30 January 2020

Chris Zacharias: “A Conspiracy to Kill IE6”

The first person to come by our desks was the PR team lead. He was a smart, dapper man who was always bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. Except this time. This time he was uncharacteristically prickly. He had come in on an otherwise normal day to find email from every major tech news publication asking why the second largest website on the planet was threatening to cut off access to nearly a fifth of its user base. Fortunately for us, the publications had already settled on a narrative that this was a major benefit to the Internet. By their call, YouTube was leading the charge towards making the web a faster, safer experience for all of its users. The entire PR team had Macs running Chrome and could not even see what we had done, let alone issue comments to the press on any of it. They were caught completely unaware. We eagerly told them everything about what we had launched and helped them craft the necessary talking points to expand on the narrative already established by the media. Satisfied that he could get back in front of the story, the PR team lead turned and warned us to never do anything like this without telling him first. He did not want to let great public relations opportunities like this slip by ever again.

Chris Zacharias

Speaking of dirty tactics used by Google to undermine Microsoft, the above article is a good example – admittedly focused on IE6, but I’m sure over time many more similar stories will surface. What’s insidious and concerning about this is how engineers simply decided to do this on their own, how the tech press then mindlessly applauded the move – see also the excited replies to the author’s tweet linking to the blog post – and the lack of corrective action inside Google, because it benefited them to hurt a competitor. This is the perfect reflection of tech giant culture: move fast and break things – no pause to consider external consequences, only personal and corporate gain – and one of the main reasons why tech monopolies need to be closely scrutinized and more heavily regulated.

27 January 2020

The Verge: “Inside Microsoft’s surprise decision to work with Google on its Edge browser”

Shortly after that meeting with Nadella, Microsoft’s browser team started to analyze everything that was wrong with Edge. It was a way to spark a discussion internally about the changes needed.

“We wrote a paper. We wrote the paper for the purpose of having a discussion at an offsite that Terry Myerson [former Windows chief] had in October of 2017”, says Belfiore.

This paper included a bunch of the benefits and drawbacks of Edge. Microsoft picked a different term for the drawbacks, though. It called them “headwinds”. It was a signal that, in 2017, the problems with Edge weren’t just technical, nor were they necessarily insurmountable. They were just — theoretically — the things that were slowing down its adoption.

Tom Warren

Yet another article I have been planning for many months; this seems like an appropriate moment to finally write it, as Microsoft announced two weeks ago that the Chromium-based version of Edge is ready for release. I have been using the dev version of the new browser since it’s been available for testing, and I am pleased to say it’s been very stable and fast. After I upgraded to Windows 10 and started using original Edge, the only reason I kept Chrome around on my main laptop has been the Send-to-Kindle extension. Because the new Edge browser can install Chrome extensions, I was able to use it almost exclusively since. Edge ships with better tracking protection built-in, another reason to prefer it to Chrome.

26 January 2020

The Washington Post: “The dog is one of the world’s most destructive mammals. Brazil proves it”

“The global impacts of domestic dogs on wildlife are grossly underestimated”, researchers concluded in a 2017 study published in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers, based in Australia, convicted dogs in the extinction of 11 species and declared them the third-most-damaging mammal, behind only cats and rodents.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a list of animals whose numbers dogs are culling. There are 191, and more than half are classified as either endangered or vulnerable. They range from lowly iguanas to the famed Tasmanian devil, from doves to monkeys, a diversity of animals with nothing in common beyond the fact that dogs enjoy killing them. In New Zealand, the organization reported, a single German shepherd once did in as many as 500 kiwis — and that was the conservative estimate.

“Unfortunately, we have a big problem”, said Piero Genovesi, chair of the agency’s invasive species unit. “There is a growing number of dogs.”

Terrence McCoy

Another example of disruption of the environment caused by invasive species introduced by humans – this time on a larger scale, because the number of pets is much higher and they are present basically everywhere alongside people. Keeping cats and dogs around the house was good practice in rural societies, where they would cull rodents and help shepherding livestock, but it makes little sense in an urban environment. I find it fascinating that so many of us are still attached to the notion of keeping predators around as pets.

