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24 Jun 11:44

Above Avalon: Apple's Product Strategy Is Changing

by ablaze
16 Apr 10:35

Work harder or the communists will win!

by DHH

It’s desperate times for those still clinging to their workaholic, exploitive ways. From Japan to China to even the US, there’s a growing understanding that working 70-80-90 or 130 hours per week is not glorious. Not virtuous. Not healthy.

So what’s a whoever-works-the-most-wins advocate to do? Sidestep the question of efficiency, of health, of sustainability, of course. Just press the pedal on fear and competition. Here’s your host of terror, Jason Calacanis:


Yeah, that’s it. Those who reject the wisdom of overwork is really helping the ENEMY. This is democracy vs communism!! What is this, 1950? Whatever year it is, it’s stupid.

Rather than support a grassroots rejection of the exploitive abuse of the Chinese workers under the 996 regime, Calanis is doubling down on the premise that to “beat” the Chinese, you must submit to their worst work practices. What?

This is at best a lateral move from “work harder or the kitten gets it”. A trope that’s meant to be a punchline, not a policy recommendation.

Besides being imperial paranoia, urging American companies to adopt Chinese abuses, lest they be left behind in the chase of growth uber alles, is the furthest away you could get from winning. Accepting the terms of engagement by your so-called opponent is a basic, rookie mistake in any form of strategic out-maneuvering.

You’re not going to “beat” the Chinese by one-upping 996 with 997. You’re not going to top Jack Ma’s calls for sacrifice by injecting nationalist fervor and clash-of-civilizations rhetoric into these base pleas for a deeper grind. This is madness.

If you define winning solely as “who has the greater growth”, you’ve already lost. If you dismiss the standard of living enjoyed in Europe – one without medical bankruptcies, crushing college debts, or falling life expectancies – as a “retirement society”, you’re the one who deserves to be dismissed.

The ideological underpinnings of capitalism are already in an advanced state of ethical decay. You don’t save the good parts of said capitalism by doubling down on the worst, most exploitive parts. Racing to the bottom just gets you there faster.

10 Apr 08:36

Om elefantöl

by Hexmaster
A propos en lördagsfråga nyligen ... Det är inte länge sedan som elefantöl var allmänkunskap, ett självklart begrepp bland alla utom möjligen de allra yngsta och/eller alkoholfriaste. I decennier visste varenda människa med minsta koll vad elefantöl var. Men så hände något – och Carlsbergs elefant försvann ur det allmänna medvetandet. Hur gick det till?

Kjeld Nielsens fina blåa reklamelefant har undertecknad aldrig sett förrän nu. Den bild som jag, och förmodligen de flesta andra svenskar som inte är alltför unga och/eller torrlagda, har av elefantöl är Carlsbergs gröna burk med minst en elefant på. Elefanten kommer från Elefantporten, där fyra elefanter sedan 1901 bär upp ett torn i entrén till Carlsbergs bryggeriområde. (Kuriosa: Elefanterna är afrikanska till fysionomin men indiska till öronen. Hakkors förekommer vilket var en helt annan grej 1901 än lite senare. Inspirationen till elefantporten kommer från Rom, där Berninis elefant sedan 1667 bär en egyptisk obelisk.)

För att vara ett så välkänt märke i ett så välkänt företag är elefantölen tämligen ung:
1955 exporterades lagerölet Carlsberg Export till ett flertal olika länder.
- Carlsberg Elefantöl firar 50 år, pressmeddelande från Carlsberg 5 november 2009

Varför namnges inte de "olika länder" som nämns i det officiella pressmeddelandet? Kanske det beror på den uppmärksamhet bryggeriet senare fått med sin oblyga marknadsföring i afrikanska länder med svag alkohollagstiftning? Eller den förskingring som förekommit? Här är hur som helst de allra första länderna som begåvades med elefantöl:
År 1955 lanserade bryggeriet den extra starka Export Lager Beer med elefantetiketten, i Ghana, Guldkusten [närmare bestämt blev Guldkusten Ghana 1957], Nigeria och Malawi. Fyra år senare lanserades den som Elefantöl i Danmark och bryggs än idag i Köpenhamn, för export världen över.
- Nicklas Cederqvist: Elefantdöd -inte elefantöl- och skandaler på Lauritz och Bruun Rasmussen, bloggen Antikmonologen 6 september 2013

Så kommer vi till huvudfrågan för denna bloggpost: Varför var elefantöl en "grej" bland svenskarna? Länge sålde Systembolaget inte starkare öl än 5,6 % (säger volymprocent, eller 4,5 viktprocent). Den gränsen uteslöt ofantligt många sorter, även långt bättre än Carlsbergs Elefant på 7,2 % volymprocent. Men istället hamnade Carlsbergs elefantöl på svenska färjor, såväl Viking som Stena och vad de nu hette. Exakt hur det gick till är en öppen fråga, men jag gissar vilt att det snarare berodde på gott insäljande än kvalitet. Recensioner av elefantöl går från okej ljus lager med extra styrka till spetsad folköl, men när det begav sig var smaken ointressant. Så länge det var någorlunda drickbart var alkoholhalten det primära (starkare än något på systemet!), därefter APK (alkohol per krona).

Poängen var att elefantöl var den starkaste ölen på färjorna. När svensken lämnade hemlandet och begav sig ut på havet så var en ritual i sammanhanget att öppna en elefantöl. Den ritualen kunde dessutom upprepas hemmavid, med burkar som icke kunde införskaffas på systemet utan var exklusivare än så.

Systembolaget justerade sin ölgräns 1994. Därefter kunde all världens ölsorter, svagare som starkare, konkurrera på den svenska marknaden. Det var då och därför, tänker jag mig, som Carlsbergs elefant gick till sin kyrkogård. Åtminstone vad Sverige beträffar. Idag finns den inte ens i systemets ordinarie sortiment utan får beställas, eller köpas utrikes. Men den mycket speciella magi som fanns en gång i tiden går inte att upprepa.
06 Mar 12:22

How to design the end of a studio’s life

by Katharine Schwab

When the independent design studio Hawraf burst onto the New York scene in 2016, its partners–all alums of Google’s Creative Lab–aimed to transform the design studio model by being more transparent and doing ambitious, engaging design work that pushed the boundaries of how people interact online. As the studio began to get work from real clients, like independent artists, the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, and Google, it had less freedom to be publicly transparent about what it was working on. So last month, when the studio announced it was shutting down after only a few years in business, the four partners decided that their final act would be to live up to that initial idealism: They scrubbed their internal documents of client names and published them in a public Google Drive folder.

Google CL5, 2016. [Image: courtesy HAWRAF]

“Hopefully by putting it out there, it makes it easier for someone else starting out and gives them confidence,” says Carly Ayres, one of Hawraf’s partners. “Like, these are just shitty Google Docs, I could do this, too.”

An excerpt from a document on company culture. [Image: courtesy HAWRAF]

The documents range from the more cultural elements of running a studio, like the founders’ values, to the hard numbers, including spreadsheets detailing all of Hawraf’s profits and losses. One particularly intriguing document, especially for other studios or designers looking to start their own studios, shows how much Hawraf was paid for every single project the studio took on. Another spreadsheet lays out the studio’s formula for deciding which companies might be good potential clients.

Intriguingly, the spreadsheets reveal a small business that was profitable and growing quickly. Hawraf didn’t shut down over money problems; instead, the partners realized that they were no longer aligned on the studio’s future.

A pricing strategy spreadsheet. [Image: courtesy HAWRAF]
Partner Andrew Herzog uses a boat metaphor to explain what happened. He says that the team devoted the first year and a half of the studio’s existence to figuring how to run the business–or make the “boat” float.

Then, “we started getting the projects we thought we could do and were good for and money started to make sense, we started getting paid adequately,” he says. “The boat [started] moving, and it [became] time for everyone to start paddling the boat. That’s where we looked up for the first time in a while and realized we maybe had differing ambitions in terms of the business, where it could go now that we knew how to make it float.”

[Image: courtesy HAWRAF]
Herzog himself is interested in learning how to run a studio on his own, while Ayres wants to focus more on creating the kinds of environments that will help creative people do their best work (she already runs the freelance design community 100s Under 100). Partner Pedro Sanches is looking for more work flexibility so he can spend more time visiting family in Brazil.

So instead of trying to continue the studio, the partners foresaw that each of them would end up leaving eventually for these different reasons–plus, they wanted to stay friends and end on good terms. “We just saw a lot of studios and companies that maybe never addressed that and end up in a space where the partners don’t speak to each other,” Herzog says.

[Image: courtesy HAWRAF]

To set each partner up for their next endeavor, Hawraf will be paying for their health insurance through the end of 2019. The studio’s profits have already been distributed among the four partners. “It’s kind of like firing yourself from your own job with severance,” Ayres says.

A clock, from the A-Z 26 briefs in 26 hours challenge. [Image: courtesy HAWRAF]

When I asked about a project the partners are most proud of, Herzog reminisced about the studio’s first project, where the designers tackled 26 briefs in 26 hours as a way of finding their creative voice. It set a precedent for what the studio wanted to do in terms of transparency and radical creativity. The public Google Drive is a continuation of a similar ambition, passing on the studio’s knowledge to the rest of the design community.

“It’s nice to see those two projects bookend all this other great amazing design work, but maybe more than anything . . . transcend design for design’s sake and speak more to access and the ability for people to do things and work creatively and make a life out of that,” Herzog says. You can check out the Google Drive here.

06 Mar 08:09

‘We’ve made a huge mistake’: European publishers sound off on subscriptions and tech talent shortages

by Lucinda Southern

The climate is tough for publishers. Digital ad revenues continue to be swallowed up by big tech giants, while publishers still need to rely somewhat on platforms for reach. Yet publishers have an air of realism despite the challenging conditions and looking to non-ad revenue streams like subscriptions and commerce to protect their businesses.

In Milan, Italy, 150 publishers gathered at Digiday’s Publishing Summit Europe this week to discuss their growing reader revenue strategies, difficulties with attracting and keeping talent and the changing programmatic landscape. Focus groups and town hall sessions were conducted under Chatham House Rule. Highlights below.

How to convince readers to pay
“As premium publishers, we’ve made a huge mistake in allowing consumers to believe they can consume content for free. I can have the biggest brand but still be competing with all the content for free online. Two years ago, we gave away content on Facebook Instant Articles; it increased traffic but revenue was significantly cannibalized.”

“As a subscriber what can we give you that is special? Sometimes that’s early access. It’s about keeping premium, premium.”

“It doesn’t matter how cheap it is, €1 or £1; if you’re not using it there’s no value. Subscriptions sound more transactional; memberships are more inclusive.”

“Reconciling members versus subscriptions, some of our sites have really hardcore tech readers, that can lead to a level of toxicity. We need to balance subscribers and members and building a community people want to engage in.”

“There are hard paywalls and soft paywalls, but there are culturally different approaches and reading habits across Europe.”

“Spotify for news can’t be done. There’s too much free-to-air news; it’s too fragmented. Effectively we have moved away from nano payments with newspapers.”

“There’s still a premium niche. There are people interested in not just eating the sausage but how the sausage is made. There’s a niche in the behind-the-scenes.”

“It’s tough moving revenue generation from advertising to subscriptions.”

“For us, of course, the challenge is conversion. What kind of content is working? A lot of it is free; it’s hard to find what readers need and where to get that content from.”

“Our coverage is B2B and B2C. B2C relies on reach, and we have to watch out we don’t lose reach in subscriptions.”

Getting tech talent to stick
“We aren’t the Googles of the world. We’re publishers. Keeping talented tech people is a challenge. I hear the story all the time: How can we be innovative in publisher technology? But you can’t keep people just with money alone.”

“For us, it helped giving more senior people more control and management over the product, so it’s not just the editorial team who have the final say. Younger people will fly away easily.”

“We create great media; we can still be cutting-edge and focus on those great aspects of our creativity; that’s what we should be seeing them on.”

Programmatic revenue struggles to fill the void
“Planning cycles at agencies are not translating into a $50,000 IO. There’s a sequence of events on the agency side that doesn’t translate to the pipes being connected and you suddenly being higher up the hierarchy if you were in a private market place. Programmatic direct is the closest thing to direct, but anything beyond that, even by the agencies’ own admission, is that they are not joined up enough because there are too many people involved in the process that it doesn’t translate to the same meaningful revenues.”

“In the old days, people would phone you up saying, ‘I’ve bought some digital stuff from you; here’s another massive IO because we like you.’ Those days don’t exist anymore, and management believe they should. You still want to continue to grow digital, but the scale of how we do that is proving more difficult than it used to be.”

“You need a balance of open, PMP, PG and direct to have competition; it’s direct buys that are pushing yields up, not just the competition between demand sources.”

“The challenge a lot of us have is you’ve got salespeople selling print and those same guys selling digital, and they’ll always go down the path of least resistance, so you have to try and upscale them to go and sell a PMP. At the end of that month, somebody’s only bought 500,000 impressions with you because they’ve bought with loads of other people as well.”

“We aren’t very good at joining up the direct part of the business and the programmatic part. We think of them as two separate revenue sources, but we’re all selling the same thing. I don’t think we have the right skills in house to take that message to the market.”

The post ‘We’ve made a huge mistake’: European publishers sound off on subscriptions and tech talent shortages appeared first on Digiday.

01 Mar 08:34

Momo is basically 2019’s answer to viral chain mail

by Cale Guthrie Weissman

Have you heard about Momo? Odds are you have, if you’ve ever perused this awful place we call the internet. For the serenely unaware, the “Momo Challenge” is purported to be a series of viral online videos that young kids around the world have been sharing that instruct them to do dangerous–even deadly–things. The videos supposedly feature the terrifying face of a girl with giant circular eyes and a dark ghoulish grin–like a comic book version of the demon girl from The Ring.

