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The first post of pre-Christmas 2018: January

Thursday, 13 December, 2018

We’re kicking off the Rainy Day review of this year’s postings with an entry dated 3 January. The title was “New Year’s reading: CRISPR.” Here goes.

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We’re devoting time this week to the books that were the presents of Christmas past. On Monday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from Noel Donnelly, yesterday it was Five Escape Brexit Island, put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by Ian McMaster, and today it’s Change Agent by Daniel Suarez, a gift to this blogger from himself.

At the end of March last year, The Hollywood Reporter posted an “Exclusive” story titled “Netflix Options Upcoming Sci-Fi Novel ‘Change Agent’.” So, before the publisher had stocked up on ink to print the novel, its author was laughing all the way to bank. Nice one! What’s all the excitement about, then? Well, Change Agent is thriller about genetic engineering that combines CRISPR with non-stop action in Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar. At the centre of the story is Kenneth Durand, an Interpol agent who’s given the face and body of a scary villain, thanks to some deft in vivo gene editing that threatens to eliminate the very notion of individual identity. In telling the yarn, Suarez creates a near-future world of cryptocurrencies, drones, surveillance, AR glasses, trade and terror. Snippet:

Early evening and Durand sat in the conditioned air of a private autonomous comcar as it merged into the close coordination of rush hour. His daughter’s wrapped birthday gift sat on the seat beside him. He leaned back and felt the stress of the day leave him.
In the distance he could see the glowing logos of synbio firms on the Singapore skyline. Licensed AR video ads played across the surfaces of several skyscrapers — although they were really only being beamed into Durand’s retinas by his own LFP glasses. The contract for his LFP glasses required exposure to specific layers of public advertising. At least he’d opted out of the low-end ads, but opting out of all AR advertising was prohibitively expensive.

Just the same, Durand frowned at the shoddy data management employed by the advertisers. He was clearly not in the target demographic for an ad gliding across the neighboring buildings, alive with images of Jedis, Starfleet officers, and steampunk characters: “Singapore’s premier Star Wars, Star Trek, and steampunk cosliving communities…”

Cossetted young professionals at the big synbio firms were a more likely demo for their product — single people with a couple million to blow on living in a theme park.

But by then the ad had shifted to CRISPR Critters. Gigantic, adorable neotenic cats cavorted from building to building, pursuing a virtual ball of yarn.

Durand decided to close his eyes.

He clicked off and followed other commuters down a narrow lane between old brick buildings. This MRT crowd skewed young — twenties and early thirties. Lots of expats. Well dressed and all talking to people who weren’t there. Snatches of conversation floated past him in Hokkien, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, English, Russian, Swahili, German, Korean — and more he didn’t recognize. They’d no doubt come to Singapore to make their killing. To work threads in a blockchain corporation or license their own cellular machinery. XNA programmers. Genetic engineers. Entrepreneurs. And they all had to have impressive CVs to get a work visa in the city.

Change Agent

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Tomorrow, here, the second post of pre-Christmas 2018: February.


The 12 posts of pre-Christmas

Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

This year, like every year, Rainy Day has posted daily about the good, the bad and the ugly of life in this best of all possible worlds. Now, with 2018 drawing to a close, it’s time to look back at the year’s posts and in the coming 12 days of pre-Christmas we’ll be posting an item from each month this year, starting tomorrow with January, which began with the fireside reading of a thriller that turned out to be quite topical many months later even though it’s set in the year 2045. You see, it’s very much about CRISPR and genetic crime and black market labs in Asia that perform “vanity edits” on human embryos… for a price.


