25 September 2016

Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

in Bucharest, Romania
Chuck Palahniuk - Beautiful You

Proaspăt transplantată dintr‑un orășel din Nebraska în birourile unei mari firmă de avocatură din New York, tânăra Penny Harrigan nu e prea sigură ce‑și dorește de la viață. Dar orice ar fi vrea să fie ceva original, propriu al ei, dincolo de opțiunea de casnică, veche de când lumea, sau cea recent impusă de feminism de carieră cot-la-cot cu bărbații. Când întâmplarea o aruncă – la propriu – la picioarele celui mai bogat celibatar din lume și acesta o invită la cină, viața ei ia o turnură surprinzătoare și din ce în ce mai stranie. Prin patul lui C. Linus Maxwell au trecut celebrități feminine de talie mondială, de la actuala președintă a Statelor Unite și moștenitoarea tronului Marii Britanii la fabuloasa actriță Alouette D’Ambrosia, așa că ce ar putea găsi el la o tinerică neexperimentată și cu nimic ieșită din comun? Ba mai mult, grație revistelor de scandal care întorc pe toate părțile cele mai mici aspecte ale vieții celebrităților, Penny cunoaște un detaliu crucial din viața lui: toate relațiile lui Max s‑au încheiat după exact 136 de zile…

Faimos pentru stilul lui sarcastic și nonconformist, Chuck Palahniuk nu se dezminte nici în acest roman în care ridiculizează la fiecare pas consumerismul lumii moderne (al cărui apogeu se regăsește aici în imaginea unui magazin Apple roz), foamea de satisfacție imediată, dar și numeroasele discriminări împotriva femeilor care încă persistă în societatea americană – de‑abia acum e posibil să vedem prima președintă în țara care ar trebui să fie un exemplu pentru toate democrațiile. Cea mai bună reprezentare a temelor romanului se cristalizează în personajul lui C. Linus Maxwell. Mai mult decât o caricatură a multimilionarului de Silicon Valley care crede că lumea îi aparține pentru că a creat un produs de succes și că tehnologia poate rezolva orice problemă umană, inclusiv dragostea, intimitatea și moartea, Climax‑Well reprezintă lumea veche patriarhală în care bărbatul poruncește și femeia i se supune necondiționat. Căci ce este gama lui Beautiful You de produse de autosatisfacere feminină decât o încercare de a le subjuga prin plăcere, de a le reduce prezența din sfera publică, de a le aduce sub control? În lupta împotriva acestei pervertiri a dragostei și a idealurilor feministe își găsește Penny scopul în viață pe care‑l căuta lipsită de direcție la început.

24 September 2016

The New York Times: “Yahoo Says Hackers Stole Data on 500 Million Users in 2014”

Yahoo phone number prompt

Yahoo announced on Thursday that the account information of at least 500 million users was stolen by hackers two years ago, in the biggest known intrusion of one company’s computer network.

In a statement, Yahoo said user information — including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, encrypted passwords and, in some cases, security questions — was compromised in 2014 by what it believed was a “state-sponsored actor”.

While Yahoo did not name the country involved, how the company discovered the hack nearly two years after the fact offered a glimpse at the complicated and mysterious world of the underground web.

Nicole Perlroth

Ironic how companies regularly prompt users to add more data to secure their online accounts – especially phone numbers – thereby giving hackers more personal information to steal. Good thing I never gave Yahoo! my phone number despite their insistence.

23 September 2016

Google Design: “Redesigning Chrome desktop”

In the beginning of this month of September, the new Chrome Core UI redesign, or so called “Chrome MD” (for Material design), rolled out on Windows as part of our 53rd update. It is the last step of a three phase deployment of the new design, which started in 51 with Chrome OS and Linux, followed by macOS in 52. Windows is the culmination of that process and while Chrome is never finished, it felt to me like the right time to take a look back and reflect on this process that almost took 2 years, hopefully delivering some details and experiences that might be useful to you.

Sebastien Gabriel

Two years to redesign the user interface and not a moment spent to optimize Chrome on Windows for HiDPI screens. I bought a new laptop more than a year ago and to this day I am still using a start parameter in the browser shortcut (/force-device-scale-factor=1.25) to force Chrome to properly scale for its higher resolution display. Makes you wonder how much Chrome engineers care for their desktop users. At least the issue with blurred fonts in TweetDeck seems fixed in this update.