According to one viral tweet that sparked the latest online outrage, Momo is sweeping the globe and all parents need to make sure their kids aren’t watching videos of creepy longhaired hell-children and heeding their advice. But, as the Atlantic‘s Taylor Lorenz explains, Momo is a hoax. It began about a year ago, after a local news outlet referenced a deadly viral video on WhatsApp. But, Lorenz writes:

The Momo challenge wasn’t real then and it isn’t real now. YouTube confirmed that, contrary to press reports, it hasn’t seen any evidence of videos showing or promoting the “Momo challenge” on its platform. If the videos did exist, a spokesperson for YouTube said, they would be removed instantly for violating the platform’s policies. Additionally, there have been zero corroborated reports of any child ever taking his or her own life after participating in this phony challenge.

So it’s not real, yet people keep sharing it. The tweet in question has over 23,000 retweets, and numerous outlets keep writing about it. Even Kim Kardashian put a call-out to her 129 million Instagram followers to stop these not-real viral videos from spreading. Yes, it’s all very odd. It’s also extremely familiar.

Viral hoaxes have been around for as long as people could communicate–and for as long as they’ve enjoyed the dopamine jolt of duping other people. I could go through a litany of historical fake situations–the Hitler Diaries, Paul McCartney being dead, etc. But the tone of Momo, and other recent “challenges” with a similar cadence, share distinct characteristics with a specific form of misinformation that plagued the early internet: chain email.

For those of you old enough to remember time pre-Gmail, or even the early days of the Google service, you were likely bombarded with chain emails. This was before Facebook, so the only way to connect with others was to send them emails. And boy did people do that. They would forward to hundreds of their contacts the stupidest and most obscure messages around–usually promising good luck to those who paid the message forward.

But in these emails were also a great many hoaxes, some described as warnings. For instance, in the late ’90s, a piece of popular mail was making the rounds warning travelers about a group of marauding gangs harvesting tourists’ organs. The word spread so wide that the New Orleans police issued a statement assuring travelers that the kidney-stealing claims were false.

I could name others. Who could forget the one that claimed Bill Gates was going to give people $5,000, or the one that claimed Hotmail was shutting down. I myself went through my own email archives and found a few chain mail gems–most of grammatically erroneous motivational messages–all with the same urge to share! share! share!

In fact, those email chains had their roots in old-fashioned snail mail. In the days before the internet, chain letters would show up in your mailbox, promising good fortune to those who physically copied the letters and sent them to their friends and family, and warning of bad luck to those who didn’t comply. Like Momo, these letters preyed on superstition and fear in the service of viral messages. And just like Momo, people fell for it.

Which is to say that concepts like Momo are anything but new–the only thing that’s evolved is the sharing apparatus. A Mediashift blog post from 2009 looked into viral email hoaxes, and pondered its impact on social media. “Viral marketing scientist Dan Zarella offers a number of alternative theories for the spread of urban legends that can also apply to other sorts of forwards: a desire to warn friends of unknown dangers, a need to fit in, or simply as a form of recreation.” Sounds familiar, no?

Apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter are supposedly more advanced than email, and yet they continue to allow for this kind of unfettered content flow. It’s an interesting situation, especially when you think about Momo, specifically: Hundreds of thousands of parents are sharing the same hysterical message asking them to be more mindful about the content their kids are consuming, and yet they are unable to transfer that logic to their own online actions.

Memes–be they videos on YouTube, posts on Facebook, or tweets–may seem like a dangerous new form of misinformation. This is correct. But the messages they spread aren’t new. It’s simply that the platforms allowing for them are much more powerful than ever before.

Which is to say that Momo is absolutely fake, but the problem it highlights will be with us for a long time.

28 Feb 06:41

Irem, staden (?) som kanske aldrig funnits

by Hexmaster
Illustration av den mångbegåvade Jens Heimdahl, använd med benäget tillstånd
[Abdul Alhazred] claimed to have seen fabulous Irem, or City of Pillars ...
- H. P. Lovecraft, History of the Necronomicon
Irem appears in diverse contexts in Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft places the city in the Crimson Desert. It is claimed that "pillar" is the code name for "elder" or "old one", which translates "Irem of Pillars" as "Irem of the Old Ones". Also Abdul Alhazred is said to have visited Irem, where he found manuscripts with ancient forgotten knowledge.
- Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction (2007)

Lovecrafts berättelser är fulla med påhittade platser, städer och områden. Men åtminstone en stad har en viss koppling till verkligheten. "Viss", eftersom det inte är säkert vad namnet syftar på, eller ens om det som avses alls funnits. (Det finns olika stavningar och varianter, jag föredrar Lovecrafts Irem eftersom det är den jag är mest bekant med.)
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.
- Omar Khayyams Rubaiyat

Måhända är det hädiskt att ifrågasätta att det varit en verklig stad:
Har du inte sett hur din Herre gick till väga mot [stammen] Aad? Och mot Iram, [de tusen] pelarnas [stad], vars like aldrig har återskapats på jorden
- Koranen, eller åtminstone Koranens budskap i svensk tolkning av Mohammed Knut Bernström, sura 89:6-8

Enligt artikeln på Wikipedia har man föreslagit att ett verkligt Irem var en stad, eller en region eller en stam (sistnämnda är ett försök att tolka en mycket knapp uppgift från Ptolemaios).
Some see this as a geographic location, either a city or an area, others as the name of a tribe. Those identifying it as a city have made various suggestions as to where or what city it was, ranging from Alexandria or Damascus to a city which actually moved or a city called Ubar. As an area it has been identified with the biblical Aram, son of Shem and the biblical region known as Aram. It has also been identified as a tribe, possibly the tribe of 'Ad, with the pillars referring to tent pillars.
- Wikipedia: Iram of the Pillars

Det har lanserats såväl naturliga som övernaturliga förklaringar till dess försvinnande. En av de senare berättar om en kung som ignorerade en profets varningar, varpå Allah lät staden försvinna i ökensanden. Givetvis har sådana historier à la Sodom (stillsammare men lika effektiva) fått fantasifulla att tänka på Atlantis. Kanske Irem är lika mycket påhitt som Atlantis, men att omnämnandet i en helig bok gett det en status som inte ens Platon kan tävla med.

Se även Jason Colavito, Exploring Iram of the Pillars' Influence on Lovecraft's "Nameless City" där uppgifter (som kan vara ytterst kortfattade) jämförs från Koranen och Tusen och en natt (som gjorde mycket för att sprida namnet bland sekulära västerlänningar).

27 Feb 12:15

Rotten Tomatoes strikes back at review-bombing trolls

by Michael Grothaus

Film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes has announced it will no longer show a “Want to See” score or allow comments on an upcoming film before its release. The Want to See score is an aggregated score showing how many people are interested in seeing a movie, which lets Rotten Tomatoes users tell how excited the general public is about a film. A high Want to See score can help spur more online ticket sales, thus boosting a film’s box office.

Unfortunately, in recent years the Want to See score has been abused by trolls who want to sabotage a film’s reputation before it even hits theaters–a trend known as “review-bombing.” Review-bombing is usually perpetrated against films that have strong female leads or leads or casts primarily made up of ethnic minorities.

Review-bombing came to prominence with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which featured a diverse cast with several strong female leads. Review-bombing was also orchestrated against Marvel’s Black Panther due to that film’s mostly black cast. Most recently, review-bombing has targeted another Marvel film, Captain Marvel, after the film’s lead, Brie Larson, spoke out about the importance of diversity and inclusivity when it comes to film reviewers, the majority of whom are white males.

Now, however, Rotten Tomatoes has had enough of insecure, misogynistic, and racist trolls. In a blog post, the site said:

As of February 25, we will no longer show the ‘Want to See’ percentage score for a movie during its pre-release period. Why you might ask?  We’ve found that the ‘Want to See’ percentage score is often times confused with the ‘Audience Score’ percentage number. (The ‘Audience Score’ percentage, for those who haven’t been following, is the percentage of all users who have rated the movie or TV show positively–that is, given it a star rating of 3.5 or higher–and is only shown once the movie or TV show is released.) . . .

What else are we doing? We are disabling the comment function prior to a movie’s release date. Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership. We have decided that turning off this feature for now is the best course of action. Don’t worry though, fans will still get to have their say: Once a movie is released, audiences can leave a user rating and comments as they always have.

On behalf of true film lovers everywhere: thank you, Rotten Tomatoes.

26 Feb 10:14

Vad byråkratspråk egentligen är

by Jonas
Bild: Jonas Söderström

”Honliga exemplar av domesticerade former av Gallus kan trots grav visuell funktionsnedsättning normalt prestera problemfritt i lokaliserandet av små enheter av ett cerealt födoämne.”

Så lyder en ofta använd komisk illustration till hur ”byråkratspråk” är – eller påstås vara. Onödigt långa och ovanliga ord får ersätta de enkla ord som egentligen betyder … just det, ”En blind höna hittar också ett korn”.

Kul – och det finns fler exempel på hur gamla ordspråk kan förvandlas till obegriplighet på samma sätt.

Men det stämmer inte särskilt bra. I praktiken är det inte det där vi möter särskilt ofta, när vi tycker något är krångligt. Det är faktiskt inte den mekanismen som sätter in när en handläggare eller tjänsteman ska beskriva sitt ärende eller ett beslut på en webb eller på ett intranät.

Vad som typiskt gör även enkla saker jobbiga att ta in för läsaren, är däremot att skribenterna drabbas av en drift att vara så uttömmande som möjligt. En rädsla att någon ska anmärka på att någon viss detalj, någon förutsättning eller bakgrundsinformation saknas.
De långa ord som finns är ofta till för att markera ens korrekta ställning i vissa aktuella frågor. Det brukar också finnas högtidliga hänvisningar till höga principer eller allmänna värden – kanske organisationens ”värdeord”. Samtidigt använder man passiva satser för att frikoppla sig från ett detaljerat ansvar.

Så om Byköpings kommun skulle berätta att om den blinda hönan, skulle det förmodligen i stället se ut ungefär så här:

Byköpings kommun erbjuder god tillgång till en väl utbyggd och högkvalitativ veterinärverksamhet, i syfte att trygga såväl livsmedelsförsörjningen för kommunens invånare som djurens eget välbefinnande.
Den första veterinärstationen startades redan 1931. Idag styrs verksamhetens av lagarna om djurskydd och djurhållning och står under länsstyrelsens inspektion.
Trots detta kan i enstaka fall enstaka djur drabbas av skador eller funktionsnedsättningar. Dessa kan ibland förefalla allvarliga, men varje åtgärd vidtages i sådana fall för att säkerställa att funktionsvariationen inte ska hämma djurets möjlighet att bibehålla sina väsentliga och artunika beteenden. Man tillser till exempel att djuret har förmåga att skaffa sitt foder, och kan därigenom trygga en hög livskvalitet för djuret.

🙂

26 Feb 08:56

Cheap TVs and Exorbitant Education, Modern America in One Chart

by Jason Kottke

Economist Mark Perry has updated for 2018 his chart of price changes of selected goods over the past two decades.

Price Changes Graph

This graphic has been referred to a “the Chart of the Century” because it explains a lot about the socioeconomic life in the United States in just a quick glance.

During the most recent 21-year period from January 1998 to December 2018, the CPI for All Items increased by exactly 56.0% and the chart displays the relative price increases over that time period for 14 selected consumer goods and services, and for average hourly earnings (wages). Seven of those goods and services have increased more than average inflation, led by hospital services (+211%), college tuition (+183.8%), and college textbooks (+183.6%). Average wages have also increased more than average inflation since January 1998, by 80.2%, indicating an increase in real wages over the last several decades.

The other seven price series have declined since January 1998, led by TVs (-97%), toys (-74%), software (-68%) and cell phone service (-53%). The CPI series for new cars, household furnishings (furniture, appliances, window coverings, lamps, dishes, etc.) and clothing have remained relatively flat for the last 21 years while average prices have increased by 56% and wages increased 80.2%.

As various parties have noted, the goods & services that have gotten more expensive tend to be things that people need, aren’t subject to international competition, and are subject to more government regulation. The goods & services that have gotten cheaper tend to be things that people want, are subject to international competition, and are less regulated.

If healthcare & education costs had dropped as much in the last two decades as the price of TVs, toys, and software has, we’d be all set! As it is…

Tags: economics   infoviz   Mark Perry
26 Feb 07:57

Illegala piller strömmar in i Sverige: ”Ett folkhälsoproblem”

by Thomas Arnroth

De senaste åren har en ny typ av missbruk ökat kraftigt i Sverige. Det handlar om illegala narkotiska läkemedel som kan beställas på nätet och smugglas in i stora mängder. Men det mest överraskande är ändå inte mängden narkotika. Det är vem som använder den.

2014 beslagtog Tullverket en halv miljon illegala narkotiska läkemedel i postflödet.

Tre år senare var siffran uppe i 1,7 miljoner.

Missbruket av den här typen av narkotika ökar snabbt

– Vi ser ju långt ifrån allt som kommer in i Sverige, men vi är helt säkra på att ökningen motsvarar en efterfrågan på marknaden. Med andra ord ökar missbruket av den här typen av narkotika snabbt, säger Morgan Hedin, analytiker på Tullverket, i ett avsnitt i KITs pågående dokumentärserie om Isak Legler som dog av en överdos i januari 2018.

Illegala narkotiska läkemedel är ungefär vad det låter som; läkemedel som sjukvården har tillgång till och kan skriva ut på recept, men som säljs illegalt utan läkares recept.

