31 May 2016

Talking Points Memo: “A Huge, Huge Deal”

Now sure enough, this evening Forbes reported that the bankroller of the Hogan suit is none other than Peter Thiel, a prominent Silicon Valley billionaire who styles himself a libertarian but somewhat incongruously is a big time supporter of Donald Trump in addition to numerous other right wing causes, most of which have a distinctly Randian cast.

Regardless of his politics, this news should disturb everyone. People talk a lot about the dominance of the 1% or in this case more like a tiny fraction of the 1%. But being able to give massive political contributions actually pales in comparison to the impact of being able to destroy a publication you don’t like by combining the machinery of the courts with anonymity and unlimited funds to bleed a publication dry.


It all comes down to a simple point. You may not like Gawker. They’ve published stories I would have been ashamed to publish. But if the extremely wealthy, under a veil secrecy, can destroy publications they want to silence, that’s a far bigger threat to freedom of the press than most of the things we commonly worry about on that front. If this is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.

Josh Marshall

The sad and ironic side of this chilling story: the (alleged) reason why Peter Thiel secretly funded this coordinated legal assault on Gawker was he was upset that some ten years ago the publication revealed he was gay. At the same time, Thiel is a board member at Facebook, the social network which routinely ousts gay teenagers by carelessly changing privacy settings and pushing everything in public, regardless of personal consequences. If Thiel would really care about gay people’s privacy, you would think he would do something about it from his position at Facebook.

24 May 2016

The Wall Street Journal: “What to Know About Live Video, Social Media’s Latest Craze”

Why live video? My cynical take: It’s the latest gimmick to get us to record, share and watch more video. By 2020, 75% of the world’s mobile traffic will be video, according to an ambitious estimate by networking-equipment maker Cisco. The big brands want to get the jump on any competition and keep us locked into their money machines.

My optimistic take: It’s a powerful, spontaneous way to share your life and interact with people. Think of it as one-way video chat with two-way texting. A reporter live in Syria can read a viewer’s suggestion to move a little to the left to get a better view of the scene. A musician in his bedroom can take song requests. Aunt Ida and the rest of the fam can tune in to Stacy’s dance recital from across the country.

It may very well be the future of live TV. But live doesn’t always mean thrilling, and for now, everything looks more “Wayne’s World” than “World News Tonight.”

Joanna Stern

A couple of valid points regarding live video here. As I mentioned before low quality is a sore point that could drive people away after a few poor experiences. More challenging still: the privacy questions around live broadcasting when it isn’t very clear who the audience is – an issue that comes up again and again every time Facebook launches a new feature or tweaks the News feed. There are already reports of people accidentally broadcasting a live birth and of teenagers live-streaming sexual acts (on purpose in this case). Live Video might turn out to be a fad in social media, the porn business on the other hand could make big bucks from adopting this format.

23 May 2016

MIT Technology Review: “What if Apple is Wrong?”

Although locked smartphones have held up a small percentage of cases, Vance is convinced a law is needed before the number climbs much higher. To illustrate his point, he describes a case from 2012. A man in Manhattan was taking a video on his iPhone when he was shot and killed by someone who threatened to go after the eyewitnesses if they talked. Investigators got that video and convicted the killer. Now imagine that shooting happening today. If the victim made the video on a stand-alone digital camera, it would be fair game for cops with a warrant. Why should they be unable to see it just because he used an iPhone?


Instead, he says, Apple and Google should stop expecting special treatment not accorded to other corporations. For example, financial institutions had to build complex systems for catching money laundering and other crimes. Two companies that own 96 percent of the world’s smartphone operating systems have independently decided they’re going to choose where the line between privacy and public safety is to be drawn, Vance says. We should ask them to make the same kind of adaptations that we require banks to do.

Brian Bergstein

This battle between Apple and the FBI over the right to break into an encrypted smartphone has caused a heated debate over the past couple of months, unfortunately ending without a clear resolution, as the FBI found another way in and withdrew the formal request. I expect the issue to come up in force again and again, and this article comes very close to my own opinion. Apple’s position has been that it considers breaking the iPhone encryption ‘a slippery slope’ to more government surveillance (even though the company regularly lets law enforcement access cloud backups); but the opposite is equally true: refusing to comply with a legally issued court order is a slippery slope to granting private companies special rights in relation to democratic institutions – and in my mind this constitutes a bigger threat to free society.

