24 July 2016

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o – Râul care ne desparte

in Bucharest, Romania
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o – Râul care ne desparte

În inima Africii oamenii și‑au dus de veacuri viața pe coamele gemene Kameno și Makuyu, îndeplinind cu sfințenie ritualurile zeului Murungu, luptând împreună împotriva triburilor vecine Maasai sau între ei când rivalitatea dintre ei creștea. Printre coame, prin Valea Vieții, ca o graniță care în același timp unește triburile, curge râul Honia unde se duc vitele la adăpat și pe malul căruia se desfășoară cele mai sacre ritualuri ale triburilor Kikuyu, circumciziile tinerilor care devin adulți. De câțiva ani însă o nouă putere și‑a făcut simțită prezența în zonă: în Siriana au sosit misionari creștini care au răspândit religia omului alb până pe coame. În Makuyu, cel mai înfocat susținător al lor este piosul Joshua, care sfidând tradiția interzice celor două fiice ale sale să fie circumcise, văzând în asta un obicei păgân. De cealaltă parte a râului, pe Kameno, bătrânii înțelepți, îngrijorați de influența noii religii, își pun speranțele de rezistență în Waiyaki, fiul vraciului Chege. În urma unei viziuni, acesta își trimite fiul la școala din Siriana pentru a învăța secretele omului alb și a le întoarce împotriva lui. Va reuși tânărul Waiyaki în această misiune dificilă de a reconcilia tradiția și modernul, de a împăca forțele potrivnice care amenință să sfâșie cele două coame?

Cu un stil înșelător de simplu și subtil, care se mulează bine cu personajele lui adolescente, autorul african ne poartă în mijlocul rezistenței împotriva colonialismului din centrul Africii. Romanul destul de scurt reușește să acopere o gamă largă de teme relevante atât pentru timpul și locul acțiunii cât și pentru restul lumii. Conflictul între tradițiile ancestrale și nou-venitul creștinism sunt doar o mică parte din acestea; în primul rând acest conflict se mulează pe rivalități mai vechi între cele două culmi, fiecare atribuindu‑și un rol privilegiat în mitul creației al lui Murungu. La asta se adaugă tensiunea dintre intransigență și toleranță, o luptă mult mai inegală, căci de partea toleranței se află prea puțini membrii ai tribului, în frunte cu Waiyaki, care vede în educație singurul mod de a scoate triburile din izolare, de a le da o voce cu care să‑și poată apăra interesele. În schimb majoritatea preferă învinuirile și stârnirea fricii pentru a ațâța o tabără împotriva celeilalte.

19 July 2016

Vanity Fair: “How Mark Zuckerberg Led Facebook’s War to Crush Google Plus”

Google Plus was Google finally taking note of Facebook and confronting the company head-on, rather than via cloak-and-dagger recruitment shenanigans and catty disses at tech conferences. It hit Facebook like a bomb. Zuck took it as an existential threat comparable to the Soviets’ placing nukes in Cuba in 1962. Google Plus was the great enemy’s sally into our own hemisphere, and it gripped Zuck like nothing else. He declared “Lockdown”, the first and only one during my time there. As was duly explained to the more recent employees, Lockdown was a state of war that dated to Facebook’s earliest days, when no one could leave the building while the company confronted some threat, either competitive or technical.

Antonio García Martínez

Flashy title, but the article itself describes very little about this so-called ‘war’ other than Mark Zuckerberg calling a high-priority, all-staff meeting. I guess the minutes from this gathering were pretty concise: ‘we’ll just sit back and watch Google shoot itself in the foot’.

18 July 2016

Vanity Fair: “Twitter is Betting Everything on Jack Dorsey. Will it Work?”

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Dorsey since I first met him, a decade ago, it’s his ability to think big. He isn’t exaggerating when he says that he wants people to check Twitter each morning as if they were wondering whether they needed an umbrella. When I asked him how he’s going to get there, Dorsey said that he plans to double down on what the company is best at, which is being the platform where people weigh in on live events. If you were to describe what Twitter is, he said, now moving on to his second beef taco, it’s live news, entertainment, sports, and chat.

I asked him if he worried that Mark Zuckerberg has lately been using that same word—“live”—on his earnings calls, noting that this is also Facebook’s new focus.

Yes, he said candidly. He did very much.

