31 August 2015

Apple Music: the music is not enough

About two-three months ago I got a new idea into my head: I wanted to try out Spotify, which is not yet available in Romania. So what if I sign up from work, where proxies show that I’m connecting from France? Surprisingly it did work at first: I logged in with Facebook at work, then came home, installed Spotify’s desktop app and I was in! I couldn’t sign up for a paid account without a valid card from France, but for now I just wanted to get an idea about streaming. I’m not a big music consumer by any means; even though I have favorite artists and tracks, I don’t play music constantly. In fact, I generally work and concentrate better in silence, especially when I’m writing. Music is either distracting, when it’s some random track on the radio or TV, or it grabs all my attention if I put on something I really like.

Unfortunately, that trick didn’t last very long: a couple of weeks later, Spotify randomly logged me out and refused to let me back in, complaining my current country isn’t supported. I don’t feel like wasting my time trying to trick it again with proxies, so I gave up and uninstalled it. Fortunately, that was around the time when Apple Music launched. It was immediately available in Romania, so I jumped at the opportunity to test it.

29 August 2015

The New York Times: “The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá”

Carlos looked at Wilber, his mirror image. They took a quick peek at each other — they both shouted Ay! and turned their backs, covering their eyes, each turning red. Wilber started speaking, but Carlos was having a hard time catching what he was saying. Instead of rolling his R’s, Wilber spoke with hard D’s. The speech impediment! Carlos had one as a child but overcame it with speech therapy.

All four started comparing notes, quizzing one another, finding out which essential qualities the identical twins shared. Who were the crybabies of the family? Carlos and Wilber! Who had sweet temperaments? Jorge and William! Who were more organized? Carlos and Wilber! Who were the girl-­chasers? Carlos and Wilber! Who were the strongest? Jorge and William!

Even still, while Jorge was seeing sameness with every glance he stole at William, Carlos was seeking differences between him and his country double. Look at our hands, Carlos said. They’re not the same. Wilber’s were bigger, more swollen, marked with scars from countless quarrels with the knives of the butcher shop and the machetes he used in the fields growing up. Carlos, by contrast, frequently got manicures; his nails, as is not uncommon among male professionals in Colombia, were covered in clear gloss.

Susan Dominus

Part South-American telenovela, part serious scientific study about the effects of genes and environment on personal development, this is a fascinating story about a couple of identical twins mixed up after birth and raised separately until their chance encounter two decades later. Along with their conflicting emotions and difficulties adjusting to this new reality, a striking aspect of the article is the wide gap between living in the poor Columbian countryside and the capital, how this divide forces choices and shapes lives beyond the power and will of individuals.

The New Yorker: “The Hunt for El Chapo”

If Chapo’s escape suggested that the Mexican political system had been corroded by drug money, his subsequent years as a fugitive did not diminish this impression. He retreated to Sinaloa and expanded his operations, launching violent turf wars with rival cartels over control of prized entry points along the U.S. border. The sociologist Diego Gambetta, in his 1993 book “The Sicilian Mafia”, observes that durable criminal enterprises are often woven into the social and political fabric, and part of their “intrinsic tenacity” is their ability to offer certain services that the state does not. Today on the streets of Culiacán you see night clubs, fortified villas, and an occasional Lamborghini. Chapo and other drug lords have invested and laundered their proceeds by buying hundreds of legitimate businesses: restaurants, soccer stadiums, day-care centers, ostrich farms. Juan Millán, the former state governor of Sinaloa, once estimated that sixty-two per cent of the state’s economy is tied up with drug money. Sinaloa remains poor, however, and Badiraguato, the municipality containing Guzmán’s home village, is one of the most desperate areas in the state. There had always been some sympathy for the drug trade in Sinaloa, but nothing deepens sympathy like charity and bribes. Eduardo Medina Mora, Mexico’s Ambassador in Washington, described Guzmán’s largesse in the state: You are financing everything. Baptisms. Infrastructure. If someone gets sick, you provide a little plane. So you have lots of local support, because you are Santa Claus. And everybody likes Santa Claus.

