29 July 2018

Some of the Best from Tor.com, 2016 edition

in Bucharest, Romania
Some of the Best from Tor, 2016 - Kindle Edition

După o lectură atât de masivă ca Disfuncția Realității am simțit nevoia de o schimbare de ritm. Aveam de multă vreme colecția de față pe Kindle (din câte țin minte descărcată gratuit), așa că m‑am decis să o încerc. Așa cum au remarcat alții în recenzii online, calitatea povestirilor este foarte variabilă, de la unele groaznice la altele remarcabil de reușite. Fiind vorba de 25 de texte, voi încerca să‑mi mențin remarcile scurte și la obiect, altfel riscă să devină unul dintre cele mai lungi articole de pe blog.

Colecția debutează din păcate cu una dintre cele mai slabe componente, Clover de Charlie Jane Anders. Un cuplu gay primește în dar o pisică de la un străin misterios, cu promisiunea că le va aduce noroc timp de șapte ani. După această perioadă de grație, străinul se întoarce cu o nouă pisică, avertizându‑i pe cei doi că norocul e posibil să li se schimbe. Se schițează o vagă poveste oarecum fantastică, sugerându‑se că pisicile erau de fapt oameni transformați printr‑o vrajă, dar mi‑a fost imposibil să găsesc vreun rost pentru care ai scrie ceva atât de insipid. Singurul motiv pentru care a fost inclusă este cel mai probabil că autorul este editorul colecției.

Următoarea, The Art of Space Travel de Nina Allan, vine cu o schimbare ca de la pământ la cer, o poveste subtilă, delicată și emoționantă despre relația dintre o fiică și mama ei. Undeva în deceniile următoare, când expedițiile spre Marte devin un spectacol recurent, rutina lui Emily, o cameristă din UK, este întreruptă de vestea că doi astronauți vor înnopta în hotelul unde lucrează. Evenimentul o face să reflecte din nou la propria ei copilărie, deoarece mama ei Moolie, bolnavă și senilă din cauza unui accident în urmă cu zece ani, a susținut dintotdeauna că tatăl ei este un astronaut decedat într‑una din primele expedițiile marțiene, evitând însă să dea detalii sau nume. Evident, adevărul se dovedește mai prozaic și mai aproape de casă. Deși am intuit ușor dezvăluirea din final, am fost impresionat de relația complexă dintre cele două, de iubirea și devotamentul fiicei, pentru că am trecut eu însumi prin experiența de a avea grijă unul singur de mama mea bolnavă.

26 July 2018

9to5Mac: “iPhone X sets new record for resale value, averaging 85% of retail price”

The iPhone X didn’t just set a new record for iPhone pricing, it’s also reportedly doing the same for how well it holds its resale value.

Liquidation specialist B-Stock says that high demand is seeing used models sell for an average of 85% of the original price…

B-Stock says that this is a substantially higher percentage than previous iPhone models sold at the same time in the product life-cycle.

Ben Lovejoy

The iPhone always had a higher resale value than competing Android devices, so that’s hardly news. For me, this piece of data raises another, far more interesting, question: I get that customers want to buy the iPhone X, but where is the supply coming from? New iPhone models are not due to launch until September, and it will take another couple of weeks for them to be widely available in stores. Together with the last statement, this implies a rather large population of Apple customers are dissatisfied with the X model enough to sell it now, and ‘downgrade’ to an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. It will be interesting to see how this reflects in Apple’s sale numbers, which are due shortly.

24 July 2018

The Verge: “The anti-monopoly case against Google”

These are monopoly networks, or networks that have many monopoly characteristics. So we looked to the past, trying to figure out what principles people used to regulate the railroads, the utilities, and other monopoly networks. And there were two primary principles people brought to bear on the transport monopolies.

One was non-discrimination, which is most important from the side of the producer. Every single customer has been trying to use these platforms, these transport systems, to get to market, has to be treated the exact same. You get the same service, you get the same pricing, and you all get in the same line. No discrimination, no playing favorites, no giving someone a better rate.

The second principle was no vertical integration. If you own a necessary monopoly that other people depend on, you cannot deal in products that compete with other companies that depend on you to get to market. If I am growing grain on my farm and I need to get on your railroad to get to the city where my grain’s going to be consumed, I do not want the railroad to buy the farm next to me. That’s because when I go to the depot, I know that every day when I try to take my grain into town, the railroad grain will be loaded before mine is.

Barry Lynn

From last year, but just as relevant today as back then – and fitting after the conclusion of another antitrust case against Google in the European Union. I found it amusing that most of the examples in the article involve Amazon and their distribution network, but Google breaks the same principles in the digital space. In the Android case for example, Google compels hardware manufacturers to include its own digital services, thereby hurting the chances of competing online services to gain and retain customers. The ideal situation would be to have several competing platforms on every distribution market, but digital network effects appear to favor a single big platform; baring that, platforms should be closely scrutinized to prevent anticompetitive behavior.

