29 September 2014

Medium: “Announcing Circa News 3”

When you first open Wire, you’ll be immediately introduced to your Daily Brief. Our readers have repeatedly told us that they’d like to cut right to the meat of the most relevant stories to get caught up on the day’s news. This made a lot of sense to us, given our uniquely mobile approach. With our Daily Brief readers can expect on average 10–20 succinct bits of news and quickly get informed.

[…]

If you happen to follow stories, as you enter Wire you’ll be greeted with all of the updates to those you’ve decided to follow. For many of our readers, following multiple stories has meant that their “queue” of updates got backed up based on our previous designs. Thankfully, we’ve completely redesigned the experience and replaced the list of stories that have updates with a slick, simple feed-like design to stay informed without having to re-read items you’ve seen before.

Matt Galligan

Great update for one of my favorite news apps, Circa! It’s basically the app I use to keep up-to-date with breaking news and world events, from airplane crashes and airplanes being shot down, to the Ebola epidemic and spacecrafts landing on comets. I’m still ambivalent on the new Daily Brief feature though. Specifically, including updates to stories I followed in the Brief feels a bit confusing to me, every time I checked the Daily Brief I got the impression that ‘my’ updates were missing or hidden among the other news selected by the app. I think I would prefer to have a separate screen for updates; the app already supports swiping between the main news feed and the wire, so it wouldn’t be very difficult to integrate another column in the current design.

Macworld: “Stacking the iPhone against every Android phone feature”

Look, all you need to do is get an Android phone from HTC for build quality. Then get an Android phone from Sony because their cameras are so good. Then get a Galaxy Note from Samsung for the largest screen. Then get a Nexus from Google to get a decent software experience. Finally, get a phone from Hauwei because they’re cheap. Then mash them all together and you’ve got one phone that’s better than the iPhone!

The Macalope

That’s one of the best ways to describe the advantage of the iPhone over most of the competition. My own iPhone is nearly three years old and, despite some software annoyances from iOS 7 and the slowly declining battery life, I am still very happy with it. While I’m increasingly tempted to upgrade to an iPhone 6, my 4S would probably work just as smoothly for another year or so (provided I stay away from iOS 8).

28 September 2014

Gary Gibson - Final Days

Gary Gibson - Final DaysLa două secole în viitor, tehnologia găurilor de vierme a permis oamenilor să se extindă în alte sisteme solare. Totuși, ca de obicei de‑a lungul istoriei noastre, lumea nu duce lipsă de conflicte: Coaliția Vestică menține monopolul asupra tehnologiei și porților către colonii, în timp ce alte puteri politice de acasă și grupări teroriste din colonii militează pentru accesul liber la porți, autonomia crescută a noilor teritorii și posibilitatea fondării de colonii proprii fără supravegherea Array Security and Immigration. ASI ascunde însă secrete mai bine păzite decât porțile: de ceva vreme, ei explorează în secret o rețea abandonată de porți, construită de o altă rasă botezată provizoriu Fondatorii. Acest sistem de găuri de vierme ajunge mult mai departe, nu numai în univers, ci și în timp, în viitorul imposibil de îndepărtat în care galaxiile s‑au îndepărtat atât de mult încât nu mai sunt vizibile și stelele se sting una după una fără să se nască altele noi. Aici începe romanul, cu o echipă explorând un grup de patru monoliți înțesați de labirinturi, tehnologie extraterestră și capcane. Și de aici, aceștia aduc înapoi pe Pământ o armă de neoprit, care, odată eliberată din greșeală, va reduce planeta la un deșert de cenușă în câteva săptămâni.

E ciudat cum un roman cu atât de multe ingrediente bune ca Final Days nu reușește să împlinească potențialul nici uneia. După debutul grandios cu artefacte extraterestre de calibrul lui Alastair Reynolds, viitorul în care au fost descoperite se estompează în fundal și nu mai e menționat decât în scurte conversații și dezvăluiri abrupte. Civilizația construită în jurul găurilor de vierme și complexitatea situației politice se apropie de Peter Hamilton, fără să atingă nivelul de detaliu și finețe cu care le construiește acesta. Până și bucla temporală care permite personajelor cheie să anticipeze devastarea Pământului și să‑și planifice mișcările este undeva la limita plauzibilității și a posibilităților fizicii contemporane.