Patrick Radden Keefe

If the government is unable to provide safety and services for the citizens, somebody else will – at a higher price. While this underground economy does redistribute some wealth to the poor, it’s just enough for survival; it’s not in the best interest of the criminal group in control to let the poor masses grow richer, more educated, and eventually become independent of the drug money.

Amusing side-note: how the drug lords use Twitter and Instagram to issue threats to their enemies and boast their rich lifestyle.

23 August 2015

Trei noi povestiri de Haruki Murakami

in Bucharest, Romania

După dezamăgirea de anul trecut cu 1Q84 am evitat să mai citesc alte romane de Haruki Murakami. Dar în urmă cu câteva luni am descoperit trei noi povestiri traduse și publicate în The New Yorker, le‑am încărcat pe Kindle și le‑am citit pe rând, printre lecturile mai lungi din ultima vreme. Conțin aceleași teme aproape obsesive, același stil bine-cunoscut care combină izolarea, melancolia lipsei de direcție în viață și un strop de magie, dar și unele din punctele slabe care m‑au iritat în 1Q84.


Haruki Murakami - Kino

După ce‑și surprinde soția în pat cu un coleg de serviciu, Kino divorțează fără multe discuții, demisionează de la locul de muncă și deschide un mic bar pe o străduță retrasă din Tokyo. Clienții nu se înghesuie în sala inundată de muzica lui preferată de jazz, dar Kino savurează noua lui viață molcomă. Singurii vizitatori fideli sunt Kamita, un tip înalt care apare seara și citește într‑un colț al tejghelei, și o pisică neagră.

As he waited for his first customer, Kino enjoyed listening to whatever music he liked and reading books he’d been wanting to read. Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let the solitude, silence, and loneliness soak in. He listened to a lot of Art Tatum solo-piano pieces. Somehow they seemed to fit his mood.

După o aventură de o noapte cu o străină însă atmosfera se schimbă: pisica dispare fără urmă și Kamita îl avertizează că trebuie să plece departe de bar pentru că altfel se vor petrece lucruri neplăcute. Călătoria, ieșirea forțată din zona de confort, îl confruntă pe Kino cu durerea pierderii soției, sentimente pe care le evitase din dorința de liniște sau frica de a suferi. Cel puțin asta am înțeles eu din finalul relativ confuz și brusc. O poveste despre relațiile umane și nevoia de a merge mai departe, de a accepta trecutul pentru a putea lua viața de la capăt, asezonată cu aluzii la forțe supranaturale care interacționează subtil cu lumea palpabilă.

Nota mea: 3.5

disponibilă online pe site‑ul The New Yorker

22 August 2015

The Guardian: “How Yarmouk refugee camp became the worst place in Syria”

This was how Yarmouk entered the world’s consciousness: a refugee camp designed as a safe haven for the Palestinian diaspora that had become the worst place on earth. No electricity for months. No piped water. No access for food. Worse still, no chance for people to leave or return, except for a handful of emergency medical cases or the few who had the means to pay people-smugglers to get them through the multiple checkpoints. Some called it Syria’s Gaza, but its plight was even worse, because the siege was more comprehensive; Yarmouk was a prison from which there was no escape.

But notoriety can be short-lived. When Gaza came under Israeli bombardment in July 2014 and the world’s media rushed to report the carnage, Yarmouk slipped back into obscurity. The opening in the siege that UNRWA had negotiated in January 2014 applied only fitfully throughout the year: food deliveries were only possible on 131 days, and often less than half the amount required got through. Since 6 December, the siege has once again become impassable. UNRWA reports that it has not been able to deliver any food at all for the past 12 weeks. We are getting new reports of people dying of malnutrition and of women dying in childbirth, but nothing can be confirmed, said Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s spokesperson. Unlike in Gaza, where UNRWA has several offices, the organisation cannot enter Yarmouk at all.

Jonathan Steele

An ongoing humanitarian crisis where nobody seems to be able to intervene, to put a stop to the suffering and misery. It hurts children the most, not only physically, but through the lack of education it limits their future perspectives – if they manage to survive, that is. And worse, the feeling there is no escape for the people trapped inside…

The New York Times: “ISIS and the Lonely Young American”

James Foley, a journalist she had never heard of, had been beheaded by ISIS, a group she knew nothing about. The searing image of the young man kneeling as the knife was lifted to his throat stayed with her.

