Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bibliotherapy: Can you read yourself happy?


For authors of self-help guides, no human problem is too great or too small. Want to become fitter, richer or happier in 2015? There are books for it – shelves upon shelves of them. Hoping for increased efficiency, decisiveness and creativity in the months ahead? There are titles for that too.
As we knuckle down to our New Year’s resolutions, we’ll turn in droves to self-help books, hoping to find our own best selves in their pages. But a book needn’t hector or lecture to leave its imprint. The truth is that all good literature changes us, and a growing body of research suggests you might do better browsing through fiction for support in battling life’s challenges. Think of it less as self-help than ‘shelf help’.
Reading has been proven to sharpen analytical thinking, enabling us to better discern patterns – a handy tool when it comes to the often  baffling behaviour of ourselves and others. But fiction in particular can make you more socially able and empathetic. Last year, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology published a paper showing how reading Harry Potter made young people in the UK and Italy more positively disposed towards stigmatised minorities such as refugees. And in 2013, psychologists at the New School for Social Research found that literary fiction enhanced people’s ability to register and read others’ emotions.
We think of novels as places in which to lose ourselves, but when we emerge, we take with us inspiration from our favourite characters. A 2012 study by researchers at Ohio State University found that this process could actually change a reader’s behaviour. In one experiment, participants strongly identifying with a fictional character who overcame obstacles to vote proved significantly more likely to vote in a real election.
They may not promise transformation in seven easy steps, but gripping novels can inform and motivate, short stories can console and trigger self-reflection, and poetry has been shown to engage parts of the brain linked to memory. Sometimes an author helps by simply taking your mind off a problem, immersing you so fully in another’s world and outlook that you transcend yourself, returning recharged and determined.
As Aristotle noted in his Poetics, poetry – by which he meant fiction in general – is more serious than history. While the historian is preoccupied with what happened when, fiction allows us to see what could happen, exercising our imaginations and often our sense of morality along the way.
A story needn’t lift your heart in order to lift your mood. As author Jane Smiley confides in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, “Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book”. Experiencing the trials and tribulations of a fictional character can even open us up to problems we’ve been ignoring, sparking rewarding conversations – or offering a way into one that’s proving daunting or difficult. And whatever the fix you find yourself in, there’s always a book to remind you that others have been there before, it’s just a question of finding it.
A reading cure
That’s where bibliotherapy comes in. Practised around the world by psychologists, social workers, and counselors along with librarians, it’s become something of a buzzword in the past few years, drawing scholarly researchers and bloggers alike. Alain de Botton’s London-based School of Life even has a quartet of resident ‘bibliotherapists’, including Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, whose book The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies is a thrifty alternative to the school’s £80 ($120) consultations.
Yet the notion of books as remedies for emotional disorders isn’t as new-fangled as you might imagine. The ancient Greeks posted signs above library doors, informing readers that they were entering a healing place for the soul. And in the 19th Century, doctors and psychiatric nurses doled out everything from the Bible to travel literature and works in ancient languages.
Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary first acknowledged bibliotherapy in 1941, defining the term as “the employment of books and the reading of them in the treatment of nervous diseases”, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first popped up in print in 1920, in Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop.
Set in a world still reeling from World War One, the novel pairs a screwball rom-com involving a young adman and the heiress to a prune empire, with a German plot to blow up the US president. It’s a period piece, really, but its backdrop – a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn called Parnassus at Home – remains a bibliophile’s paradise, fragrant with the scent of “mellowed paper and leather” and tobacco from the pipe that its owner, Mr Mifflin, puffs away on day and night.
Mifflin is not just a bookseller, though, he’s a “practitioner of bibliotherapy”. As he explains it, “My pleasure is to prescribe books for such patients as drop in here and are willing to tell me their symptoms... There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it.”
Mifflin already knew what researchers at the University of Sussex have since attempted to quantify: that reading is a more efficacious stress reliever than listening to music, going for a walk or sitting down with a nice cup of tea. After just six minutes with a book – any book – their subjects found stress was reduced by up to 68 per cent. With the right book, that really could be time well spent.
That’s why we’re launching our very own bibliotherapy column. Send us an email to tell us what ails and what irks you, be it broken resolutions or a broken heart, whether you’re feeling lost in life or stuck in your career. I’ll recommend you some books old and new, mostly though not exclusively fiction, that are sure to speak to your predicament, offering insights and encouragement as well as a little escapism. And at the very least, you’ll discover some great new titles. To quote the sign in Mr Mifflin’s bookshop, “Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious thing. Let us prescribe for you”.

Why the Super Bowl is not about sport

(Rex Features)

