Marc Andreessen: It’s Time to Rebuild

Marc Andreessen decries the state of our infrastructure as a failure of will to build in this essay, published today:

Why do we not have these things? Medical equipment and financial conduits involve no rocket science whatsoever. At least therapies and vaccines are hard! Making masks and transferring money are not hard. We could have these things but we chose not to — specifically we chose not to have the mechanisms, the factories, the systems to make these things. We chose not to *build*.

It does feel that America has become complacent in its comfort the last couple of decades. We see other countries, notably in southeast Asia, produce comfortable, modern, elegant cities and build out all-encompassing technological infrastructures while we’re stuck with the aging result of long ago efforts.

There’s a lot to agree with here.

#rebuilding #infrastructure

NYT: The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It

Kashmir Hill, writing in The New York Times:

Asked about the implications of bringing such a power into the world, Mr. Ton-That seemed taken aback.

“I have to think about that,” he said. “Our belief is that this is the best use of the technology.”

The age-old response of the technologist who possesses no thought or concern for the wider world or their place in it, only their work. A child and his toy.
The article illuminates a new software technology for comparing an uploaded photo of an individual’s face with a vast database of stored images, which are in turn scraped from online media—including all those selfies and profile pictures we’ve added to our social media pages—in order to learn the identity of the individual.
Tweak that workflow slightly: Imagine how many embarrassing or compromising photos are floating around out there, waiting to be tagged with a name. Now that the technology to find those identities is available, the developer belatedly wonders at the implications. May you reap what you’ve sewn, Mr. Ton-That.

#facialRecognition #privacy

Apple Debuts Redesigned MacBook Pro

Apple, Inc.:

The 16-inch MacBook Pro takes workflow efficiency to a new level. The new Magic Keyboard features a refined scissor mechanism with 1 mm travel for a responsive, comfortable, and quiet typing experience. The Touch Bar puts powerful shortcuts front and center, and Touch ID provides fast authentication. A dedicated Escape key allows quick switching between modes and views. And the inverted-T arrow keys enable fluid navigation whether you’re flying through lines of code, navigating spreadsheets, or gaming.

Apple hit all my complaints about the current MacBook Pro keyboard in this write-up for the new, 16-inch MacBook Pro. The awful butterfly key switches are replaced by scissor mechanisms with more travel; there is once again a dedicated hardware escape key, and the arrow keys resume the traditional inverted-T formation.

The latter two items cause me no shortage of inadvertent and incorrect entry, while the overall feel of the current keyboard is a less-than-acceptable proposition. I expect an upgrade from my current machine to a 16-inch model will occur sometime in the coming year.

∴ The end of the butterfly

Jon Porter–The Verge:

Apple is planning to ditch the controversial butterfly keyboard used in its MacBooks since 2015, according to a new report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. 9to5Mac notes that Apple will reportedly move to a new scissor-switch design, which will use glass fiber to reinforce its keys. According to Kuo’s report, the first laptop to get the new keyboard will be a new MacBook Air model due out this year, followed by a new MacBook Pro in 2020. “We predict that the butterfly keyboard may finally disappear in the long term,” Kuo says.

It’s about time.

I’d held off buying a replacement for my seven-year-old MacBook Pro until the ill-regarded 2016-2017 keyboard design was tweaked for 2018. The new machine was, overall, excellent, but the tweaks didn’t solve my and others’ primary issue with the keyboard: it’s not so much a reliability problem for me as it is one of incessant annoyance.

The keyboard’s reduced key travel imparted by the butterfly switch mechanism makes it “clicky,” and the reduced key size and pitch make it hard to maintain accuracy. The lack of an inverted-T arrangement among the arrow keys makes it difficult to locate them without looking, and an easily mis-triggered soft escape key rounds out my complaints. In short, this keyboard is as lacking in design grace as the rest of the machine excels. As Steve Jobs famously stated, “design is how it works.”

I’m looking forward to reading how the newer keyboard design works later this year. If it improves functionality and reliability I’ll be in for a replacement MacBook Pro some time in 2020.

#Apple #keyboard #MacBookPro

On the fate of Malaysia 370

William Langewiesche–The Atlantic:

The important answers probably don’t lie in the ocean but on land, in Malaysia. That should be the focus moving forward. Unless they are as incompetent as the air force and air traffic control, the Malaysian police know more than they have dared to say.

