The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

March Release of iPhone 9 Imminent

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Looks like we have the successor to the iPhone SE - which in my opinion, was the greatest iPhone form factor ever made - scheduled for release in March. With the price expected to be at $399 - Apple is going to sell a ton of these. I just might be on the buy list for one of these.

The spec run-down form

If you’ve somehow missed the constant bombardment of iPhone 9 leaks, here’s a quick rundown of what we’re expecting right now.

Design-wise, the phone should look almost identical to the iPhone 8, with a 4.7-inch IPS LCD display and a home button with Touch ID. Unlike the iPhone 8, however, inside there will be Apple’s latest A13 system chip with all of its benchmark-topping power.

On the back, a single wide-angle camera will have to fill all the photography needs, just like in the good old days. If the iPhone 9 gets the lens from the iPhone 11 series alongside Night Mode, we doubt there will be anyone complaining.

Kenobi Fan Film

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That moment when a fan film feels more like star wars than the huge Disney productions. You don’t need 1000s of starships or hundreds of Jedi. You just need big stories – saving a little boy can have more then enough drama for a movie.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Real Time With Bill Maher

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Nancy Pelosi made an appearance on Bill Maher’s season opening episode - needling President Trump:

If I knew that the president is listening, I would want him to know that he is impeached forever, and he is impeached forever because he used the office of the president to try to influence a foreign country for his personal and political benefit. In doing so, he undermined our national security, he was disloyal to his oath of office to protect the Constitution and he placed in jeopardy the integrity of our election. He gave us no choice.

Nothing would please me more then if this women would run against President Trump. When asked about how Democrats often fall victim through their own purity tests - Speaker Pelosi:

I don’t worry about that … And in the recent elections we won. And we showed in the house we know how to win. Disciplined, focused, cold-blooded in terms of just winning.

I agree with Bill Maher - Speaker Pelosi is our Iron Lady.

Tesla Worth More Than GM and Ford - Combined

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Tesla is now by far the most valuable car company in America. Tesla’s market capitalization is $93 billion, compared to $50 billion for General Motors and $37 billion for Ford. Remarkable considering GM sold around 20 times as many cars as Tesla in 2019, while Ford sold more than six times as many.

Tesla is the Apple of the automobile industry. If I were a car manufacturer right now, I would be loosing a lot of sleep.

Timoth B. Lee in Wired sums it up the best:

I’m not the first person to compare Tesla to Apple, but I think the comparison makes sense. Apple has only 15 to 20 percent of the global smartphone market, well below Google’s Android. But the distinctiveness of the iPhone platform, combined with the loyalty of the Apple customer base, means that Apple can charge a premium for the iPhone. As a result, Apple’s share of smartphone industry profits is much larger than its share of unit shipments or revenue.

We don’t know what the electric car marketplace will look like a decade from now. But it’s not hard to imagine it evolving in a similar direction, with Tesla becoming the Apple of transportation. People will be willing to pay a few thousand dollars extra for the prestige and unique features of a Tesla—just as they’re willing to pay a few hundred extra dollars for an iPhone. And in the ruthlessly competitive car industry, even a small difference in price can translate into a big difference in profits.

Wall Street Bonus Culture Is Ending

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Yet another industry is being eaten by software- looks like Wall Street is the latest casualty.

Roosevelt Bowman, who traded bonds at Lehman Brothers back in 2008, learned to code as the firm collapsed. More than a decade later and now senior investment strategist at AllianceBernstein Holdings LP’s private wealth-management division, he uses programming languages such as R and Python regularly in his job in New York.

At UBS, Purves is spearheading an effort to digitize the investment bank’s trading of fixed income and equities and as part of that he went on a course with Silicon Valley’s Singularity University to learn how experienced bankers can evolve and stay relevant. When it comes to new hires, Purves says, the best candidates are those that have the least to “unlearn.” They are team players with computer science skills who are often new to banking, he said.