Blog to write, tweet to fight

Sunday, 25 March, 2018 0 Comments

That, by the way, is the follow up to the “blog to reflect, tweet to connect” meme of recent years. Background: Dan Cohen is a history professor at Northeastern University in Boston known for his focus on what some people call the “digital humanities.” He’s also a blogger and in a recent post titled “Back to the Blog” he wrote about the pleasure of traditional blogging compared to the thrill of posting on social media. In essence, it’s about leaving the Facebook & Twitter noise behind and taking ownership of one’s own intellectual property, but there’s more. Snippet:

“I met many people through Twitter who became and remain important collaborators and friends. But the salad days of ‘blog to reflect, tweet to connect’ are gone. Long gone. Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like ‘blog to write, tweet to fight.’ Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic — not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.

Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain.”

Still, it’s a labour of love because the advertising that once supported bloggers has been hoovered up by the web giants, and then there’s the enormous advantage of numbers the platforms possess. Cohen: “Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity — the feeling that ‘others are here’ — that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.”

Talking about animals and the loneliness of the long-distance blogger (classical reference), George R.R. Martin summed it up, grimly, in A Game of Thrones: “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”


Ben Bernanke blogs

Monday, 30 March, 2015 0 Comments

Andrew’s Burnt Out? Blogs Are, Too” wrote Ana Marie Cox on 29 January, when it emerged that Andrew Sullivan was given up blogging. Sullivan’s Dish had persisted in various forms over 13 years and THE END was seen as the final blow to a self-centered, self-publishing activity encrusted with billions of unread words. But wait: “Blogging is very much alive – we just call it something else now,” responded Mathew Ingram of GigOm two days later. The irony of this is that GigOm itself expired on 9 March.

Actually, despite the headlines, blogging continues and a new name has been added to the blogroll: Ben Bernanke, who served two terms as chairman of the Federal Reserve, the US central bank. His first post is titled “Inaugurating a new blog” and it contains this piece of modest wisdom: “I hope to educate, and I hope to learn something as well.” That’s the blogging spirit, Ben. Question: Why are interest rates so low?

Ben Bernanke blog

UPDATE: Reuters informs us that blogging, in some parts of the world, is a deadly dangerous expression of freedom: “A blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka on Monday, the second attack in five weeks on a critic of religious extremism in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.”


Dave Winer went first

Thursday, 16 October, 2014 0 Comments

“I am a programmer and a blogger. In both these roles, I like to go first. If there’s a juicy idea out there to explore, I’m on it! That’s the role I played in the birth of blogging, starting on October 7, 1994.” So writes Dave Winer in Medium. He continues: “Because the power of the press belongs to people who have one, I realized how huge a change this was. Now publishing costs were zero. The only thing that stood in the way were basic practices for writers and programmers.”

After all these years and all that writing, Winer remains indefatigable. Over at Scripting News, he keeps pumping it out. Posts range in title from “Why I generally don’t tag” to “Are Twitter and Facebook silos?” How does he do it? On 28 September, he published “My manifesto for web writing.”


The power of WordPress

Wednesday, 15 October, 2014 0 Comments

WordPress “We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time,” say the creators of the open-source software that powers the likes of Rainy Day and some 60 million other sites. What began as a basic blogging tool back in 2003 has since matured into a full-featured content management system and now it’s transforming the digital look and feel of the venerable New Yorker.

“With the relaunch, NewYorker.com runs on WordPress, a more robust, user-friendly CMS,” writes John Brownlee in Fast Company. The article is titled “How The New Yorker Finally Figured Out The Internet: 3 Lessons From Its Web Redesign.” Quote: “Because the tools are no longer getting in the way of producers doing their job, NewYorker.com is now able to publish a greater volume of stories every day. The site used to top out at 10 or 12 stories each day: now, it publishes around 20 per day.”

By the way, Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, says the future of the system is in social, mobile, and as an application platform.


So, farewell then, Baobab and Pomegranate

Monday, 6 October, 2014 0 Comments

“Our aim is to make our website easier for new visitors to navigate by reducing the number of blogs, many of which have rather esoteric names; it is not immediately obvious, even to hardened Economist fans, that the place to look for Africa news is a blog called Baobab.” So goes the news that The Economist is shuttering its Africa blog, Baobab. The axe has fallen, too, on Pomegranate. Whither Banyan and Babbage?


