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Month: December 2017

🎄 Newley’s Notes 116: Merry Xmas! — The Best Tech of 2017

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Edition 116 of my email newsletter went out on Monday.

To subscribe, simply enter your email address at this link. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes. If you like this newsletter, please invite others to sign up.

Merry Christmas from New Delhi! I hope you’re having a restful holiday and enjoying time with friends and family. All is good on this end.

This week’s theme:

📲 The best of tech in 2017

1. The year’s best tech long-reads: Longform.org has a round-up of pieces such as a profile of Uber founder Travis Kalanick, an exploration of notorious imageboard website 4chan, and more. Recode also has a list of top long-reads, many tech-centric.

2. The year’s best books about tech: MIT Technology Review has got you covered, as does Wired. The one I’m most looking forward to reading: “Twitter and Tear Gas” by Zeynep Tufekci. The subtitle: “The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.”

3. The year’s coolest gadgets: Look no further than this WSJ collection (I can personally attest to the quality of the Anker charging devices; I’m also quite desirous of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, I must say). Engadget also has a list, and five members of Ars Technica’s review team offer their picks (and some of their least favorite new products), as well.

4. 2017’s best sci-fi: Popular Mechanics has a list of top sci-fi films — “Blade Runner 2049” was probably my favorite movie of any genre — while The Guardian covers the best sci-fi and fantasy books. Also check out Goodreads’ top-recommended sci-fi books, while The WSJ has a round-up of the best “hard SF” reads.

5. For Apple nerds: The year’s best iOS apps, according to the fine folks at Macstories. Included here are some well-known ones (think Overcast for podcasts and 1Password for password management) and some lesser-known gems. There’s also an extensive summary of must-have Mac apps.

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The very best yule log videos online: Quartz has a hand-picked list of excellent offerings from the likes of YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix. Bonus: fireplaces aren’t your thing? Hulu gives you “Puppies Crash Christmas,” a video in which little canines destroy gifts and furniture. Backstory is here.

Happy holidays, mis amigos!

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

Newley

🍪 Newley’s Notes 115: Net Neutrality Explained; Streaming Holiday Films; Message From Cookie Monster

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Edition 115 of my email newsletter went out on Sunday.

To subscribe, simply enter your email address at this link. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes. If you like this newsletter, please invite others to sign up.

📲 5 Cool Tech-ish Reads This Week

1. So, wait, what’s up with net neutrality? Get up to speed with these reads:

Q: What happened? A: Per our WSJ story:

The Federal Communications Commission Thursday voted to roll back far-reaching rules governing how internet-service providers treat traffic on their networks, a move expected to empower cable and wireless providers and transform consumers’ online experience.

Q: Where do we go from here? A: According to The Verge, lawsuits are coming; ISPs could decide to throttle some high bandwidth services; some lawmakers might try to fight the vote.

Q: Are consumers going to foot the bill for higher prices? It’s unclear, but it’s possible, as this WSJ piece says.

Q: What is net neutrality anyway? A: It’s the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. Vox has more.

Bonus tip: For an in-depth examination of the larger issues, check out “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” a 2010 book by Columbia University professor Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality.”

2. The Disney-Fox deal could mean a new threat to Netflix. According to Axios:

Walt Disney Company announced Thursday that it has agreed to acquire the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, including Fox’s movie studio and entertainment television networks, as well as Fox’s international TV assets.

And:

The deal would give Disney the scale to take on Netflix, but first it will need to convince regulators that it doesn’t pose the same sort of monopoly risk as AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner.

For more on the geographic implications, see this WSJ Heard on the Street piece, which says:

Despite a global brand and some glitzy theme parks in Europe and Asia, Disney remains a quintessentially American company. After its deal with 21st Century Fox, Disney will be much more a citizen of the world.

3. Speaking of Netflix: The reasons you can’t find any good holiday movies to stream: they’re “too good and too old,” according to Bloomberg, which points out that just five of the American Movie Classics’s 25 best Christmas movies are on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. (Side note: Some people people feel “Die Hard” should be classified as a holiday flick, right up there with the very best. What do you think?)

4. The Pentagon had a little-known program to study U.F.O.s, The New York Times reports. It ran from 2007 and 2012, and may still continue today.

5. Trailer of the week: “Ready Player One.” The Steven Spielberg sci-fi film, due out out March 30, is about a young hero drawn into a high-stakes virtual reality game in the not-too-distant, dystopian future. Watch the trailer here. It’s based on the 2011 bestseller by Ernest Cline.

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Cookie Monster has a few things he’d like to get off his chest.

Quote of the Week

“S–t, I got what I asked for. I’m a chair farmer.”

