Links and Notes – Week 4, 2021

‘Is Substack the Media Future We Want?’ The New Yorker. (A month-old article that I’ve just got around to reading.) Random aside: I find it mildly interesting that the big three creative membership sites: Substack, OnlyFans and Patreon are all exceedingly ugly. Honestly, just grotesque. It goes to show how little a startups success often has to do with good design.


‘Twitter Acquires Revue, a Newsletter Company.’ New York Times. Will anything come of it? Probably not. As Om Malik points out they have already messed up the ownership of Periscope and Vine.


‘Twitter is opening up its full tweet archive to academic researchers for free’. The Verge. No access to any tweets from Donald Trumps banned account though.


‘How Many Microcovids Would You Spend on a Burrito?’ Wired. She did the maths.


Talking of Substack… I’ve been meaning to create some way to subscribe to I’m Left Handed via email for a while now. So if you’re not a big fan of staying updated via RSS you can now subscribe on Substack here. Have a good weekend everyone.

Links and Notes – Week 3, 2021

Technologists Use Facial Recognition on Parler Videos‘. Vice [c]. ‘It demonstrates the democratization of facial recognition, but comes littered with ethical issues.’ Indeed. I’m against facial recognition in nearly all forms. I’m also concerned that facesoftheriot.com seems to have lots of images of people who were just protesting, not rioting.


‘Online speech and publishing’. Benedict Evans [c].

The internet and then social platforms break a lot of our definitions of different kinds of speech, and yet somehow Facebook / Google / Twitter are supposed to recreate that whole 200-year tapestry of implicit structures and consensus, and answer all of those questions, from office parks in the San Francisco Bay Area, for both the USA and Myanmar, right now. We want them to Fix It, but we don’t actually know what that means.


A visit from the Zune squad.’ The Verge [c]. ‘Microsoft may have killed off its flagship MP3 player nearly a decade ago, but these fans are keeping their enthusiasm alive.’


Intel is re-hiring retired employees. AnandTech [c]. New CEO Pat Gelsinger is already making changes.


Slate Star Codex is back. Astral Codex Ten [c]. The anonymously written blog was taken offline by its author after the New York Times was going to reveal the authors real name. Now the blog is back via Substack. If you’ve never heard of Slate Star Codex before now is probably a good time to start reading.

The $5 VPS

The $5 VPS is amazing. Sure, the specs you get for that five bucks has been stagnant for a few years now, with both Linode and DigitalOcean offering you 1 vCPU, 25 GB SSD and 1 TB of bandwidth. But it’s still a great deal.

I remember the dark days when I relied on ‘shared hosting’. With companies like A Small Orange offering just 500 MB of storage and 5 GB of bandwidth for $7/mo (and don’t worry that includes unlimited just one website). Or Dreamhost that offered unlimited everything for $3.95/mo! With 59.9999% uptime guaranteed!

A good VPS is the promised land in comparison. A little virtual box that you can do what you want with. And it’s surprisingly powerful. Each time I launch a new website I ponder whether it’s time to maybe spin up a new VPS for it. So I look at my Linode control panel and laugh at how little resources are being used. I mean I’m not exactly running video hosting services or anything like that. Just a dozen or so sites – mostly WordPress based – with a couple thousand hits a day. But I just find it hilarious that the CPU hovers at around 1.5%.

So here’s to you $5 VPS!

Links and Notes – Week 2, 2021

Is Letterboxd Becoming a Blockbuster? New York Times. I’ve been an on-again off-again user of the movie reviewing social network Letterboxd ever since they launched. It’s a lovely little corner of the internet. And it’s been a good year for them:

In 2020, however, the site’s growth was explosive. Letterboxd has seen its user base nearly double since the beginning of the pandemic: They now have more than 3 million member accounts…

I’m astounded by that figure. Because the site still feels as boutique-y and small as the day I joined. I would of guessed they had 60,000 users or so. With most users having the premium Pro plan as the reason the site was still viable financially. But 3 million?! Blimey. And it’s a testament to the folks behind it that it’s as nice a place to visit as the day I joined.


Twitter Shares Fall 7% Following Permanent Trump Ban. Bloomberg. I find it mildly interesting that Twitter is one of the most well known and popular social media sites on earth. It is firmly embedded into the zeitgeist of our time. A single Tweet can ruin careers, alter elections or spark violence. But despite this it’s been a pretty bad investment. All its competitors share prices have gone from strength to strength over the past five years. But $TWTR has been stagnant.


Wikipedia is 20 years old! Wikimedia. It’s still the best thing about the internet.