Nästan all sådan tillgänglig narkotika kommer från utlandet.

Morgan Hedin har gjort överraskande upptäckter när han analyserat vilka det är som köper narkotiska läkemedel för eget bruk på nätet.

Benzo och tramadol

Listan på preparat är lång, men vanligast är bensodiazepiner (eller benzo som det kallas) och Tramadol. Benzo är en grupp lugnande läkemedel , till exempel Diazepam, Stesolid och Xanor.

Tramadol är en opioid som används för smärtlindring som även är ångestdämpande. Nästan hälften av alla beslag Tullverket gör är just Tramadol.


Men det är kanske ändå inte ökningen av narkotiska läkemedel som överraskar mest. Det är vilka användarna är.

– Tittar vi på beslagen i postflödet skiljer det sig dramatiskt från vilka som missbrukar vanlig narkotika som amfetamin, kokain och heroin. Där står män för 85 procent av missbruket, de allra flesta av dem är mellan 20 och 40 år gamla, säger Morgan Hedin.

Var är ungdomarna?

– När det gäller narkotiska läkemedel finns användarna jämt spridda över befolkningen. Det är i princip lika vanligt bland kvinnor som män, och det används av alla åldersgrupper. På så sätt har det nästan karaktären av ett folkhälsoproblem.

Den enda grupp som saknas nästan helt i Tullverkets beslag är ungdomar under 20 år.

– Först trodde vi inte riktigt på våra siffror, vi pratar ju ändå om den mest internetmogna generationen någonsin. Det känns nästan orimligt att de inte skulle köpa droger på nätet, säger Morgan Hedin.

Isak Legler var 23 år gammal när han dog av en överdos 2 januari 2018.

Köper från langare

Men efter att siffrorna kontrollerats noggrant var man säker på att det stämde. Betyder det att ungdomar inte använder illegala narkotiska läkemedel?

Dagens missbrukare ser inte ut som de gjorde förr

– Nej, det finns det inga bevis för alls, snarare tvärt om. Men efter att vi undersökt saken närmare bland annat genom ett antal djupintervjuer insåg vi att orsaken var rätt lättförståelig.

– Många ungdomar bor kvar hemma och har alltså ingen egen postadress. De vill inte att det ska komma okända paket från utlandet som föräldrarna ser, så de köper hellre sina droger från langare som de får tag i på olika sätt.

Epidemi av Tramadol

Ökningen av illegala narkotiska läkemedel är inte en trend som bara finns i Sverige, utan på många platser i världen. I vissa afrikanska länder talar man till och med om en Tramadolepedemi och i England har man sett en stor ökning av benzomissbruket.

FN:s organ för illegala droger, UNODC, skriver mycket om narkotiska läkemedel i sin årsrapport om drogläget i världen. UNODC talar bland annat om ett producentdrivet missbruk, alltså att det ökade missbruket beror på en ökad produktion av och tillgång på illegala narkotiska läkemedel.

Ångestdämpande Daizepam är det tredje vanligaste läkemedlet som tas i beslag i postflödet.

Receptfritt i många länder

När det gäller Tramadol beror det här på en ganska uppenbar omständighet: Läkemedlet är receptfritt i stora delar av världen. Mycket av den Tramadol som når Europa och Sverige är tillverkad i Indien, där läkemedlet är helt receptfritt – och därför också i praktiken kan tillverkas och säljas helt öppet och i hur stora kvantiteter som helst (Boko haram och IS i Libyen är för övrigt stora kunder).

Det räcker med en enkel googling för att hitta nätapotek utanför Europa som säljer det över disk

– Sverige nås dels genom postflödet, dels genom insmuggling i landet över gränsen med mer traditionella metoder, säger Morgan Hedin.

Under de senaste åren har flera spektakulära smugglingsoperationer avslöjats, bland annat när 120 000 tabletter smugglades in i Sverige i en serbisk ambulans i januari 2018.

Men det finns även tillfällen då ligor försökt smuggla in stora mängder via just postflödet. I oktober åtalades till exempel tre bröder i Borås för att ha smugglat in totalt 470 000 tabletter Tramadol och benzo i postpaket.

”De illegala pillren är billiga, straffvärdet är lågt och tillgången stor”, säger Morgan Hedin, analytiker på Tullverket.

Lätt att köpa på nätet

Stora volymer når alltså Sverige via den organiserade brottsligheten, men att själv beställa Tramadol på internet är ingen svår sak. Det behövs inte ens att man använder det så kallade dark web, alltså anonyma, hemliga mötesplatser på internet. Det räcker med en enkel googling för att hitta nätapotek utanför Europa som säljer det över disk, utan krav på recept.

– Den typen av försändelser har vi dock lättare att hitta, brev från till exempel Indien passerar en annan kontroll än brev som sänds inom EU. Därför är det ett större problem för oss att det också går att beställa från länder inom EU, säger Morgan Hedin.

Det verkar som om ett antal länder i Europa blivit hubbar för ompaketering av tramadol från Indien, bland annat Rumänien, Storbritannien och Schweiz.

Den nya missbrukaren

Morgan Hedin berättar om de narkotiska läkemedlen i KITs dokumentärserie om 24-åriga Isak Legler som dog av en överdos i januari 2018. Dokumentären är en öppen undersökning där vi publicerat nya avsnitt allt eftersom, du kan se alla avsnitt i serien här. Och här är det senaste: 

Isak motsvarar på många sätt bilden av en ny slags missbrukare som vuxit fram i spåren av den illegala läkemedelsexplosionen: Han hade en trygg uppväxt, kommer från en familj utan socioekonomiska problem med en stark förankring i samhället . Hans missbruk började som en form av självmedicinering mot ångest, depression och sömnsvårigheter.

Bilder från julafton 2017. Ni dygn senare dog Isak Legler.

Lätt att se som självmedicinering

– De narkotiska läkemedlen kommer i kartor där det står angivet vilket läkemedlet är och dess styrka. Det går att googla sig till exakt vilka effekter det har, säger Morgan Hedin.

Många hinner rätt långt i sitt missbruk innan omvärlden märker något och slår larm

– Det ger en helt annan känsla av trygghet än att köpa narkotika i form av pulver. Där vet man ju egentligen inte alls vad det är man får i sig förrän man faktiskt provar. Att det narkotiska läkemedlet är ett läkemedel gör det också enklare att se det som just självmedicinering snarare än narkotikamissbruk.

I  dokumentären om Isak är den här trenden tydlig, likaså att den här gruppen missbrukare är svår att hantera för samhället.

– Dagens missbrukare ser inte ut som de gjorde förr, man kan inte se på folk vem som tar droger eller inte, säger Erik Nord, polischef i Göteborg.

– Det gör tyvärr också att många hinner rätt långt i sitt missbruk innan omvärlden märker något och slår larm.

Bensodiazepinet Alprazolam finns också bland Tullverkets beslag. Benzo är tillsammans med Tramadol de vanligaste illegala läkemedlen som beställs på nätet.

En ny grupp även i tvångsvården

På Statens institutionsstyrelse, Sis, som har hand om all tvångsvård i Sverige, har man en liknande upplevelse.

Efter gymnasiet kan det kollapsa fort och leda till livsfarliga överdoser

– För tio år sedan var det sällsynt med folk under 25 år inom tvångsvården, men nu är personer som är mellan 20 och 30 den största gruppen, säger Torgny Alström, biträdande institutionschef på Gudhemsgården där Isak tvångsvårdades sommaren 2016.

– Många unga som kommer hit har börjat sitt missbruk redan i högstadiet. De har tagit reda på saker om drogerna på nätet, sedan börjat beställa hem, säger Alström.

– Deras missbruk ökar och så länge de går i skolan funkar deras liv, men efter gymnasiet när de ska ut i verkligheten kan det kollapsa fort och leda till livsfarliga överdoser, vilket gör att de får tvångsvård enligt LVM och kommer till oss. De vill ofta prata om självmedicinering, men det är inte en beskrivning som vi går med på under vår vård.

Att personer under 20 år inte beställer lika mycket illegala narkotiska läkemedel på nätet som övriga åldersgrupper betyder inte att de inte använder dem lika mycket.

Låga straffvärden

Men det finns antagligen även mer pragmatiska skäl till att missbruket av narkotiska läkemedel ökar så snabbt.

– Det är billig narkotika, straffvärdena är låga och tillgängligheten är stor, säger Morgan Hedin.

– De flesta försändelser vi tar i postflödet är beställningar som privatpersoner gjort. Vi förstår att det är för eget bruk på grund av de relativt små mängderna. Risken för att åka fast är liten. 500 tabletter och under utgör bara ett ringa brott, vilket i normala fall innebär högst dagsböter. Och även om vi ser vad det står för namn på paketet är våra möjligheter att bevisa att det faktiskt är samma person som beställt varan nästan obefintliga.

”Att det handlar om just läkemedel gör det enklare att se missbruket som en självmedicinering”, säger Morgan Hedin på Tullverket.

Ingen optimism

– Jämför det med till exempel Subutex, ett läkemedel som var populärt att missbruka i för tio år sedan. Det är farligt, men inte farligare än många av dagens illegala narkotiska läkemedel. Där får man fängelse för innehav av ganska små mängder, trots att det läkemedlet idag står för en ytterst marginell del av våra beslag.

Mängden beslag i postflödet minskade något under 2018, men det verkar tyvärr inte orsaka någon optimism hos Tullverket.

– Nej, minskningen berodde på att Postnord flyttade sin verksamhet för postförsändelser från utlandet från Arlanda till Örebro, säger Morgan Hedin.

– Det har varit en hel inköringsproblem med att få vår verksamhet att fungera med posthanteringen under 2018, så den uteblivna ökningen av tillslag kan förklaras helt med det.

De vanligaste narkotiska läkemedlen som Tullverket beslagtog i postflödet under 2018:

1. Tramadol, 44 procent

2. Alprazolam (benzo, främst Xanor), 18 procent

3. Diazepam (benzo, tex Stesolid), 17 procent

26 Feb 07:34

Content moderation has no easy answers

by mathowie

This morning I read Casey Newton’s expose of Facebook moderation problems at the Verge.

Let me be clear upfront: content moderation is tough and I have no idea how to solve it at internet scale—in fact I’m not even sure it’s possible to do on the orders of millions and billions of items to be reviewed. Stories like this started coming out about 5 years ago about facebook moderators in the Philippines having high burnout rates and I remember thinking the problem had no easy solution back then (hint: it’s even worse now).

I ran a somewhat popular indie site for 15 years, the last half or so with ample moderation. But to put the scale of the work in perspective, we were dealing with 10-15 thousand active people daily posting about 3,000 things. Slightly big numbers but still small enough you can wrap your head around them. Mostly day to day we broke up bickering matches between two grad students on the site. And even that was still a drag and after many years doing it I had to hang it up to take a break from the day to day stress.

People often say to me that Twitter or Facebook should be more like MetaFilter, but there’s no way the numbers work out. We had 6 people combing through hundreds of reported postings each day. On a scale many orders of magnitude larger, you can’t employ enough moderators to make sure everything gets a check. You can work off just reported stuff and that cuts down your workload, but it’s still a deluge when you’re talking about millions of things per day. How many moderators could even work at Google? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? A million?

YouTube itself presents a special problem with no easy solution. Every minute of every day, hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to the service. That’s physically impossible for humans to watch it even if you had thousands of content mods working for YT full time around the world.

So everyone says “I guess AI will solve it” but then you have all of AI’s problems on top of it. Baby videos get flagged as porn because there’s too much skin tone filling the screen. Subtle forms of abuse aren’t picked up because the patterns don’t exist yet in the AI and every day is a cat-and-mouse game to stay head of AI. AI is prone to the same biases in the creators and will have negative effects down the line.

I don’t know how to counteract the effects of moderation, or how to mitigate the toll it takes on people. I know this from friends working all over the tech industry, but any job that requires you to solve problems for people and express empathy for them, whether that’s in a chat window or on phone support or at a genius bar, it all takes its toll on people doing it and those jobs have high turnover rates. Many content items described in Casey’s piece are horrific and I don’t know how to you prevent it from harming employees, but aside from those special cases it’s extremely hard to keep the work from grinding people down.

Honestly, I wish there was a solution. I’d love to see Twitter do a better job keeping terrible people off their platform and stopping things like brigading where you make a joke about a public figure and then thousands of people hound you from some unknown source. I wish YouTube would get better at filtering out conspiracy nonsense and stop radicalizing people. I wish Facebook could keep their site free of brutality without permanently harming workers who have to look at it.

I was part of a small corner of the internet where we made it work, but it was downright tiny compared to the big internet scale platforms. That’s not to say it’s impossible so we should throw up our hands and give up, but I just want to acknowledge how hard the problem is to solve. I’ve thought about these issues for decades but there are no easy answers. I don’t let any large platform off the hook for what takes place there, but I do recognize there’s no magic solution.

25 Feb 09:54

German neofascists used Qanon to expand their reach

by Cory Doctorow

Germany's Alternative For Germany (AfD) party (previously) are an insurgent neofascist movement with ties to senior mainstream politicians and the country's super-wealthy would-be oligarchs; the party put on a hard push in the the 2018 Bavarian elections and their meme warfare was full of familiar voter-suppression tactics, from garden-variety disinformation to exhortations to stay home on election day.

Also prominent in the group's messaging: hashtags and tropes from the US far-right conspiracy theory Qanon (previously), an incoherent toxic stew of antisemitism, murder accusations, numerology, Islamophobia, and other pathologies of the moment.

The connection between Qanon and AfD comes from an unreleased report from the London School of Economics-affiliated Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which bills itself as an "anti-extremist think tank"; some details of the study have been reported in the German and US press.

