30 October 2016

Engadget: “Elon Musk’s grand plan to colonize Mars”

Musk estimated that, using traditional methods, it would cost $10 billion per person to travel to Mars, and he wants that figure to drop to roughly $200,000 per person. Eventually, the cost of a Mars move will be below $100,000, Musk said. A large part of lowering that cost is creating spaceships with reusable parts, Musk said. The ITS’ in-orbit refueling stage is crucial to SpaceX’s plans, since it lowers fuel expenditures at liftoff and features fully reusable boosters, tankers and ships. Each booster can be used 1,000 times; each tanker 100 times and each ship 12 times.

Initial trips will take about 100 people to Mars at a time, but Musk said he expected that number (and the size of each ship) to rise in due time. The ITS itself will be a welcoming, fun place, as Musk describes it, featuring zero-gravity rooms, movie areas, a cafeteria and other entertainment options. It’ll take just a few days of training to prepare for a trip to Mars, Musk said.

Jessica Conditt

With each new announcement, Elon Musk reinforces my impression that he’s a megalomaniac who lost touch with reality. I mean, just a year ago he proposed nuking the planet, now he wants to colonize it over the next 10 years?! And all that without any plan for sustainable living on the surface. He will basically send people to death, but hey – they made history, right?

Peter F. Hamilton – Fallen Dragon

in Bucharest, Romania
Peter Hamilton - Fallen Dragon

Descoperirea călătoriei prin găurile de vierme undeva în secolul 21 a dat startul unei epoci de expansiune lungă de secole, în timpul căreia umanitatea a fondat zeci de colonii pe planetele învecinate. Dar corporațiile care au finanțat colonizările agresive au ajuns la fundul sacului; investițiile inițiale sunt imense, în schimb rata de recuperare foarte înceată, iar coloniile au nevoie de susținere constantă pe perioade îndelungate înainte de a deveni sustenabile. Astfel că, amenințate de spectrul falimentului, multe corporații au început să fuzioneze sau să‑și vândă participațiile în colonii celor mai mari și mai profitabile. Acestea la rândul lor au găsit soluția perfectă de a fructifica aceste active toxice: raiduri militare de pradă, o piraterie modernă deghizată sub sintagma de misiuni de ‘colectare de active’. În curând pe Pământ rămân doar câțiva jucători, dintre care corporația Zantiu-Braun e cel mai important. Următoarea lor campanie vizează Thallspring, o idilică lume tropicală cu o populație ușor de controlat, pe care ZB a colectat‑o prima oară în urmă cu zece ani. Dar de data asta localnicii sunt mai bine pregătiți și în orașul de coastă Memu Bay se organizează o rezistență secretă. Iar în interiorul rangurilor soldaților ZB, locotenentul Newton, veteran al campaniei de acum un deceniu, își face propriile planuri de colectare de active pe planetă, pentru a se putea retrage mai repede din armata corporatistă cu o sumă frumușică în buzunar.

Deși pornește de la o premisă similară cu mai faimoasa Steaua Pandorei, Fallen Dragon evoluează într‑o direcție destul de diferită. În loc de o societate multi-planetară aproape perfectă, eliberată de sărăcie, boli și chiar de moarte, romanul de față adoptă un ton mai pesimist – n‑aș zice realist pentru că în ciuda efortului autorului de a ne convinge de asta, situația economică nu mi s‑a părut deloc plauzibilă. Ar fi fost mai simplu pentru toată lumea să se dezvolte un sistem comercial între colonii și Terra, coloniile exportând materii prime și diversele substanțe unice descoperite pe planetă. Într‑adevăr prețurile ar fi semnificativ mai mari decât ce se poate mina din asteroizii din sistemul solar, pe de altă parte comerțul nu ar fi avut nevoie de tehnică militară, contingente de soldați care trebuie antrenați, hrăniți și transportați în campanii lungi de luni de zile. Navele comerciale ar putea fi mai mici, mai rapide și eficiente fără sistemele de menținere a vieții și armament. Probabil Hamilton a modelat acest univers după corsarii care străbăteau oceanele Pământului în secolele trecute, dar rezultatul nu e nici pe departe la fel de convingător pe cât a crezut el.