Jack Miller, head of trading for Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee, agrees. For the first time last year, he included proficiency in coding as a requirement for a junior trader job, but hasn’t found anyone yet with the right mix of technical and people skills.

No, AOC Should Not Leave

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Froma Harrop argues that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) should leave the Democratic Party because she is not playing nice and stepping in line.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not entirely wrong when she said, "In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party," in an interview with New York magazine.

Ocasio-Cortez most likely doesn't have the guts to leave the Democratic Party probably for the same reason that Bernie Sanders ensures he has the "D" after his name whenever he runs for office. In the 2006 and 2012 Senate races, Sanders ran as a Democrat in the primary, then refused the nomination when he won so he could run as in Independent without facing a Democratic challenger.

AOC might also want to also have it both ways, using the Democratic designation to get elected in her liberal district while bashing the party that gave her power.

If AOC identified as a Democratic Socialist in 2020, she could conceivably win reelection to Congress, given her celebrity and her genius on social media. And she wouldn't have to be in the same party as Joe Biden. Why doesn't she try it?

To answer her question, that’s what a political party is for. It’s not a hobby; it’s not an association for making friends or hosting stimulating conversations and seminars; it’s not “a 30-year project”. Its purpose is to win and exercise power in the here and now. If AOC can use the Democratic party and mold the party for a new electorate - in my opinion that’s a good thing.

Winners Take All

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Winners Take All is Anand Giridharadas’ 2018 book about how “the global elite’s efforts to ‘change the world’ preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve”.

Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? His groundbreaking investigation has already forced a great, sorely needed reckoning among the world’s wealthiest and those they hover above, and it points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world — a call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike.

The RSA made an animated video of a talk by Giridharadas that provides a graet summary of the central theme in five minutes — it’s a good watch/listen. Full talk is available here.


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Michael Byrne in a Vice article:

When techno-human civilization has finally collapsed, perhaps the result of a nuclear war programmed in C or the result of a bacterial superstrain isolated by software implemented in C, and we have been returned to our caves to gnaw bones and fight over rotten meat, there will still be a program written in C executing somewhere.

All of this isn't just because a lot of people really like coding in C, though it's been estimated that almost 20 percent of all coders use the language (see below). C is far deeper than what we normally think of when we think of "programming language." There are languages that we consider to be more or less foundational—Java, Python, Ruby, Lisp, etc.—which are the very general-purpose languages. C is also general-purpose programming language, but the difference is that C has become the de facto language of machines themselves, whether it's a five dollar microcontroller or a deep-space probe.

My argument is that I like coding in C. For all its faults, I love C for its simplicity, stability - and for the most part staying virtually unchanged for over a little over half a century. It is in complete opposite to the current trendy fad - JavaScript - where developers are constantly creating new languages to avoid using it.

It is the closest thing we have to a defacto standard in the computer world.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review

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Well, here we are at the end of all things. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the movie billed as the conclusion to the saga/mythology/lifestyle choice that George Lucas launched some 42 years ago with an unassuming little $9 million space opera called Star Wars. That of course was back in those innocent days when not every film carried a subtitle, and not every story choice was fraught with meaning for films yet to even be conceived.

Following the divisive, and at times toxic, debate over the previous installment, 2017’s The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker has been tasked with the unenviable challenge of not just providing a satisfying finale to the current trilogy, but also to the entire nine-film storyline that encompasses the Skywalker family melodrama and a galactic battle between good and evil. It also needs to please a plethora of fans with many different ideas of what this thing is supposed to be.

Does The Rise of Skywalker succeed? Did director/co-writer J.J. Abrams (encoring after setting the whole thing in motion with 2015’s The Force Awakens) make something that managed to answer all the questions and deliver an exciting story while simultaneously honoring and burying the past?