The researchers traced the inclusion of Qanon-affiliated hashtags in AfD social media, including German translations and adaptations of popular Qanon tags (e.g. #linksliegenlassen, #MerkelMussWeg); as with the US-based Qanon activists, the German Qanon phenomenon was driven by small numbers of incredibly prolific social media users -- not bots (Erin Gallagher's research found that Qanon tweeters posting 500+ messages/day were often "older retired people with a lot of free time").

There's evidence that US-based Qanon activists forged alliances with German neofascists; some popular fascist hashtags ("#ChemnitzIstDerAnfang") originated with US Qanon accounts.

Qanon is becoming a kind of ideological signifier among far-right groups: members of the far-right who have adopted the yellow vest for street demonstrations in Canada and the UK have been spotted decorating the vests with Qanon memes and carrying Qanon-boosting signs. Qanon networks have also been used to boost the virality of racist videos.

I think far-right extremism is the intersection of garden-variety bigotry/xenophobia with economic precarity and a breakdown of the epistemological consensus about what constitutes a reliable indicator that something is true.

Xenophobia and bigotry are always around, but they surge when people feel afraid for their overall economic circumstances, and that surge has been supercharged by decades of both scientific denialism (well-funded campaigns to sow doubt about the motives of climate scientists, doctors who warn of the link between smoking and cancer, etc) and corruption -- for example, anti-vax builds on the assertion that experts have corrupt motives and that regulators are so captured that they let them get away with murder. The thing is, regulators really are that captured.

I can't say for sure that a more equitable economic system -- which would cut off the resources used by corporate influences to distort policy, and by ideological entrepreneurs to push expensive, profitable scientific denial -- would neutralize the far-right, but I think it's worth a try.

The crossover between QAnon and far-right German movements like the Chemnitz riots makes sense. Both movements are aggressively anti-Muslim and anti-refugee. And both make vague gestures toward a right-wing revolution.

“At the time I got the impression that some people thought Chemnitz was going to be ‘Germany's great awakening,’” Gallagher said, referencing QAnon’s promise of a “great awakening” in America.

It’s a trend she’s previously observed, as America’s alt-right moved on to trolling on behalf of their counterparts in Europe after Trump’s victory in 2016.

“I've noticed crossover of US alt-right networks with European alt-right for a long time,” she said. “How QAnon fits into all that is a great question, but the international alt-right coordinated swarms—QAnon related or not—do not surprise me.”

How Fringe Groups Are Using QAnon to Amplify Their Wild Messages [Kelly Weill/Daily Beast]

25 Feb 09:53

40 incredibly useful things you didn’t know Google Search could do

by JR Raphael

When you think about Google services, apps such as Gmail, Docs, and Photos may be the first things that come to mind. I’d be willing to wager, though, that the Google service you use more than any other is one you rarely think about—because it’s woven so tightly into your life that it doesn’t even feel like a service anymore. It just feels like a utility, something that’s always there—like a faucet for metaphorical water.

I’m talking, of course, about Google Search, the gateway to an endless-seeming array of answers and information. But these days, Google Search can do a whole lot more than just look up simple queries. In fact, if you know all of its hidden powers, Search can be a Swiss Army knife that’s always within reach, even when you aren’t actively thinking about its presence.

Browse through these 40 advanced functions—and get ready to see Search in a whole new light.

Useful tools

1. Need an impartial judge to help make a decision? Try typing “random number generator” into Google. That’ll bring up a tool that lets you specify a minimum and maximum number—for however many choices you have, or even representing a specific set of values within a spreadsheet—and then have the Google genie randomly pick a number within that range.

For a more visual (although also more limited) version of the same concept, type “spinner” into Google and then switch the toggle at the top to “Number.” You can then create a wheel with anywhere from two to 20 numbers and click it to spin and land on a random digit.

The Google Search number spinner will land on a random digit, with anywhere from two to 20 options in place.

2. For even simpler decisions, let Google flip a coin or roll a die for you by typing either command into the search box. (Bonus tip: You can also ask Google to spin a dreidel.)

3. Make Google serve as your personal time-keeper by typing “timer” or “stopwatch” into a search box. You can also launch right into a specific timer by typing “20 minute timer” (or whatever amount of time you desire).

4. You probably know that Google can act as a basic calculator, performing addition, subtraction, and so on—but did you know it can also do all sorts of advanced mathematics? For instance, you can have Google graph complicated equations like “cos(3x)+sin(x), cos(7x)+sin(x)” by entering them directly into the search box. And you can fire up a geometry calculator by searching for a specific query—”area of a circle,” “formula for a triangle perimeter,” or “volume of a cylinder”—and then entering in the values you know.

Google’s geometry calculator can work with a variety of advanced formulas.

5. Google has separate standalone calculators that can figure out tips and monthly mortgage payments, too. Search for “tip calculator” or “mortgage calculator” to give either a whirl.

6. The next time you need to convert between units, try asking Google to do the heavy lifting for you. In addition to  handling currency and practically any measurement system, Google can convert megabytes to gigabytes, Fahrenheit to Celsius, and days into minutes or even seconds. You can explore all the possibilities by typing “unit converter” into the search box and then looking through the dropdown menus that appear—or you can perform most conversions directly by searching for the exact changeover you want (e.g. “14.7 lbs to oz”).

7. Who among us hasn’t come across a sprawling number and stared at it blankly while trying to figure out how to say it aloud? Search for any number followed by “=english”—”53493439531=english,” for example—and Google will spell out your number for you in plain-English words.

8. Designers, take note: Searching for “color picker” will pull up a simple tool that lets you select a color and find its hex code, RGB value, CMYK value, and more—and easily convert from one color code type to another.

The color picker tool is an easy way to find color codes and convert among different code types.

9. You can also see an identifying swatch for a specific color code by typing it into Google in almost any form: “#fcef00,” “rgb(252, 239, 0),” “pantone 444 u,” and so on.

10. Get up-to-date info on any flight, anytime, by typing the airline name or code and flight number directly into Google.

11. Find your current IP address in a snap by typing “IP address” into any Google prompt.

12. Google can measure your internet speed and give you speedy results, regardless of whether you’re on Wi-Fi or mobile data. Just type “speed test” into a search box and then click the “Run Speed Test” button to get started.

13. From your phone, type “bubble level” into Google to load an on-demand level tool and make sure the picture you’re hanging is perfectly straight.

Keep the toolbox in the closet and pull up a bubble level right from Google Search on your phone.

14. Trying to stay on beat? Google “metronome,” and the search site will give you a fully functional metronome with a slider to start any beat-per-minute setting you need.

15. Search or browse through hundreds of old print newspapers at Google’s hidden newspaper archive site. The selection is pretty hit-and-miss, but you just might find what you’re after.

16. Hardly anyone knows it, but Google has a system that allows you to save results from your searches and then organize them into collections. From a browser, it works with images, jobs, and places; after searching for any of those types of items, you’ll see small bookmark icons alongside your results that can be clicked to save the associated entities. If you have an Android phone, you can also save web pages by pulling them up within the Google app and then looking for the bookmark icon in the upper-right corner of the screen. Either way, you can find and sort your saved stuff by going to google.com/collections or looking for the “Collections” option in the Google app on Android (tucked away within the “More” menu).

Advanced information

17. Find your next job on Google by searching for “jobs near me” or something specific like “programming jobs.” You can then narrow down the search as needed, find direct links to apply to positions, and even turn on email alerts for worthwhile queries.

Google’s job search function pulls in postings from all over the web and presents them in a centralized, easy-to-follow manner.

18. Thinking about going back to school—or maybe enrolling in college for the first time? Google can give you oodles of useful info about any four-year college in the United States. All you have to do is search for the school’s name, and you’ll get an interactive box with facts about its average cost (before and after financial aid for any income level) along with its acceptance rate, typical test scores, rankings, and notable alumni.

19. Get the perfect recipe for any meal by searching for the name of a dish from your mobile device. Google will give you a scrolling list of choices and will even provide one-tap commands for sending any set of instructions to a Google Assistant Smart Display connected to your account. (Bonus tip: You can search for drink recipes in the same way—again, though, only on a mobile device for some reason.)

20. Speaking of eating, you can Google any individual ingredient to find detailed nutritional information about the food. You can also search for specific nutritional queries—things like: “How many calories are in avocados,” “How much fat is in an egg yolk,” or “How much protein is in chickpeas.”

21. Figure out which streaming service has the show or movie you want by searching for “watch” followed by the program’s title. Google will give you a list of places where you can find it—both as part of an active subscription and on an a-la-carte purchasing basis.

22. Craving some variety with your tried-and-true songs? Try searching for an artist name and song title together—like “Michael Jackson Billie Jean,” for instance—and then, in the info box that appears, click the “Other recordings of this song” header. That’ll bring up an interactive list of artists who have covered your favorite tune, complete with videos to watch each alternate version.

23. Fan of the sportsball? Search for the name of a team or league to get real-time game scores and detailed recaps of recent matchups.

Location fixation

24. Avoid frustration and check on a restaurant’s average wait time for any day and time before you head out. Just search for the restaurant’s name, then look for the “Popular times” section in the info box that appears. There, you can click a dropdown menu to select any day and then scroll through a timeline to see the typical crowd level and wait length for any given hour.

See how long you’re likely to wait at a restaurant by using Google’s “Popular times” tool.

25. Generate a list of upcoming local events by searching for “events near me” from your mobile device. Once the info box is in front of you, you can jump ahead to other days or tap any event to get additional info. If you’re looking for something specific, you can also search for terms like “concerts near me,” “food festivals near me,” or “conferences near me.”

26. Google has a whole host of ways it can help you figure out the time in any location. Aside from being able to search for “time” followed by the name of a place to see the current time in that area, you can quickly perform time zone conversions by typing in something like “time 2:00 p.m. India”—which would show you what time it’ll be in your location when it’s 2:00 p.m. in India.

27. Get a fast glance at the weather for any city on any day by typing “weather” followed by the city name—and then the day you’re interested in, if it’s anything other than today.

Search smarts

28. Trying to reach a site that’s temporarily down or permanently offline? Type “cache:” followed by the site’s address directly into Google. That’ll take you to a recently saved version of the site hosted on Google’s own servers.

29. You can search any site through Google to find whatever you need: Simply type in the term you want followed by “site:” and the URL—”site:fastcompany.com,” for example—and you’ll get a list of results that’s practically guaranteed to be better than whatever the site’s own internal search function would give you.

30. If you’re looking for information from a specific time period, type in the term you want and then click or tap the “Tools” menu at the top of the Google results page. Then you can limit your search results to a particular time—if, say, you wanted to see stories about Apple earnings from January 2018.

31. Google’s image search function has a similarly useful option: After searching for an image, tap “Tools” at the top of the results. You’ll be able to filter your image search to show only results of a particular size or color—or only images that contain a face or were created during a specific period of time.

Filter your image search to find exactly the type of result you need.

32. Save yourself a bunch of clicks or taps and tell Google to show more search results per page—without forcing you to press that pesky “Next” or “More” button. Just hop over to this preferences page and move the slider under “Results per page” as high as you’d like, then be sure to hit the blue “Save” button at the bottom of the screen. Google warns that the higher the number, the slower your searches may be—but realistically, as long as you’re on a reasonably speedy internet connection, you aren’t likely to notice much difference.

33. On that same preferences page, you can instruct Google to open every search result as a new tab by default. If you find yourself opening links in new tabs more often than not, that can be a very welcome change.

Getting personal

34. Got a tracking number from the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, or FedEx? Paste the number directly into Google Search. It’ll give you a direct link to the latest update on your package’s delivery.

35. Google Search can dig up info from your own personal data, so long as you use services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Photos. Try searching for “my trips,” “my flights,” “my appointments,” “my reservations,” “my purchases,” “my bills,” or “my photos.” With some of those, you can get even more specific: “my AT&T bills from 2018,” “my photos from france,” “my photos from February 2016,” and so on. As long as you have matching data in a compatible Google service, you’ll get results right then and there.

Quickly find photos featuring a particular time, place, subject, or event by searching directly in Google Search.

36. You can browse or search through your own past Google searches and even rediscover results you clicked while signed into your account by visiting myactivity.google.com. Click the “Search” tab at the top to narrow the results down only to Search (as opposed to also seeing your activity from other Google products).

37. Want to erase the past—or maybe just part of it? Hang onto this link. It makes it easy to wipe away your entire Google Search history, should the urge ever arise, or to erase your last hour’s worth of searches for a more limited reset.

Just for fun

38. The next time you need to calm down and focus, type “breathing exercise” into any Google box. You’ll get a one-minute guided breathing exercise to help recenter your brain.

39. If you need a serious break from productivity, let Google entertain you with a hidden Search game:

  • Search for “Atari Breakout,” then click on the “Images” tab at the top of the screen to test your old-school skills.
  • Search for “Zerg Rush” and fight off the falling O’s before they erase the page.
  • Search for “Google Pacman” and chomp away at those pretty yellow pellets.
  • Search for “Solitaire,” “Minesweeper,” “Tic Tac Toe,” or “Snake” for some good old-fashioned fun.

40. Last but not least, take a trip back in time by searching for “Google in 1998.” That’ll let you look through one of Google’s earliest site designs, from the time of the company’s launch—and make you appreciate just how far things have come.

21 Feb 07:13

Gurman on WWDC 2019: Marzipan Marches Forward and the New Mac Pro

by John Gruber

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg*:

Later this year, Apple plans to let developers port their iPad apps to Mac computers via a new software development kit that the company will release as early as June at its annual developer conference. Developers will still need to submit separate versions of the app to Apple’s iOS and Mac App Stores, but the new kit will mean they don’t have to write the underlying software code twice, said the people familiar with the plan.