That’s from an Atlas Obscura story about a guy who has a company in England that grows furniture out of trees.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

Newley

 

🎼 Newley’s Notes 114: Google in India; Gifts for Nerds; Reader Feedback

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Edition 114 of my email newsletter went out yesterday.

To subscribe, simply enter your email address at this link. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes. If you like this newsletter, please invite others to sign up.

📝 What I Wrote in The Wall Street Journal

Google Changes Game Plan in India to Accommodate Soaring Demand
. The story begins:

NEW DELHI–An explosion of smartphone usage in India is changing the way Alphabet Inc.’s Google sees the future of the internet.

As a mobile price war in the South Asian nation has slashed data rates to less than $5 a month for unlimited high-speed access, hundreds of millions of people are getting online for the first time and bingeing, stretching their low-end smartphones to the limit.

The Mountain View, Calif., company rolled out several apps and functions Tuesday aimed directly at these net newbies and those like them in other emerging markets.

💬 What I Wrote at Newley.com

Over the weekend I added to a couple new Book Notes posts, where I share thoughts on titles I’ve been reading:

Book Notes: ‘Waking Up,’ by Sam Harris:

An insightful book about the nature of consciousness and why we don’t need religion to better understand ourselves and the world. What we really need is to understand how our brain works.

Book Notes: ‘The Innovators,’ by Walter Isaacson

An exhaustive, compulsively readable account of how the computer and the internet came to be.

Google, India and Next Billion Users Follow up: More Data — some additional notes from the event I attended and wrote about in my story this week.

📲 5 Cool Tech-ish Reads This Week

1. Spotify turns everything into Muzak. So writes Liz Pelly in The Baffler, making the case that the streaming music service has “seized on an audience of distracted, perhaps overworked, or anxious listeners whose stress-filled clicks now generate anesthetized, algorithmically designed playlists.”

2. Here are the most popular gifs of 2017. Spoiler alert: Number one is “white guy blinking”.

3. Looking for a super nerdy 2017 gift guide? BoingBoing has you covered with this excellent list, featuring items like a selfie camera drone, earbuds that make your ears look elfin, sandals that resemble largemouth bass, and mens’ underwear that…just have to be seen to be believed. Bonus: What’s that? You wanted a gift for the ultimate hipster? Check out Vinylize specs, which are made — by hand, in Budapest — out of LP vinyl.

4. “This, you see, is a multitasking machine.” A 1985 BBC TV segment on the Commodore Amiga introduces hitherto alien concepts like a “mouse” and “windows.”

5. What did the music of antiquity sound like? Here are some videos recreating the soundscapes from ancient Greece, Roman military music, and Chinese court music.

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Etch A Sketch, right in your browser. You’re welcome.

Reader feedback

Two cool things to share from Newley’s Notes readers.

First, my good friend Stuart Hawkins and some pals in Bangkok recorded, as part of a charity project commemorating the passing last year of Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej, a tribute composition of the king’s 1946 tune “Love at Sundown.”

You can hear the fantastic song, and Stuart on trumpet and flugelhorn, on YouTube here. You can buy or stream it here.

For more, check out Stuart’s debut album, “And What If I Don’t,” here. All proceeds for the song and album go to charity.

Second, in response to last week’s special Bitcoin edition, my friend Lee LeFever writes to point out that his Seattle-based company, Common Craft, had earlier put together a basic explainer video on how block chain technology works.

It’s the best explanation I’ve seen yet.

Thanks for reading, amigos. Please share this newsletter on Facebook or Twitter if you like it.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

Newley

4 Factors that Explain Bitcoin’s Rise

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More on Bitcoin, following my recent Newley’s Notes devoted to the digital currency:

Financial advisor and author Ben Carlson has a post at his (quite enjoyable) blog, A Wealth of Common Sense, on how to explain the rise of Bitcoin. He puts it down to the following factors:

  1. Storytelling — the narrative — which may be true — is that Bitcoin represents a new kind of paradigm and none of the old rules about other asset classes apply.
  2. Technology — the block chain represents a legitimate technological leap, hence there is legitimate excitement.
  3. Decentralization — the global financial crisis has weakened our faith in institutions like big banks, and Bitcoin is basically institution-free.
  4. Resilience — Bitcoin has crashed before, but continues to rise, he says.

He concludes:

Anyone who tells you they know where this thing is heading, how to value it, where it ends, etc. is nuts. No one has a clue. This is everything you’ve ever read about the markets all wrapped into one — FOMO, supply & demand, human nature, behavioral biases, volatility, booms, busts, uncertainty about the future, etc.

Seems about right to me.

Book Notes: ‘Waking Up,’ by Sam Harris

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting.