This weekend, it’s not just about the Patriots v Seahawks in the Super Bowl. It’s also the return of the spectacle that brought us Janet Jackson’s ‘Nipplegate’, MIA’s raised middle finger and The Rolling Stones’ censored lyrics.
For decades, the Super Bowl was all about the football game. Half-time used to be an excuse to visit the beer stand if you were at the stadium, or refresh the nachos if you were at home. If you watched, you yawned while college marching bands strutted around doing brassy versions of musty pop hits or Up With People staged another costume extravaganza.
But today, the Super Bowl half-time is about ratings and big business, a music-industry showcase for powerhouse acts such as BeyoncĂ©, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. On Sunday, it’ll be top-40 princess Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz packing as many hits and glitzy costumes as they can into 12 minutes while commandeering the 50 yard-line. Once an afterthought, the game’s half-time has become a coveted headline gig. Some heavy hitters consider it the highest profile music event of the year, with a national television audience topping 100 million viewers.
And the Super Bowl is not the only non-musical spectacle that has embraced contemporary pop and rock in recent years. Music’s now a big part of such global events as the World Cup, the Olympics and even the US presidential inauguration. 
As these events commanded bigger and bigger fees from TV networks, the airtime became more precious. The mega sport happenings sell prime-time slots to advertisers for millions of dollars. That means every second of programming is calculated to keep viewers glued, with no down time allowed.
One moment in time
A turning point arrived at the Summer Olympics in 1988, when Whitney Houston blasted One Moment in Time to the heavens at the opening ceremony in Seoul, South Korea. Whitney asked for “One moment in time when I’m racing with destiny… I will feel eternity.” She was one of the biggest pop singers on the planet performing to a TV audience estimated in the billions. Little wonder One Moment in Time became one of the bigger hits of her career, cracking the top five in the US and going to number one in the UK.
Three years later, New Kids on the Block - remember them? - made history of sorts: the boy band was the first contemporary pop act to perform at the Super Bowl. It wasn't a particularly memorable set, but it registered on the pop-culture buzz metre in a way that such predecessors as Carol Channing and The Rockettes couldn’t match.
There were a few train wrecks ahead, though. Somebody thought putting together Patti LaBelle, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval and Miami Sound Machine to recast Indiana Jones as a musical was a good idea at the 1995 Super Bowl. And the National Football League also hired the second and third incarnations of The Blues Brothers – the ones without John Belushi – to entertain in 1997. Yet by the late ‘90s, just about everyone wanted in, speaking of the Super Bowl half-time show like the biggest break any band could ever receive.
Amid the brief swing-band craze of the late ‘90s, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy actually got a few seconds of airtime at the ’99 Super Bowl. “We’re going to be the first thing people see after they watch Steven Spielberg’s commercial,” singer Scotty Morris told me a few days before the event. “Hopefully, that will legitimize the band’s existence by introducing us to a whole different audience.” Spoken like a true brand-savvy professional in tune with the new something-for-everybody Super Bowl culture. 
Eddie Micone, executive producer of some of the Super Bowl half-times, saw the music as a way to pull in fans who normally wouldn’t go near a football game. The Super Bowl, he said, “became an event with two attractions – the game and the half-time show, and the entertainers started to see it as a great marketing tool.” 
Talking points
The Super Bowl half-time turned into a must-watch event when it started pulling in stadium-level talent such as U2 in 2001 and Paul McCartney in 2005. The overblown ‘Nipplegate’ wardrobe malfunction involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake in 2004 became a bigger talking point in the weeks after than the game itself.
By then, the World Cup – with an audience several times the size of the Super Bowl worldwide – was pulling in A-list entertainers as well. Ricky Martin’s official 1998 World Cup song, The Cup of Life, topped the charts in a number of countries, and R Kelly gave the sole live performance of his Sign of Victory anthem with a South African choir at the Cup kick-off concert in Soweto in 2010.
Even the normally solemn presidential inauguration added a significant musical spin during Barack Obama’s reign. At his 2009 ceremony, Aretha Franklin sang, and in 2013, James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and BeyoncĂ© gave stirring performances.
Of course, most of these ‘live’ events aren’t really live. The dirty little non-secret of these televised extravaganzas is that the performances are pre-recorded, and with the exception of some vocals, everything you hear is canned. As one Super Bowl producer said, “It’s too big an event to risk something going wrong.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why we gamble like monkeys


When we gamble, something odd and seemingly irrational happens.
It's called the 'hot hand' fallacy – a belief that your luck comes in streaks – and it can lose you a lot of money. Win on roulette and your chances of winning again aren't more or less – they stay exactly the same. But something in human psychology resists this fact, and people often place money on the premise that streaks of luck will continue – the so called 'hot hand'.
The opposite superstition is to bet that a streak has to end, in the false belief that independent events of chance must somehow even out. This is known as the gambler's fallacy, and achieved notoriety at the Casino de Monte-Carlo on 18 August 1913. The ball fell on black 26 times in a row, and as the streak lengthened gamblers lost millions betting on red, believing that the chances changed with the length of the run of blacks.
Why do people act this way time and time again? We can discover intriguing insights, it seems, by recruiting monkeys and getting them to gamble too. If these animals make dumb choices like us, perhaps it could tell us more about ourselves.
First though, let’s look at what makes some games particularly likely to trigger these effects. Many results in games are based on a skill element, so it makes reasonable sense to bet, for instance, that a top striker like Lionel Messi is more likely to score a goal than a low-scoring defender.
Yet plenty of games contain randomness. For truly random events like roulette or the lottery, there is no force which makes clumps more or less likely to continue. Consider coin tosses: if you have tossed 10 heads in a row your chance of throwing another heads is still 50:50 (although, of course, at the point before you've thrown any, the overall odds of throwing 10 in a row is still minuscule).
The hot hand and gambler’s fallacies both show that we tend to have an unreasonable faith in the non-randomness of the universe, as if we can't quite believe that those coins (or roulette wheels, or playing cards) really are due to the same chances on each flip, spin or deal.
It's a result that sometimes makes us sneer at the irrationality of human psychology. But that conclusion may need revising.
Cross-species gambling
An experiment reported by Tommy Blanchard of the University of Rochester in New York State, and colleagues, shows that monkeys playing a gambling game are swayed by the same hot hand bias as humans. Their experiments involved three monkeys controlling a computer display with their eye-movements – indicating their choices by shifting their gaze left or right. In the experiment they were given two options, only one of which delivered a reward. When the correct option was random – the same 50:50 chance as a coin flip – the monkeys still had a tendency to select the previously winning option, as if luck should continue, clumping together in streaks.
The reason the result is so interesting is that monkeys aren't taught probability theory as school. They never learn theories of randomness, or pick up complex ideas about chance events. The monkey's choices must be based on some more primitive instincts about how the world works – they can't be displaying irrational beliefs about probability, because they cannot have false beliefs, in the way humans can, about how luck works. Yet they show the same bias.
What's going on, the researchers argue, is that it’s usually beneficial to behave in this manner. In most of life, chains of success or failure are linked for good reason – some days you really do have your eye on your tennis serve, or everything goes wrong with your car on the same day because the mechanics of the parts are connected. In these cases, the events reflect an underlying reality, and one you can take advantage of to predict what happens next. An example that works well for the monkeys is food. Finding high-value morsels like ripe food is a chance event, but also one where each instance isn't independent. If you find one fruit on a tree the chances are that you'll find more.
The wider lesson for students of human nature is that we shouldn't be quick to call behaviours irrational. Sure, belief in the hot hand might make you bet wrong on a series of coin flips, or worse, lose a pot of money. But it may be that across the timespan in evolution, thinking that luck comes in clumps turned out to be useful more often than it was harmful.

