15 May 2018

The Washington Post: “Yes, Pluto is a planet”

Most essentially, planetary worlds (including planetary moons) are those large enough to have pulled themselves into a ball by the strength of their own gravity. Below a certain size, the strength of ice and rock is enough to resist rounding by gravity, and so the smallest worlds are lumpy. This is how, even before New Horizons arrives, we know that Ultima Thule is not a planet. Among the few facts we’ve been able to ascertain about this body is that it is tiny (just 17 miles across) and distinctly nonspherical. This gives us a natural, physical criterion to separate planets from all the small bodies orbiting in space — boulders, icy comets or rocky and metallic asteroids, all of which are small and lumpy because their gravity is too weak for self-rounding.

David Grinspoon & Alan Stern

This article kicked off once again the heated debate of Pluto’s planethood. Scientific arguments aside, it feels there are a lot of ambitions at stake here: on one side the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto; on the other the self-titled ‘Pluto killer’ – hard to see how these two could ever come to a compromise on this matter.

14 May 2018

The New Yorker: “Making China Great Again”

So far, Trump has proposed reducing U.S. contributions to the U.N. by forty per cent, and pressured the General Assembly to cut six hundred million dollars from its peacekeeping budget. In his first speech to the U.N., in September, Trump ignored its collective spirit and celebrated sovereignty above all, saying, As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.

China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.

And China has embarked on history’s most expensive foreign infrastructure plan. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, it is building bridges, railways, and ports in Asia, Africa, and beyond. If the initiative’s cost reaches a trillion dollars, as predicted, it will be more than seven times that of the Marshall Plan, which the U.S. launched in 1947, spending a hundred and thirty billion, in today’s dollars, on rebuilding postwar Europe.

Evan Osnos

Despite the title, this article is as much about China’s ambitions to become a world power, as it is about America’s recent reluctance to fill this role. Very interesting read, covering multiple topics, from political influence to economic investments to tech advancements and artificial intelligence.

13 May 2018

The Guardian: “Why can’t we cure the common cold?”

3D rendering of a human rhinovirus virus

Although modern science has changed the way medicine is practised in almost every field, it has so far failed to produce any radically new treatments for colds. The difficulty is that while all colds feel much the same, from a biological perspective the only common feature of the various viruses that cause colds is that they have adapted to enter and damage the cells that line the respiratory tract. Otherwise, they belong to quite different categories of organisms, each with a distinct way of infecting our cells. This makes a catch-all treatment extremely tricky to formulate.

Scientists today identify seven virus families that cause the majority of colds: rhinovirus, coronavirus, influenza and parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and, finally, metapneumovirus, which was first isolated in 2001. Each has a branch of sub-viruses, known as serotypes, of which there are about 200. Rhinovirus, the smallest cold pathogen by size, is by far the most prevalent, causing up to three-quarters of colds in adults. To vanquish the cold we will need to tackle all of these different families of virus at some stage. But, for now, rhinovirus is the biggest player.

Nicola Davison

Interesting article about a wide-spread problem: the ‘common’ cold. This large variety of viruses is probably the reason why our bodies do not build natural immunity against ‘the cold’: every time we catch a cold it’s likely caused by a different strain, one our immune system hasn’t encountered before and doesn't know how to fight. It clearly complicates the search for a cure, although internal politics at drug companies and profitability considerations do play a role, as explained later.

08 May 2018

Strategy Analytics: “Apple iPhone X becomes World’s Best-Selling Smartphone Model in Q1 2018”

We estimate the Apple iPhone X shipped 16.0 million units and captured 5 percent marketshare worldwide in Q1 2018. For the second quarter running, the iPhone X remains the world’s most popular smartphone model overall, due to a blend of good design, sophisticated camera, extensive apps, and widespread retail presence for the device. Apple has now shifted almost 50 million iPhone X units worldwide since commercial launch in November 2017. The Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus shipped 12.5 and 8.3 million units, respectively, for second and third place. The previous-generation iPhone 7 shipped a respectable 5.6 million units for fourth place. Combined together, Apple today accounts for four of the world’s six most popular smartphone models.

