecare asteroid printr‑un sistem de cabluri și sunt accelerate de rotația acestora spre următorul punct din traseu. Povestirea se desfășoară pe una din aceste transportoare, Baza, sub supravegherea pilotului veteran Heng. O furtună solară neprevăzută forțează convoiul să facă o oprire de urgență la una din stații, iar defecțiunea unui cablu obligă echipajul Baza să organizeze o salvare în stilul Apollo 13. Mi‑a fost cam greu să țin socoteala tuturor pasagerilor, ar fi bine să o parcurg din nou pentru a reține mai bine rolurile fiecăruia, dar în mare povestirea este bine construită și echilibrată. Puncte bonus pentru ideea că calculele pentru salvare sunt făcute pe ceasul unuia dintre pasageri!

The Dust Queen de Aliette de Bodard este legată tot de Marte: de‑a lungul complicatului proces de teraformare, printre lucrători se dezvoltă tradiția organizării unor spectacole care combină furtunile marțiene cu holograme, formând imagini complexe și efemere. Ajunsă la o vârstă înaintată, cea mai talentată artistă, Bao Lan – Regina Nisipurilor din titlu, îi solicită unei tinere o operație delicată de restaurare a amintirilor din copilărie pentru a se putea întoarce pe Pământ la locurile natale din Vietnam. Tânăra Quynh Ha se vede pusă în fața unei decizii grele, nesigură de capacitatea ei de a duce operația la bun sfârșit și nedorind să o piardă pe Regină, ale cărei spectacole aduceau puțina bucurie a coloniștilor marțieni. Ca multe dintre scrierile lui Aliette este axată pe memorie și relația cu trecutul și înaintașii.

29 November 2014

Medium: “#Homescreen2014”

Here are some of the other results we drew from the analysis we did in January of 2014. Most everyone has either a texting/messaging app on their homescreen. Eighty-nine percent have the standard Apple texting app and 86 percent of people have the phone app. More people regard these devices’ primary use as messaging rather than calling and 14 percent of people in this sample don’t view their smartphone as a phone: it’s a computing device. Telephony is an app that doesn’t even make it to their homescreen. Alternative, non Apple, messaging apps are starting to appear on the homescreens of users and I bet that if we sampled just non US users the numbers would be much higher. Facebook is Messenger is on 14% of people’s homescreen, Whatsapp is on 12 percent, Snapchat is on 11%, Path on 5 percent (while snapchat and path arent straight messaging app’s, worth noting them here for comparison), Groupme 4.7%, HipChat on 2.6 percent, Line on 1.5 percent, Viber 1%, Kik is on 0.5 percent. What’s interesting is that these alternatives dont replace the standard texting app. As I outline below in many categories the standard Apple app is replaced by users on the homescreen, in messaging its complemented.

John Borthwick

I must admit, when I first heard of an app with the sole purpose of sharing your smartphone homescreen on , I thought it was pointless. But the aggregate data from all these screenshots reflects important trends in app ecosystems: people seeking alternatives to ’s default apps – first and foremost to Maps, the explosion of messaging apps, the dominance of , the popularity of mobile photography and music.

28 November 2014

Mozilla UX: “Find it Faster: The New Search Interface in Firefox”

When typing a search term into the Firefox search box, you will notice two new things: first, we improved the design of search suggestions to make them look a lot more organized. And second: there is an array of buttons below your search suggestions. These buttons allow you to find your search term directly on a specific site quickly and easily.

Philipp Sackl

Another feature from Internet Explorer 9 makes its way to !

21 November 2014

Search Engine Land: “Yahoo Replaces Google as Default Search Provider in Firefox”

Firefox Yahoo US search deal

Yahoo and Mozilla just announced a strategic five-year partnership that makes Yahoo the default search experience for Firefox in the United States on mobile and desktop. The companies said they will explore other potential future product integrations and distribution opportunities to other markets.

Greg Sterling

A classic case of the blind leading the blind: Yahoo struggling for relevance by buying (and usually shutting down) every other semi-successful startup, Mozilla trying to catch up to other desktop browsers and chasing impossible dreams of becoming the next mobile OS – neither could see a good strategic decision if it hit them in the face. Maybe someone should explain to them that people prefer ’s search engine and browser because they are better products than Yahoo and , either separate or combined.