Why I Think Students Should Cheat


You have been kidnapped and dragged off to a remote location where your abductors have tied you to a chair. One of your captors is seated in front of you. He holds up ten flash cards and informs you that he is going to ask you a series of questions and the answers are printed on the backs of the cards. He assures you that once he has finished asking these questions, you will be released. There is a catch, though. For every question you get wrong, he will signal his accomplice to cut off one of your fingers. As he begins to read the first question, you notice there is a mirror on the opposite wall where you can see the reflection of the text on the card. Because you have been taught that cheating is dishonest, you interrupt your kidnapper and let him know that you are able to read the card and that he must conceal them better so that you cannot inadvertently cheat. He adjusts himself accordingly and proceeds to ask you a series of dry and uninspired questions on topics that hold no interest for you, while his accomplice menacingly holds out a set of cutting pliers.
While cheating is technically wrong, everyone should cringe at this conception of morality because it fails to account for context. In this example, cheating is not only justified, it is necessary because it aids a helpless victim who has been involuntarily subjected to unreasonable conditions. Unfortunately, this kind of clarity is absent when it comes to compulsory education.
One of the most salient features of all public schools is the importance of grades. Because grades are the currency and sole commodity of schools, they are used both to motivate and punish. They are a major component of a student’s portfolio and have the potential to impact their future. Educators might try to stress the value of “learning” over grades, but that is a complete farce. When learning is not commensurately represented by grades, students rightly feel cheated by the system and become apathetic. To insist on valuing learning over grades is offensively disingenuous and hypocritical. It is akin to telling workers at McDonald’s that they should care more about doing their job than their salary.
Students have no input regarding how or what they learn, and they are alienated from the work they do at school. Except for a few rare assignments, students are not inspired by their work, and any personal attachment they could have is undermined by the fact that they must compromise their efforts to meet the demands and expectations of the person who grades their work.
It’s important to bear in mind that students prepare for tests with the intention that they will retain the material just long enough to take the test and then forget most of what they learned soon afterwards. This completely undermines the purpose and value of testing. Advocates of testing who denigrate cheating conveniently fail to acknowledge this. Testing demands that students view knowledge as a disposable commodity that is only relevant when it is tested. This contributes to the process of devaluing education.
The benefits of cheating are obvious – improved grades in an environment where failure is not an opportunity for learning, but rather a badge of shame. When students do poorly on a test, there is no reason for students to review their responses because they will likely never be tested on the same thing ever again. The test itself is largely arbitrary and often not meaningful. Organizations such as FairTest are devoted to sharing research that exposes the problems of bad testing practices.
The main arguments against cheating in school are that it is unethical, promotes bad habits, and impacts self-esteem through the attainment of an unearned reward. None of these concerns are even remotely valid because none consider the environment. Children are routinely rounded up and forcibly placed in an institution where they are subjected to a hierarchy that places them at the bottom. Like the hostage, they are held captive even if they are not physically bound. They are deprived of any power over their own lives, including the ability to pursue their interests, and are subjected to a barrage of tests that have consequences for each wrong answer.
Maintaining ethics is part of an unwritten contract of being a willing participant in a community. Students placed in school against their will and routinely disrespected have no obligation to adhere to the ethical codes of their oppressors. Cheating is an act of resistance, and resistance against oppressive powers should be encouraged and celebrated, rather than deemed a “bad habit” or an unethical act. The concern regarding self-esteem that is highlighted by The Child Study Center as promoting the “worst damage,” lacks any scientific support whatsoever.
If students feel bad for cheating, it is because the environment has created a set of conditions where cheating is necessary and justifiable. For this same reason, many students are proud that they cheat. Cheating often requires creativity in terms of execution as well as ingenuity to avoid being caught. It also serves as a statement of disdain against an arbitrary and repressive institution. For these reasons, cheating can be a source for pride that boosts self-esteem. Given this construct, cheating is not simply something many students do; it is something all students in compulsory schools should do. Cheating is a moral imperative.
Punishing students for cheating is completely misguided. People should be most concerned about the student who does not cheat. They are the ones who appear to have internalized their oppression and might lack the necessary skills to rally and lobby against abuses of power that are perpetrated by governing bodies. Cheating should be recognized as the necessary and logical outcome of an arbitrary and oppressive institution. Punishing students who cheat is yet another abuse of autocratic power. In a healthy society, people ridicule and shame those who force children to endure the kind of environment that demands they must cheat.