20 September 2016

Financial Times Magazine: “Big data, Google and the end of free will”


Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data. This novel creed may be called “Dataism”. In its extreme form, proponents of the Dataist worldview perceive the entire universe as a flow of data, see organisms as little more than biochemical algorithms and believe that humanity’s cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system — and then merge into it.

But no one needs to understand. All you need to do is answer your emails faster. Just as free-market capitalists believe in the invisible hand of the market, so Dataists believe in the invisible hand of the dataflow. As the global data-processing system becomes all-knowing and all-powerful, so connecting to the system becomes the source of all meaning. The new motto says: “If you experience something — record it. If you record something — upload it. If you upload something — share it.”

Yuval Noah Harari

I must admit I’m having a hard time deciding if the author actually believes his own statements or it’s just an elaborate mockery of Silicon Valley logic.

19 September 2016

Mattermark: “Tracking Spotify’s Growth To 40 Million Subscribers”

This morning, Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek alluded on Twitter that his company crossed the 40 million paying user mark:

The news comes after the company reported that it had 39 million paying users in late August. And it follows news that the music streaming service reached 30 million paying subscribers this March.

So how quickly is Spotify growing, and is the company accelerating? Let’s see.

Alex Wilhelm

Impressive news from Spotify. Meanwhile, after growing quickly in the first months following last year’s launch, it looks like Apple Music is slowing down considerably. The growth curve seems to have settled into a linear pattern since the beginning of 2016, which doesn’t bode well for a young product.

14 September 2016

Business Insider: “Review: Apple’s new AirPods are a mixed bag”

Unlike Apple’s wired EarPods, there’s no dongle for controlling your music, answering calls, or adjusting the volume. That means you have to do everything through Siri or directly on your phone. It’s easily the biggest drawback to the AirPods, and it will likely be a deal breaker for many unless Apple comes up with a software fix between now and launch.

Let’s take volume control, for example. If you’re listening to music and want to turn up the volume, you have to double tap one of the AirPods. That activates Siri, which in turn pauses your music (ugh!) so you can say “raise the volume”. Then the music resumes with the volume turned up. Compare that to simply tapping on the volume button on the wired EarPods, and you can imagine how annoying the process is.

Steve Kovach

I didn’t intend to continue posting about this user-hostile choice from Apple, but here’s something I haven’t considered before: how do you control headphones when you take away the cable where the volume buttons and play/pause used to be? Apparently it’s more complicated than you’d think…

The New York Times: “Apple is said to be rethinking Strategy on Self-Driving Cars”

Apple started looking seriously into building an electric car about two years ago. It expanded the project quickly, poaching experts in battery technology and so-called machine vision, as well as veterans from the automobile industry.

The team also pulled in staff members from other divisions across Apple, growing to more than 1,000 employees in about 18 months. But as the project grew rapidly, it encountered a number of problems, and people working on it struggled to explain what Apple could bring to a self-driving car that other companies could not, according to the people briefed on the project.

Daisuke Wakabayashi & Brian X. Chen

Without another breakthrough product and falling behind on its distinctive feature, industrial design, what will Apple have to show for itself in five to ten years? But I guess that’s what happens when you prioritize profits and tax avoidance schemes over innovation.

13 September 2016

Reuters: “Apple appeal against EU tax demand would break new ground”

Some lawyers say that Apple’s arrangement was legal in Ireland and theoretically available to any company and so the California-based company could not have received a advantage that was selective – key factors in most state aid cases. There’s nothing that I have seen in any of the cases that have been taken by the European Commission that suggests there is selective application of the rules, Tim Wach, Global Managing Director at international tax advisors Tax and.

However, other lawyers note that Apple’s unusual tax structure – involving companies which are tax resident nowhere – means its tax rulings are unlikely to have many close comparators. And the rulings lead to a less than 1 percent tax rate – something most other companies don’t enjoy.

If I had to bet my dollar on something here, I think Apple could have a hard time overturning the selectivity argument, said Georg Berrisch, a partner at Baker Botts in Brussels.

