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The Curse of the jOBS Film

Monday, 18 May, 2015 0 Comments

It’s been two years since the film Jobs, in which Steve Jobs was portrayed by Ashton Kutcher, hit cinema screens. It was not very well received and the unflattering reviews continue to echo: Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote, “Although I think I could watch a whole movie called Woz and not grow tired, Jobs eventually begins to suffer from an ailment common to many biopics: milestone fatigue.”

But two years is a long time in Hollywood and the deciders there reckon that the world is ready for for another movie based on the life of Apple’s co-founder. This time round, though, there’s more film/tech cred on offer. The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin, it’s based on the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and the director is Danny Boyle. Should be a winner, right? Actually, the omens are everything but propitious.

Sony acquired the rights to Isaacson’s book in 2011, but according to the e-mails found among the gigabytes of data leaked by the Sony Pictures’ hackers late last year, the road has been rocky for all involved in the adaptation. First, the lead star Christian Bale backed out. Then, Sorkin wanted Tom Cruise to play the part and he protested vehemently that he didn’t even know Michael Fassbender when he was cast as Jobs instead. Original director David Fincher dropped out due to financial and creative disagreements with Sony and the deeply troubled project was sold eventually to Universal. Still, Steve Jobs might have more luck than Jobs did. As the blues singer and amateur astrologist Albert King put it: “Born under a bad sign / I been down since I begin to crawl / If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”

Job creation in the New Economy

Thursday, 12 March, 2015 0 Comments

“WhatsApp crossed 1B Android downloads. btw our android team is four people + Brian. very small team, very big impact.” So tweets @jankoum. One billion Android downloads is an amazing achievement, but the boast of this being done with just five people is alarming as it confirms the theory expressed in The Jobless Future that the technologies which make modern abundance possible are enabling the production of much more output using far fewer people.

Jan Koum

Three billion, and counting

Monday, 3 November, 2014 0 Comments

Another day, another statistic. But a big one, nonetheless. Internet Live Stats is showing that the number of internet users has passed the the three billion milestone. In its monthly snapshot of all things connected, We Are Social goes granular on the details in this SlideShare embed.

We Are Social

Talking of SlideShare embeds, one of the most discussed in recent days was “Mobile is eating the world,” which formed the core of an updated presentation Benedict Evans gave at the WSJD conference and at the a16z Tech Summit. Each slide is a gem.

Marc Andreessen, with footnotes

Monday, 20 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s a nice bit of footnote CSS behind this New York interview with Marc Andreessen, “The tall, bald, spring-loaded venture capitalist, who invented the first mainstream internet browser, co-founded Netscape, then made a fortune as an early investor in Twitter and Facebook…”

Mouse over “Foxconn 15” and out at the side pops “In January, Foxconn was reportedly in talks with several states about building a plant in the United States.” Behind the scenes, the magic is created by the following:

CSS NY

And the result is:

CSS

Andreessen comes across as a hard-headed libertarian, very much in synch with the Valley ethos, but critical enough and informed enough to know how the world works. Typical of the Q&A exchanges with Kevin Roose:

And yet we have more internal inequality in San Francisco than we do in Rwanda.

So then move to Rwanda and see how that works out for you. I think you just answered your own question.

The debatable future of reading, and writing

Monday, 26 May, 2014 0 Comments

What does the consumption text snippets on portable devices portend? Does scrolling represent the erosion of concentration? Is the constant clicking on links leading us into a cul de sac? Are the skimming and scanning and grazing enabled by our digital devices scrambling our heads? Maryanne Wolf of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University fears that our treasured tradition of contemplative reading is being compromised:

“The omnipresence of multiple distractions for attention — and the brain’s own natural attraction to novelty — contribute to a mindset toward reading that seeks to reduce information to its lowest conceptual denominator. Sound bites, text bites, and mind bites are a reflection of a culture that has forgotten or become too distracted by and too drawn to the next piece of new information to allow itself time to think.”