Facebook Dominated Mobile App Downloads in 2014

Facebook had a tremendous year for app downloads. According to new data about 2014 mobile app usage, iOS and Android users downloaded Facebook’s mobile apps more often than any other apps, both in the US and globally. And according to Facebook’s fourth quarter earnings, reported yesterday, over half a billion users now access Facebook exclusively through mobile devices.
A new report from App Annie, an analytics company that tracks app downloads and usage, says that Facebook Messenger, Facebook, WhatsApp Messenger, and Instagram were the top four most downloaded apps on iOS and Android worldwide last year. Microsoft-owned Skype was the fifth. In the US only, Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram made the top three, with Pandora and Snapchat rounding out the top five, with WhatsApp in 10th.
The case of Facebook Messenger, the number one download on both lists, is particularly interesting. Earlier this year Facebook eliminated the chat feature from its main app, prompting users to instead download Facebook Messenger for their chatting needs. The app quickly rose to the number one spot in the iOS App Store, but also amassed a boatload of one star-reviews (some saying “I wish I could give it 0 stars”) as users weren’t thrilled to essentially be forced to download another new app. Still, it’s a testament to Facebook’s dedicated user base and brand power that Messenger downloads topped the charts.
But while many of us old fogies rely on Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, the younger generation of teen and tween mobile users hasn’t been so keen on the social network. Facebook acquired Instagram in early 2012, and messaging platform WhatsApp in early 2014 as part of an effort to gain foothold in that market. And indeed, it seems to have paid off: Facebook is now an integral part of the mobile experience of millions and millions of smartphone owners using these apps too (700 million on WhatsApp, and 300 million on Instagram, to be exact).
And it hopes to do the same for millions of new smartphone owners. Facebook recently released Facebook Lite for people on low-end Android handsets in emerging markets in Africa and Asia. The 257KB download (compared to 70MB for iOS users and 25MB for the standard Android app) provides a lightweight Facebook experience for phone owners on a 2G connection in locales like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe.
According to App Annie’s stats, while downloads were sky high, Facebook didn’t even crack the top 10 in terms of app revenue. But that’s because you can download all of its offerings for free. In actuality, all of those millions of app users are raking in tons of money for Facebook—through mobile advertisements. Facebook made $2 billion in ad revenue last quarter, more than two-thirds of its total $3.59 billion in total ad revenue for 2014. Clearly, it’s only begun to start solving the puzzle of mobile monetization.
Breaching $10 billion in revenue for the first time with more than 2 billion active mobile users across its app offerings, Facebook has never looked so powerful.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Is Facebook down? A history of outages

Facebook is a juggernaut that leaves a void for billions when it goes offline, but back in 2010, the only answer was to turn the whole thing off and on again
facebook down

When Facebook goes down it’s a serious issue: bored office workers are bereft of distractions, children are obliged to talk to their families, media executives cry over lost traffic and nobody gets poked … (no seriously, that still exists).
In addition, Facebook engineers frantically rush to get everything back online – but it wasn’t always like that. In 2010 when Facebook’s site broke down it could be fixed just by turning it off and on again, literally.
Here’s a history of major outages in recent years, from the serious to the seriously silly. 

27 January 2015

The latest 50-minute outage was caused by Facebook attempting to change something within its systems which went wrong, not a cyber attack as was widely reported.
A Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian: “Earlier today many people had trouble accessing Facebook and Instagram. This was not the result of a third-party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems. We moved quickly to fix the problem, and both services are back to 100% for everyone.”
The outage hit both the site and apps, but impacted other services including Instagram, Tinder, AOL messenger and Hipchat, which rely on Facebook for logins.

1 August 2014

Facebook’s second outage in two months was caused by another server error, which again affected Facebook’s site, apps and sites and services that use its login system.
A Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian at the time that the company was “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Skype was one of the high-profile services made unavailable for some users who were unable to log in during the one-hour 40-minute intermittent outage.

19 June 2014

June was a big deal for Facebook – its longest outage in four years, which saw the site down for 31 minutes and was the start of an increasing frequency of site issues.
Both the website and Facebook smartphone and tablet apps were affected, leading users to seek refuge on other social networks including Twitter and even Google+.
“This morning, we experienced an issue that prevented people from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time. We resolved the issue quickly, and we are now back to 100%. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused,” Facebook said in a statement at the time, failing to elaborate on what caused the issue.
The outage even lead to brands, including Nestle’s KitKat, to make jokes and poke fun at Facebook’s expense.

21 October 2013

Facebook’s engineers were to blame for another site issue, this time not an outage but a “read-only error”, which prevented users from posting status updates for more than four hours. The rest of the site was functional, but caused problems for at least 3,587 other sites, according to data from IT management firm Compuware.
“This morning, while performing some network maintenance, we experienced an issue that prevented some users from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time,” said a spokesperson at the time.
Facebook was estimated to have 700 million active users at the time.

24 September 2010

In 2010, Facebook suffered a two-hour disruption that was apparently down to a fiendishly complex networking problem, again caused by its engineers. The solution, however, was incredibly simple. Facebook turned the site off and then on again.
The issue was caused by a runaway condition at a “database cluster” of computer servers among the 500 sites that form Facebook’s worldwide network. In the end, Facebook’s head of software engineering said: “We had to stop all traffic to this database cluster, which meant turning off the site.”

31 July 2007

Only three years old, Facebook’s attitude to outages was slightly different than it is now. In 2007 the site was purposefully taken offline by its engineers.
“This morning, we temporarily took down the Facebook site to fix a bug we identified earlier today,” a spokesperson said at the time.
That outage was long enough for users to resort to MySpace, Bebo and the one-year-old Twitter.
Now seven years on, that kind of purposeful outage is unthinkable, but with a user base of less than 100 million users and having only been open to all over the age of 13 for a year, the site was a very different animal.

