Shared posts

23 Sep 11:34

Mobile Edge Computing

When we frame local computing as being at the edge of a network we lose the big ideas of connectivity by framing the Internet in terms of tele-communications.
22 Sep 17:29

Recommended on Medium: "Nike’s Biketown is the best bikeshare" in 15 Minutes in the Morning

Portland, Oregon recently (finally!) got a bikeshare system after about ten years of fits and starts and delays. The Nike Biketown system…

Continue reading on 15 Minutes in the Morning »

23 Sep 00:00

Deep neural networks for YouTube recommendations


Adrian Colyer, The Morning Paper, Sept 26, 2016

"The YouTube system is built on top of Google Brain, or as we now know it, TensorFlow. To give an idea of scale, the models learn approximately one billion parameters and are trained on hundreds of billions of examples. The basic problem is posed as 'given this user’ s YouTube activity history, which videos are they most likely to watch next?'" The recommendations are (in my experience) not so great - they reflect my YouTube interests, but not my wider interests. The  full paper is available from Google (8 page PDF)

[Link] [Comment]
23 Sep 18:11

Google’s Daydream virtual reality development kit is now available

by Patrick O'Rourke

Google’s Daydream VR platform SDK, the company’s new Android VR platform announced back at I/O 2016, is now available to developers.

After spending a few months in beta, Google’s VR SDK has made it to version 1.0 and is now available to download, giving developers the ability to integrate asynchronous reprojection, high-fidelity spatialized audio, and new input from Daydream’s controller.

Google is also offering Unity and Unreal integration for VR experiences right out of the box.

Daydream-ready phones and headsets are set to release this Fall. Currently, the ZTE Axon 7 and Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe are the only devices released so far that are Daydream-certified  ZTE Axon 7 and ASUS Zenfone 3 Deluxe. Minimum Daydream specifications include a Snapdragon 820 SoC, 4GB of RAM, 1920 x 1080 pixel OLED display and Android 7.0 Nougat.

Developers can also signup for Google’s Daydream Access Program in order to get access to frequent updates about the new platform directly from Google engineers. It’s expected that Google will reveal more about its future plans for Daydream.

Related: Google’s Daydream is poised to bring VR to the masses

21 Sep 06:55

macOS 10.12 Sierra: The Ars Technica review

by Rui Carmo

Absolutely love that Siri screenshot. Apple has been putting off hardware upgrades for so long it’s become a running joke.

23 Sep 11:06

Doing business abroad?

by Bryan Mathers
The transferwise win-win

Banks? Don’t get me started. There’s nothing more soul destroying that having done some graft for a client, only to have a bank snaffle a slice of your earnings, all because you happen to be in another country. My accountant pointed me in the direction of Transferwise – and it looked like the perfect solution. My main worry was how to ensure that my clients were happy signing up for this service, as in the first instance, it requires jumping through a few hoops. The thing is, it’s a win-win (hence the illustration). They pay the transfer fee, and I get a fair exchange rate. Happy days!

The post Doing business abroad? appeared first on Visual Thinkery.

23 Sep 11:33

Now, more than ever…

by Bryan Mathers
Inclusive, equitable education

Grammar Schools. You’ve heard it all before. Policy and evidence – passing like ships in the night. I can’t quite figure out whether the UK government are actually serious, or it’s simply just a commotion smokescreen…

This bottom line vision came from a thinkery conversation I had a while back with Graham Brown-Martin.

The post Now, more than ever… appeared first on Visual Thinkery.

23 Sep 17:35

Google made this cake to celebrate Android’s 8th birthday

by Rose Behar

This week marks Android’s eighth birthday, and, much like it has in past years, Google plans to deliver a surprise treat to users as a way to mark the occasion.

Last year, Google released three Android themed wallpapers that featured tasty treats associated with past versions of the OS. This year, the Android Twitter account teased tomorrow’s surprise with a picture that shows the Android mascot stirring eggs next to a number of Kit Kat bars, marshmallows, and nougat bars.

Although Google has picked September 24 to celebrate Android’s birthday, the day it co-announced availability of the G1 with T-Mobile, there is some disagreement as to what date actually constitutes the operating system’s true anniversary. Some say it should November 5, 2007, the day that Google told the world that it was working on the platform, while others go prefer October 22, 2008, the day that T-Mobile released the HTC G1.

In Canada, however, Android was first seen on the HTC Dream. Below is a blast from the past: our hands-on with the Dream, and first time inspecting an Android device.


Update – September 24: Well, Google announced it would celebrate with “something sweet” and it sure did. While nothing coming to your Android device, Google stated on Twitter, “8 epic years. Naturally, we’re celebrating with some of our favorite treats.” The cake is covered with all the Android OS versions: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat.

23 Sep 17:35

Google Rumored to Launch $129 Home Wi-Fi Router Called ‘Google WiFi’ on October 4

by Evan Selleck
Four days ago, Google officially announced a big reveal for October 4, where it’s believed they’ll announce the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Continue reading →
23 Sep 17:47

Galaxy Note 7 Replacement Units Facing Overheating, Loss of Power

by Evan Selleck
The Galaxy Note 7 launched with plenty of fanfare, but was quickly marred by a growing number of complaints regarding faulty batteries causing devices to explode. Continue reading →
23 Sep 16:00

A Sexist 1960s Film Remake Rewrites Cinema History

by Andrew Nunes for The Creators Project

How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, Nadja Verena Marcin & director of photography Guillermo Cameo, 2016. All images courtesy of the artist

The astronomical working gap between male and female directors is as absurd as it is constant; a perpetual phenomenon since the medium’s inception, hardly altered throughout. Artist and filmmaker Nadja Verena Marcin explores the past and present of this unfortunate fact in Cinema Pirata – How To Undress in Front of Your Husband, her ongoing exhibition at New York’s SOHO20 Gallery.

How to Undress In Front Of Your Husband - on view at SOHO20 Gallery from Nadja Verena Marcin on Vimeo.

Cinema Pirata is divided into three unique components. The first is an immersive installation on view at the gallery, which attempts to bring the viewer into the office and mental space of a male filmmaker working in the 1980s. Made in collaboration with architectural designer Terrence Schroeder, the darkened room possesses a series of traditionally masculine elements and signifiers like a blue leather casting couch, an idle cigar cutter, and bottles of whiskey, punctuated with artificial hair extensions, functioning as feminine ‘growths’ of sorts throughout the highly male space. “I’d say that rather than making the office feminine, we made it masculine with subversive intrusions such as hair,” Marcin tells The Creators Project.

Filmmaker’s Office, Nadja Verena Marcin & Terrence Schroeder, 2016

Screened within the installation is Marcin’s film and the namesake of the exhibition, How To Undress in Front of your Husband. The black-and-white film is a scene-by-scene recreation of a legitimate 1960s ‘how to’ video of the same name, an unpleasant relic of stark 20th century sexism. Despite the closeness of its recreation, Marcin’s bold artistic touch is evident through her casting decisions:

How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, Nadja Verena Marcin & director of photography Guillermo Cameo, 2016

“For my reenactment, I performed all four roles that appear in the original film. From narrator to peeping Tom husband, from the perfect wife to the undesirable wife, I am bending my characters with signifiers such as simulation of clothing, demeanor and improvisation,” Marcin reveals. “At the core, I aim to express that the full world of gender and the breadth of its expression has the potential to exist within one person, and that person is also the almighty oppressor or oppressed—depending on how we want to see it.”

Cinema Pirata Distribution Vehicle, Nadja Verena Marcin, 2016

The final part of Cinema Pirata solely exists outside of the SOHO20 space. Somewhat reminiscent of Kunstraum’s bootleg video store (of which Marcin is also a founder), the artist has arranged for a pirate DVD shop to be operated out of a station wagon through the duration of Bushwick Open Studios next month. As the station wagon pops in and around Bushwick, Marcin’s video works will be shown on display accompanied by mock DVD cases. Yet unlike your neighborhood DVD slingers, Marcin’s pirate shop won’t be selling anything at all.

Cinema Pirata, Nadja Verena Marcin, 2016

“The distribution vehicle is not about distribution, it is about a free offering of inspiration to promote creativity and to encourage DIY production; be the star of your narrative and do not accept Hollywood ideology unfettered,” adds Marcin. “Just as authentic cinema comes from within a culture and not from outside, a genuine challenge to the patriarchal system needs to emerge also from the margins.”

