30 July 2015

The New York Times: “How Television won the Internet”

Millennial Dropouts
Change in hours spent watching traditional TV per week since 2010

Television, not digital media, is mastering the model of the future: Make ’em pay. And the corollary: Make a product that they’ll pay for. BuzzFeed has only its traffic to sell — and can only sell it once. Television shows can be sold again and again, with streaming now a third leg to broadcast and cable, offering a vast new market for licensing and syndication. Television is colonizing the Internet.

Streaming video is now not only the hottest media draw — 78 percent of United States Internet bandwidth — but, defying the trend, many of its creators are getting paid. Netflix bills itself as a disrupter of television — except that it is television, paying Hollywood and the TV industry almost $2 billion a year in licensing and programming fees.

The fundamental recipe for media success, in other words, is the same as it used to be: a premium product that people pay attention to and pay money for. Credit cards, not eyeballs.

Michael Wolff

In the internet era, TV is going through a transformation similar with music: yesterday a lot of content offered as bundles, even though consumers were only interested in a small portion of it (cable subscriptions and music albums), or ad-supported, with limited control over what content was playing (radio). Now both are moving to the on-demand model with streaming, but apparently only TV is managing to attract healthy revenues, whereas the music business is shrinking. Meanwhile, most Internet sites are stuck in the older model, chasing clicks and ad revenue, a practice that will probably prove unsustainable for most of them.

28 July 2015

The New York Times: “Decoding the Enigma of Satoshi Nakamoto and the Birth of Bitcoin”

Many concepts central to Bitcoin were developed in an online community known as the Cypherpunks, a loosely organized group of digital privacy activists. As part of their mission, they set out to create digital money that would be as anonymous as physical cash. Mr. Szabo was a member, and in 1993, he wrote a message to fellow Cypherpunks describing the diverse motivations of attendees at a group meeting that had just taken place. Some people, he wrote, are libertarians who want government out of our lives, others are liberals fighting the N.S.A., others find it great fun to ding people in power with cool hacks.

Nathaniel Popper

I admit I haven’t paid much attention to Bitcoin, I don’t understand how it works and why it should exist and this article hasn’t helped clarify these questions. The paragraph above caught my attention though: so the main ‘advantage’ is as anonymous as physical cash. The thing is, physical cash comes with a lot of downsides as well. It can be stolen much easier, because there is no verification that a certain person owns a certain amount of cash. It’s also an easy way to avoid taxes, since no central authority can control how much cash you receive or pay. This makes cash the preferred currency for the underground economy: prostitution, drug dealers, trading in illegal weapons and the list goes on. Bitcoin may sound good in an utopian anarchy, but in our real world I think it will do more harm than good.

27 July 2015

Google Photos: a missed opportunity

I’ve been meaning to write a couple of things about Google Photos ever since its launch about two months ago, but I kept putting it off because there’s not much to say. It was met with excitement in the press, mixed with a touch of Schadenfreude as takes another step away from Google Plus. Personally I’ve yet to find something exciting about this new product, probably because Flickr (which I doubt the tech press remembers still exists) had a very similar offer just days before: virtually unlimited storage, native apps to automatically upload your photo collection from the desktop, iOS and Android, object recognition in photos. There’s practically no reason to switch from one to the other currently.

26 July 2015

The Guardian: “Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world”

Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”. All manner of borrowings from Dune litter the Star Wars universe, from the Bene Gesserit-like mental powers of the Jedi to the mining and “moisture farming” on Tattooine. Herbert knew he’d been ripped off, and thought he saw the ideas of other SF writers in Lucas’s money-spinning franchise. He and a number of colleagues formed a joke organisation called the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.

Hari Kunzru

I always had the impression that the better the book, the harder it gets to translate it into a great movie – and Dune is the perfect example. It’s remarkable how it stayed relevant throughout the decades thanks to its varied themes and complexity. I got introduced into the universe by the original David Lynch adaptation, which sparked my interest for the books about 15 years ago. After reading the first novel I was amazed by how much better the book was, how much more there was to discover in the long, six-books series. I definitely recommend it in full!

25 July 2015

Aeon Magazine: “Are Americans’ ideas about war stuck in WWII?”

