20 January 2018

The Guardian: “Orbiting Jupiter: my week with Emmanuel Macron”

Watching him, I was reminded of the opening credits of the TV series The Young Pope, in which Jude Law, dressed in an immaculate cassock, advances across the screen as if on a cloud, in slow motion, weightless, and at one point turns and winks at the camera. Macron winks often. He did it to me. In any event, no matter what you think of him, whether you see his rise as a political miracle or a mirage destined to fade away, everyone agrees: he could seduce a chair. The professional commentators who started to drop him after just a few months of his presidency can keep calling him a powdered marquis, a megalomaniac with royal pretensions, a rich man’s president or a communicator without a cause, but he couldn’t care less. The people, by contrast, with whom he is directly, physically in contact, are his bread and butter. Anyone who’s had their hand shaken by Macron is lost to the opposition: they’re destined to vote Macron and to convert to Macronism. But you can’t shake hands with everyone in the country. And anyway, just what is Macronism?

Emmanuel Carrère

Quite the pompous title for this piece on France’s recently-elected President, Emmanuel Macron. I find it a little disturbing how self-confident he sounds in this article; I think he will either transform the world – or France at least – or (more likely) fail miserably, as others have before him. The contrast with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is particularly striking; one has to wonder how will they find a common path forward leading the European Union in these turbulent times.

05 January 2018

The New York Times: “Researchers discover Two Major Flaws in the World’s Computers”

The Meltdown flaw is specific to Intel, but Spectre is a flaw in design that has been used by many processor manufacturers for decades. It affects virtually all microprocessors on the market, including chips made by AMD that share Intel’s design and the many chips based on designs from ARM in Britain.

Spectre is a problem in the fundamental way processors are designed, and the threat from Spectre is “going to live with us for decades”, said Mr. Kocher, the president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research, a division of Rambus.

“Whereas Meltdown is an urgent crisis, Spectre affects virtually all fast microprocessors”, Mr. Kocher said. An emphasis on speed while designing new chips has left them vulnerable to security issues, he said.

“We’ve really screwed up”, Mr. Kocher said. “There’s been this desire from the industry to be as fast as possible and secure at the same time. Spectre shows that you cannot have both.”

Cade Metz & Nicole Perlroth

So 2018 is off to a great start, with the disclosure of major hardware-based security vulnerabilities in virtually every computer around us. It’s never been a better idea to update your operating system and browser to protect your data, at least partially. Windows users need to be particularly careful, as the Microsoft fix is apparently interfering with some third-party antivirus software – there’s a compatibility list here – and more advice here and in the official support documentation.

01 January 2018

Engadget: “Twitter is developing a ‘Save for Later’ bookmarking feature”

While most tweets are a quick read, a lot of people still want a way to save those worthy of a more in-depth inspection. After getting tons of requests for a "Save for Later" feature, the company has finally started developing a Bookmarking tool during its annual Hack Week activities. Twitter product manager Jesar Shah has announced the feature on the platform and posted a quick demo of the prototype they created at the event.

Mariella Moon

The feature appeared in my account sometime in the past week, but curiously only when I’m using Twitter Lite, their new mobile website; there’s no sign of bookmarking in either the regular desktop site or in the official iOS app. As the article above mentions, this experiment replaces the ‘send via direct message’ icon with a new menu, which includes the option to add the tweet to bookmarks. There is also a new entry in the profile menu for Bookmarks, where you can access your saved tweets.

31 December 2017

Brandon Sanderson – Calamity

in Bucharest, Romania
Brandon Sanderson - Calamity

În ciuda eforturilor lor, ultima misiune a Reckonerilor s‑a încheiat cât de poate de prost: deși Profesorul a reușit să devieze deflagrația lui Obliteration și să salveze orașul Babilar de la anihilare, efortul imens i‑a consumat ultimele resurse cu care se împotrivea instinctelor agresive de Epic. Odată puterile dezlănțuite, fostul lider, luându‑și numele de Limelight, s‑a întors împotriva organizației pe care o crease, omorând toate celulele de rezistență care nu se adăpostiseră suficient de repede din calea lui. Alături de Megan, David a strâns laolaltă ultimii membrii supraviețuitori ai echipei din Newcago, în speranța, oricât de mică, de a‑l readuce pe fostul lor mentor pe calea cea bună. Dar pentru asta au nevoie de arme și dotări noi, ceea ce îi pune în fața unei alte provocări dificile: să pătrundă în fortăreața impenetrabilă a lui Knighthawk, furnizorul lor de tehnologie exotică.