Five Hundred Words: “A Few Thoughts On WatchKit And The Initial Apple Watch”

First of all, it’s now beyond clear that Apple Watch, at least at first, is an iPhone accessory, not a stand-alone product. It requires the iPhone to do basically anything. Hell, it may even require the iPhone to turn on (unclear at this point, but it wouldn’t shock me). This won’t always be the case, but this is very much the case with the v1 of the product. It’s not just that you need the iPhone’s connectivity to make the Apple Watch apps useful, the Apple Watch apps for the most part actually execute on the iPhone.

M.G. Siegler

fans and developers are mostly excited about these revelations on the upcoming Apple Watch, comparing it usually with the first version of the iPhone. But the thing is, as limited as the original iPhone might have been, it could still operate independently; the Watch can’t. Could you imagine the iPhone turning into a massive success if you had to carry your laptop around in order for the apps on the smartphone to work?!

20 November 2014

Twitter Blogs: “Building a complete Tweet index”

Since that first simple Tweet over eight years ago, hundreds of billions of Tweets have captured everyday human experiences and major historical events. Our search engine excelled at surfacing breaking news and events in real time, and our search index infrastructure reflected this strong emphasis on recency. But our long-standing goal has been to let people search through every Tweet ever published.

For now, complete results from the full index will appear in the “All” tab of search results on the Twitter web client and Twitter for iOS & Twitter for Android apps. Over time, you’ll see more Tweets from this index appearing in the “Top” tab of search results and in new product experiences powered by this index. Try it out: you can search for the first Tweets about New Years between Dec. 30, 2006 and Jan. 2, 2007.

Yi Zhuang

Great news from : finally a search engine for all public tweets since 2006! I have the feeling this will be an area where will continue to experiment and expand, to deliver more exciting updates in the future. may yet see its dominance in web search threatened, if develops a reliable ranking algorithm for the links and content shared here every second of every day. could start crawling web pages as well, connecting them to the follower graph to build the first successful social search engine – something both Google and failed to do.

18 November 2014

Quartz: “Forget Taylor Swift: Spotify is facing a much bigger problem”

But as Spotify itself has admitted, YouTube is already, easily, the biggest streaming music site on the planet, and that’s without it even really trying. The YouTube brand, which gets a staggering 1 billion unique visitors each month, might be in a stronger position to convert users into paying music subscribers than its parent company has been. The service will include the ability to watch videos without advertising, and the ability to save music for listening offline, the FT reported.

John McDuling

I’m not sure about the idea of being more successful at converting viewers into active subscribers. The brand has been associated with ‘free’ music for so long that I think it will be hard to change this perception for users. On the other hand, the user numbers shared by Spotify over the years show consistent growth in active users, combined with a very stable portion of paying subscribers. For the past couple of years, roughly one in four Spotify users has been paying for music streaming.

17 November 2014

Monica at Mozilla: “Tracking Protection in Firefox”

On Monday a project that I’ve been working on was officially announced as part of a larger privacy initiative called Polaris. In case you missed it, there is an experimental tracking protection feature in Firefox Nightly that allows people to avoid being tracked by not communicating with known tracking domains, especially those that do not respect DNT. Our initial blocklist is from Disconnect. As a side effect, blocking resources from tracking domains speeds up page load times on average by 20%. Privacy features rarely coincide with performance benefits, so that’s exciting.

Monica Chew

So Internet Explorer has had Tracking Protection since version 9 (roughly 4 years ago) – Mozilla is just now considering adding a similar feature to . had process separation for tabs from day one (more than 6 years ago) – Mozilla is still experimenting with a similar feature for Firefox. What a change from the fresh browser that 10 years ago challenged Microsoft's desktop web browsing monopoly…

Jon Smajda: “Mailbox and Facebook App Links”

Here’s why: Mailbox recently added support for Facebook App Links. What are App Links?

Imagine someone sends you a Pinterest pin in an email. If you have the Pinterest app installed on your phone, just tap the link in Mailbox and it will open in your Pinterest app rather than Safari or Chrome. You get to access information on your mobile device the way you want — and not through the default web view.