Riveted by the killing, and struck by a horrified curiosity, she logged on to Twitter to see if she could learn more.

I was looking for people who agreed with what they were doing, so that I could understand why they were doing it, she said. It was actually really easy to find them.

She found herself shocked again, this time by the fact that people who openly identified as belonging to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, took the time to politely answer her questions.

Rukmini Callimachi

Taking advantage of the weak and lonely, the sign of a horrible organization.

On the other hand, what kind of person sees people beheading journalists and befriends them because they are polite on Twitter?

19 August 2015

The Guardian: “Where is Google taking us?”

He references two cultural commandments as his guiding principles. One is a line from the founders’ letter that Brin and Page wrote when Google was mostly just the two of them, 16 years ago: Focus on the user and all else follows.

We call it the toothbrush test, Pichai says, we want to concentrate our efforts on things that billions of people use on a daily basis. For it to work for us, it has to be global. Search started that way. You could be very educated or you could be a rural kid somewhere, but as long as you had access to Google connectivity it was the same thing. To me there was something very democratising about that.

Tim Adams

I think the quote above captures ’s long-term mission very well. But at the same time, their global ambitions are what concern many people and can easily be perceived as arrogant, a ‘we know better’-attitude. Despite their declared ‘focus on the user’, it’s evident many of Google’s initiatives failed to satisfy user needs – you only have to look at the string of failed social networks launched in the past decade – so people are naturally reluctant to embrace every new radical project coming from the search giant. I fear that, after the new Alphabet conglomerate structure comes into place, Google will be more transparent, but even less accountable to shareholders and users everywhere.

18 August 2015

REDEF: “Less Money, Mo’ Music & Lots of Problems: A Look at the Music Biz”

“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” Taylor Swift wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July of 2014 (months before pulling her catalogue from Spotify), “Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Yet of all the mass media, music is perhaps the least rare, most substitutable and in many instances, the most imitable (just ask Max Martin or Dr. Luke). For nearly half a century, however, the major labels (and therefore their artists) have held a de facto monopoly on the music industry and its output – all by controlling distribution. The costs of recording, producing, distributing and marketing a studio album – not to mention getting a track played on national radio stations – were so significant that few could do so at scale without the major labels. Furthermore, the major labels had scale-related incentives that limited the number of artists they were willing to support. As a result, the supply of both artists and music was fundamentally constrained.

Digital distribution ended this artificial scarcity, and with it the idea that music – even great music – was scarce. Spotify, for example, counts more than 30 million tracks, each available anywhere and anytime. Because of this, music lovers can now listen to a much greater variety of music – not just the few albums they’ve bought or what’s on locally programmed radio (which is heavily influenced by the major labels, too). This competition has inevitable economic consequences: prices go down and average units sold per album, track and artist drop. This is particularly true for online streaming. Though every music listener has favorite artists, consumption of music tends to be more passive and voluminous than any other media category. The average Spotify user, for example, listens to more than 1,300 tracks per month. When consumption is that great, the value of any one stream becomes slight. The economics bear this out: if we focus exclusively on Spotify paid subscribers ($9.99/month), the implied value of any one stream was $0.0076 in Q1 of 2015.

Liam Boluk

Great overview of the music industry, covering everything from the status quo a decade ago to the major shifts in consumption and distribution the business is experiencing today and how it will change the future of music.

17 August 2015

Above Avalon: “Finding iPad’s Future”

On closer examination, there are cracks in the iPad story. School districts have seen mixed results with iPad adoption programs. We have seen a few high-profile disasters where the combination of a lack of curriculum built for the iPad, along with high costs, made the iPad not the magical device in the classroom once thought. The idea of replacing student books with iPads never materialized due to poor incentives in the textbook industry, not to mention technological limitations found with the device.

The scope of iPad in enterprise still remains mostly a dream. We are seeing more stories about enterprise embracing Macs, not iPads. Meanwhile, consumer usage on iPad has moved away from content creation apps. Take a look at the iPad App Store to see the lack of compelling apps for larger screens for additional evidence of iPads being used much more for basic content consumption.