She let go, and we entered the kitchen to discuss the fate of the world over popcorn.

După cele două romane precedente, Calamity continuă în formula consacrată, ridicând miza la un nivel superior. Îl urmărim în continuare pe David, acum conducătorul echipei în absența membrilor veterani, printr‑un șir variat de aventuri, de la misiuni de infiltrare sub acoperire la lupte masive. Fundalul se schimbă de asemenea, odată ce echipa dă de urma lui Limelight în fosta Atlanta, acum un oraș de sare care călătorește încet de‑a lungul continentului american mânat de puterile fantastice ale Epicilor. O idee interesantă, deși nu neapărat originală pentru cititorii veterani de science‑fiction; din câte știu primul autor care a folosit imaginea asta a fost Christopher Priest în Lumea Inversă, cu versiuni remarcabile în Absolution Gap și Luna: New Moon.

29 December 2017

The New York Times: “Your Uber Car Creates Congestion. Should You Pay a Fee to Ride?”

About 103,000 for-hire vehicles operate in the city, more than double the roughly 47,000 in 2013, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Of those, 68,000 are affiliated with ride-hailing app companies, including 65,000 with Uber alone, though they may also provide rides for others. In contrast, yellow taxis are capped by city law at just under 13,600.

Now a new report finds that ride-hailing cars are often driving on the city’s busiest streets with no passengers — in effect, creating congestion without any benefits. The report by Bruce Schaller, a former city transportation official, found that more than a third of ride-hailing cars and yellow taxis are empty at any given time during weekdays in Manhattan’s main business district.

Winnie Hu

More evidence that ride-sharing is inefficient and increases congestion instead of easing it – and the same argument can be made about autonomous cars. The solution to slow traffic will never be ‘more cars on the roads’, but instead better public transport infrastructure.

26 December 2017

Instagram Blog: “Introducing Stories Highlights and Stories Archive”

Moving forward, your stories will automatically save to your archive when they expire. This makes it easy for you to revisit your favorite moments later on or bring them back to life in a highlight.

To access the stories in your archive, tap the Archive icon on your profile. From there, you can easily switch between your Posts Archive and your new Stories Archive. In your Stories Archive, your stories will appear in a grid with the most recent stories at the bottom. The first story from each day will show a date indicator to help you navigate your archive as you scroll.

Tap on any story in your archive to watch it. From there, you can add it to your story, share it as a post or add it to a highlight on your profile.

Instagram Blog

Wasn’t the original selling point of Stories to be a private and ephemeral way of sharing? I guess now that the Instagram variant managed to stall Snapchat’s growth, Facebook found a way to keep them around and mine them for data and advertising.

20 December 2017

Geekbench: “iPhone Performance and Battery Age”

First, it appears the problem is widespread, and will only get worse as phones (and their batteries) continue to age. See, for example, the difference between the distribution of iPhone 6s scores between 10.2.1 and 11.2.0.

Second, the problem is due, in part, to a change in iOS. The difference between 10.2.0 and 10.2.1 is too abrupt to be just a function of battery condition. I believe (as do others) that Apple introduced a change to limit performance when battery condition decreases past a certain point.


If the performance drop is due to the “sudden shutdown” fix, users will experience reduced performance without notification. Users expect either full performance, or reduced performance with a notification that their phone is in low-power mode. This fix creates a third, unexpected state. While this state is created to mask a deficiency in battery power, users may believe that the slow down is due to CPU performance, instead of battery performance, which is triggering an Apple introduced CPU slow-down. This fix will also cause users to think, “my phone is slow so I should replace it” not, “my phone is slow so I should replace its battery”. This will likely feed into the “planned obsolescence” narrative.

John Poole

I’ve experienced the ‘sudden shutdown’ a couple of times in the last months on my iPhone 6, but I doubt the issue was fixed with a software update as Apple claims; I’ve had more shutdowns after updating than before. I’ve also noticed overall performance is getting worse for some time now, even while staying on iOS 10; apps would take full seconds to refresh and the screen sometimes fails to respond to touch as if the device is busy with some particularly complicated task. As for the fact that the two issues are linked and the second is supposed to be a ‘fix’ for the first… what can I say? Just goes to show that Apple’s software quality is declining and, at the same time, the company is willing to do just about anything to trick people into upgrading their iPhones.