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Always-on: Disconnection will mean death

Friday, 1 February, 2019

Here’s a quote from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari that gives sinister meaning to the notion of “always-on”:

“Eventually, we may reach a point when it will be impossible to disconnect from this all-knowing network even for a moment. Disconnection will mean death. If medical hopes are realised, future people will incorporate into their bodies a host of biometric devices, bionic organs and nano-robots, which will monitor our health and defend us from infections, illnesses and damage. Yet these devices will have to be online 24/7, both in order to be updated with the latest medical news, and in order to protect them from the new plagues of cyberspace. Just as my home computer is constantly attacked by viruses, worms and Trojan horses, so will be my pacemaker, my hearing aid and my nanotech immune system. If I don’t update my body’s anti-virus program regularly, I will wake up one day to discover that the millions of nano-robots coursing through my veins are now controlled by a North Korean hacker.”

History: As computing became more pervasive around the start of this century, “always-on” systems began to replace “on-demand” systems. Typical examples of always-on systems are cable modems and DSL connections. Yesterday’s dial-up connections were only “on” when they were connected through the public telephone network. Today’s systems are continuously available, plugged in to power sources and networks. Like so many digital natives, they don’t take breaks, but continue to hum along through all hours of the day and night.


The eleventh post of pre-Christmas 2018: November

Sunday, 23 December, 2018

Frederick Forsyth was 33 when his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, was published in 1971. The story of how the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) hires an English assassin to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle became an international bestseller and gained the author fame and fortune. On 14 November, here, we welcomed Forsyth’s latest novel, which is very much about modern espionage.

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What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.
So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox

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The review of the year as posted by Rainy Day ends tomorrow with the twelfth post of pre-Christmas 2018. The subject is the street-fighting man, then and now.


The fourth post of pre-Christmas 2018: April

Sunday, 16 December, 2018

The winner of the FT and McKinsey Business Book of 2018 Award was Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. His brilliant account of the spectacular rise and scandalous fall of Theranos, the high-tech blood-testing company, raises questions not only about the culture at this particular start-up — valued at more than $9 billion at one point — but of Silicon Valley and its sycophants, who boost every “breakthrough” as if it were the Second Coming. Accepting the award, Carreyrou said that readers of Bad Blood should note that the “move fast and break things” tech doctrine doesn’t work very well “when lives are at stake.”

Continuing with our review of the year, our post on 12 April was about the totally fraudulent Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos.

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If you think Mark Zuckerberg is having a tough week, consider the (mis)fortune of Elizabeth Holmes. Remember her? The CEO of Theranos was the poster girl for all those who bought and sold the delusion that a photogenic founder was an essential first step on the road to unimaginable riches. And, sure enough, gullible investors and sycophantic media beat a path to the golden door in the Valley in the hope of turning blood into treasure. And they ponied up an incredible $1.4 billion along the way.

Zuckerberg may have been on the hot seat, but Holmes is in deep water. Consider the letter she recently sent to shareholders regarding the company’s looming default on a $100 million loan. Snippet:

“The most viable option that we have identified to forestall a near-term sale or a potential default under our credit agreement is further investment by one or more of you. In light of where we are, this is no easy ask. However, given your support of the company over the years, we wanted to provide this opportunity before we proceed too far down the current path.”

Holmes is a fraud, but one has to admire (almost) the chutzpa of “this is no easy ask”.

Miss Fortune

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Tomorrow, here, the fifth post of pre-Christmas 2018 is from May and its title, Seán Sa Cheo, refers to the risky business of climbing mountains in foggy conditions.


Smartphones are almost everywhere

Sunday, 18 November, 2018

It’s estimated that 40 percent of the world’s population now has a smartphone. For three billion people, writes Alan Taylor in The Atlantic, “these versatile handheld devices have become indispensable tools, providing connections to loved ones, entertainment, business applications, shopping opportunities, windows into the greater world of social media, news, history, education, and more.”

Here, Nigerian refugee Aicha Younoussa poses with a smartphone in front of her tent in a refugee camp in southern Chad.

In Chad

Here, attendees take photos of President Donald Trump as he attends the 2018 Young Black Leadership Summit in the East Room of the White House.

President Trump in the White House

Here, three women take selfies in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan.

Piazza del Duomo


Let the unboxing begin

Thursday, 15 November, 2018

ThinkPad


So, farewell, then, ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Tuesday, 13 November, 2018

It was, when it appeared in 2012, a real alternative to the MacBook Air. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon had a 128-gigabyte solid-state drive instead of a hard drive, 4 gigabytes of memory, an Intel Core i5-3317U processor and a 14-inch (360 mm) screen with a resolution of 1600 by 900 pixels. The keyboard was backlit and spill-resistant and the whole package was as tough as old boots. Indeed, the Rainy Day X1 once popped out of a poorly-zipped rucksack and hit the frozen pavement with a heart-stopping whack. But it booted up subsequently as if it had merely fallen upon a quilt of eiderdown.