Nick Bilton

It’s certainly healthy to be concerned with Facebook’s plans when you’re in direct competition, but I wouldn’t spend to much time worrying. Facebook has a habit of shifting direction every couple of months, depending on the current whim of its users – just look at the number of standalone apps they launched only to abandon months later, at the number of times Facebook has ‘reinvented’ news. That’s what makes Facebook both so successful and so average at the same time. If Twitter has great products it will attract people no matter what Facebook does. But maybe I’m biased since I’m already one of those people who checks Twitter almost every morning to see what’s happened in the world since I went to sleep.

Above Avalon: “Apple’s Plan to Own the Entire Music Industry”

Apple’s ambition in music continues to be misunderstood. Most of the focus remains on the battle between Apple Music and Spotify for paid music streaming subscribers. However, the much more interesting development relates to Apple’s desire to grab music mind share. Apple is aiming to leverage its strong balance sheet to control the music narrative, and in the process, remove all of the oxygen from the music streaming industry.

Following the Beats acquisition, I see Apple striving to take back the music narrative with the goal of eventually owning the entire music industry. There are four distinct steps to Apple's strategy.

  1. Pivot into paid music streaming.
  2. Leverage a strong balance sheet to control the music narrative.
  3. Remove oxygen from the music streaming industry by grabbing revenue share.
  4. Create an environment for independent artist sustainability.

Although each step becomes progressively more difficult, ultimately, the four are interrelated.

Neil Cybart

That sounds like a great plan! – if you’re the type of mindless Apple fan who thinks the world would stop spinning without the company. For the rest of us, this sort of strategy should send chills down the spine. Essentially, what the author speculates here is that Apple is planning to use its massive cash reserve to pressure both its distribution rivals (the Tidal acquisition may only be the first step) and the major record labels, to eventually drive them out of business and replace them, creating a massive monopoly. Which is the absolute worst situation both for users – who will probably see the free streaming tier removed and subscription prices going up – and for artists – if you’re complaining about low royalty payments now, wait until there’s a single major label on the market and you don’t even have the option of negotiating a better contract with the competition. Apple sure has some funny concepts about what constitutes competition.

16 July 2016

Fusion: “With a single vote, England just screwed us all”

I’m sitting here looking at my burgundy-red British passport, with EUROPEAN UNION emblazoned in gold letters across the top. I’ve fastened the shirt I’m wearing with cufflinks which have the UK flag on one side, and the German flag on the other—my proud European heritage. I’m thinking about everything I loved about growing up in London: the food, the culture, the fact that in one teeming, vibrant city you could find the entire world. I’m thinking about the single happiest moment that I ever saw my (German) mother, when I ran into the kitchen and told her to come, watch the TV, the Berlin Wall was coming down, the unthinkable was happening. Europe was really, truly, coming together.

And I’m grieving. Because that world—the world of hope, the world of ever-closer union among countries which for centuries would kill each other by the million—came to a shattering end on Thursday.

This vote is also the grimmest of reminders of the power still held by the older generation, not only in the UK but around the world. Young Britons—the multicultural generation which grew up in and of Europe, the people who have only ever known European passports—voted overwhelmingly to remain. They’re the generation that just lost its future. Meanwhile, Britons over the age of 65, fed a diet of lies by a sensationalist UK press, voted by a large margin to leave. Most of them did so out of a misplaced belief that doing so might reduce immigration, or make them better off, or save them from meddling bureaucrats. In a couple of decades, most of those voters will be dead. But the consequences of their actions will resonate far beyond the grave.

Felix Salmon

As I heard about the referendum results in the UK that was my first reaction as well. Ever since I developed some sense for politics and democracy my opinion was that older people should lose their voting rights at some point – maybe a couple of years after retirement. If young people are not allowed to express their opinion before an arbitrary age, the same can be implemented for old people as a symbolic symmetry, and because their decisions are likely less concerned with the future and more with their own well-being at an old age.

12 July 2016

Medium: “John Gruber Misses the Point Completely about Lightning Headphones”

What is good for Apple is not inherently good for you. There are times when what Apple does is in sync with what benefits their customers, such as in areas of privacy and security. But that same company released Apple Maps when it was literally years away from being ready for the real world, because it benefitted them to not deal with Google. The same company that forced U2 into everyone’s iTunes libraries without consent as a marketing ploy. The same company that made their music app frustratingly difficult to use so they could shove their subscription service into every nook and cranny of the user interface. Apple is not on your side by default.