How do App Links know how to do this super considerate service? By sending every URL you request to Facebook, which then requests the URL to check for support for App Links. So this is why Facebook was following my one-time login code URL, invalidating the code before Safari could get to it — and, I suppose theoretically, logging into my website in my place. Yikes.

Jon Smajda

I could say that I’m surprised, but I’m not, given Dropbox’s past record with security. While Mailbox announced that App Links support will be disabled in the next version, this should serve as reminder to be wary about letting third parties access your email accounts.

15 November 2014

Sky & Telescope: “Philae Lands on Its Comet — Three Times!”

It’s been a historic day in planetary exploration. At 15:33 Universal Time, the European Space Agency’s Philae spacecraft reached the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. When radio confirmation reached Earth some 30 minutes later, cheers erupted around ESA’s control room in Darmstadt, Germany. (You can replay ESA’s landing webcast here.) Never before had a spacecraft landed on a comet.

No one realized it at the time, but data from the probe and particularly magnetic-field measurements from its ROMAP instrument later showed that Philae did indeed bounce after touchdown — not once but twice!

Kelly Beatty

Exciting times for space exploration! The saga is far from over, as the mission control are trying to figure out if they can rotate the lander in a better position to maximize its power supply.

Business Insider: “This is the Internal Grading System Google Uses for Its Employees”

At Google, all OKRs are public from Larry Page on down. You can look up what your co-workers’ OKRs are in the employee directory. It’s right there as a piece of their internal profiles. Not only do you see their OKRs, but you also see their scores through the years on their OKRs.

Jay Yarow

While at first this looks like any other performance management system used in big corporations, this bit of information immediately caught my attention. I must admit I’m also more than a little surprised, in the companies I worked for this kind of information is always kept under tight wrap. This level of transparency could have a major positive impact on company culture and performance. I find a little strange though that the examples in the article focus on , where Rick Klau was a product manager years ago, having left for and later Google+. Many things could have changed since then, including this particular internal goal system.

14 November 2014

The Hollywood Reporter: “Ex-Sony CEO Howard Stringer on Sony’s Failures and Time Inc.’s Big Challenges”

Later in the speech, he returned to the subject of the Japanese electronics maker. Running a big company is like running a cemetery: there are thousands of people beneath you, but no one is listening.

It was a bit like that at Sony.

Jonathan Handel

Hmm, maybe he didn’t know how to listen?

If you’re running your company like a cemetery, that’s where it’s going to end up.

AVC: “The First Law of Internet Physics”

Isaac Newton observed some things about motion and encoded them into his three laws of motion. I think we should do the same thing with the Internet. There are some things that just are, and we should acknowledge them. I posit that one of them is this:

many users * low arpu >>>> few users * high arpu

I’ve seen so many people try paid content on the Internet and the result is less users, a lot less. You can extract a higher average revenue per user (arpu) from a paid model, but you get so many less users that is it better to extract a lower arpu with a free model and get many more users.

Fred Wilson

I’m pretty sure this is called “price elasticity”, a basic concept in economics. Nevertheless, a valid observation about how the Internet has transformed the relation between supply and demand and is continuing to do so. Digital services, from software and apps to entertainment, are possibly as close as we can get to perfect market and competition. While many people may regard Internet access as a basic human right and rank it highly in their personal need list, the same cannot be said about specific Internet content. For each paid app there is a free one with similar functionality; for each music album a or torrent version; for each news article behind a pay-wall, a dozens of other sites reporting the same story for free – it’s no wonder the majority of people gravitate towards the cheaper, ‘free’ version.

13 November 2014

Office Blogs: “De-clutter your inbox in Office 365”

Today we are beginning the roll out of Clutter to Office 365 business customers, which brings the power of Office Graph to your inbox. Clutter is designed to help you focus on the most important messages in your inbox. It uses machine learning to de-clutter your inbox by moving lower priority messages out of your way and into a new Clutter folder. Ultimately, Clutter removes distractions so you can focus on what matters most.

Brian Shiers

Interesting new feature for Outlook users, although not necessarily an original idea – after all, has offered several variations, starting with Priority Inbox, then Categories and most recently Inbox. One step above the Spam folder, but not nearly important enough to pop up in your inbox. What I find more compelling about this one is that Clutter addresses business users specifically. I think it’s safe to say that most people have to handle a much bigger volume of messages in their business mailbox than in the personal, so Clutter could have a big impact on productivity for business communication. I would certainly love to see it running on my work accounts!

