July 2015 Articles

In an admittedly non-journalistic article posted on Re/code by Mike Gault, the CEO of a company who’s product is “industrial scale blockchain”, writes a good overview of what blockchain is.

A blockchain is essentially just a record, or ledger, of digital events – one that’s “distributed,” or shared between many different parties. It can only be updated by consensus of a majority of the participants in the system. And, once entered, information can never be erased.

In addition to introducing the technology, Gault tries to make the argument that we can trust our most personal and intimate information to systems based on blockchain without worrying about privacy. I’m still skeptical.

Steve Cheney wrote about System Wide Network Effects in Mobile and mentions blockchain:

System wide network effects are network effects that take hold when adjacent parts of an overall system are built out–e.g. smartphones, wearables, sensor networks, new physical layers, blockchain etc. Network effects at these layers are incredibly powerful as they effectively unlock compounded value from previous layers that was ready to be extracted. For example, for your smart device to provide accurate indoor context, a developer-friendly sensor / location stack needs to be built out.

His article is a little rough around the edges but the core concept of network effects being present and compounded as technologies build on existing technologies (one layer building on another) is an interesting idea to ponder.

The opening of Frederic Filloux’s latest Monday Note was what I resonated with most:

Moore’s Law has killed [photojournalism] in at least two ways.

First, it provided gear that makes it almost impossible to take a technically bad picture and, at the same time, it expanded the photographer’s creative space.

Then, smartphones broke loose: they allowed hundreds of millions people to snap decent pictures and to broadcast them all over the planet.

Between the global deluge of images and the devastated news media economy, the old photojournalism has all but died.

His article takes a turn as he looks at how mobile apps, specifically those designed for photography post-production, have taken off:

But the more momentous game changer occurred over the last three years when a new breed of photographers harnessed the power of social media to promote their works and skills. All of a sudden, a pool of new talent got access to a global marketplace, showcasing their images, reaching new customers.

This summarizes the commoditization of photography that has effectively stopped me from shooting with my Canon 5D Mark II a couple years ago.

Not good news for Windows Phone:

…We anticipate that these changes, in addition to other headcount alignment changes, will result in the reduction of up to 7,800 positions globally, primarily in our phone business. We expect that the reductions will take place over the next several months…

I am committed to our first-party devices including phones. However, we need to focus our phone efforts in the near term while driving reinvention. We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family.

I interpret that as Microsoft will continue to produce a Windows Phone, at least in the near term, but that their goal is to refocus on the Windows Phone operating system and software application in order to reignite interest in the phone and “create a vibrant Windows ecosystem”.

Ben Thompson in an excellent long-form article on Airbnb, the tenets of community, the extension of trust between unknown parties and the role of the Internet.

In the pre-Airbnb days travelers – and sublessors – justifiably prioritized trust above all else. In other words, the implication of Airbnb building a platform of trust is not that a homestay is now more trustworthy than a hotel; rather, it’s that the trust advantage of a hotel has been neutralized, allowing homestays to compete on new vectors, including convenience, cost, and environmental factors. It turns out homestays are quite competitive indeed: to return to my personal anecdote, I am living in a beautiful, remodeled one bedroom apartment in one of the best neighborhoods in this city, and paying a fraction of the cost of a mid-tier hotel for the privilege.

Here’s the kicker though: without Airbnb I wouldn’t even be making this trip. Staying in a hotel would not only be too expensive, it would also deny me the opportunity to at least get a taste of what it’s like to live day-to-day in a different country and culture – something you don’t get at your typical branded hotel.

I normally don’t go for Top 10 list type articles but I liked reading through Travis Bradberry’s strategy suggestions.

  1. They Never Touch Things Twice
  2. They Get Ready for Tomorrow Before They Leave the Office
  3. They Eat Frogs
  4. They Fight The Tyranny Of The Urgent
  5. They Stick to the Schedule During Meetings
  6. They Say No
  7. They Only Check E-mail At Designated Times
  8. They Don’t Multitask
  9. They Go off The Grid
  10. They Delegate
  11. They Put Technology to Work for Them

Ashley Nelson-Hornstein, an iOS developer for Dropbox, writes a good article covering four basic personality traits key to being an effective engineer. I especially like the first:

In my experience, empathy is one of the most overlooked qualities of an engineer - yet it’s my most valued. Empathetic engineers consider the impact their product will have on people. They realize that other humans will be using the software or hardware they create, so they make design decisions that take their humanity into account. They make the additional effort to safeguard privacy, and implement a product that is inclusive and accessible - because they’re able to put themselves in the perspective of other people.

Seismologists including Chris Goldfinger at Oregon State University, Brian Atwater with the USGS, and David Yamaguchi have studied something called the “Cascadia subduction zone”. Think of it like a major earthquake fault line in the ocean where two major tectonic plates slide, or attempt to slide, across each other. Based on the research of these scientists,

…we now know that the Pacific Northwest has experienced forty-one subduction-zone earthquakes in the past ten thousand years. If you divide ten thousand by forty-one, you get two hundred and forty-three, which is Cascadia’s recurrence interval: the average amount of time that elapses between earthquakes. That timespan is dangerous both because it is too long–long enough for us to unwittingly build an entire civilization on top of our continent’s worst fault line–and because it is not long enough. Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle.

Kenneth Murphy, Direcor of FEMA’s Region X — the division responsible for Oregon , Washington, Idaho, and Alaska — says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”