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Peter Thiel: saviour of the world. Or something.

I'm seeing lots of negative articles today about Peter Thiel bankrolling Hulk Hogan's lawsuits against Gawker Media. 

Not surprisingly, journalists have come out against Peter Thiel's actions because it is seen as an attack on free speech. They seem to have a conflict of interest here. Any attack on freedom of speech is an attack on journalists, and they don't generally like that.

I've really only got one thought on this though: Play with fire and get burnt.

Gawker played a dangerous game for years peddling gutter journalism. This has finally come back to bite them. But on the other side, Peter Thiel is creating some dangerous enemies who can also play a long game. How many people are going to reconsider going in to business with Thiel because of this? I'm sure there will be a few.

No one wins here. 

Update: I finally got around to reading the New York Times article about Peter Thiel and his secret war. There were several direct quotes that made it all sound pretty creepy.

“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said on Wednesday

He added: “I would underscore that I don’t expect to make any money from this. This is not a business venture.”

This makes it sound an awful lot like revenge. And if not revenge then maybe it's about creating the new standard of: All the news that Peter Thiel says is fit to print. Almost superhero level creepiness.

He also describes Gawker by saying:

"I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

He has obviously never come in contact with British tabloids. Or maybe just never been the target of them.

Tinder as travel companion

Amusing article from a couple of months ago (sometimes news travels slowly on the internet), from Travel and Leisure about using Tinder to hook up with temporary tour guides when travelling.

My goal wasn’t to get laid (though if the opportunity arose...) — I was more curious to see what Tinder could offer a single traveling woman besides just convenient sex. If I was lucky, maybe I’d have a good conversation with someone I would never otherwise have met, a meal at a restaurant I would have overlooked, in a neighborhood I might have neglected to visit, or a buddy to show me some wild underground party that I never would have been cool enough to discover — basically facilitating the other chief travel fantasy, experiencing a city as if it were your own.

It's always interesting to me when someone is using a service for a purpose slightly different from what it was designed for. An article like this also helps to remind me how old I am and how I'm not part of the Tinder (or Snapchat) generation.

Starring John Cho? Bring it on!

Great article and meme about how easy it should be to put non-white actors in any role. This issue is coming up more and more often: does every film role need to by played by a white man? Probably not.

So, why not have a film starring John Cho?

Recently, I have been watching the BBC series The Night Manager, where Olivia Coleman was playing the role of what had originally been a male part. But it really changes nothing to have the role played by a woman.

So, why not an Asian president, or a black James Bond? How much does it really change? The problem surely starts as a lack of imagination and keeping it safe rather than a lack of actors.

Imagine if your parents were Russian spies. Unbelievable but true story.

Shaun Walker at The Guardian writes the amazing story about a married couple of Russian spies living in Boston who raised their children believing that they we Canadians.

But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.

This is the story of spy fiction, not of the present post-Soviet era.

I'm not entirely sure whether I believe that the children were unaware of what their parents did. But it's possible. Incredible story regardless.

Thin-skinned Trump supporters get violent. Again.

There are many reports from a couple of days ago about a Trump supporter attacking an artist who created a nude image of Donald Trump. This from the Huff Po:

Illma Gore, whose pastel “Make American Great Again“ has been widely shared on social media, said a man attacked her Saturday near her LA home. The man drove up, got out of his black Honda Civic, hit her and yelled, “Trump 2016!” she wrote in an Instagram post with a photo showing her with a black eye. She said she wasn’t seriously hurt.

Now that Trump is the Republican nominee from the US Presidential race, we've probably got more of this to look forward to.

Only six months to go until the election. I can't wait until it's all over.

The difficulty of weight loss for 'The Biggest Loser' contestants

Interesting article from the New York Times today about the struggle of losing weight and keeping it off

Kevin Hall, a scientist at a federal research center who admits to a weakness for reality TV, had the idea to follow the “Biggest Loser” contestants for six years after that victorious night. The project was the first to measure what happened to people over as long as six years after they had lost large amounts of weight with intensive dieting and exercise.

The results, the researchers said, were stunning. They showed just how hard the body fights back against weight loss.

“It is frightening and amazing,” said Dr. Hall, an expert on metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. “I am just blown away.”

It has to do with resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest. When the show began, the contestants, though hugely overweight, had normal metabolisms for their size, meaning they were burning a normal number of calories for people of their weight. When it ended, their metabolisms had slowed radically and their bodies were not burning enough calories to maintain their thinner sizes.

This is a story that I have heard over and over again from friends and family. So many people I know have lost weight and then struggled to keep it off. Unfortunately the article doesn't actually contain any answers to this problem.

Blackbox: Thinking outside the box with games

I have just discovered the game Blackbox (Medium post from author). It is probably the only game that has ever made it on to the first page of my home screen. 