22 May 2016

Marguerite Duras – Ochi albaștri, părul negru

in Bucharest, Romania
Marguerite Duras - Ochi albastri, parul negru

În căldura plăcută a unei seri de vară la malul mării, un tânăr privește ca lovit de fulger în holul unui hotel, recunoscând în mulțime chipul bărbatului de care e îndrăgostit. Acesta vorbește cu o femeie care stă cu spatele, apoi, la auzul propriului nume strigat de undeva din sălile ticsite de lume, dispare rapid fără să remarce prezența care‑i urmărește. Distrus de durerea despărțirii, tânărul se refugiază plângând într‑o cafenea, unde o femeie îl descoperă, și, copleșită de compasiune și curiozitate, i se adresează. Frapat de înfățișarea ei, cu ochi albaștri și părul negru, care i se pare leită bărbatului plecat, tânărul o invită în casa lui, o plătește să doarmă împreună cu el acolo. Iar ea, urmărită de propriile fantasme și iluzii, acceptă.

Stă în fața lui, gata să‑l ucidă fiindcă o trezește în felul acesta și tot atât de pregătită să stea în picioare în fața lui întreaga noapte. El nu știe de unde le vine femeilor această capacitate de a răbda tot ce li se întâmplă ca pe o poruncă divină.

După acest debut palpitant și nonconformist, povestea de iubire în trei își pierde însă tot avântul și se dizolvă în repetiții și scene confuze despre care nu putem fi măcar siguri că au loc în realitate sau în imaginația febrilă a unuia din protagoniști. Stilul nu ajută prea mult la clarificare, cu frazele scurte, parcă smulse în fugă, și continua ambiguitate a subiectului – de altfel nici unul din personaje nu este identificat cu un nume propriu, ci doar prin pronume sau atribute fizice. Dacă e să ghicesc după inserțiile scurte scrise ca niște indicații regizorale, autoarea intenționa ca scrisul să fie convertit într‑o piesă de teatru și jucat într‑un cadru sumbru și intim, cu cei doi în centrul atenției, luminați de o singură sursă de lumină; o dramă psihologică complexă despre secrete care se nasc într‑un cuplu, despre intimitatea care nu are nevoie de împlinire sexuală, despre izolarea de lumea exterioară, care nu poate întrezări ce se întâmplă cu adevărat în interiorul zidurilor. Rezultatul însă dezamăgește profund: în afara câtorva sclipiri de interes undeva pe la jumătate, când se discută tangențial despre bărbatul misterios și relația lui cu femeia, paginile se înlănțuie monoton fără să se întrezărească vreun scop sau rezolvare. Mi‑e greu să‑mi amintesc ultima carte atât de scurtă (puțin peste 100 de pagini) pe care mi‑a fost atât de greu s‑o citesc, în consecință v‑aș recomanda să nu vă apucați niciodată de ea.

20 May 2016

The Motley Fool: “Apple’s problems could get much worse”

In 2012, U.S smartphone users upgraded their phones every 22 months on average. The two-year contract, where smartphones were subsidized and sold at a discounted price by the major wireless networks, created an incentive for consumers to buy a new phone every two years. Also driving sales was the fact that smartphones were getting substantially better each year. Gains in performance and quality were meaningful, and two years was enough time to make most phones largely obsolete.

Today, the two-year contract is dead, and smartphones no longer improve dramatically each year. The upgrade cycle is getting longer while developed markets like the U.S. approach saturation.


Longer upgrade cycles will also put pressure on Apple. In the United States, the smartphone upgrade cycle has reached 29 months, according to Citigroup. This shift was likely a major contributor to Apple’s first iPhone sales decline, and there’s no reason why the upgrade cycle can’t continue to get longer. Apple’s phones in particular are high-quality and long-lasting, and without major improvements each year driving users to upgrade, the move to a three-year upgrade cycle isn’t out of the question.

