08 October 2016

The Atlantic: “The Obama Doctrine”

Obama has come to a number of dovetailing conclusions about the world, and about America’s role in it. The first is that the Middle East is no longer terribly important to American interests. The second is that even if the Middle East were surpassingly important, there would still be little an American president could do to make it a better place. The third is that the innate American desire to fix the sorts of problems that manifest themselves most drastically in the Middle East inevitably leads to warfare, to the deaths of U.S. soldiers, and to the eventual hemorrhaging of U.S. credibility and power. The fourth is that the world cannot afford to see the diminishment of U.S. power. Just as the leaders of several American allies have found Obama’s leadership inadequate to the tasks before him, he himself has found world leadership wanting: global partners who often lack the vision and the will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is. Obama believes that history has sides, and that America’s adversaries—and some of its putative allies—have situated themselves on the wrong one, a place where tribalism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, and militarism still flourish. What they don’t understand is that history is bending in his direction.

If you are a supporter of the president, his strategy makes eminent sense: Double down in those parts of the world where success is plausible, and limit America’s exposure to the rest. His critics believe, however, that problems like those presented by the Middle East don’t solve themselves—that, without American intervention, they metastasize.

At the moment, Syria, where history appears to be bending toward greater chaos, poses the most direct challenge to the president’s worldview.

George W. Bush was also a gambler, not a bluffer. He will be remembered harshly for the things he did in the Middle East. Barack Obama is gambling that he will be judged well for the things he didn’t do.

Jeffrey Goldberg

Interesting perspective on the foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration for the past seven years. There’s no doubt president Obama managed impressive breakthroughs, the latest being the ratification of the Paris climate treaty, announced together with the Chinese president no less.

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…