30 September 2020

The Atlantic: “The Cult of Elon is Cracking”

Several fans told me that they’re struggling to reconcile this version of Musk with his pre-pandemic persona. Calling someone a bad name or insulting someone without evidence is obviously bad, but I think nothing compares to taking human life lightly, Sun, a scientist in the Bay Area who asked to go by only his surname to protect his privacy, told me. Sun has watched countless Musk interviews over the years in which Musk says egregious but less dangerous things, but the pandemic tweets became so painful to see that Sun eventually unfollowed Musk. It’s like one of those hero characters in movies where he works on a grand mission and then he loses sight [of it] and thinks that vulnerable people are expendable, he said.

I also heard from many fans that Musk is behaving less like humankind’s savior and more like a ruthless industrialist. This uncomfortable truth seemed to crystallize when Donald Trump tweeted in support of Musk’s desire to restart Tesla operations and Musk thanked him. If Musk is supposed to be a climate hero, he’s suddenly fraternizing with a villain who doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change and has spent his time in office reversing dozens of environmental policies. Only three years ago, Musk removed himself from a presidential advisory council specifically because Trump withdrew the U.S. from international accords meant to address climate change.

Marina Koren

I hate to break it to Elon Musk’s fans, but he has always been a ruthless industrialist – this crisis is just making this crystal clear for (some) people in denial. His behavior is veering more and more into Trump territory – so much so that Musk openly considers voting for him, after his earlier support for Kanye West.

29 September 2020

BuzzFeed News: “Twitter will allow Employees to Work at Home Forever”

Twitter encouraged its employees to start working from home in early March as the coronavirus began to spread across the US. Several other tech companies did the same, including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.

That month, Twitter human resources head Jennifer Christie told BuzzFeed News the company would “never probably be the same” in the structure of its work. “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way”, Christie said. “Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”

Dorsey had announced the company’s intent to work in a “distributed” way before the virus, but the pandemic forced the company to move the timeline up.

Alex Kantrowitz

A positive move, for both the company and the employees. My cynical side would continue that the pandemic came with several unexpected opportunities for Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey. The generalized economic disruption offers a convenient excuse if the company does not meet the performance targets agreed with Elliott Management in early spring, just before the pandemic started. The forced switch to full-time work from home, extended indefinitely in May, allows Dorsey’s companies to drastically scale back their office spaces in expensive San Francisco, and to potentially reduce their tax bill. And since all employees can work remotely, it gives Jack Dorsey a pass on his plan to move to Africa, which was widely criticized.

25 September 2020

Bloomberg: “Twitter Owner wants Full-Time CEO”

There is a story you could tell here about how in hot markets investors were willing to put up with a lot, but the unicorn IPO market has cooled, a lot of recent tech unicorns have not worked out that well for investors, and those investors are now asserting themselves and demanding more normal governance. They have learned that, if they give founders total control, they can get burned. If things at dual-class companies get ugly, expect more investors to push back against the next one.

But the founders get to observe the market too. An Elliott-led ejection of a public-company CEO is not a pretty sight. (One CEO deposed by Elliott memorably commented that when he began to research Elliott online, the experience was like Googling this thing on your arm and it says, You’re going to die.) If you’re a public investor and you bought shares of Snap in its IPO, the experience might lead you to object to dual-class stock in future IPOs. But if you’re a tech founder and you watch Elliott wage an ugly proxy fight to get rid of Jack Dorsey for the venial sin of working half-days at his company, the experience might lead you to insist on dual-class stock in your own IPO. Twitter is a little bad, and its founder is in the crosshairs of big scary Elliott; Snap is worse, and its founders are fine because they had the foresight to prevent this.1 The whole point of dual-class stock is to protect tech founders from Elliott so that they can follow their bliss in a long-term visionary way! If things at Twitter get ugly, expect more founders to demand dual-class stock in their IPOs.

Matt Levine

Speaking of Twitter, the company got into a tough spot earlier this year when a hedge fund tried to remove Jack Dorsey as CEO. While they eventually settled and Dorsey maintained his role at Twitter for the time being, the situation highlights how different share structures of various tech companies influence their leadership and decisions. As mentioned above, dual-class stock shields tech founders from some of the normal responsibilities and accountability expected of a typical CEO. This is precisely the reason why Mark Zuckerberg can maintain control over Facebook without being challenged – and why the company has become such a toxic influence in democracies and all around the world.