Massive blunders aside, it is also true that the US waged military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq about as well any modern nation could. The Pentagon had never seriously contemplated fighting a war in Afghanistan until 9/11 and yet, within weeks, US forces and their Afghan allies were overrunning the country. In 2003, Iraqi forces began crumbling within days of the onset of shock and awe, and Iraqi defence against the subsequent US ground invasion amounted to little more than a tactical retreat. But these momentary triumphs masked a deeper reality about modern conflict that troubled US pursuits from the beginning. Military victory in Iraq or Afghanistan was never, in fact, a real possibility. The very nature of war has changed so much in recent decades that military victory as we tend to imagine it, with winners and losers emerging after a fight with an unambiguous end, is utterly obsolete.

Mark Kukis

I would say this fundamental change is linked to globalization and the trend towards declining violence in the past decades. The loss of civilian lives is much less acceptable to the public opinion, faster communication and increased mobility enable smaller countries to resist longer and more efficiently to an external assault. Military action should be absolutely the last resort when resolving conflicts, especially since the short-term victory in Iraq inadvertently created a more complicated threat.

23 July 2015

WatchAware: “Developers are waiting on Apple Watch️”

In fact, have you tried Instagram on the Apple Watch? It’s terrible. It has no business being on there. It’s a worse experience if you ask me.

What we all need to understand is that it’s truly going to take time for great stuff to come out of the Apple Watch. It’s going to time and effort from Apple, developers, and the world around us to adapt. It won’t happen in the next week or even the next month. We should stop grading the Apple Watch on a weekly basis and just wait and see what happens by the end of the year. Then wait another six months or so. And then another.

Abdel Ibrahim

That’s right, the product itself is flawless, it’s the world around it that needs to change to accommodate the Apple Watch. The whole ‘you’re holding it wrong’ argument all over again. Maybe, just maybe, apps look terrible on an Apple Watch because the screen is too small for most day-to-day tasks – except notifications?

22 July 2015

Road Less Travelled: “I Quit: What Really Goes on at Apple”

I had organised a day off recently where all my family were visiting me from interstate. Despite this I had agreed to dial in to one conference call as the audience attending was ‘important’. Well it seems Important but disrespectful, as the audience never even turned up, yet I was still made to ‘dry-run’ the whole meeting from start to finish for an hour and a half as if there was full attendance and interest in what I was saying. So, as the food I had prepared for my family went cold, there I was stuck on the phone role-playing a fake menial meeting to satisfy managements ego.

For a company that claims to enhance people’s lives through technology – they know nothing about life. Nothing at all. I’m disheartened as I loved Apple. I loved their products and I’ve been an advocate for what they allegedly stand for. Unfortunately I’ve seen behind their glossy and polished stainless steel exterior, I’ve walked through their frosted glass doors and seen a toxic culture of manipulation, intimidation, threats and politics that are so incongruent to the values they preach.

Ben Farrell

: shiny on the outside, rotten on the inside?

20 July 2015

VentureBeat: “Symantec: Spam falls below 50% of all email for the first time since 2003”

The latest figure comes from security firm Symantec’s June 2015 Intelligence Report, which notes this is the first time in over a decade that the rate has fallen below 50 percent. The last time the company recorded a similar spam rate was back in September 2003, or almost 12 years ago.

More specifically, Symantec saw 704 billion email messages sent in June, of which 353 billion were classified as spam. At one of the peaks of the spam epidemic, in June 2009, 5.7 trillion of the 6.3 trillion messages sent were spam, according to past data from Symantec.

Symantec June 2015 Monthly threat report Spam rate

The decline of spam is usually attributed to legal prosecution against botnets (including by major tech companies like Microsoft), faster reaction times by network providers, improved blocking, and better filtering. The main goal is to make the business less lucrative: If you can slash profit margins for a spammer, you can slash spam itself.

Emil Protalinski

It’s slow progress, but with concerted effort from email providers and security companies, it can be done. I think the similarities with online advertising are striking: an entire industry making money by annoying users, tricking them into clicking, clogging the Internet with information nobody wants to see – except the people sending it.

500px ISO: “Taking ‘Long Exposure’ Photos without a Tripod or ND Filters”

The changes were triggered by two realizations. First: I realized that my photography gear had quickly become the limiting factor in my photography. Secondly: I realized that I spent too much time processing photos, which kept me away from traveling and shooting.