Nah. Not really.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a master class in ticking off boxes, a movie that lumbers to a shaky start but eventually delivers a certain level of surface excitement and rapid-fire pacing that obscures just how flimsily constructed its narrative is. The movie is less a story than a compendium of things that need to happen just to create the superficial sensations certain Star Wars fans want to experience–and those things often work well as they happen, only for the viewer to chuckle afterward over how he or she has been played again.

In other words, this is very much a J.J. Abrams movie: expertly made and well-acted (perhaps the best-acted of the entire new trilogy), but with no distinct point-of-view. It’s lots of callbacks and “surprise” cameos, and a narrative that’s very loosely remixed from a previous installment in the franchise. It throws a couple of bones to people who liked The Last Jedi’s deliberate subversion and deconstruction of Star Wars tropes, but make no mistake, it also explicitly and aggressively rejects that film’s concerns, applying a certain amount of retconning to the saga that may try even the hardiest series originalist.

The first half hour of the movie almost derails it entirely, as it bounces from one environment to another setting up both the new plot and reconnecting us with the characters in a clunky, almost random fashion. It is absolutely no spoiler to say that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is reintroduced within the opening moments of the film, but we will leave it for another time (and probably another writer, to be honest) to discuss the whys and hows of his presence here after 30 years. A whole lot of exposition and action follows haphazardly until we finally settle into the bulk of the main narrative.

That narrative follows our core returning heroes–Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac), plus C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and Chewie (Joonas Suotamo)–as they embark on a quest to find the kind of MacGuffin that usually ends up being the result of lazy screenwriting more than any Hitchcockian misdirection. While the search itself is needlessly elongated and convoluted, it does contain some of the movie’s best moments–at last we get to see our heroes mostly together, bickering affectionately and working toward a shared goal.

Meanwhile, back at whatever planet the rebel/Resistance base is now located on, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and her tattered, dwindling troops are trying to put on a brave front in light of the news of Palpatine’s re-emergence on the scene. And of course there’s her son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who still grapples with his loyalties in the First Order’s new role.

Getting any further into the plot would be spoilery, but suffice to say that there are revelations afoot which will do nothing to alleviate the divisions among Star Wars fans–divisions that have sadly been fueled in many ways by pre-existing prejudices that have nothing to do with the story at hand. Some old friends, such as Lando Calrissian (a delighted-to-be-there Billy Dee Williams), are trotted out along with a handful of new characters, but one gets the sense that they don’t contribute much to the narrative overall and are merely there as glorified walk-ons.

As for our main heroes, all of them do their best work in the series to date. Driver’s Kylo Ren is still this trilogy’s most interesting creation, a truly conflicted character whose leanings and motivations are always in question. His final arc, while not entirely unforeseen, is still the most unpredictable of the bunch and Driver can do a lot with steely glares and silent gestures.

As for our central trio of Rey, Finn and Poe, they’ve always felt like a three-way redistribution of Luke, Leia and Han’s characteristics more than three-dimensional beings, but they get to add a bit more nuance here that makes them seem more alive than they have in the two previous adventures. Rey and Kylo also get to share some of their most intense exchanges of all three films, their relationship given a new resonance here, and also engage in one hell of a lightsaber duel atop the ruins of the old Death Star that is as much of a showstopper as the brief clips we’ve seen beforehand suggest.

Carrie Fisher’s much-documented appearance in the movie is, with perhaps one exception toward the end, handled about as seamlessly as it probably could be. Created from eight minutes of existing but excised The Force Awakens footage (and a different plotline entirely), it’s integrated well enough into this story to allow Leia a proper, if diminished, role in these concluding proceedings without simply having to write her out of the movie entirely.

That’s one of those boxes that the movie at least checks off somewhat successfully. A lot of other moments in The Rise of Skywalker play out as curtain calls or “greatest hits” without doing much to serve the larger story. That story itself leads to a very familiar third act: one which doesn’t have the same stakes or emotional pull because we’ve seen so much of it before. A parade of beloved characters walking through and waving as well-remembered scenes are re-enacted around them is not a story, but a pantomime.