This is the weirdest game I have ever played. None off the interaction takes place by using the touchscreen. It is a game where you need to solve puzzles by using the many available interaction methods to solve them. For me, this has included adjusting the screen brightness, changing volume, using the camera, location sensors, etc, etc. 

The puzzles aren't hard to complete, if you know what to do. There are currently two puzzles that I have no idea how to solve and a couple more where I need to go to places to complete them. It has been challenging and fun over the past few days. 

Download it now. You won't regret it.

[Can't remember how I found the game, possibly via a tweet from Casey Liss.]

ICAO to require real-time tracking of aircraft

In news that should be a surprise to no-one, the International Civil Aviation Organisation will require aircraft to transmit their position at least once per minute and increase cockpit voice recording to 25 hours.

This is clearly in response to the disappearance of flight MH370. If that technology had been on the Boeing 777, it probably would have saved at least $100 million in search costs.

I'm a little surprised that a UN agency could actually make a recommendation and implement it as quickly as 2021. 

France investigating penalties for refusal to decrypt devices

From the AFP:

The controversial amendment, drafted by the right-wing opposition, stipulates that a private company which refuses to hand over encrypted data to an investigating authority would face up to five years in jail and a 350,000 euro ($380,000) fine.
Telecoms operating companies would be liable to lesser penalties, but still up to two years in jail.

I'm assuming that this likely won't become law but what happens if it does? Does Apple just stop selling the iPhone in France and any other country that enacts a law such as this?

The pendulum has swung a long way towards security over privacy in the past few years. It's only a matter of time before a law like this becomes reality somewhere. 

(via The Guardian and Ars Technica

 

Trump

Great article at Rolling Stone from a few days ago about Donald Trump. It's an interesting look at his methods and what it means for the American political system. 

The article was written by Matt Taibbi who was the author behind many of Rolling Stone's articles from a few years ago about the financial crisis, before he briefly headed to First Look Media.

The conclusions in the article seem well-considered and are quite different from any analysis I have seen elsewhere. Giving Trump credit where it is due and criticising him where appropriate. Unfortunately the article full of big words and great word-play such that many Trump voters might not fully appreciate the writing through their anger.

Apple and security

This week Apple published a brutal critique of demands from the FBI to create security holes and back doors in iOS.  

Apple makes few public comments that aren't directly related to selling their products. "Thoughts on Music" and "Thoughts on Flash" spring to mind. 

Over the past few years, security has been a big selling point for the iPhone and iOS devices generally. Apple is really putting their position out there.

They are asking: want do you hate more? Terrorists or snooping governments? But they are also saying they are big enough to stand up to the U.S. Government. Seems like a risky move.

Watch this space. 

 

#GOPdildo shows how different the US is

As someone living outside the United States, sometimes it is pretty hard to comprehend everything that happens there. 

The guns are crazy. The mass shootings and the tacit acceptance of them never end. Donald Trump and the apparent trainwreck that is the Republican party. The NRA buying politicians. As far as I can tell, most people outside the United States don't really understand the insane gun-nut culture that exists there.

#GOPdildo, the latest project from Matt Haughey of Metafilter, tries to highlight this insanity. He writes about it on Medium:

In the wake of most horrific news events, change takes place. We realize something in the system is broken and close the loopholes that make future events improbable or less likely. Yet with guns, we do nothing. No matter how high the body counts reach, we hear the same refrains: now’s not the time to talk about guns, if anything we need more guns in more places, and perhaps most famously the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

That there can be tens of thousands of deaths in the United States every year from guns is insane. Than nothing can be done about it because of the culture and the Second Amendment is criminal. 

Uber complains about regulation. In other news dog bites man.

In New Zealand, a review of the existing taxi and passenger transport rules was announced a few months ago. Some draft recommendations were released this week and a request for feedback. 

Taxis are fairly lightly regulated in New Zealand compared to the rest of the world. There is no restriction on the number of licenses or medallions available. 

To become a driver with the ability to carry paying passengers, a driver needs to obtain a P-endorsement on their driving license, which involves a Police check. There are a number of other requirements to become a taxi driver including local knowledge and the ability to speak English. 

Uber has got around the rules by acting as a private-hire service, which caters for setting a fixed-price in advance for a service provided. Uber doesn't quite fit within these rules but no one was too concerned. 

As a result of the review, the government is looking to cut back on the regulation, but retain several important parts of the law. Drivers must still have the P-endorsement, take a break from work every 7 hours and drive a mechanically-sound vehicle.

And yet Uber still complains. 

The P-endorsement involves a Police check, takes 6–8 weeks and costs about $1000. This is a significant outlay for a person looking to work for Uber. The New Zealand Government has decided that all drivers who carry paying passengers require this. 

The cost for the P-endorsement seems rather significant and I would like to see that reduced. But I wouldn't argue with the government needing to check drivers out themselves. Uber is a reputable company with stellar management and trustworthy drivers but the next company offering similar services might not be. 