Recently, I returned from 10 days on a 5000 Km driving trip to the American Southwest where I put my new technique to the test in real travel photography scenarios. After I started to produce consistent results, I knew I was ready to share the technique so others can also achieve a long exposure effect without using a tripod and ND filters.

Viktor Elizarov

Photographer laments time spent processing photos. Photographer then invents a (not particularly original) technique to mimic long exposure through more processing. The irony!

19 July 2015

Ursula Vernon – Jackalope Wives

in Bucharest, Romania

Ursula Vernon - Jackalope WivesÎn nopțile cu lună în pătrar, antilopele își leapădă pieile animale și dansează pe întinderea încinsă a deșertului în muzica ce curge de nicăieri. La cel mai mic semn de prezență umană dispar în grabă în toate direcțiile pe picioarele lor agile. Dar uneori un tânăr îndrăzneț reușește să fure o piele de antilopă și să o ardă; fără pielea ei, femeia îl urmează supusă și devine soția lui pentru toată viața. Iar alteori tânărul îndrăzneț nu are curajul de a merge până la capăt…

Povestirea Ursulei Vernon, câștigătoare a premiului Nebula, îmbină cu succes atmosfera frontierei americane cu fantasticul. Antilopă nu e traducerea corectă aici, dar sună mai bine decât iepuroaice încornorate, jackalope fiind un animal mitic al preeriei, un soi de iepure mare cu coarne scurte și ascuțite. Întinderea deșertului din afara micilor comunități izolate ale oamenilor e populată de alte ființe magice, corbi, iepuri, șerpi cu clopoței, fiecare cu un aspect lumesc și unul sacru, în care iau formă umană și își dezvăluie abilitățile. Motivul acesta al transformării între om și animal este larg răspândit în folclorul din toată lumea, un exemplu similar cu cel de față fiind la noi Povestea porcului de Ion Creangă – și fascinația ielelor. Povestirea nu se oprește însă la extinderea unor teme mitice, ci aduce în discuție într‑o bună măsură responsabilitatea asupra propriilor gesturi și alegeri ca semn de maturitate, și de cealaltă parte libertatea lipsită de griji în mijlocul naturii. O poveste bună, atât ca stil cât și ca conținut, care își merită premiul.

Nota mea: 4.0

disponibilă online pe site‑ul Apex Magazine

18 July 2015

Jacques Mattheij: “If you’ve got nothing to hide...”

Since 1851 Amsterdam had a registry that recorded the following innocent pieces of data about the residents: Name, Date of birth, Address, Marital Status, Parents, Profession, Religion, Previous Addresses and Date of Death if deceased. For many years this system served well and was kept meticulously up to date.

Which undoubtedly well meaning civil servant long before World War II came up with the brilliant idea of registering religious affiliation during the census is lost in the mists of time. What we do know is that that little field caused untold thousands of people to die once the occupiers decided to use it to locate Jewish people. And there were many of those in Amsterdam, which was home to roughly 80,000 Jews (Dutch) of the total of about 104,000 in all of the Netherlands at the outbreak of the war. 70,000 of them had their data entered into the Amsterdam registry.

Jacques Mattheij

A good reminder (though certainly not the first) of why privacy is very important, probably more so in this modern age of online data. It’s probably one of the reasons why Europeans and Americans take opposing views on privacy: here in Europe, the memory of World War II and these tales of ethnic betrayal are still fresh, while the United States never faced a similar conflict within its borders. The internal conflicts in the States were out in the open: North against South, white vs. black, where no amount of privacy would hide your race.

13 July 2015

HTML5test: “Safari and IE”

The problem with Internet Explorer wasn’t the browser itself, it was the resources that were put into developing it. They stopped all meaningful development for 4 years. That hasn’t happened with Safari, and Apple will certainly not allow that to happen in the future. But is the amount of resources that Apple dedicates to WebKit enough?

Simply by looking at the release notes for Safari 9, I would say “No”.