How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, Nadja Verena Marcin & director of photography Guillermo Cameo, 2016

Cinema Pirata – How To Undress in Front of Your Husband will be on view at SOHO20 Gallery until October 9th. Be on the lookout for the artist’s anti-capitalist station wagon cinema during Bushwick Open Studios, on October 1st and 2nd. More of Nadja Verena Marcin’s work is viewable here


All the Experiments in This Film Were Created by Sound

British Video Art Pioneer Mark Leckey Gets an NYC Show

Camping, Healing, Cold Brew: The Best of Baltimore's Hidden Art Festival

22 Sep 16:39

Extravaganza – September 2016

by Michael Kelly

Once a month, web developers from across Mozilla get together to talk about the work that we’ve shipped, share the libraries we’re working on, meet new folks, and talk about whatever else is on our minds. It’s the Webdev Extravaganza! The meeting is open to the public; you should stop by!

You can check out the wiki page that we use to organize the meeting, or view a recording of the meeting in Air Mozilla. Or just read on for a summary!

Shipping Celebration

The shipping celebration is for anything we finished and deployed in the past month, whether it be a brand new site, an upgrade to an existing one, or even a release of a library.

Survey Gizmo Integration with Google Analytics

First up was shobson, who talked about a survey feature on MDN that prompts users to leave feedback about how MDN helped them complete a task. The survey is hosted by SurveyGizmo, and custom JavaScript included on the survey reports the user’s answers back to Google Analytics. This allows us to filter on the feedback from users to answer questions like, “What sections of the site are not helping users complete their tasks?”.

View Source Offline Mode

shobson also mentioned the View Source website, which is now offline-capable thanks to Service Workers. The pages are now cached if you’ve ever visited them, and the images on the site have offline fallbacks if you attempt to view them with no internet connection.

SHIELD Content Signing

Next up was mythmon, who shared the news that Normandy, the backend service for SHIELD, now signs the data that it sends to Firefox using the Autograph service. The signature is included with responses via the Content-Signature header. This signing will allow Firefox to only execute SHIELD recipes that have been approved by Mozilla.

Open-source Citizenship

Here we talk about libraries we’re maintaining and what, if anything, we need help with for them.


Eli was up next, and he shared Neo, a tool for setting up new React-based projects with zero configuration. It installs and configures many useful dependencies, including Webpack, Babel, Redux, ESLint, Bootstrap, and more! Neo is installed as a command used to initialize new projects or a dependency to be added to existing projects, and acts as a single dependency that pulls in all the different libraries you’ll need.


The Roundtable is the home for discussions that don’t fit anywhere else. Reboot

Last up was pmac, who shared a note about how he and willkg are re-writing the service using Django, and are switching the rewrite to use Github authentication instead of Persona. They have a staging server setup and expect to have news next month about the availability of the new service. is a service used by several teams at Mozilla for posting status updates as they work, and includes an IRC bot for quick posting of updates.

If you’re interested in web development at Mozilla, or want to attend next month’s Extravaganza, subscribe to the mailing list to be notified of the next meeting, and maybe send a message introducing yourself. We’d love to meet you!

See you next month!

22 Sep 20:03

RSS > Email

by Eugene Wallingford

Newsletters delivered by email seem all the rage these days. I subscribe to only two or three. Every once in a while, the bulk mailer used by these folks gets blacklisted by some spam filtering service used by our mail server, the mail server respects the blacklist, and I don't receive my newsletter. We've whitelisted the senders of two particular newsletters, but even so I occasionally don't receive the message.

 the standard icon for RSS subscription, via Wikipedia

This is one reason I still love RSS. My newsreader is in control of the exchange. Once authors post their articles and updates their feeds, my newsreader can see them. I hit refresh, and the articles appear. RSS is not perfect; occasionally a blog updates its feed and I see a bunch of old articles in my reader. But I've been following some bloggers for well over a decade, and it has served us all well.

Do not expect me to hit you up for your email address anytime soon. I understand some of the reasons for going the newsletter route, but I think I'll keep publishing on my blog with a newsfeed for a while. That said, I love to hear from readers. Send me email any time, or tweet me at @wallingf.

22 Sep 21:23

What’s Up with SUMO – 22nd September

by Michał

Hello, SUMO Nation!

How are you doing? Have you seen the First Inaugural Firefox Census already? Have you filled it out? Help us figure out what kind of people use Firefox! You can get to it right after you read through our latest & greatest news below.

Welcome, new contributors!

If you just joined us, don’t hesitate – come over and say “hi” in the forums!

Contributors of the week

Don’t forget that if you are new to SUMO and someone helped you get started in a nice way you can nominate them for the Buddy of the Month!

SUMO Community meetings

  • LATEST ONE: 21st of September- you can read the notes here and see the video at AirMozilla.
  • NEXT ONE: happening on the 28th of September!
  • If you want to add a discussion topic to the upcoming meeting agenda:
    • Start a thread in the Community Forums, so that everyone in the community can see what will be discussed and voice their opinion here before Wednesday (this will make it easier to have an efficient meeting).
    • Please do so as soon as you can before the meeting, so that people have time to read, think, and reply (and also add it to the agenda).
    • If you can, please attend the meeting in person (or via IRC), so we can follow up on your discussion topic during the meeting with your feedback.



  • PLATFORM REMINDER! The Platform Meetings are BACK! If you missed the previous ones, you can find the notes in this document. (here’s the channel you can subscribe to). We really recommend going for the document and videos if you want to make sure we’re covering everything as we go.
  • A few important and key points to make regarding the migration:
    • We are trying to keep as many features from Kitsune as possible. Some processes might change. We do not know yet how they will look.
    • Any and all training documentation that you may be accessing is generic – both for what you can accomplish with the platform and the way roles and users are called within the training. They do not have much to do with the way Mozilla or SUMO operate on a daily basis. We will use these to design our own experience – “translate” them into something more Mozilla, so to speak.
    • All the important information that we have has been shared with you, one way or another.
    • The timelines and schedule might change depending on what happens.
  • We started discussions about Ranks and Roles after the migration – join in! More topics will start popping up in the forums up for discussion, but they will all be gathered in the first post of the main migration thread.
  • If you are interested in test-driving the new platform now, please contact Madalina.
    • IMPORTANT: the whole place is a work in progress, and a ton of the final content, assets, and configurations (e.g. layout pieces) are missing.
  • QUESTIONS? CONCERNS? Please take a look at this migration document and use this migration thread to put questions/comments about it for everyone to share and discuss. As much as possible, please try to keep the migration discussion and questions limited to those two places – we don’t want to chase ten different threads in too many different places.


Support Forum

  • Once again, and with gusto – SUUUUMO DAAAAAY! Go for it!
  • Final reminder: If you are using email notifications to know what posts to return to, jscher2000 has a great tip (and tool) for you. Check it out here!

Knowledge Base & L10n


  • for Android
    • Version 49 is out! Now you can enjoy the following:
      • caching selected pages (e.g. for offline retrieval
      • usual platform and bug fixes
  • for Desktop
    • Version 49 is out! Enjoy the following:
      • text-to-speech in Reader mode (using your OS voice modules)
      • ending support for older Mac OS versions
      • ending support for older CPUs
      • ending support for Firefox Hello
      • usual platform and bug fixes
  • for iOS
    • No news from under the apple tree this time!

By the way – it’s the first day of autumn, officially! I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to mushroom hunting, longer nights, and a bit of rain here and there (as long as it stops at some point). What is your take on autumn? Tell us in the comments!

Cheers and see you around – keep rocking the helpful web!

22 Sep 22:54

On a Scale of 1 to 10….

by Reverend

I like quoting movies (often butchering the lines) and repeating stupid sayings ad nauseam, things like “On a scale of 1 to 10,” “Big Fan,” “#4life,” etc. I tend to denature these terms. None of them are really unique to me, I just repeat them so often in every possible context that they become oddly funny-at least to me. I have been working intensely the last few days at Coventry—9 workshops to 80+ 72 faculty* in 3 days (not counting other meetings, lunches, etc.). I never presented about domains to that many faculty in such a focused way before, and I have no doubt Coventry is going to have some seriously interesting folks pushing on their Domains project. Major kudos to Daniel Villar-Onrubio, he got the folks there, tolerated my nonsense, and we made a pretty solid team delivering the good word of domains to  the people. And they were listening!