I get the feeling that Uber would even complain about the requirement for drivers to have a driving license. 

 

Atlassian goes public with successful IPO

Atlassian is pretty well known in programming circles for creating Jira, along with several other tools. Personally, I used BitBucket, as an alternative to GitHub,  and SourceTree. 

They have just completed a successful IPO at a pretty decent valuation. Good to see successful tech life outside the Valley.

The IPO has created significant positive press for the company and hopefully will lead to future growth. They will need to grow a lot to justify their hefty valuation.

Never let a good crisis go to waste

The Verge have published an article about possible law changes in France in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. There is the possibility of shutting down public wi-fi networks and shutting down TOR. 

This is based on an article from Le Monde but I can't read French well enough to understand it so I'm posting The Verge link.

These changes concern me greatly. The ban on wi-fi is a dramatic over-reaction to this tragedy.

130 people were killed and many more wounded in Paris in November 2015. Any sort of ban on wi-fi seems trivial in relation to that and especially to the families of the victims. However, as someone who has travelled widely and relied on public wi-fi this measure would inconvenience millions of people for probably very little increase in safety, and almost certainly an increase in surveillance. 

As is always the case after a terrorist attack, there are calls to do Something. Something must be done! Usually the people calling the loudest for something to be done are the security services. Their job would be so much easier if only they could listen in on every phone conversation and read every email.

France have already listened to their military who have said that Something must be bombed and Someone must pay for this. 

Just like the United States started two wars and rolled back civil liberties after the September 11 attacks, it looks like France might be going down the same path. 

These could just be proposals that end up going nowhere. But hopefully they find their rightful place in the bin sooner rather than later.

Dropbox shutting down Carousel and Mailbox

Really bad news announced by Dropbox today: they are shutting down Mailbox and Carousel.

There have been rumours floating around for a while that Dropbox is in trouble and I think this confirms it.

The company purchased Mailbox two and a half years ago, possibly paying $100 million. And now they're shutting it down.

If Dropbox really is in financial trouble, then it is good that they are trying to do something about it. But is this going to be enough?

"This never would've happened if Steve Jobs were still alive"

[I’m getting annoyed that the Squarespace editor keeps crashing in Safari. I was within seconds of posting an article about the open-sourcing of Swift by Apple when I lost the whole thing. Really annoying but not much I can do about it except complain.

Anyway…]

When Apple announced the intention to open-source Swift at WWDC in June 2015, it was the single announcement that got the biggest cheer from the developers in the room. There was a bigger cheer than the announcement of El Capitan. Bigger than iOS 9. Bigger even than Apple Music.

At the time I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about but having seen what Apple has released at Swift.org and on GitHub, I’m quite impressed.

The Swift team have created a public roadmap of where they intend to go with Swift 3 and the whole commit history is available. Considering how secretive Apple was during the Steve Jobs era this is a big change. A huge change.

Amazing stuff.

Time for Jimmy Iovine to be put on a shorter leash

Jimmy Iovine is obviously are smart guy, but with the latest fiasco on This Morning, and the disaster that the the Apple Music announcement at WWDC this year, maybe he shouldn't really be a public spokesman for Apple.

"I just thought of a problem, you know: girls are sitting around, you know, talking about boys. Or complaining about boys, you know, when they're heartbroken or whatever. And they need music for that, right? So it's hard to find the right music, you know. Not everybody has the right lists, or knows a DJ or something."

The dangers of risky investing

I have a number of interests, of which writing about technology is just one of them. One of these interests is finance and the economy so I thought I would share an article about that today. 

There are two main ways to invest in shares.

You can be long, which means buying shares and expecting the price to go up. This is the normal way for a long-term investor to trade, and in the worst case you will only lose the amount of money that you have put in.

Conversely, you can be short, where you are expecting the price to go down. This means that you borrow the shares, sell them and hope to buy them back at a later date for less than you sold them for.

Being short isn’t necessarily that risky most of the time, when prices only move by a few percent per day, however a recent case shows how risky it can be. 

Joe Campbell has just started a GoFundMe campaign after waking up this morning to find that his E-Trade account was $106,000 in the red.

This has been devastating for him, after having $37,000 yesterday and -$106,000 today, a total loss of over $140,000.

At the moment not only is my $37k gone, but I now owe Trade the negative balance of over $106k. I always knew I could blow up an account and I was financially able to “afford” to lose the $37k. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Etrade would NOT have some sort of stop or circuit breaker in place that would automatically cut a position if the account went to $0

This happened when a stock that he had been short in went up about 800% overnight. This is obviously an unlikely event, but unlikely things happen all the time. This is the premise of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan.

If you’re going to do risky things, at least be aware of all the risks. This man wasn’t fully aware he could lose more than 100% of his money and it has cost him dearly.

Update: looks like the GoFundMe page has disappeared but here is a MarketWatch article about it.