25 January 2020

The Atlantic: “Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan”

Bezos is unabashed in his fanaticism for Star Trek and its many spin-offs. He has a holding company called Zefram, which honors the character who invented warp drive. He persuaded the makers of the film Star Trek Beyond to give him a cameo as a Starfleet official. He named his dog Kamala, after a woman who appears in an episode as Picard’s “perfect” but unattainable mate. As time has passed, Bezos and Picard have physically converged. Like the interstellar explorer, portrayed by Patrick Stewart, Bezos shaved the remnant strands on his high-gloss pate and acquired a cast-iron physique. A friend once said that Bezos adopted his strenuous fitness regimen in anticipation of the day that he, too, would journey to the heavens.

When reporters tracked down Bezos’s high-school girlfriend, she said, The reason he’s earning so much money is to get to outer space. This assessment hardly required a leap of imagination. As the valedictorian of Miami Palmetto Senior High School’s class of 1982, Bezos used his graduation speech to unfurl his vision for humanity. He dreamed aloud of the day when millions of his fellow earthlings would relocate to colonies in space. A local newspaper reported that his intention was to get all people off the Earth and see it turned into a huge national park.

Franklin Foer

Speaking of Jeff Bezos, I’ve read this fascinating profile on him a while back, covering many of his passions and projects, from the early start with book selling to the juggernaut e-commerce business of Amazon, from the Clock of the Long Now to his ultimate plan, conquering the final frontier. While there are many concerns about his business practices, I cannot help but admire him for his ultimate goals and long-term vision. At the same time I wonder, as a man with foresight, has he ever considered who will replace him at the top of Amazon – or, more importantly, who will carry out his vision of space exploration after his passing?

by the way, that story about his phone being hacked by the Saudi crown prince hasn’t aged well, as other news sources claim it was Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez who shared his text messages with her brother, who then leaked their contents to the National Enquirer.

22 January 2020

The Guardian: “Jeff Bezos hack: Amazon boss’s phone hacked by Saudi crown prince”

This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.

The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of that year, the unsolicited file was sent, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity.

Large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Guardian has no knowledge of what was taken from the phone or how it was used.

Saudi experts – dissidents and analysts – told the Guardian they believed Bezos was probably targeted because of his ownership of the Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi’s critical columns about Mohammed bin Salman and his campaign of repression against activists and intellectuals rankled the crown prince and his inner circle.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner

I’ve read a couple of other press reports about this extraordinary news – then again, what is ‘extraordinary’ in 2020 anymore? – but I failed to find the answer to one simple question: why was Jeff Bezos communicating directly with a foreign head of state, on a secured channel no less?! Feels like this piece of information would be quite relevant for the story…

14 January 2020

Allen Pike: “The Coming Supremacy of AR”

Advertising, gamification, constant distractions and chaos, interruptions – basically a Black Mirror hellscape. And to be clear, in the event that high fidelity AR becomes possible, some company will attempt to make such a hellscape, filled with crapware and covering your gaze with nonsense for the lowest possible price.

I challenge you, though, to imagine not the worst that a future AR experience could be, but the best. Imagine instead an AR experience not designed by advertisers, but by Apple – or even better, Apple’s successors. A team obsessively focused on people, taking a distinctly human approach to designing how your glasses could augment what you see.

Allen Pike

As usual, the only opinion you can get from an Apple fanboy is ‘Apple can make any tech better’. To me, AR is a nightmare of constant distractions, no matter who delivers it. Maybe I’m just getting old, but increasingly I can only concentrate on work or writing if I cut down on distractions, from notifications to music and background noise. Wearing a piece of Internet-connected technology in front of my eyes is certainly not going to improve my focus.

13 January 2020

Medium: “I was Google’s Head of International Relations. Here’s why I left”

I think the important question is what does it mean when one of America’s marque’ companies changes so dramatically. Is it the inevitable outcome of a corporate culture that rewards growth and profits over social impact and responsibility? Is it in some way related to the corruption that has gripped our federal government? Is this part of the global trend toward “strong man” leaders who are coming to power around the globe, where questions of “right” and “wrong” are ignored in favor of self-interest and self-dealing? Finally, what are the implications for all of us when that once-great American company controls so much data about billions of users across the globe?

Although the causes and the implications are worth debating, I am certain of the appropriate response. No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight. As soon as Google executives were asked by Congress about Project Dragonfly and Google’s commitment to free expression and human rights, they assured Congress that the project was exploratory and it was subsequently shut down.

The role of these companies in our daily lives, from how we run our elections to how we entertain and educate our children, is just too great to leave in the hands of executives who are accountable only to their controlling shareholders who — in the case of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Snap — happen to be fellow company insiders and founders.