I like to talk (especially to talk shit!) and I like to convince folks that they should take an active role in using the open web for their teaching and learning agendas. The last 3 days was just that, non-stop. One of the things that starts to happen to me when I get sucked into a process like this is that I become manic. I start getting giddy and feeling high and I want to joke even more. That’s what started happening late yesterday and all of today. My talks began to incorporate a kind of fake tension between Daniel and I that started to make folks laugh uncomfortably and be like, “Wait, what?” I love that feeling of something being just a bit off, and while it doesn’t always work, it makes things more fun (again, at least for me). What’s more, Daniel started talking shit right back at me today suggesting I am far funnier when I have a partner, someone like, say Brian Lamb. And then it happened, I posed the question to Daniel. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate my presentation performance so far….


And that’s when Daniel crushed me.

And we had a schtick for the rest of the day that made the last of these sessions a bit funner. What was also interesting, as we began pulling folks from the sessions into the banter, was everyone was like, “8.5, that’s quite a high score!” Turns out a 75/100 (or a 7.5 for the sake of my scale) is basically the highest grade you can get in Britain. So then the fact that I was a grade-inflating American that expected to get 10s and 11s all around became an alternative narrative. It was fun, I laughed and it was a healthy way to channel my manic energy.

I’m not sure what I am really saying in this post other than I really enjoyed working with Daniel on the Domains project at Coventry the last 3 days, and that we both missed Brian dearly. I give Daniel and Coventry a 10 out of 10, even if they think my likert scale promiscuity untoward.

*Daniel took attendance and he did a final tally, so we introduced Domains to 72 faculty in 3 days. Eat your heart our Rick Wakeman!

22 Sep 23:32

Dealing With Disruption

by Ken Ohrn

Here on Price Tags, we’ve published a few articles on pending disruption in the motor vehicle industry from autonomous vehicles. While it’s far from clear what will ultimately happen, at what rate, in which sectors first and which company will dominate — major disruption is no doubt underway.

The Economist has produced this nifty video on the disruption now facing fossil fuel-based energy companies. The video (length 14:48), looks at two large European energy companies, a village, their plans and the investments they all are making in transition to a post-carbon (or diminishing carbon) world. It’s the latest in a series they’re doing on disruption of industries.

Meanwhile, here is BC, we double down on production of fossil fuels, complete with fuss-free shipment facilities for any and all fossil fuels from anywhere. Never mind the possibility of massive stranded assets.  Presumably, BC’s coal shipment volume projections just rise and rise. Our thinking seems mired in 1957.

Noteworthy to me are the massive opportunities described here as part of the transition.

Thanks to The Economist for this video.

Alternative energy is forcing fossil-fuel giants to reinvent themselves. Find out how in the latest film in our new series, “The Disrupters”, which examines industries undergoing transformation.



22 Sep 23:35

Speak Weirdness to Truth

by Venkatesh Rao

Before we entered the Age of Emoji, I never quite liked the quote “life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” But now I kinda do. Emoji have been a bit of a life changer for those of us who are not naturals at this feeling game. Turns out, they function as pretty good theater masks in the sense of Keith Johnstone (in particular the chapter on masks and trances). If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have noticed that my current avatar is this hand-crafted,  emoji-mashup version of the classic theater-masks icon/emoji 🎭, (which seems to have turned into a generic overloaded symbol for the performing arts). Since adopting this avatar, I have become a better human being: full of compassion, less inclined to troll, more willing to listen to Trump supporters, etc.


Here’s the thing, if you routinely use emoji, especially on Twitter, you will notice that you actually feel the emotions represented, at least weakly. It’s like color-by-numbers feeling. Since emoji seem to be used ironically as often as they are sincerely, using emoji is like learning an emoting alphabet, in regular and italic (=ironic) forms.

I suspect it is my emoji (over)use that has gotten me interested in one particular feeling lately: weirdness. By my account and understanding of it, weirdness is not so much a feeling as that state of not knowing what to feel. There can be no static emoji for it. At best you could make an animated gif that cycles through several emotions to represent the state of emotional indeterminacy that is ‘weirded out.’ I’d put 😟😦😐, and😠 in the cycle (note, depending on where you read this post, these may not render exactly as I intend, which is part of the fun). You can say more: weirdness is also the experience of not knowing what to think. 

The experience of weirdness, and the condition of not knowing what to think or feel, but engaging life in that state anyway — what I call speaking weirdness to truth — is perhaps the soul of gonzo, if not its body. Speaking weirdness to truth is the lowest-effort way to pull off the Hunter S. Thompson life anti-script: when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Beyond Tragedy and Comedy

The idea that life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel, presupposes that we know what to think or feel about a situation.

To be able to think, for instance, means that the situation evokes at least some rudimentary mental models. Maybe they’re the wrong ones, but all thinking needs is a place to start. That whole “give me a place to stand and I will move the earth” thing.

To be weirded out is to sense no firm ground beneath your feet. Mental models cannot work as a leveraged way to experience something without some such firm ground.

To be able to feel about a situation means there is a discernible bias, an overall coloring, to the emotions evoked. You may need to do some advanced black-belt-empath feeling to figure out whether you feel type 18a outrage or type 7b sadness, but if you’re all over the map, and literally don’t know whether to laugh or cry, it means you don’t know what to feel.

To be weirded out is to feel no emotional orientation, no true north in your standard feeling-compass. Here is a standard feeling compass, made up of the 6 basic emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise

If you can’t match the words to the faces, you have low emotional literacy; I am not that bad an artist. Incidentally, I made these faces a few years ago when I was exploring making a conversation game with some friends. Nothing came of that project, but I have these assets left over so I’m using them.

I don’t have a similar graphic for thinking, but my holy-grail animated-gif weirding emoji would have some mix of cycling through various thinky faces and feely faces. To represent the compass needle on both swiveling around wildly.

Somebody make a thinky-feely animated-gif schrodinger emoji.


The Inner Game of Weirding

Weirdness is a characteristic of external realities that creates emotional and intellectual indeterminacy in your internal realities. It is more than merely the feeling of ambiguity or uncertainty, which I’ve been talking about a lot lately.

Ambiguity is not being sure which interpretation of a situation is the correct one. But you’re fairly sure the situation is covered by the set of mental models in play. It’s either a duck or a rabbit, or some deliberately ambiguated thing in between.

Uncertainty is not having all the relevant data to flesh out a picture, but you’re fairly sure you get the picture itself. It’s a stock market, and with high probability, the stock will go down, but you don’t know how far and how soon. That’s uncertainty. You’re not trying to decide whether it is a duck in a rabbit warren or a stock in a stock market.

Weirdness though…

Weirdness is a deeper sense that you are encountering the truly unknown-unknown. Chances are you cannot even sort out what part is ambiguous and what part is uncertain. You can’t tell whether more data will help, and if so, how. Weirdness is meta-ambiguity and uncertainty if you like, where you can’t tease apart the ambiguity and uncertainty in a situation. This gives me an updated, cleaner version of my uncertainty/ambiguity 2×2 from the link above, woohoo:


Take the Harambe meme for instance. I recently wrote a piece about it in The Atlantic. That’s weirding. You probably don’t know quite how to think or feel about it, and you’re not sure if seeing more examples will actually help much, or how. Another great example is this recent xkcd, which highlights the need for imagination and creativity in dealing with weirdness:


Truth and Weirding

Weirding is a portent of deeper truths. When you are feeling weirded out, it’s a sign that your truths are about to get undermined by deeper ones by a crash. It is a lead indicator of impending expansion not just in what you know, but how you know it. Weirdness presages a catastrophic evolution in the categories and modes of knowing.

It is your brain signaling that it needs a reboot. Something like this image is going on:


Most people keep clicking “remind me later” and hope they are never forced into it.

Nobody wants to interrupt the smooth functioning of their brain to reorient intellectually and emotionally.

Which means the weirdness accumulates. And accumulates. Until something breaks and there is a crash.