27 September 2014

Vanity Fair: “Hell in the Hot Zone”

Even if you understood the reasons, the message from the government and the health workers (and the local media) had undercut the incentive to cooperate. If Ebola was a death sentence, what was the point? The public-service announcements had not been subtle—they didn’t explain that mortality rates vary or that, with supportive care, patients do survive (as half the Ebola patients at the M.S.F. treatment center in Conakry had done). To a villager, the isolation centers were fearsome places. They offered a one-way maze through white tarpaulins and waist-high orange fencing. Relatives or friends went in and then you lost them. You couldn’t see what was happening inside the tents—you just saw the figures in goggles and full-body protective gear. The health workers move carefully in order to avoid tears and punctures; from a distance, the effect is robotic. The health workers don’t look like any people you’ve ever seen. They perform stiffly and slowly, and then they disappear into the tent where your mother or brother may be, and everything that happens inside is left to your imagination. Villagers began to whisper to one another—They’re harvesting our organs; they’re taking our limbs.

Jeffrey E. Stern

I’ve been watching the development of the current Ebola epidemic closely and this is one of the more comprehensive accounts of how it got started, its elusive nature – and how, despite the strong initial reaction from heath authorities, the epidemic spread through remote communities because people were too frightened of the doctors coming to their aid. If this doesn’t change, the epidemic will continue claiming more lives and will probably reach and surpass the most pessimistic predictions, currently estimating more than half a million infections by the end of the year.

21 September 2014

Facebook Data Science: “Books that have stayed with us”

To answer this question we gathered a de-identified sample of over 130,000 status updates matching “10 books” or “ten books” appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014 (although the meme has been active over at least a year). The demographics of those posting were as follows: 63.7% were in the US, followed by 9.3% in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37. We therefore expect the books chosen to be reflective of this subset of the population.

Lada Adamic & Pinkesh Patel

I had no idea this ‘10 books’ meme was so widespread! The resulting top 20 list is unsurprising, reflecting the majority of American readers in the study. I’m sure the list would be quite different if would analyze posts in other languages than English, but it would be increasingly difficult to match book titles with their local translations, especially as some books are published in several editions with different titles. Here is my personal list, a bit longer than 10 though:

20 September 2014

The Telegraph: “Welcome to Paradise: inside the world of legalised prostitution”

Paradise is a brothel in Stuttgart. It’s one of Germany’s “mega-brothels” and, like a lot of those establishments, it has a Moroccan theme. Picture a Sultan’s palace crossed with a Premier Inn, then wedge it between anonymous office blocks on an endless industrial park and you’re there: Paradise.

Nisha Lilia Diu

From the department of ideas who look good in theory, but fail to live up to expectations: the legalization of prostitution in Germany has achieved little of the proposed goals. Stricter laws in the Nordic countries have had better success in fighting sex trafficking and abuse, while in Germany the former illegal system has thrived and diversified under the protection of lax laws.

The New Yorker: “Watching the Eclipse”

At first, Putin had little interest in ideology. Then a vision emerged of a Eurasian Russian imperium, fending off Western decay.
At first, Putin had little interest in ideology. Then a vision emerged of a Eurasian Russian imperium, fending off Western decay.

Illustration by Barry Blitt.

An avid reader about tsarist Russia, Putin was forming a more coherent view of history and his place within it. More and more, he identified personally with the destiny of Russia. Even if he was not a genuine ideologue, he became an opportunistic one, quoting Ivan Ilyin, Konstantin Leontiev, Nikolai Berdyayev, and other conservative philosophers to give his own pronouncements a sense of continuity. One of his favorite politicians in imperial Russia was Pyotr Stolypin, the Prime Minister under Nicholas II. We do not need great upheavals, Putin said, paraphrasing Stolypin. We need a great Russia. Stolypin had also said, Give the state twenty years and you will not recognize Russia. That was in 1909. Stolypin was assassinated by a revolutionary in Kiev, in 1911. But Putin was determined that his opportunity not be truncated: Give me twenty years, he said, and you will not recognize Russia.

David Remnick

A great account of the major changes in Russia’s attitude towards the West since the end of the Cold War, written from the perspective of the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Reading it, what struck me most was the similarity with the situation in Germany before the Nazi regime: a country defeated, deprived of its former glory, struggling to find a new sense of purpose and clinging desperately to the first leader promising to bring back the ‘good old days’. I’m pretty sure we should not give Putin twenty years with Russia.