Timothy Green

Wait, but I thought without carrier subsidies the upgrade cycle would become shorter, not longer?! Could all those ‘fanboy’-analysts (Apple itself included) have been wrong all along? – see the article below from 8 months ago. Lesson of the day: except for hard-core fans, people don’t simply throw money out the window whenever a new gadget hits the market.

17 May 2016

Todd W. Schneider: “Taxi, Uber, and Lyft Usage in New York City”

A study by Jonathan Hall and Alan Krueger reported that 42% of UberX drivers in New York work fewer than 15 hours per week, while another 35% work 16–34 hours per week. If those numbers are true, then a very rough guess might be that about half of those 25,000 vehicles make at least one pickup on any given day.

Yellow taxi utilization rates are much higher: the TLC statistics report that the average medallion is active 29 days per month, 14 hours per day (note that multiple drivers can share a medallion).

Todd Schneider

Interesting data about the competition between classic taxis and ride-sharing in New York. Some remarks based on the graphs in the article:

  • Although the number of trips provided by yellow taxis is in decline and Uber is on the rise, the total number of rides is more or less unchanged across the years – in January 2016 for example there were some 10,000 more trips per day compared to a year before, an insignificant increase (2%) compared to the total number of about 520,000 trips per day in New York. While the sample looks at a single city, in this case Uber’s narrative that it will ‘significantly expand the market’ for transportation services doesn’t really hold out.
  • The inefficiency of the ridesharing alternative is also striking: the combined fleet of Uber and Lyft had about 32,400 vehicles compared to 13,300 yellow cabs (2.4 times more), but it served only 165,000 trips per day compared to 352,000 trips by yellow cabs (2.1 times less). So overall a New York yellow cab is around 5 times more efficient in terms of car utilization. In the long run, it would therefore be preferable to expand the fleet of yellow cabs to cover demand instead of bringing more and more cars into car-sharing.

16 May 2016

Dan Grover: “Bots won’t replace apps. Better apps will replace apps.”

This recent “bot-mania” is at the confluence of two separate trends. One is agent AIs steadily getting better, as evidenced by Siri and Alexa being things people actually use rather than gimmicks. The other is that the the US somehow still hasn’t got a dominant messaging app and Silicon Valley is trying to learn from the success of Asian messenger apps. This involves a peculiar fixation on how these apps, particularly WeChat, incorporate all sorts of functionality seemingly unrelated to messaging. They come away surprised by just how many differently-shaped pegs fit into this seemingly oddly-shaped hole. The thesis, then, is that users will engage more frequently, deeply, and efficiently with third-party services if they’re presented in a conversational UI instead of a separate native app.

It’s that part which, having spent the past two years in my current job eating and breathing messaging, seems a major misattribution of what makes chat apps work and what problems they’re best at solving.

As I’ll explain, messenger apps’ apparent success in fulfilling such a surprising array of tasks does not owe to the triumph of “conversational UI”. What they’ve achieved can be much more instructively framed as an adept exploitation of Silicon Valley phone OS makers’ growing failure to fully serve users’ needs, particularly in other parts of the world. Chat apps have responded by evolving into “meta-platforms.” Many of the platform-like aspects they’ve taken on to plaster over gaps in the OS actually have little to do with the core chat functionality. Not only is “conversational UI” a red herring, but as we look more closely, we’ll even see places where conversational UI has breached its limits and broken down.

Dan Grover

Very – and I mean very! – long and insightful article about the recent ‘bot-fever’, including major initiatives from Facebook and Microsoft. The best case the author makes is comparing the number of taps needed to perform an action via a bot (over 70 to order a pizza) versus through the WeChat app (less than 20). And that’s assuming the bot understands your commands in the first place…

Reuters: “Apple invests $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing”

Apple Inc. said on Thursday it has invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, a move that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said would help the company better understand the critical Chinese market.

The tech giant’s rare investment gives it a stake in two burgeoning waves of technology – the sharing economy and car technology – as the iPhone business that propelled it to record profitability shows signs of maturing.