Neil Cybart

iPad’s problem has existed for a while and it’s nice that Apple supporters are finally waking up to it. But I don’t think solving it has anything to do with refreshed hardware or minor software changes like split-screen – I would even say that, if someone thinks that’s a valid solution, they haven’t actually understood the problem.

16 August 2015

Khaled Hosseini – Splendida cetate a celor o mie de sori

in Bucharest, Romania

Khaled Hosseini - Splendida cetate a celor o mie de soriDeși ne‑ar plăcea să credem că literatura și arta în general sunt universale, abordând cu nonșalanță și curaj temele pe care oamenii le evită în contextele sociale obișnuite, adevărul este că unele subiecte sunt mai populare, mai bine reprezentate. Puține sunt romanele din occident care vorbesc despre lumea arabă de exemplu, și cu atât mai puține despre Afghanistan. Romanul de față, bestseller în topul New York Times din 2007, acoperă o perioadă de câteva decenii din istoria recentă a acestei țări mărginașe, care a ajuns în atenția internațională doar atunci când marile puteri au găsit de cuviință să‑și poarte războaiele pe teritoriul ei.

Personajele pe care le urmărim de‑a lungul anilor sunt două femei, aduse laolaltă de circumstanțe greu de controlat. Cea mai în vârstă, Mariam, fiica nelegitimă a lui Jalil, un influent om de afaceri din Herat, și‑a petrecut copilăria alături de mama ei, ascunsă de ochii acuzatori ai comunității. După moartea acesteia însă, soțiile lui Jalil îl conving să o îndepărteze, măritând‑o cu un cizmar mult mai vârstnic din Kabul, Rasheed. Cea tânără, Laila, s‑a născut pe strada pe care locuiau Rasheed și Mariam, al treilea copil într‑o familie iubitoare de intelectuali care pun puțin preț pe tradițiile islamice. La vremea adolescenței însă, conflictul între guvernul susținut de sovietici și mujahedinii înarmați de americani cuprinde capitala, spulberând numeroase cămine, printre care și cel al Lailei. Rămasă fără nici un alt sprijin, acceptă din disperare oferta lui Rasheed de a‑i deveni a doua soție, alegând fără să știe o viață de abuzuri și restricții la care Mariam se resemnase deja de mult.

12 August 2015

Fusion: “26 reasons Google created Alphabet”

C is for CEOs all the way down! By setting up Alphabet as a holding company, a bit like Berkshire Hathaway, Larry can hand out many more CEO titles than he was ever able to before. Why do Silicon Valley senior management types keep on working when they already have more money than God? In many cases it’s because they want to be a tech-company CEO. Larry is now able to promise that job to lots of people, which is fantastic for talent retention. (It’s not just Alphabet’s constituent companies which will have CEOs. Even within the Google subsidiary it’s clear that Susan Wojcicki will remain the CEO of YouTube, which means that she’ll be a CEO reporting to a CEO reporting to a CEO.)

D is for debt service. Google has a modest amount of debt – about $8 billion – which is incredibly low for a mature company of its size. At some point, much like Apple, it’s likely to start levering up, issuing more debt and buying back its own stock. But lenders don’t want to lend to a company in the business of crazy moon-shots like self-driving cars, because those businesses don’t make money, and also because they come with massive contingent liabilities. (Just imagine the possible class-action suits if the cars get hacked and start killing people.) So there’s now a borrowing vehicle – the Google subsidiary – which is effectively insulated from the other subsidiaries, and which will therefore be able to borrow at a lower rate than the parent company could.

Felix Salmon

Late last year, the European parliament passed a motion to split up into separate companies as part of an antitrust investigation; apparently someone high-up at Google took them very seriously.

11 August 2015

Baekdal: “You can’t compare Facebook and YouTube Views”

The way Facebook does videos is like that of an outdoor billboard. As you walk down the street, you look at its direction and you might get influenced by it. But you weren’t looking for what that billboard had to offer, nor did you really have an intent on acting on it. It just happened to cross your field of view.

This is not a bad thing, per see, because that billboard did the job of creating exposure, and we know that exposure is one of the many important elements of branding. But it’s still just exposure.

