A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘computers

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

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  • Bad Astronomy notes a new census of galaxies finding that there are two trillion in the universe.
  • blogTO reports on a new twin condo tower proposed for downtown Toronto.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on findings suggesting Earth barely escaped a third snowball period.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that no one wants to stay in Trump’s new Washington D.C. hotel.
  • Language Hat notes the effort to revive the language of the Miami.
  • Language Log notes pervasive censorship in China.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money dissects the idea of “locker room talk”.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at Thailand.
  • The NYRB Daily considers the Bob Dylan Nobel prize.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Jason Davis interviews the makers of the revamped Antares cargo rocket.
  • Towleroad features a guest essay by Hillary Clinton’s honorary gay nephew.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Orin Kerr looks at the future directions of computer crime law in the United States.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi notes that the GOP doomed itself.
  • Window on Eurasia considers the problem of melting permafrost in the Russian North.
  • Arnold Zwicky engages with an article on gay/straight friendships.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • Astrobeat U>notes the vulnerability of Florida’s Space Coast to Hurricane Matthews.
  • D-Brief notes that the Voyager probes are the most distant US government-owned computers still in service.
  • Dangerous Minds shares high-heeled tentacle shoes.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that a President Trump would enable anything the Congressional Republicans wanted.
  • The LRB Blog notes Vancouver’s fentanyl crisis.
  • The NYR Daily reports on the lives of dissidents harassed by extralegal detentions.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer maps the recent Columbian referendum and finds that areas beset by FARC actually voted for the peace plan.
  • Gay porn star and sometime political radical Colby Kelly, Towleroad noted, is going to vote for Trump in order to push forward the revolution.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at religious developments in the former Soviet Union.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Beyond the Beyond’s notes the imminent end of Moore’s law.
  • Centauri Dreams imagines what a stellified gas giant might look like.
  • D-Brief notes Ceres’ lack of large craters and looks at how New Zealand is declaring war on invasive fauna.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze looks at Venus analog Gliese 832d.
  • Joe. My. God. notes intensifying scrutiny of Trump’s Russian links.
  • Language Log looks at the portmanteaux used in the Japanese language.
  • The LRB Blog notes Erdogan’s many voices.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that slow economic growth will not undermine the Chinese system.
  • Steve Munro looks at the effects of construction on the 501 Queen.
  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the final landing site of the Rosetta probe.
  • pollotenchegg maps wages across Ukraine.
  • Savage Minds reports how war can fragment families, looking to Ukraine.
  • Transit Toroto notes GO Transit’s adding of new double-decker buses.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers the thesis that Trump is a consequence of the breakdown of traditional political parties.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at Daghestan’s restriction of movement of “potential” criminals.
  • The Yorkshire Ranter searches for a statistical link between austerity and Brexit.

[BLOG] Some social sciences links

  • Language Log considers the ideologies of digital scholarship.
  • Peter Rukavina considers what it means for archival purposes that Prince Edward Island used WordStar 2000.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog remaps the country by population and examines opinions in the European Parliament towards Russia.
  • Savage Minds considers what it means to be a participant-observer in as an ethnographer in the Ukrainian war.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little looks at the sociology of accident analysis.

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at photon propulsion.
  • Dangerous Minds links to an Austrian television special on Kraftwerk from 1981.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper identifying remnant planetary systems around bright white dwarf stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a study examining elements of the potential habitability of a young Venus.
  • Joe. My. God. reposts a vintage article relating the Stonewall riot.
  • The LRB Blog notes the strong divisions of the United Kingdom.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at reasons for growing nationalism among some lower-income groups.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw is concerned about the post-Brexit United Kingdom.
  • Peter Rukavina looks at his Raspberry Pi warning system for performances at The Guild.
  • Torontoist looks at how Brexit will affect Toronto.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes Brexit as a bad thing.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi looks at Brexit through the American lens.
  • Window on Eurasia claims Chinese interests are buying up large amounts of Siberian border land.

[LINK] Five links on the Microsoft purchase of LinkedIn

I have a profile on LinkedIn, but I’ll be damned if I’ve actually used the service for anything. I don’t quite know what it is for–most of the people I’ve talked to seem to be a like mind. That is perhaps why I was surprised to learn, from the CBC among others, that Microsoft was buying LinkedIn for $US 26 billion.

In a release Monday, Microsoft announced it would pay $196 US for every share in LinkedIn, a professional networking website at which users post their resumes online and can contact other companies and professionals. It has 430 million members, according to its most recent regulatory filings.

The price represents a 49 per cent premium from Friday’s closing price of LinkedIn shares.

“The LinkedIn team has grown a fantastic business centred on connecting the world’s professionals,” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said in the release. “Together we can accelerate the growth of LinkedIn, as well as Microsoft.”

[. . .]

