Thursday, August 16, 2018

Stephen Miller is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.   

OpinionPolitics

David Glosser, in an opinion piece published by Politico:

I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

If I had to choose a single word to describe the Trump administration, ‘hypocrisy’ would be very high on the list of options. Whether it is Trump himself or the people he surrounds himself with, there is a seemingly endless list of examples.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Things of Interest Goes Secure

DesignTechnology

As you might have already noticed, over the past week I’ve spent some time migrating Things of Interest from a web server that used a regular unsecured HTTP connection to one that uses HTTPS. While there isn’t any particular reason that our visitors would need to keep their connection to this site private, it is now industry best practice and serving pages via HTTPS can apparently help with getting higher Google search rankings.

Since changing a website from HTTP to HTTPS is a fairly significant task, I also took the opportunity to switch web hosts at the same time. Things of Interest is now hosted on a cloud platform designed specifically for WordPress sites (the blogging software that powers the site), so you should notice a much more responsive site. As an added advantage, the host can automatically scale the resources dedicated to Things of Interest and that should allow us to grow over time and help us handle any temporary traffic surges more smoothly.

Finally, you also might have noticed a slight change to the design of the site — it was pretty subtle so you’re forgiven if you didn’t notice anything. With all the changes going on behind the scenes, it seemed appropriate to also give some love to the stuff people actually see.

Air Canada Unveils Back-to-the-Future Bid for Loyalty Plan   

Finance

Scott Deveau and Frederic Tomesco, reporting for Bloomberg:

The airline is teaming up with Visa Inc. and two Canadian banks on a C$250 million ($190 million) cash offer for Aimia Inc.’s Aeroplan rewards program. If accepted — and Aimia surged the most on record on the news — the deal would return the loyalty plan to Air Canada, which spun it off in 2005.

[…]

The surprise bid marks a shift in strategy for Canada’s biggest airline, which had announced plans last year to cut ties with Aeroplan and begin its own rewards program in 2020. Taking control of Aimia’s system would enable Aeroplan members to transfer their points to Air Canada’s program, eliminating the risk for the carrier that frequent flyers would stick with the old plan over the new one.

This deal stinks. If you are Air Canada, why not negotiate with Aimia in good faith for the Aeroplan program assets before publicly announcing that you are cutting ties in 2020 and starting your own loyalty program? That announcement can now only be viewed as a tactic to lower the value of Aeroplpan, making it an easier acquisition target. Sure, that probably seems like a great move on paper, but as a potential customer or investor, it comes off as cut-throat and downright unethical.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Mr. Rogers Was My Actual Neighbour   

Television

Adam Eisenstat, writing for Vox:

Mr. Rogers and the world I had stumbled into briefly after ringing his doorbell, the very world conjured on his show, offered a glimpse into how things could be if adults treated children with real respect.

Fred Rogers’s ethos was unlike any other: scrupulously moderate, tolerant, and anti-consumerist, driven by cutting-edge models of child development and infused with dollops of real Christian love. (Rogers was in fact an ordained Presbyterian minister.)

At the same time, his worldview was steeped in traditional values: discipline, modesty, self-control — preparing children for the real world of routine and responsibility. And he was training the parents of the future, delivering his message across the “vast wasteland” of television and directly into people’s living rooms.

The antithesis of Donald Trump.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How Amazon Scrambled to Fix Prime Day Glitches   

Technology

Eugene Kim, writing for CNBC:

Amazon, based in Seattle, Washington, started seeing glitches across its site as soon as Prime Day launched at noon local time on Monday. In response, Amazon rushed to its backup plans and made quick changes during the first hour of the event.

Updates made at 12 p.m. say Amazon switched the front page to a simpler “fallback” page, as it saw a growing number of errors. Amazon’s front page on Prime Day looked oddly simple and rather poorly designed, noted Caesar, saying a simplified web page was likely put up to reduce load on their servers.

By 12:15 p.m., Amazon decided to temporarily cut off all international traffic to “reduce pressure” on its Sable system, and by 12:37 p.m., it reopened the default front page to only 25 percent of traffic. At 12:40 p.m., Amazon made certain changes that improved the performance of Sable, but just two minutes later, it went back to “consider” blocking approximately 5 percent of “unrecognized traffic to U.S.,” according to one of the documents.

I’m a sucker for a good “story behind the story” and this is a really fascinating read. It’s also refreshing to know that even the best of the best sometimes make mistakes.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ulisti

iOS

Ulisti is a new app, available free on the App Store, created by yours truly.

For the past few months I’ve been working on it in my spare time, and I would really appreciate if you gave it a try. As this is version 1.0 there are still some bugs that I need your help in identifying and squashing, but more importantly I’d love to hear what you think works well, what needs improvement, and what features you’d like to see added next. I have a lot of ideas of my own for future enhancements, but I think version 1.0 is a decent starting point.

Here’s a brief overview of the app:

Ulisti is a simple and powerful way to make lists and keep them organized.

With Ulisti you can:
• Make rankings and countdowns of your top 10 favorite movies or the best restaurants in town
• Make checklists for your weekly groceries or important reminders
• Make alphabetically sorted lists for your recipe catalogue
• Make lists with custom ordering so you can control exactly what goes where
• Store photos, descriptions, notes, tags, and links along with your list items
• Sync everything to the cloud

With support for multiple list types, Ulisti replaces the need for several other apps. With useful features like clipboard awareness, you can quickly add photos or links to your list items. And with an ambitious feature roadmap, this is just the beginning!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Matrix in 4K HDR

Movies

I originally watched The Matrix in a friend’s basement when I was 16 or 17. It was a poor quality copy playing on his rather small TV connected to his rather slow computer. But that didn’t stop me from being completely blown away by the story and special effects. Fast forward 19 years and we now have Warner Brothers re-releasing the iconic film in 4K and high dynamic range. I watched it last night and was thoroughly impressed. The film’s special effects hold up incredibly well (not perfect in the CGI-heavy sentinel scenes, but pretty damn impressive for something almost 20 years old) and I would argue the story is even more relevant today than in 1999.

Definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reading Backlog

OpinionPoliticsReadingScienceTechnology

Pocket is a great app for keeping track of articles you want to read, but I often collect a lot more in there than I ever get around to posting. Here’s a small collection of articles that should have been posted over the past few years:

  • The man who brought us the lithium-ion battery at the age of 57 has an idea for a new one at 92 (Quartz, February 2015):

    Unlike the transistor, the lithium-ion battery has not won a Nobel Prize. But many people think it should. The lithium-ion battery gave the transistor reach. Without it, we would not have smartphones, tablets or laptops, including the device you are reading at this very moment. There would be no Apple. No Samsung. No Tesla.

  • How 5G will push a supercharged network to your phone, home, car (CNET, March 2015):

    5G networks will be about 66 times faster than 4G. That speed opens up intriguing new capabilities. Self-driving cars can make time-critical decisions. Video chats will make us feel like we’re all in the same room. And cities can monitor traffic congestion, pollution levels and parking demand — and then feed that information to your smart car in real time.

  • The Credit Card Obsessives Who Game the System—and Share Their Secrets Online (Racked, April 2015):

    Last year, Angelina Aucello took 90 flights across the globe. The 28-year-old stay-at-home mom spent close to nothing on trips to the Middle East, Australia, South America, and Asia.

    Her secret? Credit cards—and not just three or four. Aucello currently has 24 cards; she’s been avidly collecting points and miles on them for a decade.

  • John Oliver Shows How Dumb It Is For Cities To Finance Sports Stadiums (The Huffington Post, July 2015):

    American cities are shelling out big money for new sports stadiums — and John Oliver has one question: Why?

  • The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy (The Atlantic, October 2015):

    In 2011, several citizen scientists flagged one particular star as “interesting” and “bizarre.” The star was emitting a light pattern that looked stranger than any of the others Kepler was watching.

  • Jimmy Wales: I don’t regret not monetising Wikipedia (The Telegraph, January 2016):

    Fast-forward 37 years, and the now 49-year-old Wales is at the helm of a website so vast, it would take more than 21 years for a normal person to read the English-language pages alone.

    But, perhaps unexpectedly, he is also – as his wife’s maid of honour described him in a toast at their wedding – the one world-famous internet entrepreneur who didn’t become a billionaire.

  • America’s democracy has become illiberal (The Washington Post, December 2016):

    Two decades ago, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs that described an unusual and worrying trend: the rise of illiberal democracy. Around the world, dictators were being deposed and elections were proliferating. But in many of the places where ballots were being counted, the rule of law, respect for minorities, freedom of the press and other such traditions were being ignored or abused. Today, I worry that we might be watching the rise of illiberal democracy in the United States — something that should concern anyone, Republican or Democrat, Donald Trump supporter or critic.

  • Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13.’ (The New York Times, March 2017):

    Ordinary Canadians had essentially adopted thousands of Syrian families, donating a year of their time and money to guide them into new lives just as many other countries shunned them. Some citizens already considered the project a humanitarian triumph; others believed the Syrians would end up isolated and adrift, stuck on welfare or worse. As 2016 turned to 2017 and the yearlong commitments began to expire, the question of how the newcomers would fare acquired a national nickname: Month 13, when the Syrians would try to stand on their own.

  • History Tells Us What Will Happen Next With Brexit And Trump (The Huffington Post, July 2017):

    My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50-100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit and Trump are dismissed now.

    Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Inside the Amish town that builds U2, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift’s live shows   

DesignMusicTechnology

Stephen Armstrong, writing for WIRED, gives an intriguing glimpse into the company at the forefront of live show set design:

It’s always a difficult moment for designers such as Lipson and Williams when rock stars doodle their concepts for stage shows. To get a stadium tour from notion to opening night costs tens of millions. Thousands of people are needed to design, build, assemble, market and sell the show. The technology involved often doesn’t exist yet.

In this case, at first, the set design looked simple – a 61-metre-wide, 14-metre-high 8K LED video screen painted gold with a silhouette of a Joshua tree picked out in silver. During the second half of the show, the screen would show epic high-definition American landscapes shot by photographer and director Anton Corbijn. There would also be a tree-shaped catwalk and satellite stage extending into the audience, plus steel trusses that dangled lights and speakers high above the stage.

To deliver that concept, however, required at least three world-first equipment prototypes: a video-controlled follow-spotlight that tracked performers using a CCTV system; a state-of-the-art carbon-fibre video screen (the largest and highest resolution ever used for a concert tour, with pixels just 8.5mm apart); and prototype speakers from audio specialists Clair Brothers that are so powerful, only 16 speakers are needed to flood even the largest stadium with sound.

I’m always wowed by the spectacle of the massive sets and stunning tour productions put on by big-name artists, but I had no idea that so many of them come from the same source – Tait Towers. Take a look at the company’s impressive portfolio which includes work for The Academy Awards, AC/DC, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, The London Olympics, The Rolling Stones, and many more.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings?   

Politics

Max Fisher and Josh Keller reporting for the New York Times:

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The next time you hear someone proclaim, “guns aren’t the problem, ______ are the problem” stop and inform them that in fact guns are LITERALLY the problem.