YouTube views, on the other hand, are more like when you walk into a restaurant and you look at the menu. You see 25 different things you can buy, and you finally decide that you are going to try the number 4 sandwich. In this case, the level of exposure for each item is much lower, but for that one item you picked, the value is many times higher.

Facebook is wonderful for many things, but it’s designed around that one behavior that I call the break. YouTube creators are designed more around the behaviors I call the story, the passion and the recline.

Thomas Baekdal

Very interesting article, a must-read in the middle of accusations that is lying and stealing their way to online video domination. It’s certainly amusing to see Facebook being accused of copyright infringement seeing that started much the same way. It’s too early to tell how this will play out, but I don’t think YouTube’s long-form creators will be threatened by Facebook video in the long run. With it’s massive selection, YouTube is the new television, while Facebook is the commercial break.

10 August 2015

The Notebook of Aaron Gustafson: “Ramblings on New Browser Features, Interoperability, Craft, and the Future of the Web”

The whole “polyfill it and move on” movement has him a little annoyed. I share his sentiment. I don’t think a JavaScript-based solution should be considered “good enough” for interop. JavaScript is not guaranteed. Moreover, JavaScript implementations are also never going to be as fast as a browser implementation. If browsers want to pick up a polyfill and implement it behind the scenes, that’s fine because it will run faster, but loading up our websites with potentially megabytes worth of polyfills in order to use new “standards” seems ludicrous.

As an industry, we are doing an awful lot of navel gazing. We are spending more time solving our own development problems (legitimate in some cases, fabricated in others) by throwing more and more code at the problem. As a consequence, our users are paying the price in slower sites, heavier web pages, poor performance, and bad experiences (or no experience). And, on top of that, we’re solving our problems not their problems.

Aaron Gustafson

I couldn’t agree more. Even if I’m involved with web design only as a hobby, maintaining my small blog, I sigh every time someone solves design problems with JavaScript, new shiny tools and, maybe worst of all, experimental features available only in one rendering engine. Where does a small site owner or business find the time to learn and implement new tools and features (hopefully correctly!) that will become obsolete in a couple of months? Where will they find resources to debug inevitable issues when specs change and browsers implement new versions, breaking older sites? It’s preferable to wait until features are stable enough to be available and consistent across recent browser versions – and even so, in most cases you need to ensure some compatibility with older browsers, depending on what your visitors use.

I can’t seem to find enough time to work on the modern look I have in mind

Inside Intercom: “Product lessons we can learn from Google+”

Of all the things we need to deal with in life, relationships with other people are the most complicated and messy. All the way from marriages to initial introductions. They involve the deepest of human emotions, from who we see ourselves as, how we project ourselves to others, what we desire, who we want to become, the groups we feel a part of, who and how we love, how we think about mortality. No wonder that social design is hard.

I believe that one reason behind the rise of WhatsApp is that it solves the “Circles” problem in a way that embraces the idea that life is messy. Whilst Circles, and indeed Facebook Lists and Facebook Groups, all assume that the group is the defining object, with clear boundaries, WhatsApp does not. Much of WhatsApp usage is group conversations but the subtle, critical difference is that these groups are typically not permanent or sustaining. It is not a stable set of people discussing multiple things in sequence over time. It is one-off combinations of people grouped together for something temporal, like an event, a concert, a party, a weekend away. The groups then decay gracefully. When necessary they are rebuilt from scratch. Often there is a defining event that brings a group of people together, people are added, they communicate, share content, it gets messy, but then it dies.

Paul Adams

An older article, but nevertheless relevant, now that Google Plus is openly scaled back and its more successful components were spinned off into standalone products. Maybe it’s a necessary step to regain much-needed focus, as the author of the article concludes, but it certainly looks like a retreat from the outside.

