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The need for Social News Aggregators

Attempts to create open source alternatives to Facebook failed. the reasons are similar to why Linux never really made it as a mainstream desktop OS: user interface, ease of use, lack of applications geared towards end users. Open source cannot compete will the technology giants, who can pour millions into developing partnerships and building their walled garden ecosystems.

But Linux is far from a failure. It is THE standard for server-side uses. Lesson here is one I repeat endlessly to clients. There’s no such thing as the ultimate product that can fulfill all possible use cases. Let Apple and Microsoft have their desktop OSes, let Google and Apple dominate the mobile space, let Facebook and Twitter dominate social networks. Social networks are great for banter, bragging, arguing, meeting new people & sharing otter videos. But we need to take back control of how we gather news and information. Yes, by resurrecting RSS and Atom possibly, by creating a Goodreads for news and blog aggregators.

It would be great to work on a social news and blog aggregator, integrated with facebook, so one can create lists and share them with FB friends, and have a twitter-like real-time feed of articles friends have read/shared/liked, or lists of interesting sources friends have created. I’ve found none so far that are free that do just that, but many tools and libraries exist, it’s just a case of patching them together.

Liu Cixin’s Deaths’s End

“Weakness and ignorance are not barriers to survival, but arrogance is”

Liu Cixin’s final instalment of the Three-Body Trilogy, Death’s End, takes our nice normative homilies and throws them at a dark yet mostly scientifically-correct universe to see what sticks. The end result is surprisingly less pessimistic than one would expect. If one were to novelise Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound, the Three-Body trilogy would be it. I would compare TB to Rick & Morty. Morty is the well-intentioned leftie that spouts the homely normative claims about how civilisation should be, cooperative vs competitive, market competition vs socialism, etc, but his claims are too parochial, too constricted historically. When these claims are examined through the temporal and spatial scales of the actually existing universe, they’re completely ridiculous. They’re not even worthy of contemplation by the Trisolarian aliens, whose fitting response in the first book is simply: “you’re bugs”.

Rick knows all of this already, he’s travelled a fair bit around the multiverse and easily destroys Morty’s moral positions and normative claims for the puerile idiocies that they are. Rick, like Liu Cixin, knows the universe is cold, bleak and indifferent, driven by natural forces of immense power, and, by short SF extrapolation, very possibly inhabited by extremely powerful and advanced alien species, for whom committing mundicide is as routine as scrubbing bugs off a windscreen. Yet, in these depictions of the universe there is still place for hope, cooperation and love. Which is granted a much higher status as these are recognised as being all the more rare and therefore worthy of treasuring and defending.

“Mere existence is already the result of incredible luck. Such was the case on Earth in the past, and such has always been the case in this cruel universe. But at some point, humanity began to develop the illusion that they’re entitled to life, that life can be taken for granted.”

Innovation or Outsourcing?

I do praise Apple for its history of kicking Microsoft in the gut. It’s one of the few companies that has managed to do this (albeit never directly) and get away with it, the results being better technology for end users and ultimately that is all that is important. Yet this latest trend of taking design shortcuts by essentially outsourcing interconnectivity to external peripherals is, interesting. Immediately other forms of outsourcing come to mind.

Outsourcing is largely done to offload risks, cost and externalities onto a third party. This is a core global business logic with disastrous effects on the planet and on people. Outsourcing makes it possible for Apple to claim ethical business practices while Foxconn workers commit suicide and the horrors of coltan mining in Congo happen, elsewhere.

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image from wikipedia

Apple is not really innovating here, they are merely outsourcing the physical hassles of digital to analogue conversion (DAC). The audio jack hasn’t changed in a century because sound is created by way of physical vibrations in speakers and its design is good enough. Apple would have innovated had they delivered a new approach to transmitting the digital information in an audio file, by inventing a connector reduced in size with equal or better analogue audio fidelity characteristics, or by inventing new ways of using digital audio information to make speakers vibrate just the right way to create higher quality sound. Instead they just externalised/outsourced the problem.

This is outsourcing with a thin veneer of innovation marketing as cover. I write this on a 2015 Macbook with only one USB-C port. I need another device (at my cost of course) to connect anything to it. Apple and Microsoft. Trump and Hillary.

Curiosity, Complexity and Chaos

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A global client is surprised that the most advanced, working technical implementation of a certain system is to be found in their Brazilian subsidiary. This is something I find again and again consulting for global organisations, not just Brazil of course, but any of the many, much ignored places that happen to also contain the most of the world’s population.

Europeans and Westerners are still waking up to the fact that they aren’t at the cutting edge of innovation, or even geopolitically relevant (except when they use overpriced military gizmos to kill innocents with “smart” warfare. F35s and multi-million dollar remote controlled airplanes: dazzling innovation). Go home Europe, you old drunk.
That ‘chaos’ that Germans find abroad on holidays in the global south – which to them, confirms their domestic superiority – is in fact an error-tolerant order they are incapable of comprehending.

Order within systems must not be confused with aesthetic value judgements. There is a horror inherent in the Germanic aesthetic sense of order and cleanliness which no amount of disinfectant and obsessive-compulsively designed public spaces can extirpate.

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