Julia Love

After regularly watching House of Cards for the past month, I can’t help but think this is some kind of political deal to appease the Chinese leadership and allow Apple to continue doing business in China.

15 May 2016

Alastair Reynolds – Slow Bullets

in Bucharest, Romania
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

La sfârșitul unui major război civil interstelar, Scur se trezește din stază pe o navă de transport eșuată în orbita unei planete, înconjurată de alți combatanți la fel de dezorientați și câțiva membrii ai echipajului depășiți de situație. Cu siguranța unui soldat și mânată de dorința de a se întoarce la familia ei, ea coordonează rapid formarea unui guvern improvizat și eforturile de a stabili unde au ajuns și de ce senzorii nu detectează nici o urmă a vastei rețele de navigație a imperiului. Adevărul se va dovedi greu de digerat și va împinge la limite comunitatea și așa fragilă formată din foști luptători și criminali de război.

Undeva la mijloc între o povestire scurtă și mega-romanele care l‑au făcut faimos pe Alastair Reynolds, Slow Bullets prezintă o formă aparte de space opera, mai concentrată ca dimensiuni, fără a renunța însă la intriga destul de bine conturată. Stilul e succint și franc, aproape spartan, dar se potrivește atât cu personalitatea pragmatică a personajului principal, cât și cu situația la limită care o obligă să consemneze aceste amintiri. Unele aspecte sunt la limita plauzibilității, începând cu rolul important pe care‑l câștigă Scur în societate și ușurința cu care impune ordinea peste sute de luptători nervoși – pentru asta folosește o metodă clasică, găsirea unui țap ispășitor, a unui dușman comun pentru grup – la problemele tehnice ale navei – te‑ai aștepta ca o tehnologie suficient de avansată pentru călătoria interstelară să aibă destule mecanisme de redundanță și posibilitatea de a fabrica componentele necesare pentru reparații. Personalitatea lui Scur este de asemenea puțin prea perfectă pentru context: o fiică devotată, forțată a se înrola, care reușește să treacă peste dorința de răzbunare pentru un plan nebulos care ar putea cândva în viitor să dea roade pe planeta de dedesubt. Iar celelalte personaje sunt schițate doar aproximativ, lipsite de adâncime, mai degrabă voci fără o prezență distinctă.

13 May 2016

Fast Company: “An Exclusive Look at Instagram’s new App Icon”

Simple as that seems, it was a high-stakes decision for Instagram, given that this one tiny icon represents so much of company’s identity—not to mention the fact that it has to serve a functional purpose, as a tappable icon for hundreds of millions of people. The team labored over it for nine months. At first, Spalter was most concerned with figuring out what elements people recognized most about the admittedly very complex and highly detailed Instagram logo. So he started by asking the whole company to draw the logo from memory in 10 seconds or less. That gave us a sense of what was burned in, Spalter says. What emerged were the camera lens, the rounded shape of the icon, and, surprisingly, the little black viewfinder in the top right corner.


Of course, the main thing that you’ll notice is the bright rainbow gradient behind the icon—an eye-grabbing detail meant to leap off the home screen, and add gravity to an icon that might be easy to miss if it were duo-tone. As Spalter explains, that’s an echo of perhaps the most beloved part of the old Instagram logo, the rainbow stripes on the top left that used to sit above the “Insta” logo script.

Cliff Kuang

My first reaction while reading this was: ‘there was a rainbow in the old Instagram icon? really?!

BirchTree: “Why A 20-40% Thinner Apple Watch is Not in the Cards for 2016”

What people really want to see are changes that would make a thinner model impossible. We want more processing power in the form of a much better CPU. We want an always-on display so we can always tell the time without tilting our wrist. We want to see more powerful applications that can do more things faster. We want to see more health sensors that will tell us more about our bodies than we maybe ever wanted to know. We want all these things and we also want twice as much battery life.