In 2020, Apple plans to expand the kit so iPhone applications can be converted into Mac apps in the same way. Apple engineers have found this challenging because iPhone screens are so much smaller than Mac computer displays.

In some ways this makes sense — iPad apps are closer in scope to Mac apps. But for iPhone apps that don’t have iPad counterparts, why would developers target the Mac if they haven’t even bothered with iPad yet? And as Steven Troughton-Smith observed, in some ways the Mac is better-suited to iPhone apps than iPad is, because you can just run the app in a small window on the Mac, whereas iPad apps need to be full-screen, which leads iPhone-only apps running on iPad to look dreadful.

The only upside I can see to this entire endeavor is that some media consumption apps (Netflix, HBO, Hulu) might come to the Mac and be better than what we have now (using their websites, which have no offline access). Anything else I dread. I honestly can’t think of one productivity app on iPad where I’ve ever thought I’d like to use that app on the Mac. The best iPad productivity apps I know of — Things, Omni’s apps, Tweetbot — already have real Mac app counterparts.

Tucked away as the final sentence in the report:

The company has also internally weighed previewing a new version of the high-end Mac Pro, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Given that rumors suggest a late March event focused on subscription services (news and original video content), I would say WWDC has to be the unveiling of the new Mac Pros. Even if they don’t announce a ship date I’d be shocked if they don’t show it — they started working on it two years ago.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

13 Feb 14:49

Kina + EAP = sant

by Hexmaster
Schillerinstitutet på Facebook. 67 följare.

Nyligen presenterade tankesmedjan Network on China rapporten Political values in Europe-China relations. I SvD tog Ola Wong upp den, och kompletterade med en uppgift som är så bisarr att det är svårt att förhålla sig till den.
[Den kinesiska] Ambassaden i Stockholm har exempelvis gjort det udda valet att marknadsföra Kinas nya sidenvägar [ett gigantiskt infrastrukturprojekt] i samarbete med Schillerinstitutet, även känt som Europeiska arbetarpartiet (EAP). EAP var vänsterextremt när det startade i Sverige på 70-talet men blev senare klassat som närmast högerextremt av försvarsmakten. I det senaste riksdagsvalet fick de blygsamma 52 röster. Att rörelsen inte växt mer på alla dessa år beror på deras besynnerliga utspel, konspirationsteorier samt grova personangrepp, skriver den statliga utredningen "Hotet från vänster" (SOU 2002:91).
- Ola Wong: Klimatskeptisk sekt i Sverige samarbetar med Kinas ambassad, SvD 9 februari 2019

Att fånga den galenskap som är EAP/LaRouche-rörelsen i en kort rubrik är en utmaning, och det är inte SvD:s fel att de bara delvis lyckades. Wongs sammanfattning är utmärkt: Mikropartiet EAP har mycket få men mycket aktiva medlemmar (deras engagerade kärna torde rymmas i en hiss). De kompenserar för sin litenhet genom att inta extrema och stenhårda uppfattningar – ända tills de ändrar sig, och intar en annan (kanske motsatt?) uppfattning lika stenhårt.

Älska Sovjet, invadera Afghanistan och hata USA? Älska USA, hata kommunister och Palme? Älska Trump, Putin och Kina? Hata IMF och kolonisera Mars? Eller varför inte driva en kampanj för att ändra ettstrukna A från 440 Hz till 432 Hz? (Se bloggposten 440 Hz-konspirationen.) Och så vidare.

När illa sedda rörelser ska föra ut sina budskap kan de skapa fasader. Scientologerna har KMR, droginformation.nu, Narconon och allt vad de heter. EAP har Schillerinstitutet, ett väl valt namn som lurat flera genom åren. Kanske de rentav lyckats lura kineserna..? Även om det verkar osannolikt, så är det inte mindre osannolikt än att någon som har minsta kunskap om tokarna i EAP skulle inleda ett samarbete med dem.

Uppdaterat: Av en ren slump – lovar – fick denna bloggpost en sorts aktualitet när självaste Lyndon LaRouche, "statsmannen, filosofen, ekonomen, konstnären, fysikern, poeten, frihetskämpen och mycket mera" enligt EAP, gick och dog den 12 februari, något som tillkännagavs dagen därpå.
12 Feb 07:01

The problem with all the mistakes in Jill Abramson's book on journalism is you'll never know who wrote them

by Rob Beschizza

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, has a book out about journalism, ethics and truth. Unfortunately, many paragraphs turned out to be plagiarized from other writers. To the seemingly oblivious Abramson, it seems incomprehensible that this might be a problem. To her publishers, the vast sunk costs involved (it paid about $1m for the copied-and-pasted hackintome) have forced them to pretend that it isn't.

And then there's the errors. Even before it was out, reviewers noticed problems ranging from major cities situated in the wrong states to insulting factual flubs about the young journalists Abramson thinks she's schooling.

And now this, spotted by Chris Krewson:

CPM refers to cost per mille, a measure used in advertising, and makes no sense as written here. In any case, it certainly was not a term devised by Nick Denton to calculate traffic bonuses.

"The lack of understanding about digital is stunning," Krewson writes.

Ah, but whose lack of understanding about digital?

The problem with all the mistakes in Jill Abramson's book on journalism is you'll never know who made them. It's the paradox of plagiarism: all discussion that depends on authorship, intent, context -- all of it becomes pointless. You can't very well blame Abramson for someone else's mistake, can you?1

Her book supposedly honors the traditions of 20th century journalism but has become a gravestone marking their death. The corpses will now be fucked by social media companies, billionaires and fascists until there's nothing left to fuck but the cold stone where they lay.

1. Back in the day, when a significant number of sites "scraped" content from Boing Boing, I used to poison the scraper bots with special content that will otherwise go undescribed here. This content would be published only on the scraper sites.

12 Feb 06:47

Robot writers drove 1,000 paying subscribers for Swedish publisher MittMedia

by Lucinda Southern

Swedish local news publisher MittMedia is using robot-generated content to drive subscriptions.

Robot journalism has typically been touted as a tool to save time in busy newsrooms, but MittMedia has gained 1,000 digital subscribers across 20 of its local news sites using automated content, over the last year.

The publisher, which now has nearly 80,000 digital subscribers, found that real-estate articles are the most effective at converting loyal users into digital subscribers. At the end of 2017, it launched the “Homeowners Bot,” which writes a short text on every house that is sold in the local market, identifies an interesting angle, like the most expensive house sold in the year, and adds an image from Google Street View.

The company now writes 480 articles a week on home sales, according to the company. Since introducing the tool it has published in total 34,000 articles, which have converted nearly 1,000 paying subscribers. Subscriptions to its titles start at €10 a month ($11.28).

“A really good robot text can have a bigger impact and be more read than a really good news article, but only if it’s a topic readers really care about,” said Li LÉstrade, head of content development at MittMedia. “Each article reaches a smaller group of readers on average, but in total, we get an exchange on par with anything written by our most-read reporters.”

On each bot-written article, the publisher uses the byline “MittMedia’s Text Robot,” and through research, it found that 68 percent of 102 respondents didn’t notice the piece was written by a bot.

Often 100,000 houses are sold in local regions covered by MittMedia’s local press.

Publishers like Bloomberg, Reuters and The Washington Post have also explored robot-written stories that rely on structured data. The obvious benefit is the publisher can churn out repetitive, simple stories at a high volume, leaving the humans to do more of the investigative work. This high volume typically meant using robots to automate things like earnings or sports reports, which would help increase ad impressions and aid coverage in local newsrooms. 

The publisher has started automating articles about new companies which are proving popular. It uses algorithms to show the most relevant articles to the right reader at the right time to nudge them to subscribe, said LÉstrade. Because there are a large number of automated articles, the danger is either they will dominate the site or look too irrelevant if they aren’t distributed to a specific group of readers.

“Automated articles are often pretty niche and super interesting to a small number of people. That makes them perfect for a personalized news feed or a niche product,” she said. “It’s key to nail the context.”

MittMedia has a central editorial team that works with data-driven content development of nine people to improve the retention of digital subscribers. According to the media group, bringing more flexibility to unsubscribing has stabilized churn rates. Subscribers can pause their newsletters or unsubscribe by clicking a button, a popular feature for avid followers of seasonal sports like ice hockey. Currently, churn rate is between 12 percent and 14 percent, said LÉstrade.

Robot journalism is hot in Sweden. One of the country’s largest national titles, Schibsted’s evening tabloid Aftonbladet, which reached 250,000 digital subscribers by the end of 2017, has also pushed into automated content. MittMedia has partnered with tech company United Robots on automated content. Along with two other Swedish publishers, MittMedia is expanding the amount and type of automated content it publishes beyond property sales articles to include sports write-ups, texts about company registrations, bankruptcies and traffic and weather news.

The post Robot writers drove 1,000 paying subscribers for Swedish publisher MittMedia appeared first on Digiday.

07 Feb 06:38

Inside Wisconsin’s Disastrous $4.5 Billion Deal With Foxconn

by John Gruber

Austin Carr, reporting for Bloomberg Businessweek*:

“This is the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

So declared President Donald Trump onstage last June at a press event at Foxconn’s new factory in Mount Pleasant, Wis. He was there to herald the potential of the Taiwanese manufacturing giant’s expansion into cheesehead country. He’d joined Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou and then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to celebrate a partnership he’d helped broker — “one of the great deals ever,” Trump said. In exchange for more than $4.5 billion in government incentives, Foxconn had agreed to build a high-tech manufacturing hub on 3,000 acres of farmland south of Milwaukee and create as many as 13,000 good-paying jobs for “amazing Wisconsin workers” as early as 2022.

How’s it turning out? Terribly for Wisconsin:

The only consistency, many of these people say, lay in how obvious it was that Wisconsin struck a weak deal. Under the terms Walker negotiated, each job at the Mount Pleasant factory is projected to cost the state at least $219,000 in tax breaks and other incentives. The good or extra-bad news, depending on your perspective, is that there probably won’t be 13,000 of them. […]

A report from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency, estimated the state would be in the red on the deal until at least 2042, and even that projection didn’t account for the kinds of increased public-services costs associated with population growth. It also based income tax revenue projections on the implausible assumption that every employee would live in Wisconsin, whereas some would almost certainly commute from nearby Illinois. “There’s no way this will ever pay itself off,” says Tim Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. He says Foxconn’s incentives are more than 10 times greater than typical government aid packages of its stripe.

The best part is where Wisconsin officials admit they never looked at Foxconn’s record in such deals:

Wisconsin officials apparently didn’t consider Gou’s track record problematic. Instead, they describe the billionaire, who charmed them with stories of his early days selling TV parts in the Midwest, as almost philanthropic. “My impression of him was, what a nice person,” says Scott Neitzel, who led negotiations for the Walker administration. “An extremely genuine, down-to-earth tycoon.” When asked if the state looked at Foxconn’s history, WEDC Chief Executive Officer Mark Hogan says, “We didn’t spend a lot of time on that because, in the end, we got to know these people so well.”

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, well-known philanthropist.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

07 Feb 06:36

Big Telecom Sold Highly Sensitive Customer GPS Data Typically Used for 911 Calls

by Joseph Cox

This is a breaking news piece. You can read our full investigation here.

Around 250 bounty hunters and related businesses had access to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint customer location data, according to documents obtained by Motherboard. The documents also show that telecom companies sold data intended to be used by 911 operators and first responders to data aggregators, who sold it to bounty hunters. The data was in some cases so accurate that a user could be tracked to specific spots inside a building.

The news shows not only how widely Americans’ sensitive location data has been sold through the overlooked and questionable data broker market, but also how the ease-of-access dramatically increased the risk of abuse. Motherboard found that an individual company made more than 18,000 data location requests through a data broker; other companies made thousands of requests. The full details of our investigation are available here.

“This scandal keeps getting worse. Carriers assured customers location tracking abuses were isolated incidents. Now it appears that hundreds of people could track our phones, and they were doing it for years before anyone at the wireless companies took action,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said in an emailed statement after presented with Motherboard’s findings. “That’s more than an oversight—that’s flagrant, wilful disregard for the safety and security of Americans.”

cercareone_ping
A screenshot obtained by Motherboard of a phone being located via its GPS data. Motherboard has blurred and cropped parts of the image to protect individuals’ privacy. Image: Motherboard

Between at least 2012 until it closed in late 2017, a now-defunct data seller called CerCareOne allowed bounty hunters, bail bondsmen, and bail agents to find the real-time location of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint mobile phones. The company would sometimes charge up to $1,100 per phone location, according to a source familiar with the company. Motherboard granted a number of sources in this story anonymity to provide details about a controversial industry practice.

Some of the data available to CerCareOne customers included a phone’s “assisted GPS” or A-GPS data, according to documents and screenshots of the service in action provided by two independent sources. A-GPS is a technology that is used by first responders to locate 911 callers in emergency situations. A letter to the Federal Communications Commission from a T-Mobile lawyer in 2013 noted that “A-GPS is reasonably the foundation of wireless [emergency] 911 location for both indoor and outdoor locations.”

“Oftentimes A-GPS provides location information about where someone is inside a building,” Laura Moy, executive director at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University Law Center, told Motherboard in an email.

Blake Reid, associate clinical professor at Colorado Law, told Motherboard in an email that “with assisted GPS, your location can be triangulated within just a few meters. This allows constructing a detailed record of everywhere you travel.”

“The only reason we grant carriers any access to this information is to make sure that first responders are able to locate us in an emergency,” Reid added. “If the carriers are turning around and using that access to sell information to bounty hunters or whomever else, it is a shocking abuse of the trust that the public places in them to safeguard privacy while protecting public safety.”