Hyundai Buys Boston Dynamics for Nearly $1 Billion. IEEE Spectrum. Electronic cars have gone mainstream now. I wonder how long it will take for robotics to join them.


Intel is getting a new CEO. MarketWatch. VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger will be the new head of Intel. He worked at Intel for over 30 years before leaving a decade or so ago. Does he have what it takes to save the sinking Intel ship? Doubtful in my opinion. All that’s needed now is for AMD to aggressively go for the server market and then Intel will be dead.


A Few Thoughts On Writing. Morgan Housel. Morgan Housel’s “The Psychology of Money” was my favourite book of 2020. It’s one of the most beautifully simple books on money ever published. It’s been added to the list of books that I’d insist my child read before they turn 21. Please buy it.



Burger King has been rebranded. Creative Bloq. I like it. Very ’70’s. Very simple. Now they just need to work on every other aspect of the business (at least in the UK). I haven’t eaten at a Burger King for years now, so I’m a little behind the times here. But the things I liked about BK were their fries were crispy and their burgers had a nice strong smokey flavour and plenty of meat. The bad: I’ve never seen one with a drive through, the inside was always filthy (including the kitchens), it had so little foot-traffic that nothing was ever ready, the staff were for the most part not great and the chicken nuggets were hilariously bad. I noticed not long ago that Deliveroo was offering BK delivery in my area and I felt immediate feelings of disgust. Crappy BK food, totally crushed and entirely cold delivered to me with a £2.69 delivery charge. I could think of few things worse. Anyway, nice rebranding. It’s live on the UK site too.



The Dissident (2020). The new documentary by Bryan Fogel. You may have seen his previous film “Icarus” (2017) on Netflix. It was fantastic and won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. His latest project is about the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government inside their consulate in Turkey. I’ve just finished watching it. And whilst it’s not quite as good as his previous film, which benefited massively from having a tremendous story essentially fall into his lap, this is still very much worth your time.

The editing does takes a little bit of getting used to, with the entire film almost feeling like a montage or trailer. But there’s no denying this a slickly made documentary that will likely keep your attention for its entire two hour runtime. If you liked Citizenfour, the documentry about Edward Snowden then you’ll like this too. It’s currently quite expensive at $20. But give it a while and it will probably appear on a streaming platform you’re a member of eventually. More info (be warned the movies website is a crappy, CPU intensive, Flash-looking mess).

Links and Notes – Week 18, 2020

But first, some housekeeping… I apologise for the lack of recent updates. My RSI returned recently and the spring weather has been so pleasant that I’ve spent almost every sunlit hour in the garden reading, far away from my computer and the internet. But good news for the blog: England’s grey and pleasant clouds have returned. So here I am.


Jack Dorsey’s fight to survive as (part time) Twitter CEO. Vanity Fair.

Twitter is no longer just a technology company. It is used by world leaders to wage war and local governments to warn of shutdowns. It’s used by politicians to announce they are running for office, to declare they are suspending their campaigns, and to endorse other candidates. It’s where news breaks and journalists find sources. Where Trump pulls the levers of chaos and controls what will consume the nightly news or the morning headlines. During the spread of the coronavirus, it has been an invaluable place to share minute-by-minute mortality and epidemiology statistics from around the globe. Over time, Twitter has become less of a social network and more of a public utility. And yet Dorsey insists it does not need a full-time CEO.


A look at the users of /r/DataHoarder who like to archive and hoard often strange digital data. Ars Technica.


During this current COVID-19-induced finanical crisis why is Warren Buffet radio silent? Vanity Fair.

No words of optimism. No high-profile investments in troubled companies that could surely use his endorsement at this difficult time.
[…]
As for what he thought Buffett was doing, Ackman said he suspected his mentor was quietly putting his $125 billion in cash to work buying stocks. He was keeping a low profile to make sure the stocks stayed cheap while he is buying. “After he invests that $100 billion and change,” Ackman says, “he’ll let everybody know.”


Ophthalmologist’s are trying to create a contact lense which tracks blood sugar levels. Medical Xpress. “Chemicals on the contact lens bind with glucose and trigger an electrical current change…” Full paper here. I wonder how far away we are from fairly-smart contact lenses? We’ve had smart glasses via Google Glass, but they were just that tad too bulky. Contact lenses would make sense. Though I imagine they’ll never be able to be especially versatile due to the size contraints. I doubt they’ll be able to do much more than a current Apple Watch does.