08 August 2015

The Guardian: “Why China’s stock market bubble was always bound to burst”

It is hard to imagine that all this behind-the-scenes manipulation will not dent the confidence of investors in the future: the already tenuous connection between share prices and actual corporate value will now be even more uncertain, when the government, in effect, has its thumb on the scales. Added to that fear is the real possibility that shareholders who re-enter the market may find themselves in the future holding untradable and therefore illiquid shares if the government again decides to freeze market operations in response to a sharp decline. Almost immediately after the crash, the overseas investors who had bought into Chinese companies through the Hong Kong exchange began pulling their capital out of Chinese stocks – the most prolonged period of net outflow since the programme of trading via Hong Kong began last November.

So it is still far too early to speak of China’s stock markets as having “stablised” or “returned to normalcy”. (To begin with, many company shares are still not trading.) By making the risky choice to move in and prop up share prices as they fell, party leaders effectively took ownership of markets whose proper functioning requires them to remain independent. Evidently, they felt that their credibility as China’s grand air-traffic controllers was being put at risk – that they would lose credibility, respect and even face if they did not confront the plunging market head on and at least give the appearance of being in control.

Orville Schell

A ‘lose-lose’ situation: letting markets fall without intervention would have damaged the image of the central leadership and, more importantly, the confidence of locals putting their savings into Chinese stocks. But intervening damages the confidence of foreign investors in the long run, which could have negative consequences for future growth and China’s ambitions. If the government continues this policy of artificially propping up markets it will gradually drive away long-term investors, the economy will accumulate large imbalances and the state will end up owning large amounts of shares in inefficient companies that should have been restructured or closed long ago. I think it would have be healthier to just let the storm pass, allowing the markets to stabilize at lower values. China has enough potential that shares would have gone up organically again, just a bit slower than before.

The Guardian: ‘It’s not like Argo’: the trials of a tour guide in Iran

Henry flourished the most recent issue of the Economist, which described Iran as “the fist that most threatens the world”. To the people around the table, it seemed preposterous that the stimulating and welcoming country in which they had spent the past week could be characterised so unthinkingly. Henry and the other Americans around the table attributed the flood of misinformation in their country to the power of Israel, the rise of an undiscerning Islamophobia, and the replacement in US public discourse of calm analysis by the politics of the gut. Not that these ailments are a monopoly of the US, as Ed pointed out. Where we are sitting now is considered by the Foreign Office to be as dangerous as Baghdad.

A sense of satisfaction pervaded the group that night. The tourists liked Iran and felt they understood it. But this feeling did not survive the second half of the tour.

Christopher de Bellaigue

Fascinating – and rare – account of a guided trip through Iran, one of the most inaccessible countries to visit for Westerners. The most interesting aspect of the story is seeing how outside perceptions can change when visitors come in touch with the actual place and people – and how much tourists’ experiences can be shaped by the agenda of their hosts. My final impression was that there’s much more left untold and unseen, many aspects of the country and culture still carefully shielded from public view.

04 August 2015

The Guardian: “The end of capitalism has begun”

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Paul Mason

And here I thought the most basic need of humanity was ‘sex, drugs and rock n’ roll’!

I stopped reading this article about half of the way through (apparently there’s also a book expanding on these ideas), so I probably shouldn’t comment on it. But it’s based on such an obviously wrong premise that I can’t help pointing it out: information is not free! It might look that way to a casual user copying files between folders on his PC or to someone who spends too much time browsing Facebook, but on a larger scale the costs of the information economy become much clearer. Generating, storing and using information costs energy and requires massive amounts of storage space – it’s no coincidence tech giants like , and Amazon each maintain their own server farms. Interpreting data also requires powerful algorithms written by engineers, which need to be paid. While the cost of single pieces of information may be vanishingly small, they add up when looking at the data economy as a whole.

03 August 2015

‘Touch to Search’ coming to Chrome on iOS

About two months ago, a new search feature was launched for on Android called Touch to Search. And now I noticed the prompt to enable it on my , so I gave it a try. For now, the feature is apparently not available to everyone, according to the support documentation – maybe it rolls out to more powerful devices first. It can be turned on and off from the browser Settings, under ‘Privacy’ ► ‘Touch to Search’.