Both Reid and Moy said this was the first instance of a telco selling A-GPS data they had heard of.

Got a tip? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

A Sprint spokesperson did not directly answer whether the company has ever sold A-GPS data. When asked if T-Mobile has sold A-GPS data, a company spokesperson told Motherboard in an email “We don’t have anything further to add at this stage.” AT&T did not respond to a request to clarify whether it sells or has ever sold A-GPS data.

A list of a particular customer’s use of the phone location service obtained by Motherboard stretches on for around 450 pages, with more than 18,000 individual phone location requests in just over a year of activity. The bail bonds firm that initiated the requests—known in the industry as phone pings—did not respond to questions asking whether they obtained consent for locating the phones, or what the pings were for.

“The scale of this abuse is outrageous,” Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Motherboard in an email.

Subscribe to our new cybersecurity podcast, CYBER.

06 Feb 08:55

A brilliant breakthrough in email productivity is going away forever

by Harry McCracken

“The Email Game will be riding off into the sunset on February 7, 2019. After that date, you will no longer be able to play it.”

When I visited the Email Game last month and saw that announcement, it didn’t exactly come as a shock. If this is the first you’ve heard that the Email Game existed in the first place, that’s also no surprise. It never attracted more than scant attention, and has been in suspended animation for years–still available, but unchanging.

But even if you never used the service, please indulge me as I write a eulogy for it. I can’t remember ever hearing about a tech product going away and feeling the same pang of personal loss. The Gmail-compatible, web-based service brought a radically fresh approach to wrangling a bulging inbox–and for me, it was more helpful than anything introduced in Gmail or anywhere else in recent years.

And now I will need to learn to live without it. Boomerang, the company behind the Email Game, has decided to concentrate on its other offering, which is also called Boomerang. Like the Email Game, the Boomerang service focuses on email management, but it’s one thing the Email Game never was: a thriving business.

I shall miss the Email Game’s mascot–a pissed-off envelope brandishing a pitchfork.

I signed up for the Email Game on June 12, 2012 (according to the confirmation email the service sent me at the time, which remains tucked away in my Gmail archive). I loved the service, used it, and named it as one of Time’s 50 best websites of 2012. To this day, the Email Game website touts that award with a giant banner on its homepage–a stale bit of self-promotion, but one that makes me smile each time I see it.

Lots of products aim to reinvent email. The Email Game actually did. As its name indicates, the overarching concept was to turn inbox management into a sport. But any company trying to make email less of a chore could learn from its innovations.

Here are some of the ways the service screwed with decades of conventional wisdom about what an email client is supposed to be:

It doesn’t have an inbox. At first blush, the notion of an email program without an inbox sounds nonsensical, like a car without a windshield or a piano without keys. But with conventional email clients, I spend a hefty percentage of my time pointlessly dithering in the inbox–putting off dealing with the most intimidating messages, scrolling backwards to skim through what I’ve missed, and generally avoiding the actual drudgery of responding. The Email Game ditches the inbox in favor of showing you a single message at a time in full-screen view. Deal with it, and you move on to the next one until you’ve made your way through a quantity of mail you specify. (I opt for the maximum, 100 messages.) As you go, a timer keeps track of how much time you’ve spent.

You can choose to skip a message without doing anything with it, but a smiley face in the upper right-hand corner gets more and more frowny as you do, which, for me, is a powerful act of shaming. Mostly, I take care of each email before I proceed, staying focused in a way that’s much tougher if I can see the inbox.

I didn’t pay that much attention to the Email Game’s scoreboard, which appears after you’ve blazed your way through all the messages you set out to manage.

The more I’ve used the Email Game, the more I’ve come to think of the invention of the inbox as email’s original sin. There’s no better way to help people get to inbox zero than to zero out the inbox.

It doesn’t let you send new messages. It turns out that building an email program to both send and receive messages introduces design flaws that we didn’t even know were design flaws, because we’ve experienced them for our entire email-using lives. By stripping out the ability to compose a new message, the Email Game doesn’t have to think about a whole bunch of functionality that trips up even the biggest names in email. (I’m still not used to Gmail’s tiny composition window, a not-entirely-successful design choice intended to let you send new emails without taking you out of your inbox.)

The more messages you dispatch with, the more blissed-out the Email Game smiley gets.

It doesn’t tell you when new messages arrive. Again, that would interfere with the goal of burrowing through the ones that have already piled up. The service also doesn’t involve notifications of any sort, which is part of its general pleasantness: It’s an app that never tries to commandeer your attention until you want to use it.

It’s really, really fast. When you log in, the service does take a bit of time to chug through your recent messages and load them into memory. But once they’re there, the interface is remarkably snappy–not just for a web app, but for software of any type. That’s one of the reasons that the service makes it possible to whack your way through a hundred messages in one sitting without numbing your brain.

It lets you send and archive with one click. This is not a unique feature: Gmail has it, as do a few other email clients. But it’s hardly universal. And I don’t understand why: It makes no sense to me that a message would stay in your frickin’ inbox after you’ve responded to it. (I’ve talked to enough email users and email designers to understand that my viewpoint may be a minority one–but I’m right, and everybody else is wrong.)

I rarely compelled the Email Game smiley to look quite this morose.

There are other Email Game features that matter less to me. It lets you set up canned responses (“Thanks, we’ll keep this in mind”), which is incredibly handy, but something I accomplish using keyboard shortcuts. I never got into its Boomerang option, which replicates its sister service’s signature feature by letting you punt on an email and have it reappear at the top of your inbox on a date of your choice. I also found the service’s most game-like aspect–the point system it uses to tell you how effectively you blasted through your inbox–more of an amusing mystery than an inventive.

And full disclosure: Over the almost seven years since I discovered the Email Game, there have been periods when I dived into it several times a day, and other other times when I was less loyal. That’s in part because there have been stretches when it worked poorly or not at all in Safari on my iPad, which is my primary computing device. At the moment, though, it’s back to being reasonably iPad friendly–the arrival of iOS 12 seemed to help–which makes me particularly sorry to see it go.

The story behind the service

As I was coming to terms with the impending loss of the Email Game, I pinged Alex Moore, the CEO of its creator, Boomerang–in other words, the guy who’s pulling the plug. He told me that he was also sad about its end, “both as a creator and a user.” And he gave me some background about the service’s life and death.

Before Moore’s company was called Boomerang, it was known as Baydin. It got rolling in 2010 by developing two services: Boomerang and the Email Game. Boomerang was a plug-in for Gmail (and later Outlook), initially devoted to letting you postpone handling a message by temporarily “boomeranging” it out of your inbox. The Email Game, meanwhile, aimed to make inbox triage into a form of pseudo-entertainment.

At the time, gamification–the notion that you could get people more excited about all sorts of everyday processes through game-like elements–was a tech-industry buzzword du jour. “Farmville was kind of getting started,” Moore remembers. “You could incentivize people to spend all day clicking on Facebook. What else could you do?” To find out, he put an intern on the Email Game project.

Despite the fact that Boomerang and the Email Game they were both email-wrangling services from the same company, they were poles apart as experiences. The Email Game boldly went where no email client has gone, before or since. But Boomerang just tweaks Gmail and Outlook in their familiar forms. “You don’t have to even remember a different URL,” says Moore. “You just go do what you are always going to do, and you have extra stuff right there. I think that’s really helped make it sticky. And then we’ve also kept adding cool new things, and every one of those has been a multiplier for us.”

As the Email Game was not really going anywhere, Boomerang was catching on. (Along the way, it earned enough brand equity that Baydin changed its corporate name to Boomerang.) Today, Moore told me, Boomerang has a hundred times as many paying customers as the Email Game has users, period.

For a long time, the company was happy to let the Email Game run on autopilot, performing necessary maintenance but otherwise leaving it alone. Even that came to feel like a distraction from work on the Boomerang service. When Google recently introduced a certification process for Gmail integrations that can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to implement, it forced the issue and helped lead to the decision to shut the service down this week.

As far as I know, I am the only tech journalist who has been moved to mark the end of the Email Game. I asked Moore if I was also the only user traumatized by its impending disappearance.

“We’ve gotten a bunch of really touching notes over the past couple of weeks,” he says. “The thing that I think always kind of made [the Email Game] take a back seat to Boomerang is that it’s really not a product that you’d want to use every single day. It’s more like, ‘Okay, my inbox is out of control, and I’ve got to do something about it. Let’s break out the Email Game.’ And then you get it back under control and you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t really need this for a little while.’ So it’s been kind of funny to watch the the pacing of the emails we’ve gotten. There weren’t very many the first day, but they’ve kept rolling in.”

Boomerang has posted a Email Game end-of-life FAQ with some advice on how to approximate some of its features in Gmail. I also think that Google, and every other email provider, should introduce a “hide inbox” feature; that would not require any massive rethinking of the user interface. And it would remove distraction from the task of responding to messages in reverse chronological order, just as the Email Game has always done.

Still, there’s no way that Gmail–or any other all-purpose email client–will ever be able to duplicate what made the Email Game special. It was genuinely unique in a way that’s unusual for any piece of software. That’s worth celebrating, even if only as a happy memory rather than an ongoing boon to my productivity.

05 Feb 06:40

Varför bluffmejl är illa skrivna

by Hexmaster
ones its been approved by the loan company, before we can refer you to the transferring bank which will commenced on your loan immediately
- Typexempel jag just grävde fram ur spamboxen, från "Instant Loan International" som erbjuder lån på uppemot $20 miljoner etc

All denna spam man får ... Varför är de så illa skrivna? Är skojarna verkligen så usla på engelska? Kör de sina texter genom Google translate?

Så kan vara fallet. Men det är oftare uttänkt.

Att skicka ut ett bedrägeriförsök till miljoner mottagare är den lättaste biten, det är en tjänst man köper. Att komma runt spamfilter ingår i tjänsten (även om just den delen skiljer sig kraftigt i kvalitet mellan olika leverantörer).

Det kluriga kommer när svaren börjar droppa in. För till skillnad från spam som går ut på att man ska klicka på en länk, eller ladda ner och köra någon bifogad fil, så kräver klassiskt bondfångeri à la Nigeriabrev arbete från bedragarens sida. Ett med flit illa utformat utskick filtrerar fram de okunnigaste och godtrognaste. Du och jag ignorerar mailen – utmärkt, vi ingår inte i målgruppen, för den som genast genomskådar bluffen är inte värd att lägga tid på. Likaså vill man undvika mottagare som först är försiktigt positiva men som sedan drar sig ur, kanske efter en lång tidsödande mailväxling. Men en mottagare som får mailet, läser det och ändå litar på avsändaren – då kan man börja vädra utdelning. Det är en anledning till att Nigeria fortfarande nämns: Den som inte ens känner till företeelsen Nigeriabrev är sannolikt betydligt värdefullare för bedragaren än den som gör det.
A less outlandish wording that did not mention Nigeria would almost certainly gather more total responses and more viable responses, but would yield lower overall profit. Recall, that viability requires that the scammer actually extract money from the victim: those who are fooled for a while, but then figure it out, or who balk at the last hurdle are precisely the expensive false positives that the scammer must deter.
- Cormac Herley, spam-forskare på Microsoft

Branschen är föremål för flera myter och halvsanningar, inte minst idén att bluffandet alltid går med vinst (jfr bloggposten Vem tjänar pengar på spam?). Hur ofta tekniken ovan verkligen leder till vinster är en annan sak. Men att den verkligen tillämpas av ovan angivna skäl förefaller dock såpass sannolikt att det nog är sant. Om välutformade och välskrivna utskick hade gett bättre klirr i kassan hade våra spamboxar sett annorlunda ut.

31 Jan 11:22

After $4.1 billion subsidy, Foxconn cancels plan to build Wisconsin "factory," now proposing a small R&D facility

by Cory Doctorow

When GOP darling Scott Walker offered to hand billions in subsidies to Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn, he was warned: the Foxconn MO is to suck up billions in public money for ambitious megafactories, then scale them back into small, largely irrelevant facilities (or cancel them altogether).

But that didn't convince Walker: instead, he got right to business, seizing and bulldozing Wisconsinites' homes to make way for the "factory," and allowing the price-tag to rise by more than a billion dollars without blinking, even as the company started to hedge about the scale of the factory it would build in exchange for Walker's huge welfare handout.

Now the other shoe has dropped: Louis Woo (special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou), who negotiated the Wisconsin deal, has told Reuters that "In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory. You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment."

Instead of the planned megafactory with its 5,200 blue-collar jobs by 2020, now the company proposes to hire 1,000 skilled R&D researchers -- who will likely come from out of state.

But they still get more than $4 billion: so if the 1,000 jobs ever materialize, each one will have cost the state $4.1 million.

See folks, that's why you want to elect businessmen to run your governments: they know how to get real value for money!

Earlier this month, Foxconn admitted that hiring for the plant was going slowly. The company originally promised to create some 13,000 jobs in the state, but it has already fallen short of modest targets. Instead of creating a promised 260 jobs in 2018, it only created 178, making it ineligible for tax credits. The company originally promised to employ 5,200 workers by the end of 2020, but Reuters now reports that this figure is closer to 1,000.

As well as the number of jobs diminishing, the type of work is changing, too. Instead of focusing on factory work, Foxconn claims it will create higher-skilled, R&D occupations. Woo told Reuters that about three-quarters of the jobs Foxconn will create in the state will be so-called “knowledge” positions.

Foxconn may not build a factory in Wisconsin after all, says top company exec [James Vincent/The Verge]

29 Jan 08:11

BuzzFeed’s layoffs and the false promise of “unions aren’t for us”

by Cale Guthrie Weissman

Things may have seemed bad a year ago, but we’re entering into an even darker age for the media industry.