The New York Times: “Twitter had been drawing a Line for Months when Trump Crossed It”

And after midnight, Mr. Dorsey gave his go-ahead: Twitter would hide Mr. Trump’s tweet behind a warning label that said the message violated its policy against glorifying violence. It was the first time Twitter applied that specific warning to any public figure’s tweets.

The action has prompted a broad fight over whether and how social media companies should be held responsible for what appears on their sites, and was the culmination of months of debate inside Twitter. For more than a year, the company had been building an infrastructure to limit the impact of objectionable messages from world leaders, creating rules on what would and would not be allowed and designing a plan for when Mr. Trump inevitably broke them.

But the path to that point was not smooth. Inside Twitter, dealing with Mr. Trump’s tweets — which are the equivalent of a presidential megaphone — was a fitful and uneven process. Some executives repeatedly urged Mr. Dorsey to take action on the inflammatory posts while others insisted he hold back, staying hands-off as the company had done for years.

Kate Conger

Twitter and Facebook faced a similar dilemma regarding Trump’s wild statements, but ultimately settled on different, almost opposing positions: while Facebook has constantly delayed actions, tried to minimize the issues and appease the President, Twitter went on the offensive by labeling Trump’s tweets and limiting their reach. It may not be enough to satisfy some of Twitter’s vocal critics, but I think it is the right approach to draw public attention to the lies and disinformation spread by Trump to secure power.

13 September 2020

Richard Ford – Rock Springs

in Bucharest, Romania
Richard Ford - Rock Springs

În vremurile astea tulburi, după luni trăite sub spectrul pandemiei, îmi vine cumva greu să scriu despre cărți pe care le‑am citit înainte de începerea acestei perioade, fără precedent în viața mea personală, și care cu greu pot să‑mi închipui că se va repeta în viitor. Deși am lucrat de acasă de la jumătatea lui martie, relativ la adăpost de pericolul bolii și de agitația de zi cu zi, rareori am găsit concentrarea de a continua să scriu pe blog – despre citit ce să mai zic, nu am deschis o carte de atunci.

Rock Springs mi‑a fost recomandată (făcută cadou mai exact) de un nou prieten care a anticipat că o voi aprecia – și trebuie să recunosc că a avut dreptate! Fiind o colecție de povestiri e cu atât mai complicat să discut despre carte. Eu de regulă scriam despre fiecare povestire individual, dar în acest caz simt că imaginea transmisă de tot are mai multă impact decât fiecare luată separat.

Richard Ford își scrie personajele fără un contur exact, scrie personajul-noțiune, personajul-concept, personajul-stare. De cele mai multe ori, scrie natura umană din interior spre exterior, deși ajută imaginația cititorului cu tușe concrete. Disecă emoția, dar nu chirurgical, o expune, o dezgolește, o lasă la vedere.

Black Button

Comentariul de pe coperta din spate i se potrivește de minune. Privind în urmă după ce încheiasem colecția, din aceste contururi neclare ale personajelor și scenelor se desprind totuși forme și senzații mai concrete, imprimând retroactiv substanță unor povestiri care de sine stătătoare pot părea triviale sau anecdotice. Din această perspectivă, instantanee aparent fără legătură se leagă subtil prin repetarea unor teme și elemente comune redate de fiecare dată în alt context, ca un caleidoscop care ne arată de fiecare dată o altă imagine, deși mecanismul care le produce este același.

09 September 2020

BuzzFeed News: “Facebook Employee Leaks show Betrayal by Company Leadership”

On June 1, the day of the walkout, about 45% of employees said they agreed with the statement that Facebook was making the world better — down about 25 percentage points from the week before. That same day, Facebook’s internal surveys showed that around 44% of employees were confident in “Facebook leadership leading the company in the right direction” — a 30 percentage point drop from May 25. Responses to that question have stayed around that lower mark as of earlier this month, according to data seen by BuzzFeed News.