This leads me to what is possibly my cleverest snowclone from the last six months. With apologies to Benjamin Graham, in the short term life is a sentiment voting machine, in the long term, it is a weirdness weighing machine.

Weirdness as Abstraction Leaks

Thinking implies mental models. Less obviously, emotions also imply mental models. I only dimly recognized this back in 2011 when I first wrote extensively about mental models in TempoBack then, I saw emotion as primarily a sort of coarse modulation shaping and guiding the intuitive System 1 side of thinking.  Sort of a bass-guitar support to the lead vocals of thinking. Naturally, Tempo was a hit among those who think, a flop among those who feel. My new theory is that emotions and feeling constitute a complete and parallel locus of lead cognition. Hence the T/F dichotomy in the Myers-Briggs test. If this theory is correct, the second edition of Tempo should sell twice as well whenever I get around to writing it.

Whether they are thinking models or feeling models, mental models are by definition finite and wrong. Here’s the thing though: many people who like to trot out the George Box quote, “all models are wrong, some are useful” have never truly experienced mental models going wrong. They imagine it will feel like a certain critical weight of countervailing evidence accumulating, followed by some sort of reasoned swapping out an “falsified” model for a superior one. A sort of philosophical analog to trading the null hypothesis for the alternative hypothesis in some statistician’s utopia.

No, it’s a critical weight of weirdness accumulating in your mental climate, under the tumult of everyday emotional weather, followed by a crash.

So when your mental models get undermined, you experience a crash of greater or lesser severity, in the same sense that your computer experiences a crash. Depending on the type of computer you have, it may feel like either a blue screen of death, an automatic reboot sequence starting (which will look like gobbledygook on the screen if you’ve never rebooted since birth), or some sort of safe-mode recovery routine with a cryptic prompt to choose between options you don’t understand.

What it doesn’t feel like is a rational process of in-control “changing your mind.” This is because your mental models are also your identity. I’ve never met anyone who has ever peacefully changed their mind on anything in which they have significant identity investment. All I’ve seen is people crashing and recovering, with various degrees of religious transformation. I covered a subset of such transformations in The Cactus and the Weasel

Let’s add some more detail. The anatomy of every crash is usually unique, and you need a good deal of domain-specific troubleshooting experience (with brains or computers or whatever) to actually navigate them, but they do have some common features.

The biggest common feature is that crashes are generally associated with abstraction leaks. An abstraction leak is when a mental model or models get undermined by a more fundamental level of reality or truth breaking through the model boundaries. In the simplest case, there is a clear “up” and a “down” determining a stack of abstraction levels from highly phenomenological to highly metaphysical. Here is a  picture that I was actually making for another post (all the images in this post, oddly enough, were made for other purposes).


It is wrong, but useful for this discussion. You should be able to grok the left-hand side image at least. The right hand side is very useful if you understand computers well enough to parse it. Computers, which we made in our image, wonders to perform, serve as good, if stylized, mirrors of our models of mind. You may enjoy the twitter conversation sparked by this drawing a few days ago.

Troubleshooting as Weirdness Praxis

A cheap and easy way to experience weirdness, and get better at navigating it, is to try and troubleshoot devices whose functioning you don’t entirely understand. This is weirdness praxis. Let me tell you a story about that.

This week, I bought a Magic keyboard and trackpad for my Macbook Pro, and tried to use them along with an old VGA Dell monitor via an adapter. The peripherals wouldn’t pair correctly (thanks to deferring updates, I’m still running OS X Yosemite, which might be the issue) and the monitor kept flickering on and off. A friend on Twitter recommended I use a boosted HDMI to VGA converter (which uses an additional USB connector for power), which rerouted power from the shields via the Jeffries tubes and solved the flicker issue. The keyboard and trackpad work, but have a few residual weird behaviors (two-finger scroll won’t work on the trackpad for example, and I can’t beam stuff back from away teams). Then there are other bits of weirding: after the bluetooth pairing, my devices show up twice, once as identified entities, and once as ghosts known only by their addresses, like so (I checked; the two numbers correspond to the two devices, so this is 2 devices, not 4, though there is a slight possibility aliens are eavesdropping on earth by piggybacking on the identities of my keyboard and trackpad, and this is some sort of weird deja vu glitch in their penetration strategy, kinda like the deja vu scene with the cat in The Matrix):


I only moved from Windows to Mac about a year ago, and still haven’t truly bothered to invest time in understanding how the thing works, since I do most of my work on a browser and generally don’t believe in solving unlikely-to-be-fatal problems until things actually crash and stop working. My rudimentary Unix knowledge is now more a distant memory than a live skill, which means I have the ability to pull up CLIs and run a few commands that produce bad-ass looking Mr. Robot type results, but don’t actually fix any issues in the “it’s just unix with pretty graphics” troubleshooting mode my geek friends use. My “unix” abstraction has apparently leaked all utility and turned into a theatrical cargo-cult skill. I can’t hack; I can only act like I am hacking well enough to fool people who have never used a CLI.

The result is that my computing environment is something of a weird mystery to me. A whole bunch of “remind me later” threads of deferred learning, so to speak.

Yes, this is me fishing for free tech support. This is how most of us navigate weirdness. By fishing for free tech support of some sort, from people who have experienced more weirdness than we have in a domain.

It isn’t entirely irrational to keep clicking “remind me later” when faced with decisions that involve navigating weirdness. If you’ve ever done any engineering troubleshooting, you know how frustrating it can be. Symptoms are hard to reproduce and hard to interpret when you can produce them. The troubleshooting tree is generally far too complex for systematic “change one thing at a time” discipline, so you tend to switch, with bipolar impatience, between systematic brute-force testing of possibilities and intuitive dives based on speculative diagnoses.

Troubleshooting is a highly uncomfortable process for anyone who likes their ontologies to be walled gardens and their epistemologies to be arenas for displays of theatrical prowess, with no fumbling and groping about. The most annoying feature of troubleshooting is that there is no real way to estimate how long it is going to take. Troubleshooting is a suspension of time, while you go investigate an abstraction leak. You want to get on with your life, not question what life is, every time some weirdness leaks through your defenses.

Speaking of weirdness leaking through your defenses, here’s my favorite example of an abstraction leak: the genesis incident behind the term bug. When Grace Hopper coined the term in its modern sense, she was referring to a case of a literal bug: a moth that got caught in the Harvard Mark II electromechanical computer, causing a failure. Here’s a picture (public domain) of what should be the most famous moth in the world, taped to a page of the computer’s log book.


The reason this is my favorite example is that it illustrates, with crystal clarity, how weirdness works, and why troubleshooting is hard.

Weirding, as a phenomenon, does not respect the boundaries of your emotional and intellectual mental models and maps. You may not think actual dead moths have a role to play in the functioning of computers, but reality decided otherwise in at least one case.

To work, troubleshooting too should not not respect the boundaries of mental models. There is always a non-zero probability that a true understanding of your weird situation will involve dead moths. If your ways of thinking and feeling behaviors cannot deal with that possibility, they are fundamentally fragile.

Puzzles versus Mysteries

The connection between weirdness and troubleshooting suggests a way to understand the general process of dealing with weirdness as a particular kind of mystery solving.

What kind?

Let me first distinguish mysteries from puzzles. A puzzle, in roughly the sense described by Sarah in Puzzle Theory, is something of a game you play with yourself within a finite universe of discourse that you get to determine. The rules can be logical and rational or weird and silly, but you get to decide.

I recently solved a sudoku for the first time on a flight where I was too distracted to read, and too energized to sleep. It was a strangely relaxing experience. I haven’t been much of a puzzler for decades, but back in college I used to occasionally attempt cryptic crosswords. I think I only once completely solved one, but mostly got somewhere between a quarter and half before I got frustrated.

Sudokus are normal, logical and rational puzzles. Which makes sense since they can be generated by computers. Cryptic crosswords do have rules, but they are weird rules, and even after you learn common ones, clever puzzle makers can confuse you with inventive new clues. This is because cryptic crosswords draw from the fairly open-ended universe of language rules, wordplay patterns, and evolving cultures of linguistic wit.

But either way, puzzles are things created by puzzle designers.