If the deal is approved by regulators, LinkedIn will stay on as an independent unit within Microsoft, and chief executive Jeff Weiner will stay on at the company.

In LinkedIn, Microsoft gets access to more than 400 million customers and the opportunity to sell them more business tools, cloud services and other products.

Bloomberg’s Robert Lafranco was responsible for an infographic noting that the sale benefited LinkedIn’s founder personally to the tune of one billion US dollars.

Joshua Brustein’s article “How Microsoft Thinks Office Can Help LinkedIn and Vice Versa” notes what Microsoft thinks LinkedIn ownership can do for the company. The goal of integrating a social network with hundreds of millions of users with its office software is appealing.

As it stands now, LinkedIn is generally a place where people go when they’re looking for work, and Microsoft Office is a tool they use to actually do work. Keeping those two activities separate limits their appeal: Many people just don’t see a reason to check in on their LinkedIn accounts very often. Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn—one of the biggest deals ever in the tech industry—is based on the theory that people will start using both LinkedIn and Microsoft Office more if they’re combined.

In a presentation to investors on Monday, the companies stressed how much the two services could reinforce one another. LinkedIn has information that can help Microsoft Outlook users do last-minute prep for meetings. The same goes for a Skype call, or maybe even a document being shared through Office365. At a time when there’s a layer of social networking laid on top of just about everything, running a suite of productivity software that’s largely isolated can be a big disadvantage.

By buying LinkedIn, Microsoft is giving Office a social network of its own. In theory, it’s the perfect fit, because both are focused tightly on the working world. The collaboration could get people to use Microsoft software more often, making it less likely that they’ll cancel their subscriptions at the end of the year. Having access to LinkedIn’s data will also help make Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana, a bit smarter. Microsoft gives the example of the virtual assistant telling someone that the person she’s meeting with went to the same college she did, and giving her a quick update on how the school’s sport’s team did, presumably to give her some easy fodder for chitchat.

Chris Sorenson of MacLean’s is not optimistic about this.

So what, exactly, would LinkedIn, with some 105 million active monthly users, add to Microsoft’s menu? Some say LinkedIn will help broaden and deepen the appeal of Microsoft’s products among business customers. Others believe Redmond, WA-based firm is hoping LinkedIn’s reams of data about people and their employers can be tapped by its Cortana digital assistant to prep Windows 10 users for sales and other meetings. “It sounds smarmy, but a good salesperson will tell you that an emotional connection helps seal the deal,” wrote Mark Hachman, a senior editor at PCWorld.

For LinkedIn, meanwhile, the tie-up mostly offers it a reprieve from competition and angry investors. Earlier this year, LinkedIn’s stock plummeted 43 per cent in a single day after executives released a sales forecast that came in well below expectations. Though LinkedIn was once touted as superior to Facebook when it came to having a lucrative business model—it makes money by selling “premium” subscriptions to users as well as access to recruiters and marketers—the company has struggled to keep users engaged in recent years, sparking fears on Wall Street about overall growth potential. Now, LinkedIn can leverage Microsoft’s vast enterprise portfolio to build its user base. “Imagine a world where we’re no longer looking up at Tech Titans such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, and wondering what it would be like to operate at their extraordinary scale—because [now] we’re one of them,” wrote LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in a memo to employees about this week’s deal.

Yet, despite the potential advantages for both sides, there’s no guarantees the merger will work. Indeed, Microsoft has a long history of making poor acquisitions or, at least, failing to properly capitalize on them. Back in 2013, Microsoft purchased Finnish device maker Nokia for US$7.9 billion in a deal that was supposed to make both firms more relevant in a mobile market increasingly dominated by Apple and Google. Instead, the merger, which critics likened to two drunks leaning on each other, ultimately resulted in a US$7.2 billion write down for Microsoft last year. Microsoft’s 2007 purchase of online ad firm aQuantive for US$6.3 billion followed a similar script, with the software giant writing down nearly the entire cost of the deal five years later. And while Microsoft’s decision to scoop up Skype for US$8.5 billion in 2011 has hardly been a disaster, it’s not as if the communications platform—which, incidentally, was previously owned by a group of investors that included the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board—has transformed Microsoft’s business in a meaningful way.

Bloomberg View’s Conor Sen sees this in the context of economic bubbles.

For a better sense of where the bubble might be, consider how Microsoft is raising the cash to fund the deal. The money will come entirely from new bond issues, adding about $25 billion to a debt load that has already increased by about $15 billion over the past year:

Corporate debt issuance has surged since the 2008 financial crisis for a variety of reasons, including central banks’ easy-money policies, low or negative interest rates in much of the developed world, and foreign central banks’ more recent moves to purchase corporate bonds directly. In the U.S., corporate bonds outstanding amounted to 27 percent of gross domestic product as of March 2016, up from 20 percent at the end of 2007:

To be sure, some of the debt issuance is a form of tax arbitrage: Instead of incurring tax liabilities by bringing in cash from abroad to pay for stock buybacks, U.S. tech and pharmaceutical companies are instead borrowing the money at home. That said, when a source of funding is too cheap it will be abused, and excess issuance is generally a big danger sign, whether it involves tech IPOs in the late 1990s, mortgage debt in the middle 2000s, energy debt in the early 2010s, or corporate debt today.