Matt Birchler

Reality check: people want more battery life (and more base storage) on iPhones as well. What did Apple deliver? Smaller battery capacity in a slightly thinner phone. Want more performance from your MacBook? You better be satisfied with a thin laptop with questionable performance, in rose-gold. So I wouldn't be at all surprised if the second version of the Watch will have similar specks in a thinner form (and more colors and bands of course). Nobody ever complained that iPhones and iPads were too thick, but that hasn’t stopped Apple from making them skinnier year after year.

Rumored - thinner Apple Watch 2

12 May 2016

The Verge: “Tesla’s ‘upgradable’ battery may change the way we buy cars”

Tesla is selling a car with an “upgradable” battery. Only it's not upgradable in the take-it-to-the-dealer-and-they’ll-swap-out-some-hardware sense. Instead, you give Tesla thousands of dollars to “unlock” hardware that’s already included in your car with an over-the-air software update. The Model S 70 includes a 70kWh battery pack that’s good for around 240 miles of range. For $3,000 more, there’s a Model S 75 with a 75kWh battery pack that gives an additional 19 miles of range from the extra 5kWh of energy storage. But both models use the exact same battery for logistics and manufacturing purposes.

At first blush, it feels weird. The notion of artificially locking you out of a piece of hardware that you own is, to say the least, odd. But I think that in pushing the boundaries of how it sells its cars and the options on them, Tesla is showing us the future of how the auto industry is going to work.

Jordan Golson

It feels weird because it’s a slimy move. Tesla is selling the exact same product at two different prices and changing people to unlock hardware they’ve already purchased! That’s like Apple selling you a 32GB iPhone where you can only access 16GB of memory and asking people to pay to unlock the extra storage… If Tesla can do this with in-car software alone, what stops them from artificially limiting the number of miles you can drive and then charging extra fees to unlock the car over and over again?

11 May 2016

Slight Future: “Getting rid of aggressive Safari promotions in OS X 10.10”

OS X try Safari promotional notification

The timing of the notification is worth noticing. The notifications shows up as the user is launching the browser of any competitor to Safari. Clicking the Later button in the notification or just ignoring it will delay the notification for three days. The notification will then show up again and again until the user eventually agrees to click Try Now or learns to live with the notification.

Trying out Safari will not immediately change the default browser on the system. The user will, however, be asked upon quitting Safari to change their default to Safari. More on this later.

Daniel Aleksandersen

Hmm, could this be the first step to Apple making Safari the only browser allowed on OS X (just like it is on iOS since day one)?

10 May 2016

Vanity Fair: “Marissa Mayer vs. “Kim Kardashian’s Ass”: What Sunk Yahoo’s Media Ambitions?”

Marissa Mayer Yahoo News

Finally, it seemed Mayer had an answer to the question of whether Yahoo was a tech company or a media company. It was both. We may not be the biggest technology company, but we’re the biggest technology company that understands media, she said at a Bloomberg conference last summer. No one argues with the first part of her statement; it’s the second half that is the subject of debate.

Only months later, however, it is all being reined in. While Yahoo is keeping individual publications dedicated to beauty, style, politics, movies, celebrity, and TV, among others, it is ending its “experiment” in creating smaller individual publications. As Yahoo approaches a potential sale, many fear the pattern of cost-cutting could continue. Yahoo is reverting to its natural form, a former staffer told me, a crap home page for the Midwest. Nelson, who has overseen the downsizing, is trying to maintain her good humor. She recently joked to colleagues that she thought she was being invited to the party, and then she showed up and they handed her a broom. (Nelson declined to address that comment, but told me that 2016 is a year of focus and that Yahoo is doubling down on the core content verticals where the company has always shown strength: news sports, finance and lifestyle.) Sarah Ellison

Could possibly explain why Yahoo is still so popular in Romania (emphasis mine).