New Case Turns Your iPhone Into an Interchangeable-Lens Camera

Let’s be honest: There are plenty of lens attachments for the iPhone. To put a finer point on it, there are plenty of good lens attachments for the iPhone, from the Olloclip to the pricey Schneider iPro Lens system. One of the better options is the existing Moment Lens lineup, which comprises well-built 18mm wide-angle and 60mm telephoto lenses.
With a new Kickstarter campaign, the Moment team is trying to make those lenses part of an interchangeable-lens camera system for the iPhone 6. The Moment Case—being designed first for the iPhone 6, then possibly the iPhone 6 Plus and popular Android phones later—will detect when a lens is mounted and communicate to the phone via Bluetooth LE.
As soon as you screw a lens onto the case’s bayonet mount and the pairing is complete, you can use Moment’s free iOS app to make extra-fine adjustments to the camera’s exposure and focus controls. The case itself looks slick and will make shooting with your phone more like using a standalone camera. It has a physical shutter button on top, a rubberized grip on the back, and the bottom has aluminum loopholes so you can fasten a strap and rock your phone around your neck, Flavor Flav style.
According to Moment’s Marc Barros, mounting a lens will bring up a bigger suite of options within the app tailored to its focal length; you’ll get different options for the wide-angle and telephoto optics. Barros also hints that a new lens will be released in the coming months. The app-lens-case combo is designed to make independent control of focus and exposure easier. Just like on a real camera, you can half-press the physical shutter button to lock focus, then use on-screen sliders to tweak exposure levels. Even without the case and lenses, the app lets you capture RAW-format images (as TIFF files) and receive “photo assignments,” instructional challenges that guide you through better sunrise and landscape shots.
The case will have a battery, but you won’t have to recharge it. Barros says it will be user-replaceable, and that it’s designed to last for about six months.
“The case has a coin cell battery inside,” says Barros. “The goal was a case that is connected without you ever really realizing it was connected. It doesn’t require a power button, and doesn’t take any power away from your phone.”
Keep in mind that this is just a Kickstarter campaign at the moment—one that will put the entire cost of the system squarely in the realm of a decent compact camera. Barros says there are three working prototypes of the Moment Case right now, but the $100,000 goal is intended to fund mass production of the cases. No matter what, Barros says that anyone who pledges is guaranteed to receive what was offered in their pledge.
Those pledges shake out like this: $49 gets you the Moment Case in all-black or white with a black grip, $129 gets you the case with one lens, $199 gets you the case with both lenses, and $299 gets a special wooden version of the case with both lenses. They’re slated to ship to backers in June. Since Moment is an established company with a hardware track record, we expect them to follow through on that promise.

Snapchat Gets Into the News Business With the Launch of ‘Discover’

Snapchat’s long-awaited news tool, Discover, is finally here, letting media outlets post bite-sized content on the popular messaging app.
The company announced the news on Tuesday with a blog post, though rumors of a Snapchat news tool began circulating last year. Through Discover, users tap to open a new edition, swipe left to browse through different stories, or swipe up to see more from a story.
At launch, Snapchat is working with ten media partners, including CNN, ESPN, and National Geographic. These companies will release a new edition of Discover content every 24 hours, featuring both videos and articles hand picked by their staffers. The goal for these media companies, of course, is to hook a new, younger audience that doesn’t often connect with traditional media.
And for Snapchat, Discover presents a chance to justify that $10 billion valuation, as the ephemeral messaging app begins integrating ads into the editorial content. Snapchat will also begin producing articles and videos of its own, according to a recent report by Digiday. Both changes position Snapchat firmly in the realm of new media companies, which as a recent WIRED cover story explored, are quickly inventing new ways to not only deliver news to readers but also to make money from it.
But while many of these companies, like Buzzfeed and Medium, have forged their own paths to success, without relying on traditional companies to prop them up, Snapchat has been working side by side with these companies to develop a tool can can bridge the gap between old school journalism and a young, tech savvy audience.
“Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important,” Snapchat’s blog post reads. “All too often, artists are forced to accommodate new technologies in order to distribute their work. This time we built the technology to serve the art: each edition includes full screen photos and videos, awesome long form layouts, and gorgeous advertising.”
So far, Snapchat’s media partners, who will share ad revenue with the company, have expressed the typical excitement about the app. “We’re always seeking out new audiences and advertisers, and it’s more important than ever to tailor content to suit the platform,” Andrew Morse, senior vice president and general manager of CNN Digital, said in a statement. “Snapchat is one of the most engaging platforms out there, and we’re excited to be able to program content specifically for that audience.”
And yet, working with Snapchat is still a risk for media companies, because, ultimately, their goals are at odds. Media companies don’t need Snapchat users to become even more devout Snapchat users. Media companies need to hook young readers while they’re on Snapchat, so that they’ll eventually seek out more stories from those media companies off of Snapchat.
Snapchat, by contrast, wants to own as big a share of the user engagement pie as it can. That’s why it’s going to develop original stories and videos that no other outlets have, but that are pitch perfect for its audience. If Snapchat can give its users an endless supply of stories from its own team, plus the best of what everyone else has to offer, plus access to all the silly selfies and self-destructing videos that made it what it is today, why would users go anywhere else?

The Tablets That Paved the Way for the iPad

1300 BCE: The Ten Commandments The historical tablets of yore were hewn of rock or precious stone, and were generally rectangular in shape, with sharp corners. Perhaps most notably among these non-electronic slates were the Ten Commandments sent to Moses in the Book of Exodus. 

