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 POP LOSER No. 86

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An Egg’s Idea for Getting More Eggs

Amazon is a tech company in the same way Uber is a tech company, which is to say it kind of isn’t. Certainly the use it and evolve it, but that’s all in the service of retail—they are a retail company. (AWS is a little muddier, so I’m just going to ignore it.)

So when it was announced that Amazon is spending $13 billion to buy Whole Foods, it’s odd to me that the tech press was who was analyzing the deal. Poorly. Because of course. The business press also did their part, which was marginally more relevant in a “share prices” sort of way, but substantially more boring in a “share prices” sort of way. The best analysis is the stuff that’s sort of confused and acknowledges that Bezos is a rich weird dude who sometimes buys things because that’s what rich weird dudes sometimes do.

But if Amazon isn’t really a tech company, why is the tech press spilling so much ink on this? (And why does Farhad Manjoo disagree with himself about the relative costs of guinea pigs?) As a tech writer (at least ostensibly), the running theme in my own work seems to be that I don’t at all understand a lot of things I used to take for granted. The Amazon/Whole Foods coverage has made me realize two things:

1. I don’t know what the tech press is or who it is for anymore, but I suspect it may a trophallaxis kind of situation.
2. I don’t care that Amazon bought a grocery store.

Related: Amazon buying Slack would be interesting to me.


Please Note: Pop Loser is on summer vacation and will return to weekly issues in about a month. Also, I finished this one on Saturday and set it to auto-send, so if I missed a thing that happened in the last few days, blame modern automation.
 

CONFUSIONS

Binky and the decline and fall of humanity.

I can “like” a bink by tapping a star, which unleashes an affirming explosion. I can “re-bink” binks, too. I can swipe left to judge them unsavory, Tinder-style, and I can swipe right to signal approval. I am a binker, and I am binking.

There’s just one catch: None of it is real.
​ […]

Some of the toy-dog aspects of mobile computing remain, along with the compulsive ones, too. But the novelty of touching the smartphone has long since ended, and the angst of its compulsive use is universally acknowledged. Those habits are here to stay, like it or not.


Media companies are over Facebook, which still doesn’t know what to do with content.

When Facebook Inc. wants to try something new, one of its first calls is to CNN. It was a key partner when Facebook introduced its news-reading app, Paper, in 2014. When the social network shuttered Paper soon after, transmogrifying it into a series of fast-­loading News Feed stories called Instant Articles, CNN remained on board. And last year, when Facebook began focusing on hosting live video, CNN was one of the few parties to which it paid a nominal fee to produce clips of, say, election results being projected on the Empire State Building.

But strain is showing in the relationship. Facebook’s latest pitch to publishers such as CNN is for them to provide a regular stream of TV-quality, edited, original videos that will give Mark Zuckerberg’s company a chance to compete with YouTube to siphon some of the $70 billion pouring into TV ads each year. In exchange, the publishers can share some of the revenue for ads that roll in the middle of the videos. Facebook will control all the ad sales.

It’s getting tougher for CNN and others to view these arrangements as mutually beneficial.


A year of eating Infinite Jest. And here’s an interview with this wonderful crazy person.


A Patreon for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, which I link to basically every issue and should probably support.


What would Kurt Vonnegut think of the Trump era?

Vonnegut’s narratives frequently begin with an anthropologist’s discussion of the setting we are about to enter. He often frames his narratives as plausible outcomes to perverse readings of history, politics, religion, and tribalism. And he dares us to think about the extension of these elements as they become hardened through orthodoxy. Trump is from the white, privileged, born-with-a-silver-spoon set, interested only in the continued aggregation of wealth without regard to the social burdens their material aims place on those born to less privilege. An important factor in Trump’s rise is his admitted reliance on the less educated and on evangelicals: the dogmatists.

Vonnegut’s antagonists scream with cartoonish piggishness.


​ Why do dickheads get all the Silicon Valley money?

Whatever Kalanick was doing, it seemed to be working. “Basically it’s just a matter of ‘Oh, he’s getting results,’” this employee said. Whenever Kalanick clashed with colleagues, or gouged customers, or made inappropriate statements in public or internally, investors and other supporters forgave him. “It was like, ‘Roll your eyes, that’s Travis being Travis. He’s getting results, the company is growing, it’s the best thing for the bottom line.’”

Go Get It: And now you too, liberal arts grad, can go work for a dickhead.

Two new books make a case that the technology industry can no longer be driven purely by software engineer hackers, and that you have a critical role to play in guiding it in more ethical and humane directions. That said, their authors differ dramatically about what that role is. Scott Hartley wants you to bring your skills and insights to the world of technology startups, to unlock the full potential of technological innovation. Ed Finn, on the other hand, seeks to hold the technology industry to account: he believes we need “more readers, more critics,” posing questions about who technology serves, and to what ends.

Not Entirely Unrelated: Wallace Shawn on how people should be.