Two of the biggest digital news players–HuffPost and BuzzFeed–announced sweeping layoffs last week that impacted nearly 1,000 employees. Now over 400 BuzzFeed writers are petitioning the company for better severance after it refused to pay them out for earned time off. “[F]or a company that has always prided itself on treating its employees well, we unequivocally believe it is the only justifiable choice,” the employees wrote on Medium, imploring the company to include the paid time off.

This development is especially chilling, given BuzzFeed’s checkered past with regard to organized labor. CEO Jonah Peretti, ever the shrewd businessman, knew how to exert maximum control over his employees. While multiple media companies have unionized their newsrooms over the last couple years (disclosure: Fast Company, too), the BuzzFeed CEO successfully quashed any attempt at his own company. At a companywide meeting in 2017, Peretti told his staff that, though he likes unions, he just simply doesn’t think they they are right for BuzzFeed. This pressure continued during a U.K. unionization drive, which was ultimately voted down.

Now, the laid-off employees are given no choice but to accept what BuzzFeed has offered them. Notably, the severance package didn’t include earned time off, and without the leverage of a union, BuzzFeed has no reason to meet these people halfway. It’s an especially ruthless decision, given the company’s years of trying to bill itself as a haven for millennial creatives.

In response to the employee calls, BuzzFeed‘s chief people officer Lenke Taylor sent the following memo to the organizers of the petition:

We would like to have a dialogue with the news staff council and staff from other departments on PTO payout. We are open to re-evaluating this decision but we think it is important for everyone to understand the tradeoffs in changing the PTO practice, how we came to the decision to offer everyone a minimum of 10 weeks salary, and the ways we’ve adjusted our severance to be fair and competitive in every state where we operate.

We will follow up soon with next steps so a representative group of employees from across the company can meet with Jonah and me about this. You’ll hear from us by the end of the day Monday on scheduling and next steps.

Of course, BuzzFeed and HuffPost aren’t the only companies announcing sweeping cuts, nor is Peretti the sole media executive strategically circumventing organized labor efforts. At the end of last year, digital news startup Mic laid off nearly all of its workforce and sold to Bustle founder Bryan Goldberg in a fire sale. In the last month, Mic quietly relaunched with a brand-new staff that seems to be regurgitating old, unfinished work–despite the fact that Mic‘s old staff writers were in the process of unionizing. Other large media companies have seen big cuts in the last year too, including Gannett, Vox Media, and Vice.

All of these events occurred for roughly the same reasons: The digital advertising headwinds of the last few years have meant that executives and investors haven’t gotten the return on investment they expected from these once-hot media startups. As Google and Facebook continue to control the majority of the online ad revenue, the companies whose business models depend on ads suffer. Since 2016, there have been thousands of pivots, shifts, layoffs, and reorganizations.

How did we get here?

Why they happen is twofold: The Google-Facebook duopoly took control of the ecosystem when no one was looking, and media executives–high on VC cash infusions–bloated their businesses in the name of scale, often without regard to sustainability.

Underlying the greed of Google and Facebook that brought us to this point is the folly of the media executives and their growth-minded investors. BuzzFeed is the perfect example. For years, it was lauded as the poster child of a media company in the digital age. It started as a content farm and meme factory, and then added journalism to its offerings. Over the years, it simultaneously broke stories and brought in page views. At the time, legacy news organizations first scoffed at, then mimicked BuzzFeed‘s social-first approach to news distribution. It was a growing media empire that couldn’t be ignored in the new technology age.

But as an outlet largely dependent on social platforms like Facebook, BuzzFeed was forced to follow platform trends. When Facebook announced it was focusing on video content, BuzzFeed turned its resources just to that. Brands like Tasty were born, which force-fed ubiquitous birds’-eye view videos of generally unappetizing food to the masses. And for a while, this seemed to work. Videos were performing well, thanks to Facebook’s algorithmic push, and BuzzFeed once again looked like a digital trailblazer. But this bet was predicated on the whim of a social network known for pendulum strategy shifts at the expense of its clients; this pivot didn’t take into account what would happen if Facebook changed course. It shouldn’t come as a shock that Facebook did precisely that.

Once Facebook de-emphasized videos to promote more “personal” content about a year ago, the bloodbaths followed. Layoffs continued as video views and page views declined. It was a classic bait and switch: Facebook had spent years wooing publishers and advertisers to depend on it–driving massive amounts of traffic as more and more people took to the platform. In the meantime, its share of the advertising revenue grew enormously, taking up more than 20% of the digital spend. And when Facebook decided to focus its algorithm elsewhere, the media businesses that depended on this revenue flow were screwed.

Now publishers are in a bind and forced to figure out ways to diversify revenue and grow their audiences after years of bloated growth, thanks to platform machinations. Peretti was long considered a soothsayer when it came to digital consumption. But he did not have the foresight to see why a platform-reliant path to profitability was a reckless bet. Nor did he factor in what sort of impact on the industry as a whole his moves would make.

Which leads us to the present. BuzzFeed, in its pursuit to become profitable, has laid off hundreds. Thousands of others have been let go over the last many months. It’s now becoming clear that the business path was misguided from the onset. It followed the ethos of tech’s scale and conquer–build, break, invest, repeat–for a revenue model that simply doesn’t work that way. BuzzFeed was trying to build and scale by following any algorithmic quirk it could; the hidden engine was the investors demanding quicker growth and greater abilities to achieve return on investment.

The real cost

There’s no silver bullet for fixing the media business model, beyond companies realizing that the margins are tough, and that it’s an ecosystem whose growth potential and profitability likelihoods are diametrically different from tech. We’re in the midst of a giant consolidation because of a false myth that fed entrepreneurial greed.

The next few years are going to be interesting, and probably devastating. Media companies are realizing how unsustainable their business strategies have been until now. And many don’t seem to have a solid grasp on how to go forward.

Companies will likely merge, others will shut down. The collateral damage is always the same: The employees caught in the middle, with no job security, and the dimming hope that their industry can rebound and regrow.

29 Jan 08:10

The BuzzFeed Lesson

by Ben Thompson

If you remove the societal impact, just for a moment, the story of publishers’ demise — first newspapers, and now digital-only companies like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, which both announced significant layoffs last week — is rather banal: infinite competition combined with an inferior product resulted in failed business models.

Infinite competition is the result of the Internet: any piece of content is only a tap away, a far cry from a world where geographic areas were dominated by a small number of newspapers. The inferior product is advertising: when newspapers were the only option, advertising inventory was scarce; now advertisers — which only paid for newspaper space as a matter of convenience, not principle — can reach the exact customers they want exactly where they spend most of their time and attention, namely Facebook and Google. And thus the failed business model: is it any surprise that commoditized content and non-competitive ad inventory did not work?

The BuzzFeed Disappointment

Still, the BuzzFeed layoffs in particular are disappointing, precisely because of the societal importance of journalism. Back in 2015 I wrote that BuzzFeed [Was] the Most Important News Organization in the World:

Perhaps the single most powerful implication of an organization operating with Internet assumptions is that iteration – and its associated learning – is doable in a way that just wasn’t possible with print. BuzzFeed as an organization has been figuring out what works online for over eight years now, and while “The Dress” may have been unusual in its scale, its existence was no accident. What’s especially exciting about BuzzFeed, though, is how it uses that knowledge to make money…

More importantly, with this model BuzzFeed has returned to the journalistic ideal that many — including myself — thought was lost with the demise of newspapers’ old geographic monopolies: true journalistic independence. Just as journalists of old didn’t need to worry about making money, just writing stories that they thought important, BuzzFeed’s writers simply need to write stories that people find important enough to share; the learning that results is how they make money. The incentives are perfectly aligned…The world needs great journalism, but great journalism needs a great business model. That’s exactly what BuzzFeed seems to have, and it’s for that reason the company is the most important news organization in the world.

So what went wrong?

BuzzFeed’s Pivot

It was only two weeks after that post that CEO Jonah Peretti announced a pivot; from an interview with Peter Kafka of Recode:

JP: As [full-stack media companies] started to become received wisdom, it started to stop being true, that it was the best way to build a company, and that happened largely because there was this jump to mobile and to mobile apps, and probably the majority of content consumption is happening inside of mobile apps. You think “Facebook traffic”, but in a way that’s people opening Facebook, seeing a BuzzFeed story, clicking a BuzzFeed story…That has started to create an environment where media is much more distributed…

PK: So you built this system that was optimized for generating traffic and making money from stuff that happened on BuzzFeed.com and now you’re realizing that’s not what you want to do.

JP: What we realized is that that was just one piece of our business…What I’ve been doing is meeting with every team in BuzzFeed with this little chart that is our model for making content that people love — News, Buzz, Life, Video, Lists, Quizzes, all different types of content, and have great tools for making content that people love — and then we send that content to various places. We send it to our own websites and to our own apps, which are owned-and-operated properties and remain important to us, where we have a certain ability to get data and learn from what we’re doing, but we also send it natively to other platforms like YouTube, or Facebook.

2015 was the year that Facebook unveiled Instant Articles: publishers could put their content directly on Facebook, and Facebook, at least in theory, would help them monetize it. That seemed like a great deal! Facebook, for reasons I laid out in Popping the Publishing Bubble, was much better at advertising than any publishing company could hope to be:

In the pre-Internet era publishers had it easy: on one hand, they employed journalists whose goal it was to reach as many readers as possible. On the other, they were largely paid by advertisers, whose goal was to reach as many potential customers as possible. The alignment — reach as many X as possible — was obvious, and profitable for the publishers in particular.

A drawing of Pre-Internet Publishing

[…]

The shift from paper to digital meant publications could now reach every person on earth (not just their geographic area), and starting a new publication was vastly easier and cheaper than before…The increase in competition destroyed the monopoly, but it was the divorce of “readers” from “potential customers” that prevented even the largest publishers from profiting much from the massive amounts of new traffic they were receiving. After all, advertisers don’t really care about readers; they care about identifying, reaching, and converting potential customers. And, by extension, this meant that differentiating ad inventory depended less on volume and much more on the degree to which a particular ad offered superior targeting, a superior format, or superior tracking.

A drawing of The Post-Internet Bifurcation of Incentives of Publishers and Advertisers

[…]

The above graph shows the inefficiency of this arrangement: publishers and ad networks are locked in a dysfunctional relationship that doesn’t serve readers or advertisers, and it’s only a matter of time until advertisers — which again, care only about reaching potential customers, wherever they may be — desert the whole mess entirely for new, more efficient and effective advertising options that put them directly in front of the people they care about. That, first and foremost, is Facebook…

A drawing of Facebook As a More Efficient Advertising Option

With Instant Articles it appeared that the social network would share the spoils: Facebook collects the advertising money, and publishers that embrace the platform share in the reward.

The core problem for BuzzFeed is that never really happened: Instant Articles relied on the Facebook Audience Network, not Facebook’s core News Feed ad product, and nearly all of Facebook’s energy went into the latter. Companies that embraced Instant Articles — and, in the case of BuzzFeed, built their business models around them — were left earning pennies, mostly on programmatic advertising.

Complete Commoditization

For the record, I was completely wrong about the degree to which Facebook would help publishers monetize Instant Articles: it seemed to me that it was in Facebook’s interest to create sustainable models for quality content that lived directly on its platform. Sure, the company would be giving up a slice of its revenue, but the impact on the overall user experience generally and establishing Facebook as the center of not just the consumption of content but the monetization of content specifically would be powerful moats.

The truth, though, is that the short-term incentives to maximize revenue, primarily through News Feed ads that Facebook kept for itself, were irresistible, and besides, the company had other fish to fry: Snapchat was looming as a threat through 2015, and by 2016 the company was starting to warn that ad loads were saturating. Quarterly growth was very much the priority, and once Snapchat was neutralized, was a content-based moat really necessary?

I suspect, thought, that there is a more fundamental reason why BuzzFeed’s strategy was untenable. I wrote about the Conservation of Attractive Profits in the context of Netflix back in 2015:

The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits,1 [was] first explained by Clayton Christensen in his 2003 book The Innovator’s Solution:

Formally, the law of conservation of attractive profits states that in the value chain there is a requisite juxtaposition of modular and interdependent architectures, and of reciprocal processes of commoditization and de-commoditization, commoditization, that exists in order to optimize the performance of what is not good enough. The law states that when modularity and commoditization cause attractive profits to disappear at one stage in the value chain, the opportunity to earn attractive profits with proprietary products will usually emerge at an adjacent stage.

That’s a bit of a mouthful, but the example that follows in the book shows how powerful this observation is:

If you think about it in a hardware context, because historically the microprocessor had not been good enough, then its architecture inside was proprietary and optimized and that meant that the computer’s architecture had to be modular and conformable to allow the microprocessor to be optimized. But in a little hand held device like the RIM BlackBerry, it’s the device itself that’s not good enough, and you therefore cannot have a one-size-fits-all Intel processor inside of a BlackBerry, but instead, the processor itself has to be modular and conformable so that it has on it only the functionality that the BlackBerry needs and none of the functionality that it doesn’t need. So again, one side or the other needs to be modular and conformable to optimize what’s not good enough.

Did you catch that? That was Christensen, a full four years before the iPhone, explaining why it was that Intel was doomed in mobile even as ARM would become ascendent. When the basis of competition changed away from pure processor performance to a low-power system the chip architecture needed to switch from being integrated (Intel) to being modular (ARM), the latter enabling an integrated BlackBerry then, and an integrated iPhone four years later.2

The PC is a modular system whose integrated parts earn all the profit. Blackberry (and later iPhones) on the other hand was an integrated system that used modular pieces.