Mysteries, on the other hand, are phenomena that emerge from processes that, to the best of our knowledge, aren’t the result of intelligent design. They cause weirdness to leak into our abstractions as a side-effect of their normal unfolding, not by design. We’re not that important. The universe doesn’t owe us puzzles with satisfying solutions. Your god doesn’t live here.

The universe is not a puzzle, it’s a mystery.

The difference is this: in a puzzle, you make up rules, or have someone make rules up for you to enjoy. The fun of puzzling is the fun of controlled, bounded play. Finite-game fun. In a mystery, it is unclear whether there are rules, and if so, where they come from, and whether troubleshooting weirdness in order to grok them will generate clear outcomes in finite time. If it is fun at all, it is infinite-game fun. I have my doubts about whether fun is the right word, given that weirdness, with its indeterminate emotional texture, dominates the proceedings.

The origin of rules you already grok is just another mystery.

In the discussions around Sarah’s Puzzle Theory post, I was struck by the intuitive association people made between empiricism of some sort and systematic distinctions between “science” and “not-science.” Whether your mental model of empiricism is based on some proceduralized notion of falsification, a specific sensibility, or some sort of practice like mindfulness meditation, doesn’t matter. If your abstractions are capable of leaking, you’re in empiricist mode. You may not choose empiricism, but empiricism always chooses you.

In all cases, empiricism is simply the intellectual and emotional accommodation of the idea that reality may be real. That the fact that certain things don’t go away when you stop believing in them may be significant (Philip K. Dicks out for Harambe!). So the distinction between puzzles and mysteries is empiricism of some sort, in a loose sense that involves engaging the weird.

But not all sorts of mysteries have much to do with weirding. In particular, the classic tradition of ratiocinative detection in popular detective fiction, from Poe through Conan Doyle and Christie, is in fact closer to puzzling than mystery-solving in my sense. The classic cozy mystery (the body in the library of a country manor cut off from the world is the prototypical cozy mystery) is very explicitly set up as a puzzle, and appeals to the same instincts that sudoku and crosswords do.

Less obviously, procedurals too fall within the puzzling tradition: if a systematic “scientific detection method” based on blood spatter analysis and fingerprint databases works out, you’re doing ratiocinative puzzling. “Gritty” procedurals and more “psychological” detective stories (often involving serial killers whose identities you know from page 1) are also often just grown-up puzzles, not real mysteries.

Mysteries in the sense of weirding truly begin in the post-Christie era, though Christie herself saw it coming, in her pushing-the-envelope plots (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, and most significantly, Curtain, Poirot’s last case, which is almost a true mystery).

That said, classic detective fiction often flirts with the weird even if is reluctant to actually go there. More than Poirot (Christie preferred to turn banalities into surprises rather than incorporate the sensational), Sherlock Holmes was an investigator of the seemingly weird (which we can all “singular” in his honor). But it always turned out to be a puzzle rather than a mystery. The resolution to a Holmesian mystery, or any mystery in the ratiocinative tradition, involves restoring a sense of normalcy without actually expanding reality. No abstraction leak, nothing to see here, false alarm, it wasn’t a ghost, just a guy in a mask, move on. An example is a case where Holmes uses strange footprints to determine that an animal involved in a case was a mongoose rather than a dog, and ventures into almost weird hypotheses from there. The reason he can even get that far is that he is an abductive reasoner (rather than a deductive or inductive reasoner, as people often mistakenly assume).

Almost, but not quite. Near-weirdness in a Holmesian mystery is about the improbable in a Bayesian sense, rather than the impossible in a metaphysical sense. As the Holmes-esque character, Dr. House, solver of medical mysteries likes to say, “when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras.”

But even in the most extreme cases, singularity is not weirdness. It is mere improbability.

The kind of mystery I am talking about truly came into its own with Dirk Gently.

Never Eliminate the Impossible

A clear sign that you’re dealing with weirdness is that the only narratives on offer are fringe, crackpot ones: we’ll explain everything, and balance your emotional books, if you allow for the possibility of aliens in your bluetooth.

In her entertaining essay The Game’s Afoot: Predecessors and Pursuits of a Postmodern Detective Novel (in Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction), Kathleen Belin Owen comments on Douglas Adams’ detective Dirk Gently:

Holmes’ inquiry, purely epistemological, bases itself on empirical data, whereas Dirk Gently, the postmodern detective of Adams’ novel, has to account for ontological uncertainty (such as ghosts and time travel).

What sort of rational philosophy of detection can embrace such elements. Only a guiding principle that contorts the clues of the physical world. Dirk Gently explains, “the only thing which prevented me from seeing the solution was the trifling fact that it was completely impossible. Sherlock Holmes observed ones that once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.

In Dirk Gently’s novels, of course, reality expands with cheerful disregard for normalcy, barreling into the future nauseous with complete disregard for sanity. Weird out, and stay out.

I recommend the Gently novels. The line about not eliminating the impossible isn’t just a throwaway hat-tip to Holmes but actually modeled by the character of Dirk Gently in his behaviors and bizarre cognitive leaps. I also recommend the book linked above, and Owen’s essay in particular.

Being good at solving weirdness mysteries is not so much about being good at yet another kind of reasoning. If there’s a fourth pattern of cognition beyond deduction, induction and abduction, it is characterized not so much by how you think but by how you feel. 

In particular, when you notice the beginnings of the weirding, do you approach it, expanding the abstraction leak and letting your models collapse, or do you retreat from it, sealing off the leak, and buying yourself a more fragile life extension for your operating mental models?

Do you itch to click reboot now, or do you itch to click remind me later?

Practical concerns of course determine when you actually respond, and how much you can prepare, but the basic approach/retreat response to weirdness is not about practicalities, it is about emotions. In particular, about whether you enjoy the experience of not knowing how to feel, or fear it.

Very meta, I know. Emotions about emotions. Told you I’d evolved spiritually and stuff 😇.

The basic distinction between philosophical conservatives and philosophical liberals might in fact be this: the former instinctively retreat from abstraction leaks, sealing off barbaric new realities at the gate. The latter instinctively approach them, expanding small leaks into full-blown breaches, and rushing forward where more cautious types pull back.

If fools rush in where angels fear to tread, conservatives are the angels, and liberals are the fools. Life is an incessant normalizing for the angelic, an incessant weirding for the fools.

By that measure, I am definitely a liberal, but I wasn’t always one. It took a great deal of crashing for me to turn liberal in this sense.

I suspect all living things, humans included, are philosophical conservatives by their basic nature. The tendency, strongly developed among primates and felines in particular, to follow weirdness gradients — what we call the exploratory instinct —  is a relatively late evolutionary development I suspect. One that had to wait for more complex brains to evolve (for humans in particular, this is the theory I frequently cite: variability selection in hominid evolution). But I’d like to be wrong on this one. It would be delightful to learn that worms or slime mold have something like a weirdness-seeking instinct.

Awkwardness and Religion

My favorite new question to ask people, to get at their deep religion so to speak, is about the things they do that make themselves and others feel awkward.

The awkwardness that accompanies the presence of a person in the world is a good measure of their normal level of weirding (heh!). People in various stages of retreat and approach relative to weirdness display different levels of awkwardness.

At one extreme, where you’ve retreated entirely from weirdness, and achieved some sort of 100% sealing of all known abstraction leaks, you are the apotheosis of the non-awkward: a perfected player in some perfect finite game.  All updates installed, no updates pending, no reboot needed.

This perfection shows up in how well their thinking/feeling mental models are developed and integrated. Some highly enlightened people have both evolved so symmetrically and harmoniously that their thinking and feeling brains are one and the same.

These people especially struggle with weirdness, since perfection in your current sense of self generally means resistance to reboots and updates. It’s the opposite of a perpetual beta brain. What C. Northocote Parkinson said about the architecture of buildings and organizations applies equally to the architecture of minds:


A mind a δ away from absolute perfection is also a mind an ε of weirdness away from complete collapse: an existence nullifying abstraction leak. Serves you right for clicking “Remind me later” too many times, on too many things.

Here’s the thing: to even want to put your thinking and feeling sides on a path of convergent, harmonious integration and balance is to make assumptions about the nature of the universe and the right way to architect a mind. The assumption is this: evolution lies in the direction of retreat.

It is a kind of spiritual red-pill trap to confuse the caricatured equanimity of empty-mind-like-buddha-flowing-like water with being evolved.