11 November 2014

Medium: “It’s Amazing That The Old Record Industry Existed In The First Place”

Taylor Swift 1989 album cover

How many of those millions of people only wanted one track but had to buy the entire album? iTunes fixed that by decoupling the tracks from albums.

How many of those millions put the album on a shelf and never listened to it? Spotify fixed that—artists only get paid for plays.

By removing herself from streaming services, Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market. Like Comcast, her product is popular enough that people will put up with it. And while I believe an artist gets to choose what happens to her art, I still think it’s a dick move to her fans.

Philip Kaplan

I would exactly call it amazing, maybe just the best solution available at the time. But the world keeps changing and everything else with it – including the publishing business, for music as well as books. As the article above points out, Mozart didn’t sell a single copy of his work – back then the public consisted of a hand-full of aristocrats. Artists had to stay in the good graces of their patron if they wanted to enjoy their leisurely lifestyle and keep creating. Just like the printing press made books available for the masses, sound recording replicated the process for music and later dramatic art.

10 November 2014

My impressions on Inbox (by Gmail)

A couple of days after the launch, I received an invitation for ’s new email app, Inbox. Despite my initial reaction, I was excited to install and try it out. After a couple of days though, my hands-on impression only served to confirm that Inbox is not for me. I’m an old-time Gmail user, who completely switched from Yahoo! a couple of months after Gmail launched. Since then I created and refined my own system of labels and filters, so that few messages – usually the most important – ever land in my inbox. Other people might find its automated features more appealing, but for me Inbox is constantly interfering with my preferences and established workflow. As mentioned in the invite, Inbox is designed to replace your email experience completely, so for people who already have their own methods of ‘dealing’ with email, it could prove more of a hassle than it’s worth.

If you want to give it a try, maybe even considering replacing your other email apps, you should start by taking a look at the list of features Inbox doesn’t have – and maybe never will. For one there’s no support for other email providers (like in the new Gmail for Android), nor for Google Apps accounts. So business users are out of luck for now – in more ways than one, because Inbox doesn’t let you add signatures or insert your default Gmail signature. There’s also no way to select multiple messages or to manage contacts, and marking mail as spam or deleting is more complicated than in regular Gmail.

09 November 2014

Alastair Reynolds - House of Suns

in Bucharest, Romania

Alastair Reynolds - House of SunsÎn secolul XXXI, la apogeul Orei de Aur, printre milioanele de habitate orbitând Soarele, se naște o idee nouă din vanitatea unei femei: ce‑ar fi dacă s‑ar clona în o mie de exemplare, fiecare pornind apoi la bordul unei nave să exploreze Universul? La intervale regulate, clonele s‑ar reuni pentru a‑și împărtăși amintirile, alegând apoi noi destinații și despărțindu‑se pentru a relua călătoria. Așa au apărut Casele, a căror influență și putere a crescut constant de‑a lungul milioanelor de ani, în timp ce pe planetele galaxiei s‑au perindat nenumărate culturi și imperii, fiecare crescând, înflorind și dispărând în vâltoarea istoriei. Șase milioane de ani mai târziu, doi membri ai Casei Gentian, Campion și Purslane, călătorind împreună în ciuda regulilor Casei, se îndreaptă spre locul secret de reuniune, la care au întârziat mai mult decât permis. Aduc cu ei și un oaspete special, Hesperus, un Om‑Mașină salvat din captivitatea lui Ateshga. În tranzit recepționează însă un mesaj care îi avertizează să nu se apropie: sistemul în care se organiza reuniunea fusese atacat de arme masive, oficial interzise, și majoritatea membrilor Casei Florilor omorâți sau dispăruți. Responsabilitatea lor imediată este să se refugieze în sistemul de rezervă și să contacteze acolo posibilii supraviețuitori.

To see something marvellous with your own eyes - that’s wonderful enough. But when two of you see it, two of you together, holding hands, holding each other close, knowing that you’ll both have that memory for the rest of your lives, but that each of you will only ever hold an incomplete half of it, and that it won’t ever really exist as a whole until you’re together, talking or thinking about that moment … that’s worth more than one plus one.