For more, see my Book Notes category.

waking_up_sam_harris

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Published: 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1451636017
Amazon link

Brief Summary

An insightful book about the nature of consciousness and why we don’t need religion to better understand ourselves and the world. What we really need is to understand how our brain works.

My Notes

  • Everything in this world shaped by our minds. I like this passage from the very beginning of the book, which sums up quite neatly what Harris, a neuroscientist, wants us to know about consciousness:

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others…Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind. Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved.

  • “I,” the ego, doesn’t exist. Meditation stops discursive thought and helps us understand how our brain works and how it mediates the world around us.
  • Buddhism is different than Abrahamic religions, Harris writes, because it aims to foster an understanding of reality and achieve selflessness. He writes:

Buddhism has been of special interest to Western scientists for reasons already hinted at. It isn’t primarily a faith-based religion, and its central teachings are entirely empirical. Despite the superstitions that many Buddhists cherish, the doctrine has a practical and logical core that does not require any unwarranted assumptions.

And:

Although many Buddhists have a superstitious and cultic attachment to the historical Buddha, the teachings of Buddhism present him as an ordinary human being who succeeded in understanding the nature of his own mind. Buddha means “awakened one,” and  Siddhartha Gautama was merely a man who woke up from the dream of being a separate self.

  • Meditation, like Vipassana practice, is useful in gaining insight into how our minds work.
  • Psychedelic drugs like LSD — the book contains a memorable passage about Harris’s experiences with the drug — are powerful tools, but their use can be perilous.

Google, India and Next Billion Users Follow up: More Data

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Following my story Tuesday about Google, India, and the future of the web, I wanted to share the text of some tweets, slightly edited for presentation here, that I posted after Google’s launch event.

These are some stats Google revealed at the gathering, along with a obvservaiton of two of mine:

–…India now has 400 million internet users, most accessing the web via their smartphones, Google says.

— Still, some 900 million Indians aren’t online.

230 million people use the web in local Indian languages today.

170 million are using messaging services, Google says, and 106 million consume online news.

— Some 1 billion apps are downloaded every month from Google’s Play Store, more than any other nation.

28% of search queries in India are done via voice.

Google is seeing 400% growth in Hindi queries year on year.

— On Google’s new India-first mobile payment app, Tez: launched 10 weeks ago, about to pass 12 million active users, Google says. 500,000 merchants are on the platform.

There are “big new features planned, especially for merchants,” in 2018, said Caesar Sengupta, of Google’s Next Billion Users team.

Re-cap of new stuff: Android Oreo (Go edition), for inexpensive smartphones. Google Go, search app for beginner web users. Files Go, for freeing up space on (again, inexpensive) phones. Google Assistant for JioPhone. Maps feature for motorbike riders. [Note: more details are here.]

— And an incident that illustrates how tough voice search tech can be to get right. An exec was demo-ing how to use Google Assistant to find a restaurant in Delhi.

In live demo, he said: “How do I get there?”

The phone then displayed the text:

huawei adventure advocate?

— He and the audience laughed it off, and he tried again, asking for directions, and Google Assistant gave him directions to different location than the restaurant.

UPDATE, December 29: If you’d like to watch the event, you can find it on YouTube here.

Book Notes: ‘The Innovators,’ by Walter Isaacson

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting.

For more, see my Book Notes category

the_innovators_walter_isaacson

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Published: 2014
ISBN: 978-1476708690
Amazon link

Brief Summary

An exhaustive, compulsively readable account of how the computer and the internet came to be.

My Notes

  • If you’re looking for a comprehensive account of how some of the 21st century’s most important technical inventions came to be, this is it. It is long, at just under 500 pages, but is well paced and fascinating throghout.
  • Isaacson, who’s written acclaimed biographies of Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin and more, does an excellent job synthesizing what is fairly complex engineering material into a wide-ranging look at how innovations occured and — most important — what drove the men and women behind them.
  • An over-arching theme is that innovation is a group effort. Forget the idea of solo inventors toiling away in labs. Big breakthroughs happen via team efforts, often when engineers are paired with visionaries. In workspaces, physical proximity is important so that workers can share ideas.
  • The transistor was to the digital age what the steam engine was to the industrial age.
  • Vacuum tubes led to transistsors, which led to semiconductors and then microchips.
  • A group of men from a more traditional semiconductor company on the east coast headed west what is now known, yes, as Silicon Valley, to start their own operations (or startup). Their style was much more laid back, with unconventional work practices, a culture that prevails today.
  • Venture capital began as rich East coast families began backing west coast startups.
  • As most people know, government spending has always propelled the U.S. tech industry. A government project that started as a way for universities to share computing power, orginally begun as a government funded initiative to provide a secure means of communication in the event of a nuclear attack, became the internet.
  • In 1969 alone, that project began, NASA put a man on the moon, and microprocessors emerged.
  • The internet expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, but it didn’t hit a critical mass commercially until Sept. 1993.
  • Bill Gates and Paul Allen created the software industry.