Niels Leenheer

I tend to agree. I think that update frequency is a good way to estimate the relative importance of browsers to their parent companies: imposed a very fast pace from the start with , Mozilla followed soon after, was then forced to abandon its own rendering engine to keep up, even Microsoft is moving to a fast release schedule with the new Edge browser. Meanwhile is only updating Safari once a year, along with major OS updates. If this continues, it’s hard to see how Safari will still be in the race a couple of years down the road.

Quip Blog: “Introducing Quip Desktop”

As Quip’s list of customers has grown exponentially over the past year, our desktop web app has exploded in popularity. At the beginning of 2014, our desktop web app accounted for only 20% of our daily usage. Just a year and a half later, it's grown to 50% — driven almost exclusively by the rapidly growing number of people using Quip at work.

Quip Desktop Usage

As we watched our customers’ usage evolve, we knew we wanted to invest in the desktop experience. Most people in the world still use a native desktop app — Microsoft Office — to write their documents, and for good reason: native desktop apps are faster, work offline, and can provide a user experience that the web still can’t match.

Bret Taylor and Kevin Gibbs

Anyone who proclaims that desktop PCs are dead needs to look at this graph.

12 July 2015

David Brin - Existence

in Bucharest, Romania

David Brin - ExistenceSpre jumătatea secolului 21, lumea e un loc mult schimbat: China s‑a ridicat la statutul de putere dominantă, în timp ce Statele Unite s‑au fragmentat în urma atentatelor teroriste și a nesfârșitelor lupte pentru supremație între facțiuni. În afara controlului național, puterea reală se concentrează în mâinile unui grup restrâns de familii extrem de bogate. Cândva în trecut, revoltele celor mai săraci împotriva acestei noi ordini a dus la semnarea unui Acord, care a readus un calm nesigur pe glob. Dar la adăpostul Acordului noi tendințe se nasc, se confruntă și amenință să distrugă din nou echilibrul fragil: oameni de știință explorează căi de a accelera evoluția umană și de a copia mintea în mediul digital; semi‑inteligențe artificiale străbat rețelele, alături de infinite zvonuri și dezinformări lansate de grupări teroriste, de speculatori sau pur și simplu de puști plictisiți; din inima Americii conservatoare, Mișcarea de Renunțare se opune progresului, propunând o întoarcere la vremurile bune din trecut prin controale stricte asupra cercetării științifice. În mijlocul acestui tumult care amenință să dea în clocot, picătura de grație cade de unde lumea se aștepta mai puțin. Din câmpurile de resturi de pe orbită, un astronaut pescuiește un obiect cristalin care începe să radieze o lumină stranie, formând în curând pe suprafață cuvinte: primul mesaj extraterestru?

Cel mai recent roman al lui David Brin, Existence, atacă în forță unele din temele lui preferate, paradoxul lui Fermi, despre care mărturisea la un moment dat că a strâns zeci de teorii, apoi în plan secund modurile în care ar trebui să crească societatea umană, să se maturizeze evitând pericolele numeroase care ne‑ar putea arunca pe drumul spre extincție. Rezultatul este în același timp captivant și disonant, un caleidoscop de imagini și idei solide care se ține însă cu greu laolaltă.

10 July 2015

Tech.pinions: “The Voice UI”

As interesting as voice is as an interaction layer to most of us in the developed world, it may evolve to become central to those in the third world, particularly with things like smartphones. One of the primary problems, besides economics, to connecting the next billion humans to the internet is a lack of technical literacy and often the lack of literacy at all. There are massive pockets of humans who live in villages with maybe one TV and radio. Which brings up the interesting question of how would they use a smartphone even if they could afford one and the data plan attached to it? This is where things like voice as a user-interface may provide a solution.

Ben Bajarin

I’m constantly amused by these ‘analyst’ types who can extrapolate everything without second thought. People in the third world can’t read, so it must be easier for them to talk to a smart device, right? Well, if the voice recognition only understands English and a couple of other languages, the device will be equally useless in their hands. It’s rather a vicious circle: without better education, people in less developed countries won’t be able to read or speak foreign languages and thus have access to better technology and tools. On the other hand, voice recognition is very expensive, both as development costs and as system resources for running live on devices, so big tech companies are unlikely to invest in voice recognition for exotic languages and for small countries with little chances of future revenue. Or is the author proposing that every country should abandon its cultural heritage and just adopt English?