More broadly, breaking up a formerly integrated system — commoditizing and modularizing it — destroys incumbent value while simultaneously allowing a new entrant to integrate a different part of the value chain and thus capture new value.

This is the theoretical explanation of what happened to publishers: newspapers previously integrated editorial and advertising:

A drawing of The Old Media Model

Then Facebook came along and integrated users and advertising:

A drawing of The New Publication Media Model

The result was the commoditization of content that I described above, which is exactly what you would predict given the integration elsewhere in the value chain. What I think is important, though, and under-appreciated by me (which is why I got Instant Articles wrong) is that the scale of integration — and correspondingly, the scale of commoditization — matters as well.

In the case of Facebook the integration is absolute: the social network has two billion users, which gives the company not only a network effect, but also a gargantuan amount of user-generated content to populate the News Feed where the ads targeted with an even larger set of user data can be placed. It follows, then, that content suppliers are absolutely commoditized: Facebook doesn’t need to do anything to keep them on the platform, because where else will they go? Might as well keep the money for itself.

Aggregation and Commoditization

You see a similar dynamic with other large aggregators: Google’s Answer Box trades away the long-term viability of sites generating the content that makes Google useful in exchange for a short-term benefit that, yes, accrues to users, but accrues even more to Google, keeping those users on Google properties. And why not? It is not as if the web is running out of content — indeed, most website owners are paying Google supply sourcing agents SEO specialists to figure out how to get their content into those Answer Boxes in pursuit of whatever crumbs of traffic result.

Amazon is following the same playbook: the company is ramping up its private label business, producing products that compete directly with companies that both sell to Amazon and are on the platform as 3rd-party merchants. After all, Amazon has integrated users and logistics: if suppliers pull their goods they will not pull customers away from Amazon; they’ll simply lose sales.

It’s the same thing with Apple and the App Store: the most valuable customers in most markets are on the iPhone, which is why Apple can get away with charging 30% on digital goods that have nothing to do with the iPhone. Customers are not abandoning iOS just so they can have a better experience buying digital books, and Apple’s management certainly can’t afford a hit in Service revenue, particularly right now.

That’s the thing, though: all of the big aggregators have been pursuing similar policies for years. To point to short-term pressure, whether that be falling China iPhone sales or Facebook ad load saturation is to miss the broader point: the more dominant an aggregator the more powerless the supply, and none of these companies are in the charity business.

Avoiding Aggregators

While I know a lot of journalists disagree, I don’t think Facebook or Google did anything untoward: what happened to publishers was that the Internet made their business models — both print advertising and digital advertising — fundamentally unviable. That Facebook and Google picked up the resultant revenue was effect, not cause. To that end, to the extent there is concern about how dominant these companies are, even the most extreme remedies (like breakups) would not change the fact that publishers face infinite competition and have uncompetitive advertising offerings.

What is clear, though, is that the only way to build a thriving business in a space dominated by an Aggregator is to go around them, not to work with them. In the case of publishers, that means subscriptions, or finding ways to monetize, like the Ringer, beyond text.3 For web properties it means building destination sites that are not completely reliant on Google. For manufacturers it means building relationships with retailers other than Amazon and building brands that compel customers to go elsewhere. And for digital content providers…well, this is why I view Apple’s policies as the most egregious of all.

As for BuzzFeed, it is not as if the company is dead: there is talk of mergers (which makes sense to reduce costs), and multi-pronged monetization strategies that emulate the success of the Tasty cooking videos: the company not only earns video advertising, but creates branded videos, has a line of branded cooking ware, and yes, takes programmatic advertising dollars on the companies owned-and-operated sites. Advertising can augment a publisher, but it’s hard to believe it can support one, even one expressly built for the Internet. That is now the realm of Aggregators.

I wrote a follow-up to this article in this Daily Update.

  1. Later renamed the Law of Conservation of Modularity
  2. As I’ve noted, the iPhone is in fact modular at the component level; the integration is between the completed phone and the software. Not appreciating that the point of integration (or modularity) can be anywhere in the value chain is, I believe, at the root of a lot of mistaken analysis about the iPhone in particular, including Christensen’s
  3. The Ringer is following the exact strategy I laid out in Grantland and the (Surprising) Future of Publishing
25 Jan 12:49

Jeff "Sweet Tooth" Lemire's new horror comic Gideon Falls is spooky af

by Cory Doctorow

Jeff Lemire can do weird-spooky (see, e.g., his Twilight Zonish graphic novel Underwater Welder) and he can do gripping (see his amazing, post-apocalyptic Sweet Tooth), but in his newest graphic novel from Image Comics, Gideon Falls, he shows that he can do spooky-verging-on-terrifying, with a tale of supernatural mystery that combines avant-garde graphic treatments with outstanding writing to create a genuine tale of terror.

Gideon Falls braids together multiple points of view -- a priest newly arrived in a smalltown parish, whose predecessor is presumed dead; a vision-haunted mental patient who is on the verge of being reinstitutionalized because he can't stop picking up trash and piecing it together, looking for elusive patterns; a psychiatrist, a sherriff, others -- to piece together a fragmentary, nightmarish tale of an ancient evil, the Black Barn, which appears in visions and also sometimes in real life, possessing those who see it, driving them to murder, making them vanish.

Lemire builds up the mythology of the Black Barn with the virtuosity of David Lynch fleshing out the mysteries of Twin Peaks, but because this is comics, and because Lemire is working with the amazing artists Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart, the visions of the supernatural in Gideon Falls are spectacular and transporting, creating a sense of frightening, off-kilter dimensions that's straight out of a fever dream.

As you might expect, the first volume ends on a cliffhanger, because fuck us, that's why, and I can't wait for the next collection.

Gideon Falls Volume 1: The Black Barn [Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart/Image]

24 Jan 09:06

Bookshelf Essentials: The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin

by Ben

A year ago this week science fiction lost one of its wisest and most profound voices, the singular Ursula K. Le Guin. In commemoration, we thought it would be fitting to launch a new type of post, Bookshelf Essentials, with a tribute to one of her masterworks, The Dispossessed.

Above: the 1975 Panther Science Fiction UK edition of The Dispossessed. Cover art by Colin Hay.

The Bookshelf Essentials series highlights books that we believe deserve a place on every speculative fiction fan’s shelf – foundational classics of the genre as well as works that we have found personally meaningful. The Dispossessed (1974) fits both categories. Having won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for best novel in 1974-75 it also stands as one of my personal favorite novels. It remains a lasting influence on my political and literary perspectives, and the book that opened the door for me into Ursula K. Le Guin’s remarkable and broad body of writing.

Over the course of her long career Le Guin published more than 20 novels and 100 short stories, mostly (but not exclusively) fantasy and science fiction. She was also an accomplished poet, essayist, and translator of works to English from multiple languages. I could easily call out a half dozen of her works as essential to any bookshelf (actually, maybe you should just clear a shelf right now), but for now I choose to focus on The Dispossessed as it so clearly demonstrates core themes that permeate her entire body of work; the possibility of societies radically different than our own, the inevitable tension between the individual and the system in any social structure, and the long journey that the individual must take to understand themselves and develop the courage to make a change in their world.

Above: Ursula K. Le Guin in the mid-1970s. Photographer unknown.

The Dispossessed is set on the twin worlds of Tau Ceti; the lush planet Urras and it’s bleak moon Anarres. Urras is dominated by highly patriarchal and class-stratified capitalist societies, while Anarres is home to an anarchist utopian society of voluntary exiles, now several generations into their great experiment. The narrative revolves around the life of Shevek, a brilliant Anarresti physicist and deep believer in his society’s utopian mission. Shevek is pulled between his individual passion for his research and the pressures of the collective “social organism” of Anarres. Alternating between his past on his homeworld and his present as a “distinguished guest” on capitalist Urras, the story reveals how he came to the decision to leave Anarres to complete his work despite the anger and disgust of his countrymen, and his struggle to hold fast to his ideals while in the control of the “propertarians”.

Above: the 1975 Avon SF US edition of The Dispossessed. Cover artist unknown.

In some editions of The Dispossessed the novel was given the subtitle “An Ambiguous Utopia”, and I believe this comfort with ambiguity is one of its greatest strengths. The society of Anarres is neither a perfect ideal nor a dystopia lurking under a revolutionary veneer. While it is clear that Le Guin believes there is something of genuine value in a society free of formal property and hierarchy (which she works out in compelling detail), she is clear-eyed and reflective enough to create a complex, contradictory place inhabited by real people. Their instincts for jealousy, power, individualism, and even love often run counter to these ideals and push Anarres’ reality away from its guiding mission in ways both good and bad. Similarly, Urras, while grossly and violently unequal in ways that disturb Shevek (and in ways that should be familiar to us 21st century Earthlings), is not a nightmare world. It is graceful, beautiful, and rich – the Urrasti have established a functional equilibrium between human prosperity and ecological health, and of most importance to this story, their social stratification allows for the existence of institutions such as the sophisticated universities that Shevek requires to complete his research. Late in the novel a Terran ambassador bitterly notes to Shevek that this world he views as a propertarian hell seems to her, a survivor of a planet consumed by human greed to the point of collapse, an enviable paradise. This nuanced depth sets The Dispossessed apart from most utopian and dystopian fiction and allows for Le Guin’s characters to express their rich humanity in a way that more didactic social examinations make impossible.

In her speech upon receiving the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014, Le Guin said these words:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries, realists of a larger reality.”

Ursula K. Le Guin lived up to this lofty vision of the writer throughout her inspiring career, and with particular clarity and force in The Dispossessed. Read it and enter Le Guin’s larger reality.

 

Header Image: Ursula K. Le Guin in 2016. Photograph by Benjamin Reed.

21 Jan 11:44

Imagine a world without ads targeted by personal information

by DHH

Elephants wouldn’t be killed for their tusks if there wasn’t a demand for ivory. We can do all sorts of things to discourage poachers, but as long as the market is there, the killings will continue.

Likewise, the flood of privacy scandals involving Facebook, ad exchanges, and other privacy poachers all tie back to the same root cause: Personal information is valuable because we use it to target ads.

But what if you couldn’t do that? Then the personal information would cease to have value, and the flood of privacy scandals would stop (or at least greatly diminish).

The world of commerce spun around just fine in the era before ads could be targeted by personal information. When ad buyers would place their spots based on context. Got a new car to sell? Put an ad on a website that talks about cars. Maybe it wasn’t as efficient, or maybe it was. Either way: The societal price we pay for allowing ads to be targeted is far too high.

We’ve placed all sorts of other restrictions on advertisement, so it’s not like this is a new thing. You can’t advertise tobacco products in many places. Some countries restrict advertisement against children. Regulation like this works.

Just try to imagine that world without ad targeting. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be a better one.

21 Jan 11:38

The Future Is Just A Videotape Recorded By The Past

by Warren Ellis

Okay, my mind has been fully broken by discovering monochrome publicity stills from the very much technicolour 1979 Star Wars-knockoff flick THE HUMANOID. Because in monochrome this frame looks like nothing more than a Soviet-era black and white science fiction film.

Found on this site here.

I can’t stop looking at it. I really don’t want to do nostalgic or atemporal stuff any more, it feels wrong for the moment, but that image is like a leak from a lost cinematic universe where Tarkovsky cut his teeth on a space movie. There’s like twelve stories encoded in that one image. Bizarre.

I stole the title for this post from a piece by Lordess Foudre.

17 Jan 14:12

Regina Lund spår

by Hexmaster
- Instagram: @sannanielsenofficial

Kring årsskiften brukar profetior om det kommande året dyka upp. De rör sig hela vägen från genomtänkta analyser av händelseutvecklingar till rent snömos. Den senare kategorin står våra så kallade medier för, de som säger sig ha kontakt med andevärlden, kunna tolka horoskop, tarotkort och allt vad det är.

Regina Lund är en av dem. Hon har länge kombinerat skådespeleriet med bondfångeri, vilket kommenterats i den här stilen:
I tidningen Hänt Extra svarar hon varje vecka på människors frågor om avlidna närstående. Det är stark läsning, särskilt om man tänker på att det sannolikt finns människor som tar det hon säger på allvar.
- Alex Schulman: Lunds texter måste upphöra att publiceras, Aftonbladet 25 januari 2015
Jag har framgångsrikt arbetat som clairvoyant, clairsentient, clairaudient, andlig vägledare, tarotläsare och healer/medium i snart över sju år utan att få ett enda klagomål från en enda av mina klienter.
- Regina Lunds genmäle publicerat i samma kolumn

Nu har hon fått ett klagomål från en "klient". Om än en ofrivillig sådan.
Hänt Extra prydde omslaget med en rubrik om Sanna Nielsens gravidlycka. Men artisten är inte gravid – och artikeln byggde på Regina Lunds spådom. 
Nu riktar Sanna Nielsen skarp kritik mot tidningen. "Det är rent påhitt", skriver hon i ett Instagraminlägg.
- Linn Elmervik: Sanna Nielsens ilska mot Hänt Extra – efter gravidrubriken, Aftonbladet 15 januari 2019

Även om skymningspressen kanske inte ska kasta den allra första stenen när det gäller publicering av hittepå så brukar deras övningar i genren inte vara fullt lika hämningslösa som "när jag tonar in mig på Sanna blir jag illamående som man blir när man blir gravid".

Sen är det lite lustigt att läsa om det mediala blajet i Medievärlden, den 16 januari 2019: Hänt Extra ber om ursäkt för fabulerat gravid-påstående.

En annan lustig detalj är att när jag nu försöker tona in mig på Regina Lund känner jag mig också illamående. Men det beror knappast på någon graviditet, verklig eller inbillad.