19 July 2018

Bloomberg: “The Eurocrat who makes Corporate America tremble”

A tall man rose and introduced himself as a banker. The EU has had trouble inspiring much affection among its citizens, he said. But here in Denmark, since Margrethe Vestager took over, the competition commission has become very close to people’s hearts. Shouldn’t the EU reach out more, to become similarly beloved?

It’s not in explaining the details or showing the process that you find acceptance, Vestager said. It’s in showing results, showing that it works. You don’t want to follow the baker in every step he’s taking. You just want to eat the pastry. We’re not asking people to love everything—just to love the big thing.

The EU’s best response to all this instability, particularly across the Atlantic, Vestager says, is to double down on its core values. I don’t think Europe should be defined by the U.S. administration. We have so much going for us. This is a great place. It’s a wonderful place to do business. In the choppy new world order, if the U.S. abandons its post at the tiller and retreats into itself, Vestager says, Europe can step forward to fill whatever vacuum might appear. There is no room for worry, no time to fret. I think it’s more an obligation to be an optimist. Pessimism will never get anything done.

Samanth Subramanian

Another old article, but this seems a good time to share it, since Margrethe Vestager just delivered another verdict against Google, fining the company over the bundling of Google services on Android devices. In a world where American tech giants are causing all sorts of havoc with their ‘disruption’ mindset – or simply evading tax bills on a scale rarely seen before – it feels good to have a clear, level head with the power to investigate their practices and hold them accountable, even if the process is long and complicated. I particularly like her quote in the closing of the article, even as my own views are more pessimistic.

16 July 2018

The Verge: “Instapaper is temporarily shutting off access for European users due to GDPR”

Popular read-it-later app Instapaper informed all European users today that its service would be temporarily unavailable starting Thursday, May 24th while it continues to make changes to ensure it’s compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The privacy rule, which sets new restrictions on how companies operating in the EU manage and share personal data, goes into effect on Friday, May 25th. News of the shutdown was reported first by writer and technologist Owen Williams.

Nick Statt

‘Temporarily’ is starting to sound more and more like ‘indefinitely’, as it’s been almost two months since, with no progress or updates. I personally didn’t rely on the service too much. My workflow was to send longform articles to my Kindle and read them without distractions, mostly on my daily commute. A couple of years ago, I started using Instapaper precisely for this reason: to more easily send articles to my Kindle, because the Kindle extension sometimes had trouble extracting text from complicated webpage layouts. As the extensions steadily improved, I needed Instapaper less and less for this purpose.

11 July 2018

TechCrunch: “Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up”

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

Matthew Panzarino

Must be some sort of redemption year at Apple: first acknowledging their hardware faults, and now this! Of course, everybody outside Apple’s bubble already knew this from the start, six years ago. Contrary to the promises from Apple and propaganda from fans, Maps has improved slowly – if at all – over the years, constantly lagging behind Google Maps.

02 July 2018

Hacker Noon: “Apple’s number is finally up”

I’m also pleased to be one of the many people who stood up to Apple in our own small way and put pressure on them to accept this.

But I’m also angry that I had to go through all this and even at the end Apple couldn’t be gracious about it.

The machine I returned for a refund? It took nearly a month for the money to come back to me. By then of course, I’d long already spent it all on the new machines. The second time I’ve had to spend thousands while waiting for Apple to give me my thousands back.

Even after I had it sent back to the UK, it took them days to collect it, days for it to get to them. A week or more for them to check it (again) and then start the refund process.

And amazingly they only pay refunds on Tuesdays (oddly, they accept payment 24 hours a day, every day of the year), and for some reason my refund wasn’t processed when it should have been.

Still, not to worry eh Apple? It’s only money. Ah hang on, no, let’s worry. It’s my money, and unlike Apple I don’t have a couple of hundred billion dollars sat around in offshore accounts.

John Risby

A twisted story on a couple of levels. First, that Apple has finally acknowledged design problems with their new keyboard mechanism, covering Mac models dating back to 2015 – the author of this article had no less than four devices with issues, which he returned or had repaired multiple times.

TechCrunch: “Instagram officially launches re-sharing of posts to Stories”

No, it’s not a “regram” option. Sorry! But today, Instagram is officially launching a new feature that will allow users to re-share someone’s Instagram post with their friends via Instagram Stories – something it confirmed was in testing earlier this year. The idea with the new re-sharing option is to give users a way to add their own commentary or react to a post, without repurposing it as their own – the way a regram (reposting to feed) feature would have permitted.

For example, you can now re-share something you saw posted by a brand or influencer on Instagram that you like, or add your own comments on top of a funny meme, or even tag a friend on a post you want them to see.

Sarah Perez

I think I may have finally found a way to use Stories on Instagram: sharing photos I like from my stream to my Story, effectively curating a feed of my favorite images. I’m actually quite impressed with the novel solution Instagram found: this way, what I share from others stays separate from what I post to my profile – which in my case are exclusively photos taken by me.