28 October 2016

Steve Blank: “Why Tim Cook is Steve Ballmer and why he still has his job at Apple”

One of the strengths of successful visionary and charismatic CEOs is that they build an executive staff of world-class operating executives (and they unconsciously force out any world-class innovators from their direct reports). The problem is in a company driven by a visionary CEO, there is only one visionary. This type of CEO surrounds himself with extremely competent executors, but not disruptive innovators. While Steve Jobs ran Apple, he drove the vision but put strong operating execs in each domain – hardware, software, product design, supply chain, manufacturing – who translated his vision and impatience into plans, process and procedures.

When visionary founders depart (death, firing, etc.), the operating executives who reported to them believe it’s their turn to run the company (often with the blessing of the ex CEO).  At Microsoft, Bill Gates anointed Steve Ballmer, and at Apple Steve Jobs made it clear that Tim Cook was to be his successor.

Once in charge, one of the first things these operations/execution CEOs do is to get rid of the chaos and turbulence in the organization. Execution CEOs value stability, process and repeatable execution. On one hand that’s great for predictability, but it often starts a creative death spiral – creative people start to leave, and other executors (without the innovation talent of the old leader) are put into more senior roles – hiring more process people, which in turn forces out the remaining creative talent. This culture shift ripples down from the top and what once felt like a company on a mission to change the world now feels like another job.

Steve Blank

The post title says it all really. Not necessarily a new analogy – it’s been tossed around for at least two years if not more – but it becomes more and more relevant as the years go by without meaningful improvements to Apple’s products. The single product introduced during Cook’s tenure as CEO, the Apple Watch, has failed to meet the high expectations and, with no official figures from Apple, third-party analytics firms report massive declines in shipments in the past quarters. The launch of an Apple Car looks increasingly unlikely, their software doesn’t rise up to the level of the competition, even the wireless headphones that were supposed to be a ‘courageous’ step forward towards a wire-free future got indefinitely delayed. And the recent launch of new MacBook Pro models has left fans angry and disappointed. That’s not a good foundation to build the next decade on.

26 October 2016

Seth’s Blog: “Hardware is sexy, but it's software that matters”

Apple started as a hardware company with the Apple II. Soon in, they realized that while hardware is required, it’s software that changes the world.

Over the last five years, Apple has lost the thread and chosen to become a hardware company again. Despite their huge profits and large staff, we're confronted with (a partial list):

  • Automator, a buggy piece of software with no support, and because it’s free, no competitors.
  • Keynote, a presentation program that hasn’t been improved in years.
  • iOS 10, which replaces useful with pretty.
  • iTunes, which is now years behind useful tools like Roon.
  • No significant steps forward in word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, file sharing, internet tools, conferencing, etc. Apple contributed mightily to a software revolution a decade ago, but they’ve stopped. Think about how many leaps forward Slack, Dropbox, Zapier and others have made in popular software over the last few decades. But it requires a significant commitment to keep it moving forward. It means upending the status quo and creating something new.
Seth Godin

A common theme for Apple critics lately. I find it amusing that the two examples John Gruber offers to counteract the points above are iMessage and FaceTime; while they may be good products, they’re restricted to Apple hardware and as such limited in their ability to ‘change the world’. They fit with Apple’s integrated strategy, but offer very little benefit for people who choose competing products. And I wouldn’t call them innovative by any measure: there were other video conferencing software available (most notably Skype) before Apple introduced FaceTime, and the market for mobile messaging is full of alternatives today, apps that can work on Android devices and even Windows. There is little reason to use Apple’s software when other products offer more features and better compatibility.

Medium: “Apple Strategy 2017. Very important change to iPhone coming”

The next iPhone will be, I am told, a clear piece of glass (er, Gorilla Glass sandwich with other polycarbonates for being pretty shatter resistant if dropped) with a next-generation OLED screen (I have several sources confirming this). You pop it into a headset which has eye sensors on it, which enables the next iPhone to have a higher apparent frame rate and polygon count than a PC with a Nvidia 1080 card in it. Thanks to foveated rendering.