And speaking of red pills, here is another way to understand them: a red-pill is an encapsulated (hehe) instance of “speaking truth to power”. Or more simply, revealing, to believers in a more-wrong model that does not serve their interests, a less-wrong model that serves their interests slightly better, or at least hurts their interests less. An undermining of a false consciousness so to speak, if you like the Marxist way of thinking about these things. The emotional result of being red-pilled is chagrin. Chagrin is in some ways the opposite of feeling weirded out (feeling clued-in perhaps). It is a recognition of the falsity of previously held determinate beliefs, and previously felt clear emotions. You look at old truths and feelings with your back to new truths and feelings, and march backwards into the future, driven to retreat from old certainties by some mix of weakening resentment and growing relief.

The net direction is the same as approaching weirdness, but walking backwards is never quite as effective as walking forwards. To be grey-pilled, by contrast, is to be turned around so weirdness, rather than certainty, is front and center. One reason I no longer really enjoy writing posts in the red-pill mode of The Gervais Principle is that my aesthetic sensibilities have done a 180. I no longer get a kick out of speaking truth to power in that particular way. I get more of a kick out of speaking weirdness to truth. So if you’ve been waiting for more posts in that vein, you’re probably going to disappointed.

Evolving with your face turned towards weirdness, rather than away from it, means accepting that the world is largely unknown-unknown and that encountering more of it is likely to rewire your brain in trivial and profound ways from time to time, through crashes small and big. This means accepting that your presence in the universe will be an awkward one, and stumbling forward into the weirdness anyway, rather than backing into it, focused on fading memories of certainties past.

I get now why the line about comedy and tragedy never felt entirely satisfying to me. It is an assertion about about puzzle universes with no room for weirdness. The mystery universe, the one that requires Dirk Gently-ing to inhabit, has no such closed set of emotional stances for you to pick from and occupy.

In this universe, there is no such thing as the last meditative insight, the last psychotic break, the completely mapped universe of ideas and feelings, or the perfect Ayahuasca cleanse. It’s bugs and crashes all the way down. Speaking weirdness to truth means accepting that there is always a non-zero probability of crashing terminally into insanity, and deciding that that’s an acceptable cost for generative living. Speaking weirdness to truth means choosing life.

Which means there is only one rule of engagement for generative living: You’re not going to know what to feel or what to think at all times.

P. S. You may enjoy reading this dialog I had on Sidewire with Renee DiResta, last week’s guest blogger, on the weirdness of crowds.

22 Sep 23:51

That time I was (almost) a bus driver

by tychay

I’m taking the bus this afternoon to meet someone for coffee and an old memory hits me.

I’m in the third grade and the Cub Scouts are going to be performing a skit for the school. My two friends, Kenny and Tom, are going to be playing old ladies.


(Two old ladies board the Bus. They stand next to a man seated in front of them.)

I can’t believe the bus is so crowded that there are no seats!

Yes, and to think that no one is giving up their seat for us old ladies!

Yes, chivalry is dead.

And my poor feet!

(Repeatedly the man tries to stand up and is pushed back down by one or the other old ladies.)

Sit right back down!

You are only doing that because you overheard us talking and are feeling guilty.

(…This goes on for quite a while until…)

(standing up forcefully and in anger)
I wasn’t trying to give up my seat, I was trying to leave. My stop was 3 miles ago!

(Man asks the driver to stop the bus and leaves in a huff.)


You can see, as the bus driver, I had to do basically nothing, which I was happy to do. I did not complain even once about the only Asian kid being stereotyped as a blue collar worker. Holding an imaginary steering wheel is a stress free job to be thankful for. After all, I would not have to wear a wig or a dress. I could just be bored and concentrate on holding up my tired arms.

During rehearsals, the director (aka den mother) said, “I think it doesn’t sound right. Let’s change that last line to ‘I wanted to get off three stops ago.'”

Finally something to do! After that, I started to mime stopping the bus and opening the door.

“Stop that,” the den mother said. “It’s very distracting.”

I wasn’t going to endanger this sweet gig by pointing out the logical error of someone wanting to get off “three stops ago” when the bus never stops. I went back to quietly holding my imaginary steering wheel.

And so this would have gone down the memory hole, even mine. Except for…

The day of the play arrived, and backstage Kenny, his mom, and the director approached me. That’s odd, Kenny is dressed like me in a white dress shirt and dark pants.

“Kenny is in tears,” Kenny’s mom told me. “He’s so scared of being teased at school for dressing like a girl. Will you be willing to switch parts with him?”

“But I never got to practice any lines. I won’t remember them.”

“Oh, Tom can help. We’ll split the original lines between you and Tom so you only have to memorize half of them,” offered the director.

Silently cursing the fact that my mom was both too busy and too sick to ever be a den mother and prevent me from being railroaded by a crying friend and two adults, “I guess I could try.”

It turned that while sitting holding my arms up during rehearsals, I was able to pick up the lines very quickly, I even ad lib recovered some of Kenny’s lines that Tom couldn’t remember. Afterward Kenny commented how silly it was that the last line is about wanting to get off three stops ago when the bus never stops.

The next day all the girls in the class teased me mercilessly about how I played such a convincing and cute old lady at the play last night.

“That’s no fair. What about Tom, he was a girl too! Why don’t you tease him?”

“Yeah he was,” they said, “But he couldn’t even remember half his lines!”

23 Sep 01:29

Verizon / Yahoo – Irrelevant challenge.

by windsorr

Reply to this post

RFM AvatarSmall






With Verizon, Yahoo likely to become irrelevant. 

  • Verizon is embarking on building an ecosystem but second rate assets are unlikely to get Verizon very far without inspirational management to make these assets shine.
  • On top of the $3bn it is paying for Yahoo’s core business, Verizon also appears to be in advanced discussions to purchase a video streaming start-up called Vessel.
  • This would take Verizon / Yahoo’s coverage of Digital Life to 51% putting it ahead of many of its competitors.
  • However, Digital Life is only a measure of whether an ecosystem has the right assets and makes no measure of quality or execution.
  • This is addressed with RFM’s 7 Laws of Robotics and it is on these measures that Yahoo falls over.
  • The problem at Yahoo is simple.
  • While it has good assets and good traction in the fixed Internet, it has been unable to migrate any of that traction into mobile.
  • Yahoo claims to have over 600m monthly active users on mobile and I suspect that almost all of these only use Yahoo Mail on the phones and nothing else.
  • Yahoo has invested large sums of money in digital assets during Marissa Mayer’s tenure but high management turnover combined with very poor execution has meant a very poor return for investors.
  • For example, RFM calculates that Yahoo has been able to monetise just 12% of the opportunity presented by the assets that it owns (see here).
  • The challenge for Verizon is to take these assets, add them to the others that it already owns and to create a thriving community on mobile devices.
  • Verizon has two big problems.
    • First: Second rate assets.
    • The assets that it has purchased are second rate in the eyes of users who prefer the services of Google and Facebook.
    • This means that Verizon has a lot of work to do to make these assets more appealing as well as ensure that they work well on both mobile and fixed.
    • Second: Bench strength
    • Yahoo’s management has shown that it is unable to execute meaning that it is up to Verizon’s team to turn the Yahoo assets around.
    • Unfortunately, I suspect that Verizon’s history as a provider of packets and capacity, means that it lacks the bench strength to make this acquisition deliver any of the potential that it offers.
  • Hence, I fear that the net result will be that Yahoo becomes increasingly obscure as more and more of the user’s Digital Life moves from the PC onto mobile.
  • Yahoo continues to offer an irrelevant challenge to Google, Facebook, Apple or even Microsoft each of whom are cementing their position in the digital ecosystems of life and work.
  • Of these I prefer Samsung, Microsoft and Baidu although Apple looks very attractive for a long term investor happy with the dividends and share buy backs.
22 Sep 21:49

Yuneec Breeze: The idiotproof $500 drone with 4K video

There’s no shortage of drones to choose from. That’s lucky for anyone who’s intrigued by their ability to break free of our two-dimensional earthly existence, or for anyone who’s attracted to the way drones revolutionize farming, search and rescue, construction, engineering, forestry, firefighting, law enforcement, filmmaking, and photography.