19 September 2014

Charlie’s Diary: “The referendum question”

I have a postal vote. I already voted yes.

[…]

In making my mind up, I looked at the long term prospects.

In the long term I favour a Europe—indeed, a world—of much smaller states. I don't just favour breaking up the UK; I favour breaking up the United States, India, and China. Break up the Westphalian system. We live today in a world dominated by two types of group entity; the nation-states with defined borders and treaty obligations that emerged after the end of the 30 Years War, and the transnational corporate entities which thrive atop the free trade framework provided by the treaty organizations binding those Westphalian states together.

Charlie Stross

I agree with Charles Stross on one point: he’s an utopian. I saw this link as someone shared it yesterday evening on and jokingly replied something like: “that would just make it easier for Russia to invade them”. The problem with this king of ‘long term’ thinking is that it completely ignores the process to reach that final, ‘better’ world, all the problems needing solutions, the obstacles that need to be overcome. An inspiring vision will fail utterly without a strong strategy and clever tactics to get to the goal.

15 September 2014

Baekdal: “Apple Watch is Nice, But Hardly a Trend”

Apple Watch

This is nothing like what we saw with the iPhone. When Apple launched the iPhone, that market and the trends for smartphones were booming. And what Apple did was brilliant. They took this growing trend to the next level, redefined the category, and they did this at exactly the right moment where people wanted it most.

That is a very different dynamics than what we see in the watch industry today. Watches, to most people are boring. And to young people, it’s a device their parents use because they don’t know how to use a smartphone.

Apple did not change any of that. The Apple Watch is just like all other smartphone watches. And people, in general, have not seen a need for them.

Thomas Baekdal

I’ve been travelling to London for a couple of days last week, so I didn't keep up with ’s announcements – except for a short peek at the pictures of Watches that made me laugh (I mean, a Mickey Mouse face, really?!). Of course, there’s no shortage of people praising the design and the product, even though it will not ship for another six months and Apple keeps quiet about one key aspect, battery life. Until then, there are still some articles written with a cool head and a sound perspective. Just check out the first picture in the one above and try to guess what’s wrong with it.

The New Yorker: “U2’s Forgettable Fire”

What Cook and U2 probably wanted to duplicate yesterday was the organic delight when Beyoncé released an entire album out of the blue last December on iTunes. Instead, U2 stuffed a locksmith card in your doorframe, which you’ve probably already tossed. […]

Don’t shove your music into people’s homes. A U2 album that some would have taken seriously was instead turned into an album that seems as pointless as it probably is. Lack of consent is not the future.

Sasha Frere-Jones

This would have worked so much better if people were asked if they wanted a free album before downloading it… Instead now there’s a whole Internet making fun of U2.

Advertising Age: “Facebook’s Strategy to Take on YouTube Comes Into View”

But for an ad-supported business like Facebook, views are only as valuable as the revenue they generate. While YouTube videos viewed on Facebook contributed some percentage of the estimated $5.6 billion YouTube reaped last year, Facebook didn’t make a cent.

That may be why Facebook is shining a light on its own video player privately in meetings with online video execs and now publicly with its view count. Coupled with its acquisition of video ad-tech firm LiveRail and introduction of autoplay video ads, Facebook appears poised to make a run at YouTube’s business. In one big way it already has.

Tim Peterson

I’m sure would love to get a piece of the online video ads pie, but I think there are several factors working against it.

The recent changes to the newsfeed ranking algorithm have emphasized content from ‘friends’, reducing the reach of pages, to their discontent. If publishers have to pay Facebook first to insure their videos rank highly in peoples’ newsfeeds, this will reduce their revenues from advertising on Facebook, making it less lucrative to contribute. Of course, Facebook could always change the ranking algorithm again to push its native videos (there are some suggestions it already does), but that could annoy people, especially on mobile. You have to take into account that, unlike YouTube, Facebook is not a dedicated video portal, so video content has to compete with a number of other updates, especially friends’ photos.

08 September 2014

Om Malik: “Wanna Nuzzel?”