The manuals for the new Air Force One will cost $84 million. The Hill. Total price estimate: $5.3 billion. Remarkable cost for just one aircraft.


400-year-old English mill is making flour again. Food & Wine. It previously just made flour for its tourists. Thanks to COVID-19 those tourists are gone now, so it’s making flour again full-time.

The Apple Era

I realised something today. The world is riddled with complicated questions with even more complicated answers. And it can feel crippling at times. But when it comes to computers, phones, smart watches, smart headphones and tablets there’s a simple answer to the question of what to buy: Apple.

We’re living in the Apple era. The Apple brand is universal and unparalleled. Their output is by far the most innovative and beautiful. They’re so dominant that its rivals often seem laughable in comparison. And whilst in certain details they aren’t always the best, on the whole they are.

In fact I’m struggling to think of a single comparative company in history. All the ones that come to mind dominated through monopoly, isolation or acquirement of rivals, not through technical brilliance.

I’m no Apple cultist (half my blog posts feel like they’re moans about the minutiae of Apple’s latest ‘failings’) and I say all this not to gush. But I say it simply because it’s nice not to have to waste time and thought about the subject of what brand to buy. 9 times out of 10 – if I can afford it – Apple is the answer. So I’m free to spend my brain power elsewhere on unsolved issues like the perfect ratio of cheese to cracker.

Author Ben Schott on COVID-19 and New York City

If it’s too soon to know the meaning of the French Revolution, it’s too soon to know the meaning of Covid-19. But since we still greet sneezes with the 14th-century Black Death prayer ‘Bless you’, it’s possible a few new norms will emerge. Some predict the decline of business travel, others the demise of handshakes. It seems more likely that every household will, from this day hence, maintain a dusty supply of hand sanitiser, paper masks, and emergency loo-rolls. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll remember just how truly essential our essential workers are. #

‘Corbynism Will Outlast Jeremy Corbyn’

Corbyn’s personality was always lacking. He wasn’t unlikeable, but was also not likeable either. And now he’s finally no longer leader of the Labour party. His slow, drawn-out political death has been completed. But Tom McTague in the Atlantic argues that Corbyn’s ideas will outlive the man himself, much in the same way Barry Goldwater did in the 1960’s on the American right with his brand of more radical conservatism ‘that would culminate in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory’:

Sanders and Corbyn fancied themselves to be the new Reagans (or Margaret Thatchers) in terms of the imprint they would leave on their countries, but were not up to the task. The question to haunt the conservative right is, what happens if these two historically peculiar leaders aren’t the Reagans of their movements, but the Goldwaters? And what happens if—or when—the left finally finds its Reagan?” #

[Corbyn has been replaced by Keir Starmer. Want to acquaint yourself with him? The Spectator has a good piece.]

‘Why the internet didn’t break’

A nice little explanation of why the internet was always going to be just fine during the COVID-19 crisis despite the massive spike in demand.

But the main takeaway from the article is that there could be 42 million Americans without broadband. And that’s not good enough:

Three weeks ago, everyone’s point of reference for high-speed broadband networks was the one-way delivery of video services such as Netflix. Henceforth, broadband will be recognized for what it is: a critical two-way connection that can no longer be considered a luxury. #

‘They Were Opposed To Government Surveillance. Then The Coronavirus Pandemic Began.’

Good follow up read in BuzzFeed.News in the same vein of the Maciej Cegłowski article I linked to yesterday.

Is the coronavirus the kind of emergency that requires setting aside otherwise sacrosanct commitments to privacy and civil liberties? Or like the 9/11 attacks before it, does it mark a moment in which panicked Americans will accept new erosions on their freedoms, only to regret it when the immediate danger recedes?

Many countries have already taken creepy steps:

In South Korea, the government is mapping the movements of COVID-19 patients using data from mobile carriers, credit card companies, and the Institute of Public Health and Environment. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country’s internal security agency to tap into a previously undisclosed cache of cellphone data to trace the movements of infected persons in that country and in the West Bank. And in the Indian state of Karnataka, the government is requiring people in lockdown to send it selfies every hour to prove they are staying home.

But the real question is less about what elements of digital privacy we as a society are willing to trade in right now to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and more about wether we’ll ever get them back.

The article ends with this:

Sanchez worried that the coronavirus, like the war on terror, is an open-ended threat with no clear end — inviting opportunities for those surveillance measures to be abused long after the threat has passed. In the same week that he spoke, the US Senate voted to extend until June the FBI’s expanded powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, originally passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 19 years ago.

I think it’s safe to presume that anything we lose will never be returned.