What’s weird, though, is that the drones available to us normal people tend to fall into two categories. On the low end, there are glorified remote-control helicopters, with crummy cameras and toylike software; on the high end, there are your DJI Phantoms and Yuneec Typhoons, which are amazing, but complex and expensive—$1200 or $1300 for the nice ones.

With its new Breeze drone, Yuneec has attempted to create a drone for the rest of us. It has whittled away everything the company doesn’t think you really need for everyday aerial photography—a standalone remote control unit, motorized landing gear, 25-minute battery, and obstacle-avoidance sensors. What remain are the essentials, like a very good 4K video camera, sensors for maintaining position indoors, and extremely easy-to-use software.

The Yuneec Breeze makes its debut.

For this, Yuneec charges $500—a new low for a drone of this sophistication.

(Its closest competitors are the older Parrot Bebop 2, whose camera can’t move or tilt and isn’t 4K, and the Dobby, which flies for only 8 minutes and can’t return to its takeoff point. The aging Phantom 3 isn’t really in the same class—it’s big, complex, and doesn’t have 4K video, although it has a 25-minute battery and rotating camera—but it also costs $500.)

A shiny white bubble

Every drone lives by the same painful equation:

battery life = drone size

The battery is by far the heaviest piece of a consumer drone. So if you want more flying time, you have to settle for a bigger drone that can carry the heftier battery.

The Breeze is marketed not as a drone at all, but as a “flying camera.” The subtext: “You don’t really care about battery life or wireless range, because this thing’s really meant for selfies and short videos.”

So, the bad news: The Breeze battery life is only 12 minutes. Less, actually, because when the battery gets low, the thing beeps and starts landing on its own.

There are three pieces of good news, though. First, you get two of these batteries in the box, which is beyond fantastic; while one’s flying, the other can be charging.

If they're going to give us a 12-minute battery, at least they'd better give us two

Second, the battery recharges in about 30 minutes.

And third, the payoff for that short battery life is a very compact drone. The Breeze’s legs and propellers fold inward; the result is a shiny plastic capsule that you can easily pop into a backpack, purse, or man purse. It also comes with a hard plastic carrying case.

The Breeze folds down neatly into a relatively tiny box for transport. (Glasses for size reference.)
The Breeze folds down neatly into a relatively tiny box for transport. (Glasses shown for size reference.)

All drone companies grossly inflate their drones’ wireless range—how far they can fly and still be in contact with the remote. The Breeze is rated at 260 feet; in the real world, I got about 200 feet before the drone lost signal. (Compare with a real-world range of 10,000 feet or more on the DJI Phantoms.)

Then again, the FAA’s rules for consumer drones require that you fly them within your sight.

And besides: It’s supposed to be a flying camera. Who takes selfies from 2 miles away?

The app

To get started, you turn on the drone and set it in an open place. Then you connect your smartphone to the drone’s private WiFi signal. (Your smartphone is the remote control.)

When you open the Breeze app, you can see right away how quickly this drone latches onto the GPS satellites. It takes seconds, not minutes.

Yuneec has made a Herculean effort to make this drone easy to fly. When you tap TAKE OFF, it gracefully lifts to three feet off the ground and hovers in place.

Now, the app offers four prominent auto-flying buttons:

In addition to manual Pilot mode, you get four canned flight paths.
In addition to manual Pilot mode, you get four canned flight paths.
  • Selfie. Using on-screen sliders, you adjust the drone’s altitude, camera angle, and position. Now you can take a photo by tapping anywhere on the screen. That’s handy, because it means that you can hide the phone behind you, so you don’t look a total drone dork in the photo.
Getting ready for a dronie!
Getting ready for a dronie!
  • Orbit. You set up the height and radius, and the thing flies around you in a circle, keeping the camera pointed at you all the way. It makes one heck of a stunning video, especially when you’ve just reached the top of a mountain or ocean bluff. (See my video above for a good example.)
  • Journey. You adjust the altitude and camera angle; after a countdown from three, the drone flies diagonally up and away, then back again, filming all the way.
  • Follow Me (camera only). The nearly nonexistent instructions fail to mention that there are two “Follow me” modes on this drone. In Camera Only mode (my name for it), you draw a box around the subject on your phone’s screen. Then the drone hovers in place, rotating as necessary so that the camera is always pointing at you.
  • Follow Me (drone flight). In this mode, the drone itself moves, flying after you you as you ski, skateboard, or run around in terror. Alas, the Breeze can lose sight of you pretty easily. No fast moves.

There’s also the traditional Pilot mode, where you use two onscreen “joysticks” to control the drone’s flight. As on most drones, the left one controls altitude and rotation; the right one actually moves the drone in the direction you push.

Manual piloting mode.
Manual piloting mode.

If you hold your thumb on the Tilt button, you can replace the right “joystick” by tipping the phone itself. The drone flies in the direction and severity of the tip, which is cool and intuitive.

Indoor flying

When you’re outdoors, your drone knows where it is by consulting GPS. When you’re indoors, the ceiling blocks GPS signals.

And so, like the really pricey drones, this one has an indoor positioning system. On the bottom, you’ll find an infrared sensor (measures the drone’s altitude, up to 30 feet) and an optical sensor (measures the drone’s forward/back, side/side position).

Propeller protectors snap right on for indoor use. I suspect that they’re more intended to protect your house than the drone; I managed a few ugly-looking crashes into walls, and the drone always emerged unscathed. (Spare propeller blades come in the box in case you’re not so lucky.)

The Breeze is equipped for indoor flying.
The Breeze is equipped for indoor flying.

Photos and videos

Here’s another way Yuneec tried to reduce complexity: It put the flight controls on one screen of the app, and the camera controls on another. It’s super easy to learn, but you have to switch back and forth to make adjustments.

Here's Camera mode. To return to flight mode, you tap the miniature dials at lower right.
Here’s Camera mode. To return to flight mode, you tap the miniature dials at lower right.

You can make the camera tilt up or down in flight, but you can’t turn the camera to look around, as you can on the $1300 drones; if you want to look to the right or left, you have to rotate the entire drone.

The camera captures 4K video (or 13-megapixel stills), but don’t let that deceive you; this is no GoPro (GPRO). The photos and videos look great when the light is good, but a little grainy when light is low. It’s about the same camera quality you’d find on the best smartphones.

The photos and videos look good, especially in sunlight.
The photos and videos look good, especially in sunlight.

If you choose to record in 1080p hi-def instead of 4K, you get a very nice benefit: stabilized video. Almost always, this is the setting you want.

The moment of truth

I’m gonna stick my neck out here: Once you’ve captured some pictures and videos, you’ll want to see them.

This drone doesn’t have a removable memory card. Instead, it has 16 gigabytes of built-in storage. There are two ways to retrieve what you’ve captured:

First, you can download them wirelessly. In the app, a Gallery screen shows you thumbnails of every image and clip on the drone. You can transfer them directly to your phone, so that you can then post them online on the spot.

To retrieve your shots, you download them wirelessly (middle). Then you can post them on the spot (bottom)
To retrieve your shots, you download them wirelessly (middle). Then you can post them on the spot (bottom).

That’s cool, except that (a) the transfer takes a long time, (b) it’s one item at a time, © you can’t switch to any other app or do anything else on your phone.

The other method is to connect a USB cable to your computer, at which point the drone’s memory acts like a flash drive. You can just drag the photos and videos directly.

In both cases, though, the drone must be turned on. And that means the drone must have battery power.

And that means that reviewing your footage in the field is supremely stressful. Every second of transmitting or copying video and photos is draining the battery, ensuring that your next flight will be shorter and shorter.

The future of mid-price drones

The “drones for non-technies” field is about to get more crowded. The waterproof, throw-to-launch Lily is finally supposed to start shipping soon ($900). GoPro has just announced its own Karma drone, which will cost $800. The Web is buzzing with leaks and photos of DJI’s upcoming compact folding drone, the Mavic. And although the unbelievable-looking Power Egg will cost $1,300, it’s loaded with features and has a rotating camera, “23-minute: battery, and “three-mile” range.

For now, though, the Yuneec Breeze is relatively unchallenged in that sweet spot: It’s a compact, user-friendly drone that costs only $500, but nonetheless includes high-end camera and sensors. It’s got its flaws, but it does 80% of what the big boys do—for a fraction of the price.