On this date five years ago, Steve Jobs officially introduced the iPad to the world. Few guessed it would become as big of a hit as it actually did, heralding a bustling and competitive era for mobile computing. Back when it launched, we made jokes about the name (teehee, PAD!) and mused about how this oversize iPod would never succeed.
Reasoning for the latter wasn’t necessarily misguided: The tablet was not a new idea. A slew of tablets came and went in the decades prior to the iPad. While some were confined to research laboratories, a variety of consumer options also dotted the electronics landscape in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. From these devices, Apple was quietly able to learn what worked and what didn’t, so that its 2010 tablet release wouldn’t bow to the pain points of its predecessors. The iPad succeeded for this reason, and because of newer, lighter, and more powerful mobile technologies that had never before been available: the right place, the right time, the right execution.
The first tablets started arriving in earnest beginning in 1989. Early devices like the Samsung GRiDPad and Fujitsu PoqetPad offered small touchscreen displays you could operate with a stylus in a portable (but not necessarily diminutive) size. The GRiDPad, the first consumer-focused tablet device, was even adopted for use by the U.S. Army.
The second wave of consumer slates, like the Newton MessagePad and the Palm Pilot, started to gain wider acclaim and adoption as both their size and their prices dropped. Palm’s PDAs (personal digital assistants), as they would be called, featured handwriting recognition, a shorthand alphabet for quicker touchscreen note-taking, and organization features like a date book, address book, and to-do list—things that would make their way onto cellphones, and then smartphones.
Then in the early 2000s, Microsoft tried to kickstart tablet computing with a handful of Windows XP tablets. These devices ran a full version of Windows in a slate form factor. Unfortunately, the OS wasn’t optimal for touchscreen use, and the software was too bloated to run smoothly on a tablet’s relatively paltry hardware. They didn’t end up revolutionizing the computing space as Bill Gates had originally expected.
In 2010, the nut cracked. The iPad arrived after years of rumors (indeed, Apple had been working on a tablet long before it decided to embark on the iPhone). The company had learned from the shortcomings of earlier tablets: the OS was lightweight and designed for touch input from the beginning; the size and weight were slim enough for it to be a convenient travel companion; and the battery life and processor power were robust enough for all day of use. One major change from nearly all earlier tablet models was the lack of a stylus—Jobs wanted you to use this device’s capacitive touchscreen with your fingers.
Now after five years, it seems that another tablet era could be coming to a close as chips, battery technology, and displays have become so powerful that large-screened smartphones can fulfill the needs of both a smartphone and a tablet. The iPad may be the apex of modern tablet technology, but it is also a major stepping stone in the evolution of mobile computing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

If you don’t understand how people fall into poverty, you’re probably a sociopath

someone holding a hamburger

Last week, I took part in a comedy night to raise money for the charity Refuge, which supports women and children who have experienced domestic violence. It was a great night: partly because it raised several thousands of pounds for the cause; partly because it was sponsored by Benefit cosmetics, and the idea of a benefit being sponsored by Benefit pleased me greatly; and partly because standup comedian Bridget Christie finished her act with a plea for all laydeez to stop waxing, spraying, deodorising, strimming and surgically trimming their – well, let’s call it “that part of ourselves historically judged to be the seat of all our femininity and womanly powers” – and instead celebrate our individuality by thinking of those parts as “unique, special – like snowflakes. Made of gammon”, which was both a new thought and a new image, neither of which has left my mind since.
Less uplifting, however, was the number of times I heard, when I mentioned Refuge to people, some variant of: “But what I don’t understand is – why don’t these women just leave?”
We don’t need, I think – I hope – to detail too extensively here the exact answer to that question. Bullet points: an immediate fear of being punched, kicked, bitten, gouged or killed, and of the same happening to your children, preceded by months or years of exploitation of the weakest points in your psyche by a master of the art; an erosion of your self-confidence, liberty, agency and financial independence (if you had any to begin with), coupled with a sense of shame and stigma and a lack of practical options; no money, no supportive family or friends, nowhere to run.
So, let’s concentrate instead on the lack of imagination, the lack of empathy inherent in that question. Because it shapes a lot of questions, and particularly those that animate government policy and the political discourse that will start filling the airwaves more and more as we move towards the election.

Listen, I always want to say, if you’re genuinely mystified, answer me this: have you never had a really bad day and really wanted – nay, needed – an extra glass of Montrachet on the roof terrace in the evening? Or such a chaotic, miserable week that you’ve ended up with a takeaway five nights out of seven instead of delving into Nigella’s latest?Politicians, for example, are apparently completely baffled by Poor People’s propensity to do harmful things, often expensively, to themselves. (That’s politicians of all stripes – it’s just that the left wing wrings its hands and feels helplessly sorry for Them, while Tories are pretty sure They are just animals in need of better training.) The underclass eats fast food, drinks and smokes, and some of its more unruly members even take drugs. Why? Why?
You have? Why, splendid. Now imagine if your whole life were not just like that one bad day, but even worse. All the time. No let-up. No end in sight. No, you can’t go on holiday. No, you can’t cash anything in and retire. No. How would you react? No, you’ve not got a marketable skills set. You don’t know anyone who can give you a job. No. No.
And on we’d go. “Why do the poor not always take the very cheapest option – in food, travel, rent, utilities or a hundred other things you can find if you or an obliging Spad or unpaid intern trawl and filter case studies for long enough – and stop being so, y’know, poor that way?” someone will ask. And some kind soul – not me, I’d be off for a lie down and some pills by this time – would ask if the questioner had ever been under so much pressure that he’d had to throw money at a problem to secure an immediate answer, to get something rather than nothing, even if it meant paying over the odds, perhaps because someone was exploiting your desperation?
Oh, you have? Well, that bond issue you missed because you had a cashflow crisis after buying the villa in Amalfi, and that box at Glyndebourne for your parents’ wedding anniversary you forgot about till almost too late, have their parallels with furniture for a council flat or with a child’s present bought on punitively interest-rated credit … and so on, until somewhere along the line our boy would have to admit that he shared the same irrational impulses as people all along the socioeconomic scale, differing only in degree of consequences, not in kind.
I don’t understand how the people in charge of us all don’t understand. If you are genuinely unable to apply your imagination and extend your empathy far enough – and you don’t have to do it all at once; little by little will suffice, but you must get there – then you are a sociopath, and we should all be protected from your actions. If you are in fact able and choose not to, then you’re something quite a lot worse.
So, these are the questions I’d like to see pursued once the televised prime ministerial debates begin (if enough speakers agree to turn up, natch): have you ever had a bad day? Have you ever been really, really tired? Have you ever been alone, or frightened, or not had a choice about something? If yes, was your response unique among man? If no, are you a madman or a liar? Do tell. Do tell.