Justin Fox, also of Bloomberg View, sees this in the context of a closed-in digital frontier. Where else is there room for innovation?

“Even the very biggest app publishers are seeing their growth slow down or stop altogether,” Recode’s Peter Kafka wrote last week. “Most people have all the apps they want and/or need. They’re not looking for new ones.”

This could just be the result of a temporary bottleneck. Lots of people, myself included, currently own smartphones with only 16 gigabytes of storage. That’s often not enough space even to upgrade all the apps we’ve already downloaded — I’ve been having to delete apps on a regular basis for the past six months. Someday I’ll get a better phone and this will change, right?

Still, it seems like it’s more than just a storage-capacity issue. A handful of dominant mobile apps are crowding out the rest in terms of mindshare. And, at least in the developed world, there aren’t many untapped customers left to go after.

This situation may represent the new normal for the mobile internet and the internet in general. There could well be lots of revenue growth left — in the annual Internet Trends slideshow she released earlier this month, Mary Meeker of the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers pointed to rising advertising spending on mobile and the great potential of voice interfaces. Apple and Google, meanwhile, are hoping that app subscriptions will increase mobile spending. What there doesn’t seem to be, though, is a lot of truly virgin digital territory.

In the early days of the commercial internet, digital homesteaders could stake big claims. Now a small group of companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, mainly — already controls most of the territory. Facebook is only 12 years old, and five-year-old Snapchat now seems like it may be breaking into the mainstream. It’s not impossible for newcomers to find a niche. But as I’ve written before, the advantages to size seem to be growing. Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn, announced today, is just one more indication of that.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 13, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[WRITING] “How Literature Became Word Perfect”: On the advent of word processing for writers

Josephine Livingstone’s article at The New Republic describing how writers made the transition from typewriter to computer is a fascinating piece of history.

“As if being 1984 weren’t enough.” Thomas Pynchon, writing in The New York Times Book Review, marked the unnerving year with an honest question about seemingly dystopian technology: “Is It OK to Be a Luddite?” The Association of American Publishers records that by 1984, between 40 and 50 percent of American authors were using word processors. It had been a quarter-century since novelist C.P. Snow gave a lecture in which he saw intellectual life split into “literary” and “scientific” halves. Pynchon posited that the division no longer held true; it obscured the reality about the way things were going. “Writers of all descriptions are stampeding to buy word processors,” he wrote. “Machines have already become so user-friendly that even the most unreconstructed of Luddites can be charmed into laying down the old sledgehammer and stroking a few keys instead.”

The literary history of the early years of word processing—the late 1960s through the mid-’80s—forms the subject of Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s new book, Track Changes. The year 1984 was a key moment for writers deciding whether to upgrade their writing tools. That year, the novelist Amy Tan founded a support group for Kaypro users called Bad Sector, named after her first computer—itself named for the error message it spat up so often; and Gore Vidal grumped that word processing was “erasing” literature. He grumped in vain. By 1984, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michael Chabon, Ralph Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, and Anne Rice all used WordStar, a first-generation commercial piece of software that ran on a pre-DOS operating system called CP/M. (One notable author still using WordStar is George R.R. Martin.)

In the late 1970s and ’80s, brands of home computers proliferated: TRS-80 Model I, Commodore PET, Philips/Magnavox VideoWriter 250. All of these were stand-alone machines with price tags over $500. In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh personal computer, which included MacWrite, a word processor that couldn’t deal with documents over eight pages. Very few writers liked it—with the notable exceptions of Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Mona Simpson, who used MacWrite to compose Anywhere but Here while interning at The Paris Review. Simpson had an excellent reason for enjoying the new Mac: Her biological brother, Steve Jobs, had invented it.

Genre writers were among the earliest adopters of new word processing technologies—experimenting with them as early as the 1970s—since they were often more adventurous and less precious than their hyper-literary colleagues. Many of the highest-browed in the literary world resisted word processing for decades. Indeed, some writers would conceal the fact that they used a word processor for fear of being tarnished by an association with automation or inauthenticity. In a 2011 New York Times article, Gish Jen recalled colleagues at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1980s doctoring their printouts, adding unnecessary pencil annotations in order to make their manuscripts seem more “real,” less perfect. Perfect copy, after all, was for the typist, not the genius.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2016 at 9:45 pm