Benny

Friday, 5 September, 2014 0 Comments

Rainy Day is now being powered by version 4.0 of WordPress, named “Benny” in honour of jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. Blurb: “Paste in a YouTube URL on a new line, and watch it magically become an embedded video. Now try it with a tweet. Oh yeah — embedding has become a visual experience. The editor shows a true preview of your embedded content, saving you time. We’ve expanded the services supported by default, too — you can embed videos from playlists from YouTube, and talks from TED.”


Meanwhile, in Vietnam, they’re telling the Big Lie

Friday, 7 March, 2014 0 Comments

Truong Duy Nhat worked as a journalist at a state-run newspaper in Hanoi before quitting three years ago to concentrate on his blog, “Another Point of View.” He wanted, he said, “to write about things that I want to write.” Truong Duy Nhat Earlier this week, he was sentenced to two years in prison. His crime? The government charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the state.”

The infringement of those “democratic freedoms” centred on a post he wrote last May calling for the resignation of Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for failing to fight corruption. Dung has been linked to a series of major scandals, including the collapse of Vinashin, the national shipbuilding company and former star of Vietnam’s state-owned enterprises, which sank under $4 billion in debt.

The latest Vietnamese crackdown on free speech has targeted bloggers, activists, lawyers, Buddhist monks and Christian clergy and it’s part of a cynical move that would make Putin proud. For example, on the very same day that Truong Duy Nhat was being sentenced, the country’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh was in Geneva championing “Vietnam’s commitment to ensuring and promoting human rights” at the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is a classic example of the Big Lie, which George Orwell termed “blackwhite” in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.”


Blogging for a free world

Tuesday, 17 December, 2013 0 Comments

Recently, Jeffrey Zeldman had dinner with Tantek Çelik, who “lamented that there was no longer any innovation in blogging — and hadn’t been for years. I replied by asking if anyone was still blogging.” In the ensuing “blog” post, Zeldman posed more questions: “Did Twitter and Facebook kill blogging? Was it withdrawal of the mainstream spotlight? Did people stop independently writing and publishing on the web because it was too much work for too little attention and gain? Or did they discover that, after all, they mostly had nothing to say?” He does not deliver specific answers, but true to his passionate self he concludes by exhorting us to “Keep blogging in the free world.”

As regards Tantek Çelik’s complaint about the lack of innovation in blogging, serial entrepreneur Kevin Rose, founder of Digg and now a member of the Google Ventures team, is toying with a new blogging tool called Tiny.

Tiny won’t cause Twitter any sleepless nights but that’s not the point says Om Malik, who titles his latest post, “In 12 years of blogging, the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Snippet:

“I don’t really need to change anything — just continue to have a point of view (an informed one), to curate things — photos, videos, links that amplify that point of view — and tie everything together on my blog.

If you look around the media landscape, the media darlings of the moment — BuzzFeed and Upworthy — are doing essentially that, curating a world overrun with information and content and packaging it up for fast-food like consumption. Using the social web to share these content equivalent of McNuggets at massive scale is sheer genius and that is why they are worthy of all the adulation they are getting.

That doesn’t mean you and I can’t do the same. We’ll just do it at a different scale, at a different tempo and with a different lens — our own.”

Exactly.


Housekeeping

Friday, 13 December, 2013 0 Comments

Rainy Day is now being hosted by WP Engine, and it’s being produced with the newly-released WordPress 3.8, which is named “Parker” in honour of bebop innovator Charlie Parker. The design changes to the dashboard are radical. Morten Rand-Hendriksen notes that the “admin UI is fully responsive — meaning as screen sizes change, the layout resizes and reformats to provide the best possible user experience. This provides tablet and smartphone users — and also Windows 8 users utilizing Snap–a much improved user experience, and makes WordPress administration truly mobile out of the box.”

WordPress