08 November 2014

Aeon Magazine: “Creative blocks”

It is ironic that mainstream psychology has largely renounced behaviourism, which has been recognised as both inadequate and inhuman, while computer science, thanks to philosophical misconceptions such as inductivism, still intends to manufacture human-type cognition on essentially behaviourist lines.

AGIs will indeed be capable of self-awareness — but that is because they will be General: they will be capable of awareness of every kind of deep and subtle thing, including their own selves. This does not mean that apes who pass the mirror test have any hint of the attributes of ‘general intelligence’ of which AGI would be an artificial version. Indeed, Richard Byrne’s wonderful research into gorilla memes has revealed how apes are able to learn useful behaviours from each other without ever understanding what they are for: the explanation of how ape cognition works really is behaviouristic.

David Deutsch

Insightful article about the fundamental problems faced by the current research into artificial intelligence. I’m sharing it partly because I agree with the general conclusion, partly because of the interesting parallels with a science-fiction novel I read recently, Blindsight by Peter Watts. There, the author plays with the idea that consciousness is not a prerequisite for intelligence, and may even be a hindrance under certain circumstances. Here, David Deutsch argues that it would be relatively easy for a computer to mimic human behavior, even self-awareness (because it would just follow complex software instructions coming from human operators), but much harder to truly become intelligent, able of independent thought outside its existing programming.

04 November 2014

Vanity Fair: “The Empire Reboots”

Nadella, despite his long career at Microsoft—and his similarities to Gates—is in fundamental ways a break from the past. He has had his executive team read Nonviolent Communication. (The title speaks for itself.) He’s a genuinely nice person, with a wide smile that cannot be faked. He is liked by people who have worked for him, by his peers, and by those who were above him. Everyone likes Satya, says one former Microsoft executive. You cannot dislike Satya. Bill loves him. Steve loves him. Satya is clearly a morally good person. You want to get behind him, says Greg Sullivan, who is the director of the Windows Phone division.

He actually talks to people outside the company, from competitors to venture capitalists. This is unusual in a company that people describe as insular. You talk about the rise and fall of empires or families or anything; being insular is the best way to sort of kill yourself, says Nadella. Bethany McLean

Long and informative article about the uneasy power balance between Gates and Ballmer and the struggle to find a new leader that could potentially steer Microsoft back into the dominant position it enjoyed a couple of years ago. But the part that stuck out the most for me was this internal characterization of the new CEO, Satya Nadella, as “the nice guy”. As much as it’s more enjoyable to work for a boss you like, I’m not sure this quality will help him achieve the turnaround and reform Microsoft needs. Big businesses are usually built by ruthless, ambitious, demanding individuals, not by conciliators. Ballmer’s advice (Be bold and be right.) seems more appropriate.

03 November 2014

Adding labels to Excel scatter charts

Despite the impossibly long list of features and settings in Microsoft’s Excel, the most popular spreadsheet suite still lacks some features that seem trivial, or they require complicated workarounds and possibly some knowledge of VBA. One omission that annoyed me several times is the fact that in XY scatter (and bubble) charts you can’t automatically label data points with text from a third column; it’s only possible to show the value of the X or Y point. Until recently, custom labels required either a lot of manual work to change the default text, which was not sustainable for large amounts of data, or the use of macros or third-party add-ons. But, while working on the chart for my previous article, I discovered that, at least in Office 2013, this option has finally been added to the user interface!

01 November 2014

Google Wave and the uncanny valley of communication

Last week I saw a tweet wondering if Google Wave could have been successful, had it launched now instead of 2010. I suspect it was more of a rhetorical question, possibly hinting at the recent launch of Inbox, which was introduced in similar terms to Wave (the next evolution of email and invite-only rollout). For me, the answer is pretty clear: as much as I loved Wave, it was too complex to ever gain mainstream adoption. Real-time communication has since become the fastest growing segment of social media, but collaborative editing hasn’t taken off, and I can’t think of an app doing both successfully. The combination of features Wave offered would have had a hard time entering corporate space as well simply because companies are reluctant to radically change their existing systems. Some concepts have been adapted into other products – for example on Medium people can comment anywhere in an article, starting a local thread, although it’s unclear if that was inspired by Wave or just a similar idea developed independently.