A great, long-read investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 five years ago. There’s apparently more known by the local government than they’re letting on.

#malaysia #mh370

The hidden automation agenda of the Davos elite

Kevin Roose—The New York Times:

in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

There-in lies the fatal flaw in conservative labor policy: its embrace of unfettered capitalism ignores the human cost of unimpeded operation of the engine of wealth creation. Capitalism converts to value-added commodity every resource it encounters, including human resources.

(It’s telling that the people most directly connected to labor recruitment and benefits within an organization, the personnel office, was rebranded human resources at around the time real wage growth flattened—the era of Ronald Reagan and the rise of contemporary movement conservatism.)

Capitalism bridled by an overwhelming respect for and nurturing of the people exchanging their labor for pay and benefits is the progressive way forward. The executives meeting at Davos reject that, seeking replacement of (most) workers by artificial intelligence and automation. They are not friends of humanity. They are, at best, an adversary.


Automating work is a choice, of course, one made harder by the demands of shareholders, but it is still a choice. And even if some degree of unemployment caused by automation is inevitable, these executives can choose how the gains from automation and A.I. are distributed, and whether to give the excess profits they reap as a result to workers, or hoard it for themselves and their shareholders.

The choices made by the Davos elite — and the pressure applied on them to act in workers’ interests rather than their own — will determine whether A.I. is used as a tool for increasing productivity or for inflicting pain.

A clearly defined line is drawn. People or profit. Lean too hard into profit, as the congregants at the capitalist church of Davos self-confessedly will, and there will be few left to exchange hard-won income for the goods and services rendered by advancing automation.

There’s little concern about leaning too far in the other direction. The plight of workers and their families over the last four decades is evidence that their well-being in the off-hours is irrelevant to business interests.

#automation #Davos #capitalism #labor

The R-Word

John Gruber, writing for the prominent Apple-centric blog Daring Fireballon the possibility that Apple’s recent revenue miss for the holiday 2018 quarter points to a much greater problem:

I think what has [Apple CEO Tim] Cook spooked is not the drop in iPhone sales, but the fact that the iPhone sales drop in China might be a symptom of a bigger problem. An effect, not the cause. Apple has gotten crazily good at predicting everything about their financials. It’s almost freaky how accurate they’ve been for years. But they got something very wrong last quarter. Again, it was a slight year-over-year decline, but it was the second-best quarter in history. iPhone sales were disappointing compared to expectations, but weren’t bad in the abstract. What was bad was Apple’s guidance. A $7 billion miss is bad, but Apple not foreseeing a $7 billion miss is a red flag. I think they’re evaluating deeper plans just in case it was more than just one thing in one quarter. No one wants to say the word, but I think it’s what has Cook spooked.


As Gruber wrote elsewhere in this article, we cannot trust the economic data coming out of China as we can that from politically open countries. We’re left to glean secondary indicators like iPhone (and other product) sales as proxies for deeper trends within that economy. A wide variety of companies are warning on sales in China.

It’s a long-held belief that when the American economy sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. What, then, can we predict accompanies a Chinese economy tumbling into recession, if that is indeed happening?

Equities markets often provide an early hint that an economy is about to dive into recession. The US stock market hemorrhaged just prior to the last two economic downturns here—some would argue that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, even—leaving those with intuition room to step out of the way. I’m not a market-timer with my investments, and I don’t advocate anyone try. Catching the falling knife that is the eventual end of a market downturn is fraught with peril; it’s so much easier to get that timing wrong than right. Knowing what came before, and knowing that it’s never “different this time” can be useful managing one’s own investments, though.

All of which is to say there may be a far more interesting story playing out in the Chinese economy right now that may have significant implications for the US economy and personal investment later this year and next. I don’t trust the political hands at the wheel here in the US—Steve Mnuchin has prior experience managing big money, but is beholden to what he can convince Donald Trump of, and Trump, in turn, has little successful* experience at economic stewardship—leaving only cooler heads at the Federal Reserve as a backstop.

Think carefully about your level of trust vis-a-vis your financial future.

#China #recession #economy #Apple #indicators #investing

* how successful is a businessman who loses money and files bankruptcy on New York City real estate, which never devalues, and casinos, where people pay to give away their money?