That’s from Wolf’s stimulating essay titled “Our ‘Deep Reading’ Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions — Poses-Questions.” There is a counter-argument to be made, of course, that the new devices are opening up reading for an entire public that previously had little to do with the written word. All is not lost just because form and formats are undergoing change.

Germany curbs some surveillance and intercept exports

Tuesday, 20 May, 2014 0 Comments

The Munich company Trovicor claims to be “a leader in communications and intelligence solutions that help law enforcement, national security, intelligence services, and other government agencies fight crime and terrorism.” Thing is, some of those intelligence services happen to be in Syria and Bahrain. The Syrian security services are also said to be customers of Aachen-based Utimaco, which supplies a range of software products, including a “solution to help telecommunications service providers respond to electronic surveillance orders as required by law.” Syborg from the Saarland and the Gamma Group are also in the surveillance and monitoring systems business.

The problem for these firms now is that Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, has decided to stop the export of surveillance and monitoring technologies to authoritarian regimes. Although Gabriel hasn’t presented a list of the black-listed end-users, targets are thought to include Middle East states as well as Russia and Turkey.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Gabriel intends to halt the cyber spying exports until the EU adopts more stringent regulations for surveillance technologies and intercept tools, which would then become law in Germany. Legislation is being discussed in Brussels but there’s no clear indication of when it might be enacted.

Eye spy

Useful tragedy beats manipulative clickbait

Thursday, 13 February, 2014 0 Comments

The web was filled with wonder last year when an upstart site called Upworthy garnered 7.8 million pageviews for a story titled “Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced.” This was then topped with “The Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular,” which racked up 17 million pageviews. The clear and unmistakable message is that manipulative clickbait is a road paved with digital gold. Business plan: Write irresistible headlines + spam the Facebook News Feed.

But then Zuckerberg and Sandberg turned off the big tap and that has been bad bad news for Upworthy, which has experienced a 46 percent traffic decline in just two months. The moral of the story, as Megan McCardle puts it so nicely in her latest Bloomberg column, is: “When you build your business around Facebook, ultimately, it’s Facebook’s business you’re building, not your own.”

The News Long before the fall, however, lots of people had tired of the Upworthy scam, er, strategy, with its incessant drumbeat of banality, which it pawned off in such a way that critics were left feeling like curmudgeons who hated everything positive about our planet. What’s there not to like about good clickbait news? A lot, actually, says Alain de Botton in his new book, The News: A User’s Manual. The philosopher is backing up his thesis with The Philosophers’ Mail, a site that aims to make us think more about the news we consume. Rather delightfully, it borrows from the Daily Mail factory of headline-writing and design.

Why isn’t the news more cheerful?” asks today’s top story, topically. Snippet:

“At the Philosopher’s Mail, we’re not into good news or bad news. We start from a different place. Our primary move in selecting stories is to ask, ‘Would it be helpful to know this?’ This determines whether a story goes in or out. In order to live your life well, you need to deal with negative and positive information. News can very well be helpful when it is talking about appalling events. And it can be extremely unhelpful when the stories it tells us are cheery.”

Instead, de Botton & Co. are serving up useful tragedy and helpful victory. Their stories won’t get as many clicks as Upworthy’s “See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds” (11.8 million pageviews), but they’re not building their house on Facebook’s land, either.

This just in: “Alain de Botton — why I’ve started my own Mail Online: Media moguls aren’t philosophers. So it’s time for philosophers to become media moguls.”

Technouvelle cuisine: Turkish bruschetta, madam?

Wednesday, 29 January, 2014 0 Comments

Turkish delight IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997 and its Watson computer defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the US quiz show Jeopardy! in 2011. Thanks to the evolving ability of its machines to interpret large datasets, IBM continues to develop within the industry it has helped to define. Using big-data analytics techniques, the company’s Thomas J Watson Research Center has created extraordinary food recipes mined from resources such as Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, which are then tweaked by an algorithm designed to add novelty to the mix. As a result, we get concoctions like Swiss-Thai Asparagus quiche and Turkish bruschetta. Next up? Cantonese broccoli kebab and Irish brown trout bouillabaisse perhaps.