09 May 2016

Jared Sinclair blog: “Rethinking Apple Music”

The social nature of taste, and of musical taste in particular, is so fundamental that it should be the organizing principle of Apple Music. Here’s how I think they should do it:

  1. Five New Tabs - Reorganize the top level of the app into five tabs that answer the fundamental questions: Keep Listening, Friends, Everyone, New Releases, and For You.
  2. Bye, Bye, iPod - Break out all the legacy iPod features into another app.
  3. Consistent Visual Grammar - Create a consistent visual grammar that allows albums, playlists, and radio stations to exist as siblings on any screen.
  4. Let Me Choose My Heroes - Make it easy for me to browse the music habits of my heroes, whether they’re celebrities or the cool kids down the street.
Jared Sinclair

Interesting thoughts, given recent rumors that Apple Music is in for an overhaul in iOS 10, but I don’t agree with some of the points. I’m all for finding out about new releases, but showing what’s popular among all users is a sure recipe for mediocrity. I’m not particularly sold on the idea of following what my friends are listening either, mostly because I don’t care; I saw the feature briefly in Spotify and used it for half an hour at most. Besides, how would Apple know who my friends are? Are we assuming all of them have subscribed to Apple Music? Highly unlikely! Apple has systematically cut back on social integration in iOS, so I doubt at this point Apple Music would be able to access lists of Facebook friends or people you follow on Twitter – or would be reluctant to do so in order to protect its users privacy (since I’m assuming Facebook would ask access to some personal data in exchange).

08 May 2016

The Guardian: “The refugee who took on the British government”

Evaluations of PBS relied on figures supplied by the Ethiopian government; there were huge, unexamined risks of corruption in funnelling the money through the Ethiopian treasury, and the metrics used to measure success were simply the things purchased by the programme, such as schools built, wells dug, pupils enrolled or teachers hired. The donors had, in fact, no way of measuring whether those things actually benefitted the populations concerned.

The panel’s indictment of the Ethiopia programme was unequivocal. There was, they wrote [download], a “thin” results framework for PBS, which “put little emphasis on the quality of or impact of basic service delivery”. After 10 years, despite all the billions of dollars spent, there was no way of knowing the impact of those teachers, nurses, and agricultural workers on the material lives of Mr O and his neighbours in the villages.

It was a technical acknowledgement of what Gambellans knew for themselves. One of the refugees in Dadaab who came from the same region as Mr O ruefully pointed out that in their old village there was a school under a mango tree. In the new village, donor money had paid for a new school building. The children, however, were too hungry to attend, roaming instead in the forest looking for food, “but now the government can show the world there is a ‘school’”.

Ben Rawlence

A chilling story about the abuses against local communities in Ethiopia fueled by foreign aid and government corruption. After recently reading The Dream of the Celt, a book detailing colonial abuses a century ago, it’s painful to see how easy people fall to the same error, thinking the Western way is ‘better’ and that we have some ‘moral obligation’ to spread that model everywhere by any means. The result is not progress and better lives, but the opposite: chaos, broken families, more refugees, environmental destruction.

Mario Vargas Llosa – Visul celtului‏

in Bucharest, Romania
Mario Vargas Llosa - Visul celtului

Născut în Irlanda dintr‑un tată protestant și o mamă care și‑a păstrat în secret religia catolică, Roger Casement își pierde mama pe care o adora de la o vârstă fragedă. Crescut în continuare de rude, tânărul păstrează vie amintirea poveștilor fascinante ale tatălui său despre campaniile în India, care îi trezesc dorința de aventură. Cuplată cu idealismul de adolescent, aceasta îl împinge la douăzeci de ani să se îmbarce pe un vapor spre inima Africii, pe care o explorează alături de pionieri faimoși ca Henry Morton Stanley, sperând să aducă civilizația și iluminarea triburilor sălbatice. Aici se lovește însă de realitatea crudă de la fața locului: regimul dur de exploatare impus de regele Belgiei Leopold al II‑lea distruge sistematic comunitățile pentru profitul coroanei și al indivizilor certați cu legea care au găsit aici o lume lipsită de autoritate în care își pot dezlănțui instinctele violente. Astfel, în calitate de consul al Marii Britanii, Roger ajunge să‑și dedice viața expunerii acestor crime împotriva umanității în speranța că presiunea guvernului britanic, puterea mondială la acea dată, va face dreptate acelor năpăstuiți. După Congo urmează jungla Amazoniei; mai târziu în Roger se trezește spiritul naționalist și începe să militeze pentru independența Irlandei, în a cărei situație, inclusă cu forța în Imperiul Britanic, vede o clară paralelă cu triburile lipsite de libertate, tradiție și cultură. Acțiunile lui îl pun însă în conflict cu țara pe care o servise cu loialitate până atunci, și ultimele sale luni de viață vor fi petrecute în detenție, judecat pentru înaltă trădare.

