Tech: Links for 8th October, 2019

  1. “What we are doing is creating selfies, documenting moments with family, and snapping photos of food and latte art. We aren’t even trying to build a scrapbook of those images. It is all a stream — less for remembrance than for real-time sharing. In other words, we have changed our relationship with photography and photographs. It used to be that, photos served as a portal to our past. Now, we are moving so fast as we try to keep up in the age of infinitesimal attention spans. A minute, might as well be a month ago.”
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    The excellent Om Malik on cameras, art, servers and obsolescence.
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  2. “Around the world, governments are setting timeframes by which all cars are to be electric. Norway is requiring all cars to be zero emission by 2025—and more than 50 percent of its cars today are electric. However, China is winning the race in terms of units, with more than 1 million EVs sold in 2018. The U.S was the second largest market, with 361,000; Norway had 73,000. China and the U.S. are at 4.44 percent and 2.09 percent market penetration, respectively, so there is lots of room for growth. China is stimulating growth with public policy: It aims to have 2 million in annual EV sales by 2020 and to outlaw the internal combustion engine sometime before 2040. France has also committed to a ban by 2040 and the UK by 2050. Governments are seeking to accelerate uptake through a potpourri of incentives, ranging from tax breaks to free parking to fees on conventional cars in low emission zones.”
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    A useful (to me, at any rate) overview of the EV market in the years (decades) to come.
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  3. “In a new book, Mr. Smith makes the case for a new relationship between the tech sector and government — closer cooperation and challenges for each side.“When your technology changes the world,” he writes, “you bear a responsibility to help address the world that you have helped create.” And governments, he writes, “need to move faster and start to catch up with the pace of technology.””
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    On Microsoft’s middle path. I come from a generation that simply could not have predicted this.
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  4. “A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some … unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters.Mindar is a robot.”
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    In a sense, unsurprising. But still: religion, rituals and… robots?
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  5. “Christine Figgener, a marine biology grad student aboard the boat, filmed with her phone as a colleague tried to yank some sort of tube from the turtle’s nose. At first, Figgener thought it might be a worm. Then she saw it was a piece of plastic. “Is that a freaking straw?” she exclaimed, outrage blooming in her voice. Indeed, it was. In time, the straw was plucked from the turtle’s nose and the sad, green fellow liberated. But Figgener—who’d been researching turtle behavior in pursuit of her Ph.D. and had seen marine life tormented by plastic junk countless times before—could not stop fuming as the boat returned to shore. It was, if you will, the last straw.”
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    On technology and… straws.

Tech: Links for 11th June, 2019

  1. “Microsoft now generates about $7.5 billion in annual revenue from web search advertising. That is a pipsqueak compared with Google’s $120 billion in ad sales over the last 12 months. But it’s more revenue brought in by either Microsoft’s LinkedIn professional network or the company’s line of Surface computers and other hardware.How did Bing go from a joke to generating nearly three times the advertising revenue of Twitter? Bing is emblematic of what Microsoft has become under Satya Nadella, the CEO since 2014: less flashy and less inclined to tilt at windmills in favor of pragmatism.”
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    A nice (and at least to, somewhat surprising) read about how Bing isn’t an utter failure – far from it. It isn’t Google, of course, and probably never will be, but the article highlights how starting Bing was in retrospect useful for many different reasons.
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  2. “One effect of Donald Trump’s sanctions on China’s tech giant Huawei seems to be a growing nationalistic sentiment among some Chinese consumers: sales of iPhones have fallen in recent months, while Huawei products have seen an uptick. It isn’t hard to find patriotic slogans backing the embattled company on social-media platforms such as Weibo.”
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    The article speaks about the possible “Balkanization” of technology, and one can easily imagine a fairly dystopian view of the future as a consequence of this. Not saying that this will happen, to be clear – but the possibility should be contemplated.
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  3. “Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist, and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.“The cellphones changed how drugs were dealt,” Edlund told me. In the ’80s, turf-based drug sales generated violence as gangs attacked and defended territory, and also allowed those who controlled the block to keep profits high.The cellphone broke the link, the paper claims, between turf and selling drugs. “It’s not that people don’t sell or do drugs anymore,” Edlund explained to me, “but the relationship between that and violence is different.””
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    Staring at phones the whole day may actually have saved lives. Who’d have thought? The rest of the article is a nice summary of other hypotheses about why crime in the USA went down over the years.
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  4. “The current state of monetization in podcasting mirrors the early internet: revenue lags behind attention. Despite double-digit percent growth in podcast advertising over the last few years, podcasts are still in a very nascent, disjointed stage of monetization today.”
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    A rather long article about podcasting as a business today, but I found it interesting. The reasons I found it interesting: I have a very small, fledgling podcast of my own, monetization in podcasting hasn’t taken off, and I remain sceptical that it ever really will, and most importantly, listening to podcasts is truly instructive.
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  5. The camera app VSCO is unlike its social counterparts. Though it has a feed similar to Facebook’s News Feed and Twitter’s Timeline, it doesn’t employ any of the tricks meant to keep you hooked. VSCO doesn’t display follower or like counts, and it doesn’t sort its feed with an algorithm. Instead of optimizing toward keeping you on its app, VSCO — which last reported 30 million monthly active users — simply encourages you to shoot and edit photos and videos, regardless of whether you post them or not.
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    Speaking of monetization, this newsletter tells you how VCSO has funded itself – and speaks about pricing in general when it comes to technology today.