And that, in the end, is the biggest problem with The Rise of Skywalker and this entire new trio of Star Wars entries: we’ve seen so much of it before, in slightly different form. That issue itself stems from the very origins of this chapter: a desire on the part of a corporate parent (Disney) to put more Star Wars movies on the screen but a lack of a strong central vision of what story to tell going forward. The result has been a franchise at war with itself, even as its fans go to war against each other: a literal, real-life embodiment of the entire brand’s title–with no clear victor in sight.

We're Going Back to the Moon

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With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration by 2028. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap — sending astronauts to Mars.

You can find out the full details on NASA’s Artemis site

Teaching a DeLorean How to Drift

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A group of Stanford engineers has built an electric self-driving DeLorean that they’ve taught how to drift through a fairly complicated kilometer-long course “with the agility and precision of a human driver”. The car only needed to “see” a GPS course in order to successfully complete it.

As Doc Brown would say “The way I see it, if you’re gonna teach an autonomous car to drift, why not do it with some style?”

Finland Gifts AI Course

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Finland built a 6-week online course for its citizens to learn the basics of AI. Now it’s open to the rest of the world.

There are already quite a few sites for people looking to learn the basics of AI, but Finland’s offering seems worth your time if you’re interested in such a thing. It’s nicely designed, offers short tests at the end of each section, and covers a range of topics from the philosophical implications of AI to technical subjects like Bayesian probability. It’s supposed to take about six weeks to finish, with each section taking between five and 10 hours.

The Finnish government said it originally designed the course to give its citizen an advantage in AI. Finland has always punched above its weight in the tech and education, so it seems sensible to marry the two strengths. Megan Schaible of the tech consultancy Reaktor, which helped design the course, said the motivation was “to prove that AI should not be left in the hands of a few elite coders.”

You can start your course here

Mr. Robinson Is Back!

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Things have changed in Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood. The white people came and changed everything. His crack cooking friend Franky down the hall has left - flipped his apartment for $1.2 million to Damian and Mikka. And thanks to 23AndMe - he has found family he never knew he had.

Hey kids, can you say “gentrification”? It’s like a magic trick. White people pay a lot of money, and then poof, all the black people are gone. But where do they go, boys and girls? Back to where they come from, of course. Atlanta.

Why Are TVs So Cheap?

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Because the product is not the TV anymore – its you. As explained by Noah Kulwin :

For many big companies that make physical products, the business of making stuff isn’t sufficiently lucrative anymore. Automakers, for example, can now expect to see bigger profits from the loans they make on selling cars than from selling the actual cars. And like the TV manufacturers and car companies, even ad-unfriendly tech giants like Apple know that their real margins won’t come from hardware anymore — it’s why Cupertino is spending massively on content to shore up its growing “services” revenue.

The trade-offs for cheap TVs is that customers are themselves becoming the product for TV makers, which reflects the grandest Silicon Valley innovation of the last ten years: the digital ad business that catapulted Google and Facebook to their present-day stratospheric market valuations. It is, generally speaking, less labor-intensive and more exploitative of both workers and consumers. For something to be as cheap as a great TV, people have to give something up — whether they know it or not.

Time's 2019 Person of the Year: Greta Thunberg

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From John Gruber at Daring Fireball :

Superman is an inherently goofy premise even among the goofy premises of nearly all comic book superheroes. Most superheroes have limited powers and some sort of balanced weaknesses. Superman has nearly unlimited powers and just one very specific, very narrow weakness. And that weakness makes no sense whatsoever — how in the world would chunks of the planet Krypton make their way anywhere outside the Krypton solar system? And don’t get me started on the way no one notices Clark Kent looks like Superman because he’s wearing glasses. I mean come on.

But when I was a kid the thing I found most bothersome about the whole premise was the idea that if a scientist determined and had evidence to prove a severe global calamity was imminent, the public would simply ignore the warning. Here on real Earth, scientists are the ones who warn us of incoming hurricanes and who told us that vaccines could keep us from contracting terrible diseases, and we listened to them.