As the name implies, when you tap a word in Chrome a new card shows up at the bottom of the screen with the logo and the highlighted text. Tap it or drag up to expand the card on the bottom half of the screen – at this point you can see a definition of the word or the first search results for the phrase. You can also drag it all the way to the top, in which case the search results will replace the original page and you can browse through them like on any regular Google search. When you’re done you can dismiss the overlaid results by dragging down. Or you can tap on the search term at the top to search for something else or refine the query, but it that case the results break off from the original page and to return you need to switch to that tab in the background. It’s a useful feature, a good touch-based implementation of the desktop version, where you right-click a text selection to search with the default search engine. Safari has something similar, but it’s a multiple-step process: highlight some text, click ‘Define’ (which shows results from the local dictionaries) and then ‘Search Web’.

02 August 2015

Kim Stanley Robinson – Icehenge

in Bucharest, Romania

Kim Stanley Robinson - IcehengeÎn urmă cu câteva săptămâni, sonda New Horizons a străbătut cu succes sistemul Pluto, începând să transmită regulat noi imagini și măsurători către echipele de cercetători care așteptaseră momentul de ani întregi. Ca să marchez oarecum acest eveniment, am început să citesc o carte care era de mult pe lista de așteptare, legată de Pluto: Icehenge de Kim Stanley Robinson. Premisa e destul de transparentă din titlu: undeva în secolul 26, prima expediție umană pe planetă descoperă un monument gigantic la polul nord format din zeci de blocuri de gheață aranjate în cerc după modelul megaliților de pe Pământ.

Din păcate cam atât se alege din ideea asta interesantă de‑a lungul romanului: în jurul ei se țes numeroase ipoteze, de la cele mai trăsnite legate de Atlantida sau alte civilizații preistorice ori extraterestre la cele cu ceva plauzibilitate științifică. Dar de‑abia în ultima din cele trei părți Icehenge ocupă un rol relativ central, în timp ce prima se desfășoară cu mult înaintea descoperirii (și probabil a construcției) monumentului și nu are vreo legătură cu el în afara unor schițe vagi menționate în treacăt.

Legăturile dintre aceste trei fragmente sunt clare, dar destul de largi, fiind despărțite de zeci sau chiar sute de ani și având personaje diferite. Fiecare ia forma unui jurnal relatat la persoana întâi, cu multe divagații și întoarceri înapoi în timp pentru a retrăi amintirile personajelor. Prima voce este a Emmei Weil, un inginer biolog care se trezește implicată într‑o revoltă împotriva guvernului autoritar marțian și obligată să lucreze la sistemul de menținere a vieții al navelor rebele. În a doua parte, cea mai lungă din câte țin minte, arheologul Hjalmar Nederland se străduiește să scoată la iveală dovezi concrete despre istoria zbuciumată a lui Marte, pe care guvernul a mușamalizat‑o cu grijă de sute de ani. În timpul excavărilor din New Houston descoperă jurnalul Emmei și devine fascinat de el, atât ca mărturie a perioadei revoluționare cât și prin posibilele conexiuni cu recent-descoperitul Icehenge. În final, Edmond Doya, un strănepot îndepărtat al lui Nederland, devine el însuși interesat de Icehenge în urma unei întâlniri neașteptate pe Titan. Convins că teoria predecesorului său e eronată, el conduce o nouă expediție către Pluto pentru a elucida misterul și a‑și valida propria versiune a genezei monumentului.

01 August 2015

The Guardian: “Farewell to America”

Obama’s ascent, I was told by many and frequently during his campaign, would change these odds. Whenever I asked How? no one could say exactly. But his very presence, they insisted, would provide a marker for my son and all who look like him. I never believed that. First of all, one person cannot undo centuries of discrimination, no matter how much nominal power they have. Second, given the institutions into which Obama would be embedded – namely the Democratic party and the presidency – there would only ever be so much he could or would do.

This most recent episode of racial awakening has lasted longer than most. For the last couple of years the brutal banality of daily life for some people in this country has become visible and undeniable to those who have no immediate connection to it. But nothing new has happened. There has been no spike in police brutality. What’s new is that people are looking. And thanks to new technology (namely the democratisation of the ability to film and distribute), they have lots to look at. As a result, a significant section of white America is outraged at the sight of what it had previously chosen to ignore, while a dwindling but still sizeable and vocal few still refuse to believe their eyes.

Gary Younge