Ross LaJeunesse

The perception of Silicon Valley tech giants has changed dramatically for the worse in the past couple of years – and Google hasn’t escaped unscathed. This account from their former Head of International Relations comes to confirm various reports about employee dissatisfaction caused by cultural and organizational changes and a lack of transparency from management. The timing is interesting, since just last month Sundar Pichai was promoted to CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet – I have to wonder how much of this negative cultural shift is he responsible for, as he’s been effectively in charge for the past four years. The author doesn’t mention Pichai’s name in the article above, but he does cite management changes as reasons for his departure and the internal cultural shifts at Google.

12 January 2020

Paul Kearney – A Different Kingdom

in Bucharest, Romania
Paul Kearney - A Different Kingdom

Colindând prin pădurile din apropierea fermei bunicilor, într‑o zi de vară târzie, Michael Fay se împiedică și alunecă deodată într‑un Alt Tărâm, o lume mai veche, aproape neatinsă de oameni, în care încă sălășluiesc ființe ciudate și unde sfârșesc copiii morți înainte de a fi botezați. Aici o întâlnește pe Cat, o tânără misterioasă, adoptată de spiridușii pădurii, dar și pe Călăreț, cu figura lui amenințătoare mereu în fundal, gata să prindă suflete pierdute și să le ferece pe vecie în castelul său îndepărtat. Zdruncinat de dispariția subită a mătușii Rose, de care se apropiase mult, Michael se decide s‑o caute pe tărâmul pădurii, convins că a ajuns în ghearele Călărețului.

‘Time’, Cat was to tell Michael, ‘is like a lake. You can go and haul out bucketfuls of its water, throw them about, drink them, pour them off, and then go back to the lake and find it the same level as before, with even the ripples you made wiped away.’

He walked in the door of the house the same evening he had come out of it, the grime and mud of two days in the Other Place still upon him. He was late for supper, and Aunt Rachel threw her hands in the air when she saw him.

Am luat A Different Kingdom în urma unei recomandări pe un blog de recenzii pe care‑l citesc de ani buni de zile. De obicei gusturile mele se potrivesc cu ale autorului – altfel nu l‑aș fi urmărit de atâta vreme – dar de data asta nu sunt de acord cu părerea lui. Nu neg că Paul Kearney are talent, mi‑a plăcut modul în care descrie ambele lumi și întreține atmosfera romanului, de la siguranța căminului de la țară la alienarea în oraș, de la aventura de a cutreiera codrii bătrâni la pericolul creaturilor întunecate pe care le adăpostesc.

06 January 2020

Android Police: “Chrome OS has stalled out”

A lack of native applications may be Chrome’s biggest structural problem in the long term, but in the here and now, the Chrome team has simply failed to innovate in ways that the platform so desperately needs to remain competitive with Windows and Mac OS.

Where is biometric support (we got it on the Pixel Slate, but nowhere else)? Desktop customization? Where are LTE Chromebooks? HDR? Phone notification mirroring (really, any meaningful phone integration)? Dual booting (cancelled)? Network-attached storage? A remotely passable file directory? A dark theme (soon, allegedly)? Even rudimentary video or audio editing? The fact is, laptops aren’t something everybody has anymore—phones have filled that need for many, many people. Those that are buying laptops are using them much more as tools than they were when Chrome OS debuted 10 years ago. But Chromebooks just aren’t very good tools.

I say this even as one of the few people who can do 95% of my job on a Chromebook: that 5%, when you really, really need it, is more than enough reason to avoid a platform entirely. And for many others, it’s much more than 5%: it’s their entire workflow.

David Ruddock

Signs that Chrome OS – and Chromebooks – isn’t getting traction were there all along, but Google and their supporters chose to ignore them. Building a new OS from the ground up is immensely challenging; unfortunately Google’s attention span is quite short, resulting in many changes to product roadmaps, products being suddenly abandoned, others reworked numerous times for no obvious reasons.

05 January 2020

Reading stats for 2019

On a personal level, 2018 was a difficult year for me, and naturally that reflected badly on my book reading and writing on this blog. So much so that I’ve skipped doing an overview of my reading stats, as I did previously since 2013. 2019 didn’t turn out much better, but I’m trying to get back on track with my reviews and my short articles, so I might as well return to doing reading stats as well!