Tom Bergin

So the initial reports of an estimated 2 per cent corporate tax rate for Apple in Ireland were wrong: it’s actually less than one per cent, falling to 0.005 per cent in 2014! How many companies or individuals get to enjoy such a generous tax bill?! If this doesn’t amount to unfair state aid and tax evasion, I don’t know what does.

11 September 2016

Rolling Stone: “ ‘Star Trek’ at 50: How the Sci-Fi TV Show Changed Everything”

It was early 1965, and NBC had just passed on “The Cage”, the pilot episode for a science fiction show the network had been considering picking up for their fall season. “Too cerebral”, they said. But they let creator Gene Roddenberry try again. He kept the starship Enterprise, but recast its crew, save for the grinning, excitable science officer played by Leonard Nimoy.

The Spock audiences met on the night of Sept. 8, 1966, when “The Man Trap” became the first Star Trek episode broadcast, was far more sedate and enigmatic character than he’d been in the pilot, and so he would forever remain. Several of the 13 movies and most of the seven small-screen series have been Spockless, but the half-Vulcan, half-human scientist is the franchise’s ambassador in perpetuity. When the 83-year-old Nimoy died last year, he got a eulogy from President Barack Obama — like the Enterprise’s Executive Officer, a pioneer of mixed parentage with a reputation for keeping cool in the face of hostility and panic. “I loved Spock”, the president said.

Chris Klimek

I wasn’t much of a fan of the Original Series, probably because my first contact with Star Trek was actually ‘The Next Generation’, but the show as a whole has kept a remarkable appeal at its 50th anniversary. I started rewatching Voyager a couple of weeks ago on Netflix and, despite feeling a little quaint and tame compared to other deeper series (like the new Battlestar Galactica), it still retains a certain quality, a confidence that we can prevail in the face of adversities if we can manage to work together, a sense of optimism for the future and humanity that few other series have managed to inspire. And we certainly need a touch of optimism in today’s turbulent world.

09 September 2016

Lefsetz Letter: “More Frank Ocean”

The enemy is not the major label. And it’s not the streaming service either. The enemy is you, your brain, which prevents you from thinking different, which believes doors are closed and you’re constricted. The music business has been and forever will be one of leverage. He with hits writes his own rules. And he who controls more hits changes the game.

Don’t bitch about minor skirmishes, don’t fight wars that cannot be won or are irrelevant. Spotify payments suck if you’re no one, they’re gargantuan if you’re someone.

So be someone.

Bob Lefsetz

Always refreshing to read Bob Lefsetz’ perspective on events in the music industry.

Reuters: “Cyber threat grows for bitcoin exchanges”

I am skeptical there’s going to be any technological silver bullet that’s going to solve security breach problems. No technology, crypto-currency, or financial mechanism can be made safe from hacks, said Tyler Moore, assistant professor of cyber security at the University of Tulsa’s Tandy School of Computer Science who will soon publish the new research on the vulnerability of bitcoin exchanges.

His study, funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and shared with Reuters, shows that since bitcoin’s creation in 2009 to March 2015, 33 percent of all bitcoin exchanges operational during that period were hacked. The figure represents one of the first estimates of the extent of security breaches in the bitcoin world.

In contrast, data from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a non-profit organization, showed that of the 6,000 operational U.S. banks, only 67 banks experienced a publicly-disclosed data breach between 2009 and 2015. That’s roughly 1 percent of U.S. banks.

Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

For a technology that’s supposed to reinvent financial transactions and replace old-fashioned banks, Bitcoin has a lot of growing up to do.

The Guardian: “Welcome to the age of Trump”

This is more than a rejection of the current Democrat-Republican gridlock. This is a contempt for the very notion of constitutional democracy. And if Trump is pushing it, it may be because he knows there is a ready audience for just such a message.

The World Values Survey of 2011 included a stunning figure. It found that 34% of Americans approved of “having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections”, the figure rising to 42% among those with no education beyond high school. It’s worth reading that again, to let it sink in. It means that one in three US voters would prefer a dictator to democracy. Those Americans are not repudiating this or that government, but abandoning the very idea of democracy itself.