08 July 2015

9to5Google: “Google’s phone picker helps you find the right phone for you”

Around the time of the launch of the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, Google revamped its marketing for Android with the new tagline Be together. Not the same, uploading to YouTube a handful of heart-tugging videos featuring a slew of different animal pairs playing together and being friends. These ads were meant as a real-world analogous to how Google sees its Android operating system today, in 2015: one operating system that can power a bevy of different devices in different environments and use-cases. Not just phones with different screen sizes but also watches, TVs, and cars, to name the primary ones. With so much choice, Google has launched a new website which, based on user input, helps narrow down which phones might be right for different people.

Tom Maxwell

That’s actually a pretty good idea, considering the huge number of Android models and variants on the market. I tested the page by selecting  ‘Taking photos’, ‘Instant messaging’ and ‘Being productive’ – pretty relevant for the way I use my smartphone (you can select more than three criteria if you like) – and got as recommendations the LG G4, Motorola Droid Turbo and Nexus 6. Unfortunately there’s no way to choose phones that get fast and consistent OS and security updates, something that should be a priority for every user and carrier…

05 July 2015

În Londra la început de decembrie

in Bucharest, Romania

Prima mea ocazie de a călători la Londra a apărut legată de serviciu, un training de trei zile la început de săptămână. De vreme ce trebuia să ajungem cu o zi înainte ca să fim luni dimineața punctuali la birou, am ales un zbor matinal pentru a petrece ziua de duminică în capitala Marii Britanii. Am aterizat la Heathrow după 10 dimineața și m‑am mișcat rapid, pentru a ajunge la ora 1 la primul tur prin oraș pe care‑l rezervasem. La sosire, aeroportul nu mi s‑a părut atât de impresionant și aglomerat cum m‑aș fi așteptat – o impresie care urma să se schimbe la plecare. Așa cum fusesem instruit cu grijă pentru a reduce costurile, am căutat trenul rapid către gara Paddington, Heathrow Express, unde un bilet dus‑întors între oraș și aeroport costă 34£. N‑a fost nevoie de prea mult efort, pentru că am fost abordat pe culoar de un angajat, oferindu‑se să‑mi vândă bilete.

Odată instalat în tren, m‑am relaxat privind peisajul ce se desfășura din spatele meu. O înșiruire de clădiri abandonate sau pe jumătate terminate care mi‑a amintit cu amuzament de periferia Bucureștiului. În vâltoarea de mulțime de la Paddington m‑am ocupat întâi de lucrurile esențiale: un sandwich, o sticlă de apă, și un adaptor de priză fără de care Anglia e un tărâm interzis pentru echipamentele electronice. Pentru deplasare am cumpărat un abonament de o zi la metrou, destul de piperat, așa cum te‑ai aștepta: cam 7£ și jumătate.

04 July 2015

paperplanes: “Why hiring for ‘Culture Fit’ hurts your culture”

There’s one fundamental mistake in both using and looking for culture fit as a means for hiring: You’re assuming that your current culture is healthy and doesn’t need to be changed.

Using culture fit as a reason to fire or not to hire says more about you than it says about them. It says that you’re not willing to dig deep and figure out what exactly you think doesn’t match in your expectation and a candidates personality. It shows that your culture is a fixed property of your company and team, one that can’t be changed, one that is exactly where you want it to be.

“Culture fit” hampers the biggest benefit of any great team: diversity. Stop using it and start looking at the real reasons why you don’t want to hire someone. They might not be their flaws but yours.

Mathias Meyer

Absolutely! The same assumptions can hurt the work environment after people are hired, because ‘culture’ aspects new employees are ignorant about can contradict their expectations and values. Assumptions like ‘here we often do overtime’ or ‘we arrive on time for work even if there’s no real business need’ or ‘coffee breaks are wasted time’. New hires will be quietly frustrated by them, forced to abandon their own little conveniences to ‘fit in’ or to leave for a more flexible place. To quote some examples from the tech world, you often hear about Google’s ‘engineering culture’ or Apple’s ‘design culture’, but this internal culture bias caused deficiencies in other areas: has struggled for years to improve the design of its products, while is still weak in cloud services and data processing.