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George Ezra: more charming than Jake Bugg

Saturday, 1 November, 2014 0 Comments

Sony Music is placing a big bet on George Ezra, the 21-year old singing-songwriting University of Bristol dropout. But it could be a winning wager. Ezra made news recently when it was announced that he’d sold out his February 2015 UK tour in just 10 minutes. There’s a number one album, too, and this catchy top 10 single, as well. It’s all fuelling the buzz. No doubt, he is very marketable: the looks, the swagger, the wryness, the honeyed voice. What’s missing, though, is the compositional talent of Jake Bugg. There’s more to the music game than charm. That said, charm is not such a bad attribute.

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Happy anniversary!

Friday, 31 October, 2014 0 Comments

Wedding cake

The economy: Everyone’s talking about it…

Thursday, 30 October, 2014 0 Comments

… buy who can explain it? Maybe a philanthropist and a filmmaker. Combine the wealth of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, with the creativity of Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me, and you get We The Economy, a series of 20 videos that seeks to explain key economic concepts. Topics covered and questions asked include, “Why is the law of supply and demand so powerful?”, “What causes a recession?”, “Why do we have budget deficits and a national debt?”, “What happens when jobs disappear?” and “Is inequality growing?”

Here’s THE STREET by Joe Berlinger. The clip comes with a range of resources curated to deepen one’s understanding of how the stock market works.

Elon Musk warned about old Russian rocket engines

Wednesday, 29 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s nothing quite like fireworks to light up a front/home page, is there? Background: Yesterday evening, the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded just six seconds after lifting off from the Wallops Island spacepad in Virginia. NASA says that all personnel in the area have been accounted for, and there were no injuries.

Rockets have a history of exploding and the cause of the Antares failure is not yet known, but relying on old Russian engines may not be the wisest use of critical components. Which brings us to Elon Musk, the brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX. Two years ago, to the week, he said the following to Chris Anderson of Wired:

“One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s — I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”

Four days ago, Musk’s Dragon capsule safely landed in the Pacific Ocean, returning some two tons of cargo and science experiments to Earth from the International Space Station. Instead of relying on rusty Russian parts, Musk is making rockets using an advanced technology called stir welding:

“Instead of riveting the ribs and hoops, you use a special machine that softens the metal on both sides of the joint without penetrating it or melting it. Unlike traditional welding, which melts and potentially compromises some metals, this process works well with high-strength aluminum alloys. You wind up with a stiffer, lighter structure than was possible before.”

Yes, SpaceX has had its setbacks, but nothing as spectacular as yesterday’s Antares fail.

Facebook: Earnings and Yearnings

Tuesday, 28 October, 2014 0 Comments

Can Facebook keep telling its growth story? The social network reports third quarter earnings this evening and expectations are high. Last quarter it generate revenue of $1.81 billion, a 53 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago and, as The Motley Fool encapsulates it, “shares up 45% in 2014 and nearly 200% since the start of 2013.” While all this is good news for investors, not everyone is thrilled by the rise and rise of the behemoth. Take publishers, for instance.

Their increasing dependency on referral social media traffic and Facebook’s increasing focus on mobile is creating a relationship that’s potentially ruinous. The inability of traditional publishers to create pages that load rapidly on mobile devices has led Facebook to dangle a lure. “One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.” That’s what David Carr wrote in the New York Times on Sunday in a piece titled Facebook Offers Life Raft, but Publishers Are Wary. And so they should be, because attractive and all as this might appear, Carr quickly adds, “Media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.”

Can this grim fate be avoided? Over at Gigaom, Mathew Ingram follows up on Carr’s article and suggests that salvation might be found in offering readers the things Facebook cannot. Snippet:

“For me, the only possible route to survival (notice I didn’t use the word prosperity or success, just survival) is to play in Facebook’s sandbox, but to give up as little as possible — and at the same time, to spend as much or more effort on figuring out how to make your content as engaging and social as it can be on your own terms. Give readers the ability to do things that Facebook can’t or won’t: the ability to interact with you, to be part of the process… If you hand all of your content and relationships over to Facebook and assume that your work is done, then you have already lost.”

But what if the war has been lost? This chart from Shareaholic shows just how dominant Facebook is in the social media traffic business. We know enough now about its yearnings. They are being powered by its earnings and that’s why this evening’s results are so important.

Facebook traffic

From flash freezing to social freezing

Monday, 27 October, 2014 0 Comments

One of the joys of reading Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World lies in the many ways the author riffs on the butterfly effect. For example, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans marked not just the end of the Roman Empire and a huge setback for Christendom; it also led to an exodus of glass makers. Many of them found a welcome in Venice, but because their furnaces caused numerous conflagrations of the city’s wooden houses, they were exiled again, this time to the island of Murano, where they could do less damage. There, they flourished in a kind of watery Silicon Valley and came up with astonishing ideas thanks to their co-operation and competition with each other.

How We Got to Now One of these innovations plays a key role in Las Meninas, the great painting by Diego Velázquez. This Spanish masterpiece mixes reality and illusion and puts royalty in perspective by having the king and queen, Felipe IV and María de Austria, reflected in a mirror at the back of the room. The mirror was another Murano byproduct. By coating the back of crystal-clear glass with an amalgam of tin and mercury, the island’s glass makers created a shiny, reflective surface and the mirror was born.