John can argue all he wants that this is all somehow in the best interest of customers by virtue of it being great business for Apple, but it simply isn’t true. It also won’t be a hill that many customers will die on at the point of sale. People will not buy into Lightning headphones, they will put up with it. This transition will be painful and difficult because of just how thoroughly entrenched the current solution is, how little the new solution offers, and how many complications it adds for customers. Nilay is correct, it is user-hostile, and it is stupid.

But hey, it’s great for Apple.

Steve Streza

This rumor has been floating around literally for years and it has resurfaced again in the past weeks as people – or better said the tech press – are starting to get anxious about the next iPhone launch in the fall. Unfortunately, as much as people have debated the issue and examined it from all possible angles, there’s no tangible benefit for users in removing a standard connector for either Apple’s proprietary solution or wireless headphones. Wireless may sound like the better alternative, until you realize that people would need to charge wireless headphones regularly and they drain the smartphone battery faster than wired headphones (someone shared a statistic on that on Twitter, but I can’t seem to find that tweet anymore), so you also need to charge the phone more often… I don’t know about you, but while travelling I prefer to carry around a single pair of headphones rather than two different pairs (one for the laptop, one for the phone) or a pair of headphones accompanied by a charger – as if I don’t have enough chargers to carry between the different models needed for the iPhone, tablet and camera! I’m slowly getting tired of Apple’s restrictive and controlling modus operandi; at this rate I won’t be buying an iPhone the next time when I am due to upgrade my smartphone and I will do so with a sense of relief.

11 July 2016

The New York Times: “Tripping Down a Virtual Reality Rabbit Hole”

The HTC Vive headset

But in many ways, the simulation is too immersive. After spending a few weeks with two of the most powerful V.R. devices now on the market, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. I suspect that V.R. will be used by the masses one day, but not anytime soon. I’m not sure we’re ready to fit virtual reality into our lives, no matter how excited Silicon Valley is about it.

Getting completely submerged in a simulation is good for things like games, but for most media total immersion feels like a strangely old-fashioned experience. Because it leaves your body helplessly stuck in the physical world while your mind wanders, V.R. doesn’t fit with the way most people work at a computer, watch TV or encounter many other digital experiences.

Virtual reality is the opposite of a smartphone, a device that offers you quick hits of the digital world as you go about in the real world. Instead, V.R. is at this point an experience best left for the privacy of one’s cave — a lonely, sometimes antisocial affair that does not allow for multitasking, for distraction or for the modern world’s easy interplay of the real and the digital.

Farhad Manjoo

As a fan of science-fiction literature, I’ve encountered virtual and augmented reality numerous times – it plays an important role in the novel I am currently reading, Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds; Existence by David Brin also portrays its regular use very vividly. In most cases though, virtual reality is achieved through neural implants (or something similar) feeding information directly to the brain, thus integrating seamlessly into our regular perception of the environment. The way I see it, the gap between the current attempts at mass-market virtual reality and this ideal imagined in sci-fi is as large – if not larger – as the leap from the first, room-sized, clunky mainframes to smartphones. So I doubt we’ll see virtual reality become as mainstream as personal computers earlier than a decade from now.

The Wall Street Journal: “Apple in Talks to Acquire Jay Z’s Tidal Music Service”

Apple is in exploratory talks to acquire streaming-music service Tidal, headed by rap mogul Jay Z, according to people familiar with the matter. Terms of the potential deal aren’t known.

The talks are ongoing and may not result in a deal, these people said. Apple is exploring the idea of bringing on Tidal to bolster its Apple Music service because of Tidal’s strong ties to popular artists such as Kanye West and Madonna.

Daisuke Wakabayashi, Hannah Karp & Patience Haggin

Amusing to see this shared on Daring Fireball right next to a post about Spotify complaining about restrictive App Store rules. His comment: the real message here is that Apple Music is kicking Spotify’s ass – if that were true, why would Apple need to buy another streaming service to improve Apple Music? I tend to think the opposite is true: Spotify is doing fine despite harsh competition and Apple Music is having a hard time hanging on to its subscribers:

06 July 2016

Game of Thrones season 6 micro-reviews

in Bucharest, Romania

From relatively humble beginnings, Game of Thrones became such a phenomenon that nobody (in the English-speaking world at least) can stop talking about it and share their favorite characters, theories and opinions. While watching the first three episodes of the latest season, I had a couple of small reactions that I didn’t have a chance to share on Twitter, so in the end I decided to skip their annoying character limit and write about it on the blog.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the books and at this point I don’t see any reason why I should waste my time with the series, especially since the official end is nowhere in sight.