Mantel of greatness

If it’s wrong to feel this happy about Wolf Hall, then I don’t want to be right. The story of Hilary Mantel’s will-be trilogy – like the story within it – has everything.An unhappy child from an unremarkable family in an unremarkable village grows up to be an author of genius. She quietly produces book after brilliant book, virtually unrecognised, then finally comes into her kingdom with the story of the Reformation told from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view. Difficult but compelling, uncompromising but – once you’ve cracked the first 50 pages, at least – accessible, it is a profound commentary on our times, but also a serpentine thriller, a new twist on an old story, familiar yet revelatory; it wins prizes, is adapted for an acclaimed stage production and has now become what looks from the opening episode a few nights ago to be an equally magisterial television series.
And behind it stands Mantel, overseeing everything, accepting the prizes and plaudits with grace and without self-deprecation or false modesty, turning out essay after beautiful essay, never boasting of or hiding the depths of her sinuous, subtle, extraordinary intelligence, effortlessly sidestepping every possible curse, temptation and bad habit of the modern age. It’s like a glorious love affair that has yet to go, as I believe the Tudors said, tits up. And still five more weeks of Mark Rylance, and one whole new book to come. Bliss.

Apple Watch will power the internet of things

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the Apple Watch

In the wake of Apple’s live event last week, there’s been some understandable finger pointing at Apple Watch. Unspecified battery life, a watch whose thickness means it doesn’t slip under the sleeve, the price. But that’s what you get with first-generation technology. It will get better with time, so let’s not waste time fretting here.
What does deserve more attention is the criticism Apple received for its apparent lack of a clear use case for Apple Watch, and the subsequent reaction from many that they don’t see why they would need one.
This sort of critique would be familiar to many, including the inventors of the telephone. The radio. Even the colour TV. And it’s certainly very familiar to Apple. This sort of “why?” take-down question always tends to be chucked at product launches that make radical departures from what came before.

Why do we do that?

One slightly depressing reason is that in an impatient world, the quickest way to form a view is to cross your arms and tell the world you’re not that impressed. Stephen Fry bemoaned this behaviour after the launch of the iPad in 2010.
The other reason, which is a lot more important to consider, is that it really isn’t that easy to clearly position radical new products within the current world order. Especially when this new thing is more platform than product, and that platform hasn’t been built on yet.
Given this was Tim Cook’s first big launch and it clearly lacked Steve Jobs-style logic for how Apple Watch fits into the world, this lack of positioning left many people wondering if Apple had skipped the product strategy bit. Could this be more of a punt than Apple’s usual carefully considered, patient plans?
Obviously that’s nonsense, so this post will provide a view from my company, The App Business, on what the Apple Watch is, why there are so many unanswered ‘why’ questions, and why Apple announced it in this way.
The answer turns out to be the huge, transformative opportunity for millions of app developers around the world.
So, what is the Watch? The answer is staring us in the face.

As is typical with an Apple product launch, while the world struggled to find the hidden code, the answer was printed in big bold letters at the top of Apple’s press release: “Apple’s most personal device ever.” Apple uses the word “device” because it doesn’t have the baggage of “computer”, but make no mistake – this is a very personal computing device and its eventual impact will be bigger than any personal computer that’s come before it.
Apple and Cook telegraphed this by hosting the event at the Flint Center in Cupertino and kicking off the event by looking back at the two other radically new computers that Apple launched there: Macintosh and iMac. Remember, Apple chooses its keynote words and behaviours very carefully and deliberately.
To be fair, a lot of people picked up on the personal aspect – but they didn’t understand what Apple really means by “most” personal. ABC News’ exclusive interview of Tim Cook and Jony Ive dug in on the plus-two million watch/strap/face combinations that enable personalisation, but Cook and Ive said that this was something they’d only grasped very recently. And even if Apple did plug the range of combinations here during the keynote, customisation is clearly not what they mean by “most personal device ever.”
The type of personalisation Apple is talking about is the personal context this device will acquire from the wearer because it is on their skin constantly (well, except when it’s charging). Apple Watch will understand who you are (authenticated via skin contact), where you are (via the iPhone’s GPS), what you are doing (via gyroscope, accelerometer, and apps), and even how you are feeling (via body monitoring technologies).
This will make it the most personal and powerful computer ever because it will understand more about your context and how to meet your needs than any other computer before it.
That’s kind of cool – but how’s a watch going to meet my needs?