We all, naturally, dream of revenge. It’s one of the most enjoyable and thrilling of fantasies. We all become excited when we imagine the day when those whom we’ve learned to despise, those whom we feel have gotten away with so much for so long, will finally pay a price, will finally receive the reward they’ve earned. And yet—the person who takes revenge, at that very moment, becomes too powerful; the person who punishes, at that very moment, becomes too powerful.

And: On Silicon Valley, which is at least in the conversation for best show right now.

Much like Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad before it, Silicon Valley is now about the corruption of its main character — the myriad ways Richard sabotages himself and others, and the moral depravity he’s capable of when seemingly backed into a corner. But unlike AMC’s grim tales of drug-running cartels and shady legalese, Mike Judge and Alex Berg are telling the same antihero narrative in a context that feels very real, immediate, and public.


Spotify: getting bigger, losing more money.

When will it be profitable? In its report, filed with European regulators, Spotify repeated a statement it has made numerous times over the years: “We believe our model supports profitability at scale.”

But it has never been clear what scale means. Since it began its service in 2008, and arrived in the United States in 2011, Spotify has grown extremely fast, becoming a household name among young people.

​We should probably all just move over to Apple Music now. Ugh.


The Chess.com app broke on older iOS devices because people are playing too much chess.

For Chess.com, the issue manifested on the front-end, in the app itself. If a 32-bit device tries to interpret an integer higher than 231–1, it fails. The app must have been making an attempt to store the game ID, which represents the iterative number of games played, as an integer variable. Only 64-bit devices can compute 64-bit integers, and while that kind of data bandwidth became available in PCs and laptops in the mid–2000s, it wasn’t introduced into mobile devices until Apple’s iPhone 5s and iPad Air in 2013.

(How about a nice game of chess? With me.)​

Also: iPhone apps are 1,000 percent larger than they were four years ago.

In fact, Snapchat is more than 50 times larger than it was four years ago, clocking in at 203 MB versus just 4 MB at the start of the period we looked at. It’s not the largest app among the top 10, however. That distinction goes to Facebook, which, at 388 MB, is 12 times larger than it was in May 2013 when it occupied 32 MB. It grew by about 100 MB in one update during September of last year.

Most of the developers I work with say the code in the Facebook app is garbage.


Canada’s largest newspaper chain is going under.

If Postmedia does go bankrupt, it should continue putting out papers. The Post kept printing and paying its writers during Canwest’s bankruptcy. “The death of Postmedia doesn’t mean the death of the Post or the Ottawa Citizen,” says Craig. “The ultimate hope is that papers will fall into the hands of a more solvent and more friendly local owners.”

My prediction from last year was that Postmedia won’t exist in anything resembling its current form by the end of 2018. Still seems possible.


They taught a computer to beat Ms. Pac-Man because nothing is sacred.

Though AI has conquered a wealth of retro games, Ms. Pac-Man has remained elusive for years, due to the game’s intentional lack of predictability. Turns out it’s a toughie for humans as well. Many have tried to reach Ms. Pac-Man’s top score, coming as close as 921,360. The game’s elusive 999,900 number though, has so far only been achieved by mortals via cheats.

Here’s a video about it.


They also taught a computer to design labels for Nutella jars.

Yes, algorithm. The word you hardly knew until HBO’s Silicon Valley focused an entire show about the immense power and responsibility that comes with creating one.

But instead of compressing files for a made-up startup, this algorithm’s output was millions upon millions of labels for real-life Nutella jars. “An algorithm has usurped the traditional role of a designer,” writes design magazine Dezeen. There are jars with polka dots. Jars with zigzags. Jars with splotchy shapes. All sorts of other patterns, too. Every one of them is eye-catching and colorful. They’d certainly stand out on the shelf at your grocery store.

This seems like the comeuppance designers deserve.


The New York Times is using an algorithm to better moderate comments on its website because apparently comments are still a thing on websites.

We have implemented a new system called Moderator, and starting today, all our top stories will allow comments for an 8-hour period on weekdays. And for the first time, comments in both the News and Opinion sections will remain open for 24 hours.

Moderator was created in partnership with Jigsaw, a technology incubator that’s part of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. It uses machine learning technology to prioritize comments for moderation, and sometimes, approves them automatically. Its judgments are based on more than 16 million moderated Times comments, going back to 2007.


Movie theatres are basically just roller coasters now.

It’s symptomatic of an industry struggling to give audiences something they simply can’t get online or from their television at home. And whether it’s extra-large screens or vibrating seats, the concept of making filmgoing “immersive” has become the latest trend. But enveloping audiences in a fictional world requires more than just technological add-ons. And in the mad rush to entice audiences into theaters, these new formats could undermine the most important reason to go to the movies of all.

I’ve discovered that horror movies that lean on jump-scares are best enjoyed in a crowded theatre with moving seats. Otherwise, I don’t care and suspect movie theatres probably won’t be a thing anymore.


An updated list of collective nouns.

A group of millennials who look different is called a marketing campaign.

A group of millennials who look the same is called a brunch.

A group of millennials who have laptops is called a co-working space.


Punk AF fidget spinners.

That brings us to this stupid thing which presented itself in my feed today: a Crass logo fidget spinner.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this isn’t “licensed” merchandise, but nonetheless, you can buy it for $6.89 on Amazon. If that’s not anarchy, then WHAT IS?