These figures reinforce a pattern revealed by recent academic research that shows a body of US opinion predisposed toward liberal democracy’s polar opposite: authoritarianism.

Jonathan Freedland

The best explanation of Trump’s popularity I’ve seen – backed up by more recent studies as well. Plays well into his good relations with the authoritarian Putin too. Unfortunately the recent economic crisis coupled with global instability and the threat of terrorism are fueling the authoritarian mindset all over the globe, as it has happened many times before with grave consequences.

08 September 2016

Tech in Asia: “Why US tech companies struggle in China but thrive in India”

Some of the world’s most successful companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Uber – have turned their backs on the Middle Kingdom and its 1.4 billion people, raising the question: Why have US tech companies consistently failed in China, yet enjoyed relative success in India? What will this mean for India’s startups?

There are three parties that have caused US tech companies to succeed in India whilst failing in China: the consumers (the guys the companies fight for), the local competition (the guys they fight against), the government (the guys that decide whether they get to fight at all).

Tara Kola

Interestingly enough, Apple is the exception here with better business in China (although it’s showing signs of struggle) and weak prospects in India, despite Tim Cook’s investment plans. I think the different outcomes of US tech companies in China and India are impacted by their business models as well. On one side Apple is selling premium hardware, so it’s natural it will find more buyers among people with higher disposable income – and China is definitely ahead of India in that regard. The other companies mentioned here, from Google to Facebook and Amazon to Uber, rely on services and scale to collect revenues, so they’re less sensitive to wealth and more to the number of people they can reach. For them India has an edge because the consumers are much more familiar with Western culture and English language and so easy to target with existing solutions. Having to adapt products in China is making it less lucrative to expand, US companies can reach less people and the local businesses can compete effectively – with the caveat that Chinese companies in turn can’t expand very effectively outside China.

The Guardian: “The conspiracy theorists who have taken over Poland”

This circular reasoning helps to make sense of Jarosław’s success in building an electoral coalition around the notion of the układ. The identification of Poland’s liberals with an anti-Polish conspiracy means that one can either begin by believing in the układ, and therefore be convinced of the need to purge the state of liberal influence, or begin by wishing to purge the state of liberal influence, and therefore have an interest in pretending to believe in the układ. The result is a peculiar alliance between the paranoid and the cynical that Poles and foreigners alike struggle to understand.

It is no coincidence that faith in communism depended on exactly the same kind of logic. Contempt for the rule of law; the identification of a minority faction with the interests of the nation; the separation of power from office by constructing extra-legal chains of command; the demonisation of opponents and purges of state structures; an ideological re-interpretation of history: these are all legacies of communist rule. A quarter of a century after the end of communism, the alleged hold of communists over the Polish state is still being used as a pretext to deploy communist-era methods to take hold of the Polish state.

Christian Davies

Concerning development for Poland’s political system and society – unfortunately with many parallels in today’s world, from Trump to Brexit to Turkey.

The ironic side of the story: while openly rejecting everything and everyone even remotely related to the communist regime, the Law and Justice party is employing communist tactics to gain control, thereby threatening to reverse recent advances in democracy and freedom.

05 September 2016

Bloomberg: “Welcome to Larry Page’s Secret Flying Car Factories”

Flying cars, of course, are ridiculous. Lone-wolf inventors have tried to build them for decades, with little to show for their efforts besides disappointed investors and depleted bank accounts. Those failures have done little to lessen the yearning: In the nerd hierarchy of needs, the flying car is up there with downloadable brains and a working holodeck.

But better materials, autonomous navigation systems, and other technical advances have convinced a growing body of smart, wealthy, and apparently serious people that within the next few years we’ll have a self-flying car that takes off and lands vertically—or at least a small, electric, mostly autonomous commuter plane. About a dozen companies around the world, including startups and giant aerospace manufacturers, are working on prototypes. Furthest along, it appears, are the companies Page is quietly funding. Over the past five years, there have been these tremendous advances in the underlying technology, says Mark Moore, an aeronautical engineer who’s spent his career designing advanced aircraft at NASA. What appears in the next 5 to 10 years will be incredible.