Links for 4th June, 2019

  1. ““Alexa, are you recording everything you hear?” It is a question more people are asking, though Amazon’s voice assistant denies the charges. “I only record and send audio back to the Amazon cloud when you say the wake word,” she insists, before referring questioners to Amazon’s privacy policy. Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, gives a similar answer. But as smart speakers from Amazon, Apple, Google and other technology giants proliferate (global sales more than doubled last year, to 86.2m) concerns that they might be digitally snooping have become more widespread. And now that these devices are acquiring other senses beyond hearing—the latest models have cameras, and future ones may use “lidar” sensors to see shapes and detect human gestures (see article)—the scope for infringing privacy is increasing. So how worried should you be that your speaker is spying on you?”
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    The article doesn’t answer the question it frames in as direct a fashion as readers might wish, but read this to understand that there is (as with everything else in life) a benefit to this technology, as also a cost.
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  2. “Many voters may have felt that others, more wealthier than them, were also being hurt by demonetization, and hence supported the adventurist move.The results of the second round of the YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey conducted in early 2019 suggest that even today and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, many urban youths who support the ruling party consider demonetization to be a great success of the government.”
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    Can you drive in reverse in a tunnel, Professor Hirschman? Livemint does a three year review of demonetization, and it is worth reading for a variety of reasons.
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  3. “Not all New York City views are created equal.Direct Central Park views may be the most valuable amenity in Manhattan real estate, but in a market filled with soaring new developments — some of which wind up blocking the views of other buildings — even a partial glimpse of a river, park or the city skyline can also command a hefty premium.”
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    This article is proof that microeconomics can be fun. But beyond that, it is also worth going through the article to take in the photographs. New York looks gorgeous!
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  4. “What Microsoft figured out is that it made far more sense for both Microsoft and their customers to pay on a subscription basis: companies would pay a set price on a monthly or annual basis, and receive access to the latest-and-greatest software. This wasn’t a complete panacea — updating software was still a significant undertaking — but at least the incentive to avoid upgrades was removed.There were also subtle advantages from a balance sheet perspective: now companies were paying for software in a rough approximation to their usage over time — an operational expense — as opposed to a fixed-cost basis. This improved their return-on-invested-capital (ROIC) measurements, if nothing else. And, for Microsoft, revenue became much more predictable.”
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    Ben Thompson helps one understand Microsoft, SaaS, Slack, Zoom and a simple way to understand what makes new businesses potentially attractive – be sure to read through the entire article to reach the four quadrant diagram at the end. Entirely worth your time.
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  5. “When it was finally time to deploy, with no hint from the U.S. or China or Brazil or India that anyone would send out a countering air force to simply knock the planes out of the sky, the three billionaires went back to the island and sent the aerosols tumbling through the stratosphere. There was no ceremony, no champagne, no photographs. This was nothing to be celebrated.”
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    My phrase-I-learned-today: Solar Radiation Management.