Crass’ 1978 declaration that “Punk Is Dead,” may or may not have been a true fact, but here we have a prime indicator—something Crass themselves would have called “another cheap product for the consumer’s head.”

Playlist: The Evolution of Punk (In Chronological Order).


The Joshua Tree, one of Instragram’s most necessary locations.

Ever since the original landscape got a facelift a hundred million years ago, Joshua Tree has served as a pleasing apricot/mauve/pink colorway, attracting two million visitors a year, at least twenty-five per cent of whom experience sick vibes en route to Coachella.


Typewriters, like vinyl, are popular among a small subset of weirdos.

From public “type-ins” at bars to street poets selling personalized, typewritten poems on the spot, typewriters have emerged as popular items with aficionados hunting for them in thrift stores, online auction sites and antique shops. Some buy antique Underwoods to add to a growing collection. Others search for a midcentury Royal Quiet De Luxe — like a model author Ernest Hemingway used — to work on that simmering novel.

The rescued machines often need servicing, and fans are forced to seek out the few remaining typewriter repair shops.

We have a vintage Underwood in my house that looks awesome and is awful to type on. I’d love a mid-century or IBM Selectric. And, yes, I’d really like to own one of those Freewrite things if you’re fishing around to buy me a gift. (Also: the Tom Hanks typewriter iPad app is garbage and he owes me like eight bucks.)


I am not at all worried that we can hijack the nervous system of a dragonfly for drone purposes. Nope, no terrifying long-term implications there.

Scientists successfully melded technology and dragonflies to make living micro-drones controlled by humans.

Engineers at Draper, a technology research company in Cambridge, and neuroscientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Janelia Research Center outfitted dragonflies with miniature “backpack guidance systems” to control the insects.


Transportation innovation is a flat circle.

Plates, but with rounded edges so your food doesn’t spill off. Email, but written by hand and delivered to your door. The sun…but for night!


Before the Internet.

Before the Internet, you’d have yawning summer afternoons when you’d flop down on one couch, then flop down on another, then decide to craft a fake F.B.I. card. You’d get some paper from your dad’s office, copy the F.B.I. logo and your signature, laminate it with Scotch tape, put it in your wallet, take it out of your wallet, look at it, then put it back in your wallet with a secretive smile.

It was a heady time!
 

INTERPLAYS

Obits: Stephen Furst and Prodigy. Video: Inside the Museum of Failureand People sliding in 80’s and 90’s movies. Music: “Billie Jean” as a spaghetti western theme. Trailers: Brave New Jersey, The Lost Arcade, Nobody Speak and Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. Websites: Social Cooling. Lit: Famous book hoarders and “Choose Your Own Adventure” maps.
 

Propaganda

Former NFL Tackle Ryan Ryan O’Callaghan Comes Out // Out Sports
O’Callaghan had always planned to commit suicide after football, until Kansas City Chiefs staffers stepped in.

The Alt-Right Found Its Favorite Cartoonist—And Almost Ruined His Life // Wired
Bigfork, Montana isn’t even a town. It’s an unincorporated community with a population south of 5,000, the kind of place where people still wave when they pass each other on the street. Scandal rarely makes its home there. So imagine the shock when, during the summer of 2015, the owner of a local art gallery received a flood of emails claiming that one of the artists she was featuring was a Nazi mass murderer.

After Oranges // Oxford American
In 1965 a young New Yorker writer’s story ideas were rejected one after another by the editor. Finally he said “Oranges.” “That’s very good,” replied William Shawn.

The Sociology of the Smartphone // Longreads
Smartphones have altered the texture of everyday life, digesting many longstanding spaces and rituals, and transforming others beyond recognition.

Will Social Media Kill the Novel // The Guardian
Writers thrive on privacy, not on Twitter. What does a world in which our interior lives are played out online mean for the novel?

An Artist for the Age of Instagram // The Atlantic
Is Yayoi Kusama’s new participatory-art exhibit about seeking profound experiences—or posting selfies?

Guns and (Shea) Butter: An Oral History of ‘Predator’ // The Hollywood Reporter
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the action-horror classic’s release, THR spoke to key players who persevered through oppressive heat, bugs, a “red rubber chicken” and the diva-esque behavior of a future star (no, not that one) to launch a franchise.

How Baseball Prospectus Stumbled Into Its Uncertain Future // Deadspin
Just before the 2016 MLB playoffs, Baseball Prospectus emailed its staff and contributors to tell them that they would not be paid for work they did in August and September until January 2017. The costs of a website redesign and the collapse of daily-fantasy ad spending, the email explained, led to the payment freeze.

The Rise and Fall of the High-Top Sneaker // Esquire
Once the NBA’s weapon of choice, the classic has been replaced by low-profile performance pieces in recent years.

"Instead of asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, it suddenly seemed that a chicken was an egg’s idea for getting more eggs."
Marshall McLuhan


Pop Loser is a weekly newsletter of innumerable confusions collected and written by Tyler Hellard.

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