Linda Sui

Let’s do a quick plausibility check on these numbers. Apple released their second quarter results last week, so we have the official sales and revenue numbers for the iPhone (52.217 Mio. units and $38,032 Mio. revenue, ASP $728.35). We know the prices for each iPhone model, so combined with the sales estimates above we can calculate an estimated revenue and ASP for these four models. I say ‘estimated’, because we don’t know how many people opted for basic storage or for the larger capacity, as this also impacts the sale price and ultimately ASP. I calculated two versions, one based on the (unlikely) assumption that sales went 100% to lower capacity phones, and another one assuming 15% of consumers chose the more expensive phone with more storage.

04 May 2018

Twitter Blog: “A new Twitter experience on Windows”

With this new app, we leveraged Microsoft’s support for Progressive Web Apps to bring users a better, faster and improved experience they’ve come to expect from Twitter. This new app has been optimized for the Windows 10 April 2018 Update. Once you install the latest update you will notice that we streamlined the in-app experience with a more consistent look and feel. And, we’ve added several highly-requested features, like:

  • Extended character limit to 280 characters
  • Access to the Explore tab to find topics relevant to your interests
  • Ability to bookmark Tweets to be read later
  • Improved accessibility for screen readers
  • And much more
Charlie Croom

Sadly, this update also means losing some features, from support for multiple accounts to the experimental tabs of the abandoned native Windows app. The PWA doesn’t show notifications yet, but that may be because I haven’t updated Windows 10 yet; some features depend on the Edge rendering engine running inside the PWA.

03 May 2018

Om on Tech: “Dating with Facebook: What’s love got to do with it?”

It is hardly a surprise that they will attempt dating — it increases time spent on Facebook, it brings a new flavor of addiction. Take a step back and remind yourself of Facebook’s attempts to bring you news ended in fake news becoming the norm. Their algorithms created not friendship but hate bubbles. And now the same company will create an algorithm of love?

However scratch the surface, and you start to see that this is Facebook being Facebook. They are addicted to collecting personal data, and what better way to get people to share their intimate details wants and desires by creating a tool that promises the elusive love, or more realistically, a date. When you are in dating mode, you are more likely to reveal a lot more intimate details.

Om Malik

Pretty bold move for Facebook to announce this in the middle of one of their biggest privacy scandals. I guess they’re confident most people have a short memory – and they might be right! Still, it doesn’t guarantee success by any means; Facebook launched so many copycat products over the years that it’s hard to keep track of them all – and very few managed to break out. Facebook’s biggest success story in fact, Instagram, was the result of an acquisition.

01 May 2018

The Verge: “NASA astronauts will probably launch from the US before The Winds of Winter is published”

Because of all this uncertainty, I once believed Martin would finish his book before the Commercial Program got into full swing. Creating new spaceflight capabilities is difficult, and NASA has imposed a particularly strict safety standard on its two commercial partners. Plus, Martin has insisted multiple times that he saw the book’s completion on the horizon. He even has a team of researchers and assistants helping him maintain Westeros continuity.

But now that Martin has admitted that The Winds of Winter won’t be coming out this year, he has left me with no choice, and no doubt: SpaceX and Boeing will launch NASA astronauts first. It’s not just that the book is delayed again. Martin is instead releasing a 640-page history book about the Targaryens — that’s 989 manuscript pages! About a single family in Westeros! Sure, both SpaceX and Boeing have other projects they’re working on, too, but these companies have staffs of thousands of people. Only one person can write the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and if Martin is working on a separate “imaginary history”, it doesn’t get written.

Loren Grush

I have a wild theory about the reason why George R.R. Martin delays the next book in the series again and again, while releasing other works in the same fantastical universe: he doesn’t know how to end the story! I think he got so tangled up in the countless characters and tangential plots that he simply lost track of his original vision and now he can’t make up his mind how to pull it all together.