Put another way, there will be some very happy gadget fans unwrapping gifts this December.

David Pogue is Yahoo Finance’s chief tech critic; here’s how to get his columns by email. On the web, he’s On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s He welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. 

23 Sep 06:30

The Slow Build Approach To New Resources

by Richard Millington

The obvious way to promote something new to a group (or community) is to go big.

Make a big announcement. This only works when the announcement is surprising. But surprise is a hard emotion to sustain. The second announcement isn’t as surprising. By the third, it’s just business as usual.

Surprise is also the most competitive emotion. I’ll wager you’ve got 20 emails in your spam folder right now each vying to be the most surprising. You’re probably not going to win by making the biggest announcement.

There’s a myth that if you invest a lot of time and effort to create a resource that you need to launch it big (and big means a big surprise). Why not launch it slow and try different emotional states. For example:

  • Pride. Share the idea. Build up anticipation early. Let people help define it and contribute to it. Make it a collective resource that members are proud to share with others and frequently reference.
  • Exclusivity. Link it to jealousy. Release it only to a few top members and let the word spread. Let them share it with a few others too.
  • Powerful. Set-up a training course to teach people how to use the resource. Let the value (and popularity) increase over time as people begin to feel more empowered using the resource.
  • Creative. Encourage members to adapt it to their own context and report back. Begin with a small group and expand from there.

Launch it slowly. Let it grow steadily. Let people hear about it naturally. Let its value appreciate over time as more people hear about it.

A valuable resource is valuable regardless of how and when people hear about it. You don’t need to compete against a spam filter of outlandish junk for limited attention when you can slowly launch it instead.

22 Sep 14:36

These Weeks in Firefox: Issue 1

by mconley

Every two weeks, engineering teams working on Firefox Desktop get together and update each other on things that they’re working on. These meetings are public. Details on how to join, as well as meeting notes, are available here.

We feel that the bleeding edge development state captured in those meeting notes might be interesting to our Nightly blog audience. To that end, we’re taking a page out of the Rust and Servo playbook, and offering you handpicked updates about what’s going on at the forefront of Firefox development!

Expect these every two weeks or so.

Thanks for using Nightly, and keep on rocking the free web!


Contributor(s) of the Week

  • The team has nominated Adam (adamgj.wong), who has helped clean-up some of our Telemetry APIs. Great work, Adam!

Project Updates



  • andym wants to remind everybody that the Add-ons team is still triaging and fixing SDK bugs (like this one, for example).

Electrolysis (e10s)

Core Engineering

  • ksteuber rewrote the Snappy Symbolication Server (mainly used for the Gecko Profiler for Windows builds) and this will be deployed soon.
  • felipe is in the process of designing experiment mechanisms for testing different behaviours for Flash (allowing some, denying some, click-to-play some, based on heuristics)

Platform UI and other Platform Audibles

Quality of Experience

Sync / Firefox Accounts


Here are the raw meeting notes that were used to derive this list.

Want to help us build Firefox? Get started here!

Here’s a tool to find some mentored, good first bugs to hack on.

23 Sep 09:59

Skittle disconnect

by Nathan Yau

This is what happens when there is a disconnect between data and what it represents. So much wrong.

I need to avoid social media for the next month. There is something upsetting every single time these days.

Tags: human, Skittles

23 Sep 14:10

Google and Salesforce are reportedly interested in buying Twitter

by Jessica Vomiero

News broke Friday, September 23rd, of a potential bid for the social media giant Twitter.

CNBC was the first to hint that both Google and Salesforce had expressed interest in acquiring Twitter, though a bid has yet to be confirmed. Twitter initially expressed interest in an acquisition a few months back when quarterly reports revealed stalled profits and flatlining user growth.

Since the news broke, Twitter’s stock has been steadily rising, seeing an over 20 percent jump.

According to CNBC‘s sources, Twitter’s suitors are as much interested in the social media platform’s data, as its position as a media company.

Following the report, Salesforce’s chief digital evangelist Vala Afshar turned to Twitter itself to offer his views.

Meanwhile, TechCrunch reports the company has just lost two key staff: head of TV Andrew Adashek and North American Moments curation team lead Marcus Mabry.

Sources tell CNBC that the social media company may receive a formal bid shortly.

Update 09/23/16: TechCrunch has reported that Verizon and Microsoft may also be interested in purchasing Twitter.

Update 09/23/16: Recode has reported that Twitter will be seeking at least $30 billion from a potential buyer.

This story was contributed to by Jessica Vomiero and Rose Behar.

22 Sep 21:00

Apple acquires an Indian startup to boost its artificial intelligence game

by Igor Bonifacic

While Apple is reportedly in talks to acquire automaker McLaren, according to TechCrunch, the Cupertino-based tech giant recently snagged an Indian machine learning startup called Tuple.

When asked by TechCrunch to comment on rumours the company had acquired TupleJump, Apple gave its standard response: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

TupleJump is the third artificial intelligence startup Apple has acquired in the past two years. At the end of 2015, Apple acquired a company called Perceptio. More recently, it bought another machine learning startup called Turi.

Terms of the company’s most recent acquisition were not disclosed.

Not a lot is known about Tuple; the company’s website was taken down recently. It’s speculated Apple was interested in the work TupleJump did on an open source platform called FiloDB.

FiloDB’s GitHub page describes the platform as a way to apply machine learning techniques to vast amounts of data as they’re streamed. Presumably, Apple will use TupleJump’s expertise to improve the iPhone’s AI capabilities.

22 Sep 19:49

Google’s Pixel Launcher might use rounded icons and launcher shortcuts

by Rose Behar

Not long ago a leak revealed that Google’s Nexus Launcher would be turning into the Pixel Launcher, putting it in-line with the branding of the company’s forthcoming flagships, which are expected to be titled the Pixel and the Pixel XL.

Now, Android Police has torn down the Pixel Launcher APK, a speculative process based on evidence found inside of the APK. The publication warns that since the teardown is likely based on incomplete information, it’s possible that its guesses are wrong, or that even if they’re correct, they may not see the light of day.

However, what can be inferred from the teardown of this launcher, which will likely debut in Android 7.1 with the Pixel phones, are some intriguing potential changes to launcher icons and the return of launcher shortcuts.


According to the site, the Pixel Launcher may feature only round icons. This is signified by filenames and a class named CircularIconProvider in the launcher itself. In pictures, the redesigned icons mainly feature the traditional app logo pasted above a white button, though some are specifically designed to fill out the entirety of the circle.

As for the launcher shortcuts, they were originally found in the second Android N developer preview, and seem to act much like iOS’ 3D touch functionality — though it’s unclear whether the shortcuts will be accessed through a pressure sensitive display, long-pressing or some other gesture.


Both changes appear to be built in to API 25 and may make their debut with Android 7.1 on October 4th, when the new Pixel devices are expected to launch.

Image credit: Android Police 1, 2

Related: Leak shows the Nexus Launcher is becoming the Pixel Launcher

22 Sep 14:23

Twitter Favorites: [TristinHopper] No, @GlobeandMail. This is the most monstrous idea you have ever endorsed.

Tristin Hopper @TristinHopper
No, @globeandmail. This is the most monstrous idea you have ever endorsed.
22 Sep 14:34

Twitter Favorites: [JLevstein] Great piece on Co-Op Game Design by @tanyaxshort. I’m trying hard to think about creative skill mismatch solutions.

Jonathan Levstein @JLevstein
Great piece on Co-Op Game Design by @tanyaxshort. I’m trying hard to think about creative skill mismatch solutions.…
22 Sep 14:59

Twitter Favorites: [MaryamMonsef] I was born in Mashhad, Iran, not in Herat, Afghanistan–-as I was led to believe for my whole life. Full statement:

Maryam Monsef @MaryamMonsef
I was born in Mashhad, Iran, not in Herat, Afghanistan–-as I was led to believe for my whole life. Full statement:
22 Sep 15:00

Twitter Favorites: [glassbottommeg] I'm so glad my mom made sure I became a proper novel reading person. Non-readers just scare me.

Megan Fox @glassbottommeg
I'm so glad my mom made sure I became a proper novel reading person. Non-readers just scare me.…