Nuzzel is doing one thing and one thing only — giving me a quick and easy way to surface the stories that are being shared by my social networks. The stories that are most popular with my network quickly rise to the top, and I can sort them based on time elapsed — two hours, four hours or eight hours. There is option to find the latest, most recent stories that are popular with my peeps. And then there is the best option — what friends of friends are reading. It is like Techmeme and Twitter had a baby.

Om Malik

I’ve been using this new service for a couple of weeks as well and I largely agree with Om’s review. Nuzzel is a good way to keep up with your stream and discover new stories based on their popularity, similar to Techmeme, but personalized for your interests. It’s useful first of all when you don’t have time to go through your stream and prefer a quick, at-a-glance view of what happened in the last hours or days. The more interesting links – articles you’re less likely to see directly on – can be discovered in the ‘Friends of friends’ section. It would be awesome if the app would also access Twitter lists and display popular tweets from them; I know a lot of people don’t use lists, but I have a couple that I’m not accessing very often and here would be a good place to catch up.

07 September 2014

Shūsaku Endō – Tăcere

in Bucharest, Romania

Shusaku Endo - TacereDupă descoperirea Americii și a drumului către Indii, sfera de influență a puterilor europene crește exponențial, și odată cu ea creștinismul descoperă noi teritorii spre care să‑și trimită misionarii și să răspândească cuvântul Domnului. Totuși unele țări opun rezistență la noua religie; printre ele Japonia, care la început deschisese larg granițele corăbiilor europene încărcate de mărfuri și misionarilor care le însoțeau. Odată cu preluarea puterii de noul shogun Tokugawa însă, relațiile se răcesc brusc (cei care au citit romanul Shogun își pot aminti probabil unele detalii, surprinzător de aproape de realitatea istorică) și noua religie de import ajunge deodată pe lista neagră, cultul interzis, bisericile dărâmate și credincioșii forțați să se dezică de creștinism sub pedeapsa torturii și morții. În această atmosferă de incertitudine și frică ajung la Vatican zvonuri neliniștitoare despre Părintele Ferreira, care ar fi renunțat la credință după ce a fost supus la numeroase cazne de un „inchizitor” laic. Trei dintre foștii lui elevi la seminarul catolic din Lisabona se hotărăsc să facă lunga călătorie până în Japonia pentru a afla adevărul și a reaprinde flacăra credinței printre credincioșii abandonați.

Combinând documente istorice, scrisori și jurnale, cu propria viziune a evenimentelor, Shūsaku Endō reface în Tăcere drumul preotului Sebastião Rodrigues de la decizia de a părăsi Portugalia până când este capturat de autoritățile japoneze și pus să aleagă între credința și viața sa. Un drum de‑a lungul căruia tot ceea ce a învățat și în ce a crezut până la sosirea în Japonia e pus în mod constant la încercare. Paralela evidentă, care se repetă la nesfârșit în gândurile preotului, este cu viața lui Hristos: trădat japonezilor de creștinul apostat Kichijirō, părintele Rodrigues este purtat din temniță în temniță, umilit de preoții budiști și de mulțimile de gură-cască, interogat în fața guvernatorului din Nagasaki, ispitit cu promisiuni de libertate și iertare pentru ceilalți credincioși captivi, cu condiția să renunțe la credință. Cu fiecare pas, întrebarea lui Hristos pe cruce, „Doamne, de ce m‑ai părăsit?”, revine pe buzele preotului, care nu poate să conceapă că Dumnezeul iubirii ar rămâne nepăsător la suferințele credincioșilor săi.

04 September 2014

The Wire: “How We Fav Now”

The most common logical fav is the bookmark fav, which saves the tweet (or the link within) for later. Our colleague Philip Bump is famous for the bookmark fav, but plenty of other “media professionals” do this, too. Honan bookmarks but notes that the whole process is futile: I never, ever see [those tweets] again. Allie Jones

Apparently, I’m one of the most boring user types, when it comes to using favorites. Other people are much more imaginative:

Teens, we’ve found, fav almost solely on emotion. Amanda Bigi, a high school senior in Pittsburgh, told The Wire, The main reason I favorite things is to get a boy’s attention. He can see what I favorite so I do it to let him know my feelings. Also, I’ll do it to flirt with boys. She’s not alone — supposedly mature adults have admitted to being wanton flirt favers (ahem, our colleague David Sims). Brendan O’Connor documented the flirt fav phenomenon for the Daily Dot back in March.

Allie Jones