Another example. In the chapter titled “Cold”, Johnson recounts the story of Clarence Birdseye, an eccentric American naturalist and entrepreneur, who moved his family to the Canadian wilds of Labrador in 1916. While fishing with some local Inuit, he noticed that the trout they pulled out of carved holes in the ice froze solid in seconds and tasted fresh and crisp when thawed out and cooked. He became obsessed with the puzzle of why ice-fished trout tasted better than the rest of the family’s frozen food and eventually figured out that it was all in the speed of the freezing process. Back in New York City, Clarence Birdseye created a flash-freezing food business and he sold his company for millions in June 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash. Today, Birdseye’s name is synonymous with frozen food.

The frozen food culture Birdseye created “would do more than just populate the world with fish sticks,” notes Johnson. The revolutionary thing is that “It would also populate the world with people, thanks to the flash freezing and cryopreservation of human semen, eggs, and embryos… Today, new techniques on oocyte cryopreservation are allowing women to store more eggs in their younger years, extending their fertility well into their forties and fifties in many cases. So much of the freedom in the way we have children now… would have been impossible without the invention of flash freezing.”

Seeing that companies are now promoting oocyte cryopreservation for their female employees, a more user-friendly term is needed for the process, hence, “social freezing.”

Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now is nourishing food for thought.

A girl whose single bed held two to make ends meet

Sunday, 26 October, 2014 0 Comments

If he had lived past 39, the “Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive”, as Dylan Thomas called himself, would be 100 years old tomorrow. The end came in New York when he drank 18 straight whiskies in the White Horse Tavern and announced “I think that’s the record.” He staggered outside, collapsed, was taken to the Chelsea Hotel, fell into a coma and died the next morning in St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Dylan Thomas loved words. In his unfinished Notes on the Art of Poetry, he wrote: “What the words stood for, symbolised, or meant, was of very secondary importance; what mattered was the sound of them as I heard them for the first time on the lips of the remote and incomprehensible grown-ups who seemed, for some reason, to be living in my world. And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milk-carts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane, might be to someone, deaf from birth, who has miraculously found his hearing.”

But words, in the form of gossip, can be a cause of great hurt, too. As Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV Part 2 Act 1 Scene 1, “Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues.” Here’s now Thomas viewed those dishing the dirt.

The Gossipers

The gossipers have lowered their voices,
Willing words to make the rumours certain,
Suspicious words tug at the neighbouring vices,
Unthinking actions given causes
Stir their old bones behind cupboard and curtains.

Putting two and two together,
Informed by rumour and the register,
The virgins smelt out, three streets up,
A girl whose single bed held two
To make ends meet,
Found managers and widows wanting
In morals and full marriage bunting,
And other virgins in official fathers.

For all the inconveniences they make,
The trouble, devildom, and heartbreak
The withered women win them bedfellows,
Nightly upon their wrinkled breasts
Press the old lies and the old ghosts.

Dylan Thomas (27 October 1914 — 9 November 1953)

Jessie Ware: Tough Love

Saturday, 25 October, 2014 0 Comments

At midnight on 13 October, Jessie Ware tweeted, “#ToughLove my second album can now be yours. Goodnight!” Following the release of her debut album, Devotion, in 2012, Ware was called “the missing link between Adele, SBTRKT and Sade.” Pitchfork says that her latest, “Tough Love” compares to “Prince at his minimalist ’80s best.” This is modern pop + R&B, and along with the Adele and Sade echoes there are hints of FKA twigs and La Roux in the mix.

How do people get new ideas?

Friday, 24 October, 2014 0 Comments

“Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, ‘How stupid of me not to have thought of this.’ But why didn’t he think of it?” That was the question posed in 1959 by Isaac Asimov in an essay he wrote for an MIT spinoff, Allied Research Associates in Boston. Arthur Obermayer, a friend of the author, found the piece “while cleaning out some old files” and immediately recognized its relevance for the contemporary debate about creativity. It was published earlier this week in the MIT Technology Review. Snippets:

“Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)”

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required… The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing.”

“The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome.”

Asimov did concede that group thinking by ‘creatives’ might worthwhile now and then, as “a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.” He argued, however, that “a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.” And a few drinks might be in order, too, because “there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence — not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness.”

Nowness

Thursday, 23 October, 2014 0 Comments

Nowness defines itself as “a video channel showcasing contemporary culture through film. Every day we premiere a new video that gets under the skin of the most influential names across art & design, fashion & beauty, music, culture and food & travel.” Here, Alessandro Gualtieri, the Italian perfumer, is in pursuit of the perfect scent in Paul Rigter’s documentary, The Nose: Searching for Blamage. The “Blamage” involved, by the way, is the 10th perfume in his Nasomatto (Crazy Nose) line.




Dude’s feast day

Wednesday, 22 October, 2014 0 Comments

He’s got that hipster look. The hair, the beard, the shades, the watch. The paddle thing is hip, too. But the photo was not shot by The Sartorialist or any other fashion blogger. It dates from 1955 and it’s of this man, once an avid outdoors person, whose feast day is being celebrated for the first time today.

Dude saint