Monday, March 23, 2015

Stuff I'm reading, day off edition

There was a heavy fog overnight. The local news station was generous and labelled it "rain".

  • Dear Data
    Each week we collect and measure a particular type of data about our lives, use this data to make a drawing on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and then drop the postcard in an English “postbox” (Stefanie) or an American “mailbox” (Giorgia)!

    Eventually, the postcard arrives at the other person’s address with all the scuff marks of its journey over the ocean: a type of “slow data” transmission.

    By creating and sending the data visualizations using analogue instead of digital means, we are really just doing what artists have done for ages, which is sketch and try to capture the essence of the life happening around them. However, as we are sketching life in the modern digital age, life also includes everything that is counted, computed, and measured.

    We are trying to capture the life unfolding around us, but instead we are capturing this life through sketching the hidden patterns found within our data.

  • The billionaire’s typewriter
    I re­al­ized I dis­agree deeply with Medium about the ethics of de­sign. And by ethics, I mean some­thing sim­ple: though Medium and I are both mak­ing tools for writ­ers, what I want for writ­ers and what Medium wants couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Medium may be avoid­ing what made the type­writer bad, but it’s also avoid­ing what made it good. Writ­ers who are tempted to use Medium—or sim­i­lar pub­lish­ing tools—should be con­scious of these tradeoffs.
  • The Battle Is For The Customer Interface
    The new breed of companies are the fastest-growing in history. Uber, Instacart, Alibaba, Airbnb, Seamless, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google: These companies are indescribably thin layers that sit on top of vast supply systems ( where the costs are) and interface with a huge number of people ( where the money is). There is no better business to be in. The New York Times needs to write, fact check, buy paper, print and distribute newspapers to get their ad money. Facebook provides a platform for us to write our own content, and Twitter monetizes the front page of newspapers, which happens to now be the Twitter feed.
  • Inside the Mad, Mad World of TripAdvisor
    For travelers the impact has been equally profound. What begins as a simple search-engine query becomes an epic fact-finding mission that leaves no moldy shower curtain unturned, a labyrinthine choose-your-own-adventure—do you read the one-bubble rant?—in which the perfect hotel always seems just one more click away. For all the power of the service, it raises deep questions about travel itself, including, most pressingly, who do we want—who do we trust—to tell us where to go? “The future,” Don DeLillo once wrote, “belongs to crowds.” Are we there yet?
  • Beware of Airbnb entering the hyperlocal travel guide business
    Airbnb wants to build a community of users, itself structured in homogenous layers (e.g. young families looking for budget rentals, yuppies aiming at trendy places…) There’s even the growing crowd of professionals who prefer an Airbnb apartment free of the check-in/out hassles of hotels, and who will gladly trade unexciting room service for a super-fast DSL connection. (I’m told a growing number of Googlers do so for their business trips, with their employer’s blessing.) Each of these sub-communities will be far more likely to trust their peers than the usual travel guides
  • California's About to Run Out of Water. We Have to Act Now
    Today, most of the state’s agricultural land is used to grow high-end crops like pistachios, almonds, and wine grapes, which require water every year. Without H2O, these crops die and farmers lose out on millions of dollars. “Twenty years ago I could talk to a farmer and say, ‘Take a year off farming and we’ll pay you double and give us the water,’” says Kightlinger. “Now they can’t take a year off production. It’s made it much more difficult to free up water in a drought.”
  • Andrew Bate’s Swarmfarm Robotics finds a more efficeint way to spray weeds
    As he thought about the challenges ahead, Bates realised that bigger was not necessarily better when it came to equipment. He began thinking about using new technology in the form of small unmanned robots. Digital smart automation, he believed, could hold the key to new and improved farming systems. Instead of using one large expensive tractor, farmers could use swarms of small, simple, clever robotic machines. He and his wife Jocie, an agricultural economist, set up Swarmfarm Robotics. Working with Sydney University’s Centre for Field Robotics and Queensland University of Technology, he developed a new robot to spray for weeds. Weighing only 200kg, and measuring about five metres across, the self-propelled device can be powered by either an electric or a diesel motor.
  • Warren Buffett Just Wrote His Best Annual Letter Ever
    I have read all 50 of Warren’s letters and feel this is the most important one he has ever written. It’s really three letters in one. First there’s his usual look back at Berkshire’s performance in 2014. Then, because this is the 50th anniversary of his buying Berkshire, there’s a separate section where he goes through the history of his leadership. Finally, his colleague Charlie Munger writes his own look at the company, which is also excellent.
  • We Buy Broken Gold
    The fact is, they’re already weakened: that’s what they’re doing in your store in the first place. They need the money. It’s not quite stealing gold fillings out of the pulled teeth of weary soldiers, but it’s the same principle. Use your expertise to exploit the weakness of someone who doesn’t know any better, and do it in a situation in which he believes he has reason to trust you. Why would a wealthy diamond merchant in a three-thousand-dollar suit want to cheat me out of a hundred bucks’ worth of gold?
  • Reasons not to use Facebook
    Why you should not "use" (i.e., be used by) Facebook.
  • Man In The Moonbase (Part 1) : The Death and Life of the Best Game You Never Played
    Moonbase would be Humongous Entertainment’s gateway game—a bridge that transitioned preteen fans of our Backyard Sports titles into more mature strategy games like Starcraft, Command and Conquer, or Cavedog’s own Total Annihilation. “It seemed foolish to capture the adoration of these young kids—to really build a reputation for quality with them by working hard—and then to just let them drop off the map. We had to evolve, we had to find new opportunities.”
  • In fantasy worlds, historical accuracy is a lie
    But though almost anything's possible within Dragon Age's beloved world of Thedas, something feels off. Although Dragon Age is a fantasy roleplaying game, Thedas is overlaid with a faux-European sociopolitical landscape -- and that means there are few people of color among its citizenry. Why do the sinister old arguments of "historical accuracy" still apply to this fantasy world?

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