Now, reams and streams of words later, the replacement keyboard, minus U, O, B and N, is beginning to look like Bobby Clarke’s smile, and the engine cannot produce the kind of power needed to keep a dozen Chrome tabs open, Spotify playing, WordPress running and a host of other applications purring. The time has come to replace our loyal and reliable five-year old ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Farewell, then.

ThinkPad X1


Bill Gates recalls Paul Allen

Thursday, 18 October, 2018

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died on Monday at the age of 65 of complications from a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bill Gates remembers his schoolmate, friend and business partner in a blog post titled “What I loved about Paul Allen.” Snippet:

Paul foresaw that computers would change the world. Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.

In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area — he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.

Paul Allen made our world a better place and during his lifetime and he gave more than $2 billion towards the advancement of science, technology, education, wildlife conservation and the arts. RIP.

Bill Gates and  Paul Allen


Elephant in the mushroom

Friday, 21 September, 2018

The French creative agency Les Creatonautes has spent a lot of time and energy this year producing a series of digital collages that combine animals and edibles. The project is a statement that our world is constantly evolving, but the changes are often invisible and, in the near future, they might be disturbing. How will we react when CRISPR and organisms and technologies and societies interact?

Elephant-mushroom

Les Creatonautes started the project on 1 January and have been publishing these “transformations” ever day since. Check out their Instagram.


The future revealed at PRIMER EU

Monday, 20 August, 2018

“The Futures Are Made. But How, Where And By Whom?” That’s the working title of PRIMER EU, a “conference dedicated to… bringing together the leading minds in futures design thinking and doing.” It takes place in Helsinki on 10 and 11 September and going by the list of speakers and their topics, the future is here but it’s not evenly distributed.

Appropriately, the morning keynote, titled ” All Future Everything”, will be delivered by a futurist, Monika Bielskyte, and she’ll be followed by Nicolas Nova and Fabien Girardin, the European half of the Near Future Laboratory. They’ll talk about “Design Fiction in the Fake News Era.” Topical, that.

Next up is Johanna Schmeer, an artist and designer from Berlin. Her talk has a prize-winning title: “Xenodesignerly ways of knowing.” Another designer, Noteh Krauss, from San Francisco, will be talking about “Future Making: Politics and Aesthetics in Kazakhstan.” It’s all about the “histories, politics, design fictions, and mythologies” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s futuristic capital, Astana. By the way, he’s been president of Kazakhstan since the office was created in 1990 and he intends to keep it that way.

Simone Rebaudengo is a designer based in Shanghai and he’s going to talk about YEAST, a future food laboratory that “imagines products and companies that will improve living through food and technology.” And then it’ll be time for supper, but before the knives and forks come out, Scott Smith of Changeist will round off the talking with a public discussion about “trust in futures practices.” Futurism increasingly affects strategic innovation and policymaking and it’s good to debate it’s validity. Is it reliable. Or is it charlatanism?

It’s a cliché to quote William Gibson in these situations, but here goes: “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.”


Let there be Light

Tuesday, 24 July, 2018

Last week, Light.co, which makes a computational photography camera, raised $121 million from SoftBank and Leica. “The new funding will allow Light to expand the reach of its imaging platform beyond consumer photography and into security, robotic, automotive, aerial and industrial imaging applications,” says the press release, and then comes the really interesting sentence: “Later this year, the first mobile phone incorporating Light’s technology will be available to consumers around the world. It will shatter the expectations of mobile photography.”

The venerable Leica camera was introduced to the world at the 1925 Leipzig Spring Fair and the brand became synonymous with first-class photography, but the company can see which way the wind is blowing. Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Leica Supervisory Board, says: “With the rapid development of the computational photography, partnering with the innovators at Light ensures Leica to extend its tradition of excellence into the computational photography era.”

Light

While we wait for “the first mobile phone incorporating Light’s technology”, which “will shatter the expectations of mobile photography,” the Light L16 Camera can be yours for a mere €2,050. It allows users to captures a scene at multiple focal lengths and then uses “sophisticated algorithms to combine 10+ images into a single, high-resolution photo.”


The binary technology universe: USA & China

Monday, 9 July, 2018

Here’s an infographic from Visual Capitalist, which “creates and curates enriched visual content focused on emerging trends in business and investing”, that’s doing the rounds.

Binary tech

And who are those Top 20 tech companies? From top, with Apple valued at $915 billion, to bottom, with Meituan-Dianping valued at $30 billion, here’s the list:

Apple (USA), Amazon (USA), Alphabet (USA), Microsoft (USA), Facebook (USA), Alibaba (China), Tencent (China), Netflix (USA), Ant Financial (China), Salesforce (USA), Booking Holdings (USA), Paypal (USA), Baidu (China), Uber (USA), JD.com (China), Didi Chuxing (China), Xiaomi (China), eBay (USA), Airbnb (USA) and Meituan-Dianping (China).

Note: The German software company, SAP, is valued at $140 billion and targeting $270 billion so its absence from the list is puzzling. Why is Salesforce in 10th position and not SAP? Let’s see what Visual Capitalist has to say.