Mario Vargas Llosa ar trebui să fie un nume cunoscut cititorilor înfocați, în special după ce a primit în urmă cu câțiva ani Premiul Nobel pentru Literatură. E unul dintre scriitorii mei preferați, deși nu pot spune că‑mi plac romanele lui în mod necondiționat. Unele sunt superbe, redând cu o veridicitate dureroasă episoade tumultoase de istorie (ca Sărbătoarea Țapului) sau istoriile încâlcite ale unor familii (Conversație la Catedrala), altele de inspirație autobiografică (Orașul și câinii sau Mătușa Julia și condeierul), în fine altele, puține din fericire, care m‑au lăsat complet rece (Casa Verde). Din păcate Visul celtului, cel mai recent roman al său, înclină pentru mine destul de mult spre ultima categorie.

07 May 2016

The Guardian: “The struggle for Mali”

But there was a reason why the jihadists selected him as a judge. Daouda is a Salafist, a Saudi-trained scholar who had long preached against the Sufi practice of praying at the graves of holy men. He continues to espouse a deeply conservative faith that is at odds with the syncretic Islam, which blends many religious customs, that is traditionally practised in Mali.

Daouda eventually resigned from the sharia court, not because its sentences were too extreme, but because the jihadists refused to execute one of their own Arab fighters who killed a child. They believed that the soul of a white person is more important than the soul of a black person, he explained.

Despite his role in abuses during the occupation, Daouda has remained an influential figure in Timbuktu. With state authorities all but absent from the region, an investigation into his collaboration with the jihadists has been dropped, and his school remains one of the biggest providers of education in town.

Jack Watling and Paul Raymond

Another battleground against radical Islamism in Western Africa – and again, like the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, sponsored in secret by the Wahhabi religious movement from Saudi Arabia. Despite worrying trends, I find the quote above from Imam Daouda Ali Maiga promising; at least on the issue of racial equality there seems to be a common ground with conservative Islam. 

02 May 2016

re/code: “Why is Facebook doing so well?”

Facebook reported yet another quarter of strong user growth, in marked contrast to Twitter, which has been eking out only very modest growth recently. In fact, over the past year Facebook’s monthly active users grew by roughly two-thirds the size of Twitter’s entire base. This wasn’t a one-off — Facebook has grown by over 150 million users year on year for the past four years at least, and growth has actually accelerated recently:

Predictably, the strongest growth has been in the least mature markets — Asia and Facebook’s “Rest of World” geographic segments led the charge, with more than 75 million new users each over the past year, while North America and Europe added fewer users (but still grew decently). That reemphasizes the importance of Facebook’s efforts to grow usage in those emerging markets and, hence, projects like Free Basics (recently shut down in India) and its other connectivity projects. So far, though, it seems to be doing just fine in these countries.

Jan Dawson

While these markets deliver the highest growth, it’s interesting to note that the majority of Facebook’s revenues still comes from the core market (US & Canada) – a pattern it shares with advertising rival Google. The average revenue per user (ARPU) in that region is close to four times higher than average; Europe’s ARPU hovers just above the average, while Asia-Pacific ARPU is about half the average, and the ‘rest of the world’, at just under 1$ per user, is about four times lower than average. This could turn out to be a long-term threat if Facebook continues to invest heavily into infrastructure projects that don’t drive higher ARPU’s in those regions – an even bigger threat would be the emergence of local players that piggy-back Facebook’s network to deliver services to local customers, effectively stealing its business with little investment of their own. But if Facebook manages to monetize this huge third-world population, either through the main app or its acquired platforms, Instagram and WhatsApp, it could secure its advertising revenue for years to come.