This ongoing contention and erosion of Facebook’s culture has infuriated Zuckerberg. In a June 11 live Q&A with employees, he pointedly addressed it.

I’ve been very worried about … the level of disrespect and, in some cases, of vitriol that a lot of people in our internal community are directing towards each other as part of these debates, he said. If you're bullying your fellow colleagues into taking a position on something, then we will fire you.

Ryan Mac & Craig Silverman

Speaking of Facebook and its toxic consequences for public life in several countries, this has caused growing discontent inside the company as well. There have been a number of internal leaks reported in the press during these past months, a virtual walkout at the beginning of June, a couple of public resignations. The reaction from the management appears quite harsh, with several people being fired over the same period.

08 September 2020

The Washington Post: “How Facebook wrote its rules to accommodate Trump”

But that started to change in 2015, as Trump’s candidacy picked up speed. In December of that year, he posted a video in which he said he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. The video went viral on Facebook and was an early indication of the tone of his candidacy.

Outrage over the video led to a companywide town hall, in which employees decried the video as hate speech, in violation of the company’s policies. And in meetings about the issue, senior leaders and policy experts overwhelmingly said they felt that the video was hate speech, according to three former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Zuckerberg expressed in meetings that he was personally disgusted by it and wanted it removed, the people said. Some of these details were previously reported.

Ultimately, Zuckerberg was talked out of his desire to remove the post in part by Kaplan, according to the people. Instead, the executives created an allowance that newsworthy political discourse would be taken into account when making decisions about whether posts violated community guidelines.

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg & Tony Romm

I have criticized Apple multiple times in previous posts for their greed and hypocrisy, but Facebook is on another level entirely. I write less about it simply because almost every other day another story emerges where Facebook does the wrong thing, apologizes for it, then doubles back on the same mistake. When they finally do something right, it’s either much later than other social networks, or a very toned down version that will have little to no effect. A selection of stories from the past couple of months alone:

05 September 2020

The Atlantic: “The 22-Year-Old Blogger behind Protests in Belarus”

In the videos posted last Sunday from Belarus, thousands of people can be seen streaming into the center of Minsk, walking up the broad avenues, gathering in a park. In smaller cities and even little towns—Brest, Gomel, Khotsimsk, Molodechno, Shklov—they are walking down main streets, meeting in squares, singing pop songs and folk songs. They are remarkably peaceful, and remarkably united. Many of them are carrying a flag, though not the country’s formal flag, the red and green flag used in the Soviet era. Instead, they carry a red-white-red striped flag, a banner first used in 1918 and long associated with Belarusian independence.

It was a marvelous feat of coordination: Just as in Hong Kong a few months ago, the crowds knew when to arrive and where to go. They knew what they were marching for: Many people carried posters with slogans like leave—directed at the Belarus dictator/president, Alexander Lukashenko—or freedom for political prisoners! or free elections! They carried the flag, or they wore red and white clothes, or they drove cars festooned with red and white balloons.

And yet, at most of these marches, few leaders were visible; no one ascended a stage or delivered a speech into a microphone. The opposition presidential candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who probably won the contested election held on August 9, fled the country last week. How did everyone know exactly what to do? The answer, improbably, is a 22-year-old blogger named Stsiapan Sviatlou, who lives outside the country and runs a channel called Nexta Live on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Anne Applebaum

In the grand scheme of 2020, a popular revolt against a soviet-style dictator barely feels newsworthy, but since it is happening so close to home it reminded me of our own revolution against communism 30 years ago. Interesting how revolutionary movement have first moved online and now are migrating to private and secure channels like Telegram, as authoritarian leaders try to suppress the internet and the free flow of information and communication.

03 September 2020

The New York Times: “Facebook could block Sharing of News Stories in Australia”

Facebook warned on Monday that it would block users and news organizations in Australia from sharing local and international news stories on its social network and Instagram if the country passed a proposed code of conduct aimed at curbing the power of Facebook and Google.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the country’s top competition authority, is drafting a bill for Parliament that would require both companies to negotiate with media publishers and pay them for content that appears on their sites.