Along with exploring the potential of technouvelle cuisine, IBM is researching the market for “cognitive services” — computers that think, or appear to. The returns could be huge if it can develop artificially intelligent systems capable of answering questions posed in natural language, such as carrying out intelligent phone calls with customers. That’s why Big Blue is pouring $1 billion into Watson. According to Antonio Regalado writing in the MIT Technology Review, “the number of IBM employees working on Watson technologies, including engineers, salespeople, and consultants, will increase fourfold or fivefold to 2,000. The Watson Group will also be elevated inside IBM and report directly to the chairman and CEO, Virginia Rometty.”

But as Regalado points out, crunching cancer is going to be far more challenging for Watson than playing Jeopardy! or thinking up Creole Shrimp Dumpling.

The selfie society

Monday, 25 November, 2013 0 Comments

“Selfies, Selfies and more selfies: so much so it is the word of the year and in order to celebrate and understand the concept of selfie, I decided to curate seven of the best pieces I have read around selfies.” So said Om Malik in his regular “7 stories to read this weekend” feature.” Included is what he terms the “definitive” article on selfie culture by Jenna Wortham.
The major selfie artist of our time is, of course, Kim Kardashian. Her sister Khloe recently gave an interview in which she revealed Kim’s top secret: shoot from above to avoid double chins. The front-facing camera of the iPhone 4 spurred the rise of the craze, but there’s more to the story than hardware as Kate Losse pointed out in The Return of the Selfie in the New Yorker in June:

“For teen-age social-media users, who generally prefer on-the-go mobile applications, like Instagram and Snapchat, the self is the message and the selfie is the medium. The Instagram selfie, with its soft, artfully faded tones, has replaced the stern, harshly lit mug-shot style of years past. The small, square photo, displayed on one’s phone, invites the photographer and the viewer to form a personal connection. There is little space on Instagram for delivering context or depicting a large group of people; the confines of the app make single subjects more legible than complex scenes. A face in an Instagram photograph, filtered to eliminate any glare or unflattering light, appears star-like, as if captured by a deft paparazzo.”

In his list, Om Malik adds a link to the marvellous selfie taken by astronaut Aki Hoshide while working outside the International Space. Next stop for the selfie? Mars. But wait. Been there. Done that.

Selfie in space

Where’s the European GAFAT?

Thursday, 17 October, 2013 0 Comments

A rum lot of politicians and publishers have gathered in Munich for the annual Medientage talk fest. They’re being aided and abetted in their deliberations by the bureaucrats of Germany’s media apparatus, who intone the yearly incantations about the vital role that newspapers and state broadcasters play in preserving democracy. That these pieties are nothing but a tawdry appeal for protectionism against the inroads being made by the new media is lost on no one, but they must be uttered to ward off the dark shadows being cast by GAFA. That’s Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, by the way. Europe’s total failure to produce its own GAFA is never openly discussed at events like the Munich Medientage for fear that it might expose how dependent the continent’s media industry is now on the kindness of more innovative strangers.

And when it comes to the future of journalism, the shape of things to come won’t be defined in Europe, either. Yesterday’s announcement by Pierre Omidyar that he was “in the very early stages of creating a new mass media organization… that will be independent of my other organizations” suggests that it won’t be paper based or based in Omidyar’s native France, for that matter. He made his money by founding eBay and now lives in Honolulu.

Then there’s the agora, that space in which democracies conduct open discussion. According to the Munich media apparatchiks, state gatekeepers are best placed to take care of that. In the real world, however, the critical service for the well-being of the global public sphere is going to be Twitter. So, make that GAFAT.

This just in: The International Journalism Festival, set to take place in April 2014 in Perugia, has been cancelled. Reason? The thing that’s said to be the root of all evil. In this case, the lack of it. The organizers should have asked @pierre for a few dollars. He’s got them and he’s hot on journalism. Major fail, that, Europe.