Ashlee Vance & Brad Stone

Extensive coverage of many competing efforts to crack to complicated problem of building a viable flying car. Despite the expected technological advances, I remain very skeptical. Even if the engineering challenges are solved, I think public acceptance of flying cars will go much slower than autonomous cars because it requires a larger change in culture and social habits. A suitable infrastructure would need to be built as well, since flying cars would probably not be able to park in regular parking lots or fuel at regular gas stations. A time horizon of 10 years seems overly optimistic – if they don’t fail completely I think 25 years is more realistic.

03 September 2016

New York Magazine: “Hillary Clinton vs. Herself”

The idea that, at this point, there is some version of Hillary Clinton that we haven’t seen before feels implausible. Often, it feels like we know too much about her. She has been around for so long — her story, encompassing political intrigue and personal drama, has been recounted so many times — that she can seem a fictional character. To her critics, she is Lady Macbeth, to her adherents, Joan of Arc. As a young Hillary hater, I often compared her to Darth Vader — more machine than woman, her humanity ever more shrouded by Dark Side gadgetry. These days, I think of her as General Leia: No longer a rebel princess, she has made a wry peace with her rakish mate and her controversial hair and is hard at work, mounting a campaign against the fascistic First Order.

The dichotomy between her public and private presentation has a lot to do with the fact that she has built such a wall between the two. Her pathological desire for privacy is at the root of the never-ending email saga, to name just one example. But how do you convince a woman whose entire career taught her to be defensive and secretive that the key to her political success might just be to lay all her cards on the table and trust that she’ll be treated fairly? Especially when she might not be.

She had good reason to be scared. By 1999, even without having pursued her own political path, Clinton had learned what it might entail to be a woman who competed: She had taken her husband’s last name after his 1980 reelection defeat in Arkansas had been blamed on her independence; she’d done cookie-bake-off penance for her remarks about prioritizing career over domesticity; everything from her friend Vince Foster’s death to the wandering attentions of her husband had been tied to her purported ruthlessness.

Rebecca Traister

Reading this in-depth account of the Hilary Clinton presidential campaign, I couldn’t help comparing it with House of Cards, especially the character Claire Underwood, a hyper-competent and ambitious woman who has to act in the shadow of her husband, hoping (and scheming) to someday get her chance to step up and seize power. There may be something more than simple coincidence here since, according to Wikipedia, the screenwriter Beau Willimon has previously served as an aide to Hillary Clinton.

The New Yorker: “The Deep State”

When Erdoğan and his comrades in the A.K. Party came to power, there were widespread concerns that, as ardent Islamists, they were intent on foisting a religious regime on secular Turkey. Erdoğan, for his part, feared the resistance of what is commonly referred to as derin devlet, the “deep state”. The deep state is a presumed clandestine network of military officers and their civilian allies who, for decades, suppressed and sometimes murdered dissidents, Communists, reporters, Islamists, Christian missionaries, and members of minority groups—anyone thought to pose a threat to the secular order, established in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk. The deep state, historians say, has functioned as a kind of shadow government, disseminating propaganda to whip up public fear or destabilizing civilian governments not to its liking.

Dexter Filkins

Interesting overview of the modern Turkish state and the (unlikely) rise to power of the current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although the article is now four and a half years old, you can already see the pattern forming that led to massive arrests and purges following the recent coup attempt and how fear of this deep state is used to justify basically every harsh action by the current regime.

02 September 2016

The Verge: “Exclusive: Why Microsoft is betting its future on AI”

Microsoft can now translate conversations between eight different languages — 56 different combinations. And the underlying technology has implications that go beyond translation. You want to hear about a bot that's incredibly, even magically useful? Microsoft is beta-testing software that records business meetings and produces transcripts in real time. The same software can also, say, take an audio recording of an interview between two people and produce a transcript that distinguishes between the speakers — perhaps the single most desired piece of technology for any journalist who ever lived.

Casey Newton

That does sound really useful! (although on the surface not all that different from YouTube’s automatic captioning system) Having text transcripts of meetings generated automatically would eliminate the need for minutes and the usual back-and-forth of emails to confirm decisions reached during meetings, not to mention being able to archive and search the contents later.

Not sure why the headline is all about Google though; Facebook has invested pretty heavily in machine learning and similar techniques as well, with intriguing results.