The clear iPhone will put holograms on top of the real world like Microsoft HoloLens does.

Also, updates from new sources: expect battery and antennas to be hidden around the edges of the screen, which explains how Apple will fit in some of the pieces even while most of the chips that make up a phone are in a pack/strip at the bottom of the phone.

I’m quite convinced that most of us will be wearing mixed reality glasses three to four years from now, whether from Microsoft, Magic Leap, Apple, Amazon, Meta, or something from China (expect to see new brands evolve, just like DJI is now the biggest drone manufacturer).

Robert Scoble

I’m quite convinced Scoble is suffering from aggravated post-traumatic syndrome after Google discontinued Glass. Let’s give him a couple more years in peace to fully recover – preferably until he retires.

25 October 2016

Michael Tsai Blog: “Apple and Kapeli respond about Dash”

The fact that the Dash account was terminated seems to support Popescu’s contention that that account was never warned. Otherwise, surely this conversation would have happened sooner, and it would have remained a private matter. Why would Apple go to the trouble of closing the account, apparently not telling him it was because of the linked bad account, then helping him to restore it, after telling him that the decision couldn’t be appealed?

My guess is that Apple found the bad account, and warned it, but did not initially realize that the linked account was “good.” When they shut down the bad account they just shut down all the linked ones, too. In many cases, that’s probably the right thing to do. But this time they didn’t check, and that turned out to be a mistake. When Apple learned that Popescu planned to tell the full story, without admitting wrongdoing, they decided to get their version, sliming him, out first.

Michael Tsai

I wasn’t planning on commenting on this tricky situation until I realized it involved a Romanian developer. Having leaned that, there’s probably more to the story than he admits, since we Romanians do like to cut corners – especially around arbitrary and convoluted rules. On the other hand, Apple has handled the situation particularly poorly. The common sense solution would have been to simply ban the fraudulent account and warn the other owner of violations detected on a linked account. The best part about this: even devoted Apple supporters have come to the same conclusion.

24 October 2016

ProPublica: “Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

Julia Angwin

Good thing I have already opted out of most of Google’s web tracking tools by disabling my search history in its various forms.

08 October 2016

The Atlantic: “The Obama Doctrine”

Obama has come to a number of dovetailing conclusions about the world, and about America’s role in it. The first is that the Middle East is no longer terribly important to American interests. The second is that even if the Middle East were surpassingly important, there would still be little an American president could do to make it a better place. The third is that the innate American desire to fix the sorts of problems that manifest themselves most drastically in the Middle East inevitably leads to warfare, to the deaths of U.S. soldiers, and to the eventual hemorrhaging of U.S. credibility and power. The fourth is that the world cannot afford to see the diminishment of U.S. power. Just as the leaders of several American allies have found Obama’s leadership inadequate to the tasks before him, he himself has found world leadership wanting: global partners who often lack the vision and the will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is. Obama believes that history has sides, and that America’s adversaries—and some of its putative allies—have situated themselves on the wrong one, a place where tribalism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, and militarism still flourish. What they don’t understand is that history is bending in his direction.

If you are a supporter of the president, his strategy makes eminent sense: Double down in those parts of the world where success is plausible, and limit America’s exposure to the rest. His critics believe, however, that problems like those presented by the Middle East don’t solve themselves—that, without American intervention, they metastasize.

At the moment, Syria, where history appears to be bending toward greater chaos, poses the most direct challenge to the president’s worldview.

George W. Bush was also a gambler, not a bluffer. He will be remembered harshly for the things he did in the Middle East. Barack Obama is gambling that he will be judged well for the things he didn’t do.

Jeffrey Goldberg

Interesting perspective on the foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration for the past seven years. There’s no doubt president Obama managed impressive breakthroughs, the latest being the ratification of the Paris climate treaty, announced together with the Chinese president no less.