The big idea here isn’t just the watch. It’s also the “internet of things”, or what we at TAB call the “programmable world”. This is the next mega-era of computing, and in this era all objects will be online and ready to serve you automatically, based on an understanding of your needs. And that’s where Apple Watch and wearables come in.
As an incredibly personal device, Apple Watch will understand each and every one of your needs, including those your brain can’t recognise yet, and it will message the programmable world to address them intelligently and automatically.
Use cases include everything from the obvious coffee machine that starts brewing as you soon as you step out of bed, to the doctor that pre-emptively understands your heart is at risk, and the perfect bedroom lighting scheme that’s figured out how to get you to sleep fastest. These are just some obvious examples, and it’s currently easiest to imagine its impact in the home and on your health and that’s why Apple also launched HealthKit and HomeKit.
We understand that the first-gen watch will still leave a lot of the heavy lifting to the iPhone 6, but the two devices are going to get along nicely to start with. And make no mistake, just as the phone replaced the desktop at the centre of your digital “hub”, the watch will replace the phone … in due course.
To sum up, what the Watch is is pretty simple: Apple’s most personal device ever (like they said). And its personalisation powers are rooted in its ability to get under, or rather on to, your skin. As a result it can understand your needs and automatically program the world to meet them.
So why did Cook skip the product strategy slides and not share some more compelling use cases?

In the build up to the keynote, a bunch of people did some very smart analyses of Apple’s previous product launch keynotes and exactly how Steve Jobs set up the big reveal.
Typically, Jobs spent a good chunk of time talking about an old category that was broken and then introduced a radically simple product that fixed it. Apple had benefitted from being patient enough to sit on the sidelines while such category formed and then failed, and then Apple came in best (rather than first) to fix it and clean up.
But this launch was different.
Cook just played a video, then came back on stage arms aloft, and then the guy from Adobe did an OK-ish demo. And this made a bunch of people scratch their heads. Was there no Jobs-style logic because there was no case for this product? Was there no category take-down because there was no problem that needed fixing? Had Apple uncharacteristically hurried the launch of this?
No, they hadn’t. This wasn’t a product launch. It was a platform launch. And its success requires developers to develop ideas that are beyond even Apple’s wildest imagination.
Sure Apple could have probably done a better job of explaining the virtues of this intimate, wearable canvas; and could have done better inspiring the world with the potential of its radical new interface and haptic (touch) feedback. But that’s kind of difficult when you don’t have app examples (nor Steve Jobs), and they kindly leave the challenge of coming up with the apps to us lot in the app business.
That’s why the Apple’s app demos and “use cases” were a bit of a let down. The same happened with the iPhone App Store launch. With both products, Apple simply showed apps for the existing computing model on the new device. With iPhone it was “Look, the eBay website is now an app!”, with the watch it was “Look, Maps is now on a small screen!”.
My conclusion here is that the reason there are no compelling use cases quite yet is because they haven’t been figured out yet. So you can either sit on the sidelines doubting its potential, or roll up your sleeves and figure out how to create value. That’s why Apple launched it early and many months before the products hits the shelves: to inspire developers to get developing fast so that it launches with the full force of the App Store behind it.

The first rule of wearables: they need to be wearable

To be a highly successful platform, Apple – or rather developers – need hundreds of millions of people to wear the Watch. Sure, a lot of people today don’t wear watches, but fortunately hundreds of millions do, and more still could, for good functional and aesthetic reason.
So while Apple may not have a crystal-clear proposition for why millions of people should buy this thing as a wearable computer – quite yet – they do have an off-the-shelf, proven marketing strategy for getting hundreds of millions of people to put this time-telling device on their wrist in order to attract developers: seductive, aspirational watch marketing.
And just look at the team they assembled to help them take a crack at a more deliberately fashionable type of marketing - something pretty foreign to an Apple more used to launching technology products on plain white backgrounds.
Come to think of it, just the collection of “fashion” people on the Apple team is insane, and only the sort of thing Apple (and likely its stock options) could pull off. You’ve got the former CEO of Burberry, arguably the great fashion success story of the past decade. The former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, one of the greatest brand names in the history of fashion. Then there’s Marc Newson, the other greatest industrial designer alive today. And there’s more: Nike Fuelband’s leading designer jumped ship, TAG Heuer’s sales VP joined the team, and obviously Dr Dre brings a little street cred to the endeavour too. What a lineup – and that’s just the fashion people on the team.
This explicitly fashionable marketing strategy is the polar opposite of Google Glass.

Both Apple Watch and Google Glass are going to fundamentally change the way people live on planet Earth – eventually. But Google decided to make this a part of the brand’s story right out of the gate, and scrambled to fix the fashion bit after. That doesn’t work with wearable technology. If you launch a product as unfashionable as Google Glass, you’re going to have a hard job ever turning that around.
Apple realised that fashion isn’t just important; it can actually be the number one driver for selling the device in the first place – and if they get it right, it can be a pretty robust formula for growing that developer-attracting installed base.
It’s funny to compare Google Glass’s early adopter marketing programme and the mocking imagery of “white men wearing Glass” with Apple’s sultry photography of guys and girls kissing after a sweaty work out. Jesus. What would Jobs have said? I don’t think he would have recognised it as an Apple ad. But that’s the point. Cook has actually made a very brave, and strategic leap: to market the watch as something fashionable in order to get millions of people wearing it.
And once millions of people have it on their wrists, and it’s all juiced up with insane personal context, well, developers and end-users alike are going to be blown away with what the watch becomes.
So how long until it gets traction?

It’s pretty hard to guess the trajectory of new product categories, but as ever with Apple, I’ll bet that we’ll be surprised by the pace of its takeoff.
And we can also be very sure of one more thing: there is no time like now for individuals, organisations and businesses to start figuring out how they can create value on this new platform.
Make no mistake, this is an entirely new computing platform and it’s more personal than anything before. Dwell on that thought, just for a moment. These chances don’t come around often, but we’ve just been given another one and it’s why we created The App Business. We sure as heck can’t wait to take this on.

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