Google also hinted that it might have to cut off its services in Australia in an open letter to users on Aug. 17. Google said the government’s draft legislation would give large media companies “special treatment” so they could make unreasonable demands that would make it difficult to keep Google search and YouTube videos free. Google, which owns YouTube, didn’t indicate how it would respond, but said its free services would be “at risk”.

Daisuke Wakabayashi & Mike Isaac

Facebook in a nutshell:

02 September 2020

The New York Times: “Your Coronavirus Test is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be”

The PCR test amplifies genetic matter from the virus in cycles; the fewer cycles required, the greater the amount of virus, or viral load, in the sample. The greater the viral load, the more likely the patient is to be contagious.

This number of amplification cycles needed to find the virus, called the cycle threshold, is never included in the results sent to doctors and coronavirus patients, although it could tell them how infectious the patients are.

One solution would be to adjust the cycle threshold used now to decide that a patient is infected. Most tests set the limit at 40, a few at 37. This means that you are positive for the coronavirus if the test process required up to 40 cycles, or 37, to detect the virus.

Tests with thresholds so high may detect not just live virus but also genetic fragments, leftovers from infection that pose no particular risk — akin to finding a hair in a room long after a person has left, Dr. Mina said.

Apoorva Mandavilli

I saw this article on Twitter a couple of days ago and something didn’t feel quite right about it. At first look it seems to argue that PCR tests are too sensitive and therefore a positive result does not accurately reflect if the person is infected or not, casting doubt on months of testing and the policy of isolating asymptomatic patients. It is certainly the impression most people on Twitter were left with, judging by the replies and quote tweets. Reading it again, I noticed the author is regularly quoting one Dr. Mina, so I decided to dig a bit further into this reporting.

01 September 2020

MIT Technology Review: “Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater”

Throughout the event, Musk deftly avoided giving timelines or committing to schedules on questions such as when Neuralink’s system might be tested in human subjects.

As yet, four years after its formation, Neuralink has provided no evidence that it can (or has even tried to) treat depression, insomnia, or a dozen other diseases that Musk mentioned in a slide. One difficulty ahead of the company is perfecting microwires that can survive the “corrosive” context of a living brain for a decade. That problem alone could take years to solve.

The primary objective of the streamed demo, instead, was to stir excitement, recruit engineers to the company (which already employs about 100 people), and build the kind of fan base that has cheered on Musk’s other ventures and has helped propel the gravity-defying stock price of electric-car maker Tesla.

Antonio Regalado

There is a lot of potential in this area of research, both for medical applications and general life improvements, but for the time being Elon Musk’s contribution remains limited to putting a PR spin on old cyberpunk tropes. He may be a genius, but he should learn how to properly evaluate his ideas before launching himself into dozens of unrelated projects where he has next to no expertise. Otherwise his initiatives end up looking like promotional stunts for his boisterous personality and more established businesses. Frankly, in this situation I find his modus operandi insulting to people suffering from depression and other neurological conditions – and to the scientists doing genuine research in this field.

The Keyword: “Easy Wi-Fi backup from your Canon camera to Google Photos”

If you own a DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, you know that getting your photos backed up can be a process. You often need cables or adapters to take them off of your camera or SD card and save them, and it might take a number of steps to get it all done. We’ve worked with Canon so you can easily upload the moments captured on your Canon devices directly to Google Photos over Wi-Fi—no plugging in your camera or taking out your SD card.

With the latest version of the image.canon app (available on Android or iOS) and a compatible Canon camera, you can choose to automatically transfer original quality photos to Google Photos, eliminating the hassle of using your computer or phone to back them up.

Ben Greenwood

I have heard of Canon’s new cloud service in passing, but never paid much attention to it until this announcement. The process is not as seamless as this blog posts makes it sound – for one, automatic transfer via Wi-Fi straight from the camera is apparently available only on the most recent mirrorless models – this would exclude my EOS RP. Nevertheless the features appear rather compelling even without the automatic upload: free image backup, including full-resolution RAW files, on image.canon for 30 days can be a life saver while travelling if you ran into technical issues with the camera or memory cards. Additionally you can automatically download images to your PC or Mac, and automatically transfer them to other cloud services like Google, Creative Cloud or Flickr for long term storage – though I am not quite sure why Flickr is on this list since last time I checked it does not accept RAW files.