By Me Yesterday: Google, India, and the Future of the Web

india_traffic

The story begins:

NEW DELHI—An explosion of smartphone usage in India is changing the way Alphabet Inc.’s Google sees the future of the internet.

As a mobile price war in the South Asian nation has slashed data rates to less than $5 a month for unlimited high-speed access, hundreds of millions of people are getting online for the first time and bingeing, stretching their low-end smartphones to the limit.

The Mountain View, Calif., company rolled out several apps and functions Tuesday aimed directly at these net newbies and those like them in other emerging markets.

As online activity here has increased this year, the inexpensive smartphones used by many consumers have struggled to handle the surge. To help, Google has shrunk the file size of its mobile operating system and many popular apps. Users in India are frequently offline so Google has given them the ability to do more without an internet connection. Also, they are much more likely to get around on motorcycles than in cars so Google Maps has started offering suggested routes and travel-time estimates for two-wheelers.

Click through to read the rest.

For more on the products, here’s a blog post from Google containing additional details.

💰💻 Newley’s Notes 113: Special Bitcoin Edition

money

Edition 113 of my email newsletter went out yesterday.

To subscribe, simply enter your email address at this link. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes. If you like this newsletter, please invite others to sign up.

This week I wanted to devote some time to something that has been much in the news of late: bitcoin. Namely, WTF is it, and why should you care?

But first…

What I Wrote in The Wall Street Journal

Is Uber’s Grip on Southeast Asia Up for Grab?. The story begins:

When Uber Technologies Inc. retreated from China last year after conceding a costly battle with a local rival, the ride-hailing giant vowed to devote new resources to winning other lucrative markets in Asia.

Since then, Uber has suffered setbacks in Southeast Asia, a region of 600 million people, where it has been outflanked by another local player, Grab Inc., which is gobbling up market share. Grab has expanded more rapidly, been more nimble in meeting local preferences, analysts say, and has forged better relations with regulators.

With Uber set to receive a massive investment from Japanese titan SoftBank — also a big Grab investor — some Uber investors told me they think Uber could face consolidation in Southeast Asia (i.e. merge with Grab or otherwise withdraw from the region, like it did in China and Russia). That would be a big deal for the ride hailing sector in Southeast Asia, and could have global implications.

5 Resources for Understanding Bitcoin

Okay: So you must have seen the headlines over the last week or two. Bitcoin is up a whopping 900% this year, last week breaking the $11,000 mark. It was worth less than $1000 at the start of 2017.

Tulip mania? Dotcom bubble? A once-in-a-lifetime digital revolution you’d better get in on? All of the above? Read on.

First, some definitions:

Bitcoin is one kind of cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency is a form of digital money powered by networked computers, and existing apart from central banks. It’s akin to digital gold.

You can use cryptocurrencies to buy and sell some goods, just like traditional money. Another such currency you may have heard of is Ethereum.

Cryptocurrencies are built using blockchain technology, in which a distributed, public list contains all Bitcoin transactions.

You may also have have heard, recently, the term ICO. That stands for initial coin offering. Its when a company raises money by issuing cryptocurrencies that can be redeemed for that firm’s products or services in the future.

1. A good, basic Q&A is “Bitcoin: Everything You Need to Know,” a piece out last week by The WSJ‘s Paul Vigna, author of a book on cryptocurrencies (more on that below). And Vox has a more detailed piece called “Bitcoin Explained,” though it’s from a few years back.

2. For a TED Talk on Bitcoin, if you have 16 minutes to spare, check out “The Future of Money.” It’s a lecture by Neha Narula, director of MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative, in which she makes a case for the revolutionary potential of cryptocurrencies. If you fancy a longer look in visual form focusing on broader societal issues, there’s a documentary on Netflix called “Banking On Bitcoin.” Here’s the trailer.

3. How about a Bitcoin #longread? Here’s “The Bitcoin Boom,” Maria Bustillos’s New Yorker piece from 2013.

4. And a podcast? An excellent resource, in audio form, is portfolio manager Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s three-part audio series “Hash Power,” in which he speaks with various cryptocurrency experts.

5. Dig even deeper: an acclaimed book on cryptocurrencies. As I mentioned above, Paul Vigna, along with Michael Casey, wrote an exhaustive, compelling 2015 book called “The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order.”

Thanks for reading, amigos. Please share this newsletter on Facebook or Twitter if you like it.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

Newley

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