But here we are with climate change. The Krypton parable no longer seems funny. And with climate change it’s not just one scientist — it’s as close to expert consensus as science ever gets. I’m sure it never even occurred to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to have not just Jor-El but 99 percent of Krypton’s scientists arguing that the planet was doomed — and still having the leaders of the world respond with inaction. That Thunberg has been able to nudge the world in the direction of action — to move the needle even a little — is remarkable.

Amazon New York City Expansion

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Amazon agrees to open in Hudson Yards in a deal without any financial incentives from New York City or state.

"It’s clear the main reason Amazon wanted to be here was the availability of a skilled tech workforce plus the synergy with related industries,” said James Parrott, an economist at the New School. “And New York City still retains that attraction.”

Exactly - and our politicians need to understand that. There is no place on earth like New York City. Our government should not be paying and pleading for the big multi-nationals - they need NYC more then NYC needs them. And they should be paying brunt of the cost of construction/support structure - not the residents. And good for AOC, one of the few politicians who truly gets it.

After the Journal reported on Amazon’s new lease, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), a vocal critic of the HQ2 effort who represents neighborhoods near the proposed site, tweeted, “Won’t you look at that: Amazon is coming to NYC anyway - *without* requiring the public to finance shady deals, helipad handouts for Jeff Bezos, & corporate giveaways.”

The Die Is Cast

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The House Judiciary Committee approved the articles of impeachment against President Trump, putting into motion the official vote by The House this week. You can read the articles of impeachment with analysis by Peter Baker.

It will pass on bi-partisan basis, and the Senate will have to run the trial to see if the President should be removed from office. Trump will be only the third president to be impeached.

The Economist in a great article, succinctly lays out the argument for them:

The pressure put on Mr Zelensky, on the other hand, has risen to that level; Mr Trump’s main aim was to undermine a political rival. It is true that the aim was not achieved. Ukraine has announced no investigations, and the military aid that was withheld while those announcements were under discussion was in the end mostly released. In the absence of direct testimony as to the motives for the hold, conditionality might have been easier to prove if its release had followed the achievement of Mr Trump’s aims, rather than Congress and the public finding out what was going on.

But just as the Watergate burglary was a crime despite the fact that the burglars did not accomplish their purpose, so an abuse of power in pursuit of personal political benefit is an abuse of power even if the benefit is not, in the end, forthcoming. The House investigation shows that Mr Trump bent American foreign policy to improve his electoral chances. And he has taken extreme measures to stop Congress from investigating how far the bending went, something which the constitution gives it every right to do.

Caroll Spinney, Puppeteer, Dies

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Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who is responsible for Big Bird and Oscar the grouch has passed away.

From the Economist:

A puppeteer since childhood, he also operated Oscar the Grouch, the sour to Big Bird’s sweet. Oscar, who hoarded junk and lived in a rubbish bin, gave children permission to be cranky once in a while. Mr Spinney’s own childhood was tough. His father was exceedingly frugal and sometimes violent. His mother encouraged his love of puppets and art. He spent a decade working in children’s television, but wanted to do something “more important”. A chance meeting with Jim Henson, the Muppets’ creator, gave him that opportunity.

Big Bird became ubiquitous, the man inside remained unknown. In his memoirs Mr Spinney wrote that it was only the bird that was famous. But ensouling him was instructive. Among the chapter headings were “Find your inner bird”, and “Don’t let your feathers get ruffled”.

Rick Beato - Where Is the Funk?

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Nate Sloan writes in the New York Times about how the Jonas Brother’s song “Sucker” has “drum brake of stupefyingly funky proportions.”

Ahem. No. It does not. What is stupefying is that Sloan compares the drumming in “Sucker” to Clyde Stubblefield - James Brown’s drummer. As Rick Beato in the video below brilliantly explains:

So being funky is not about sounding like a drum machine and having perfect time - its actually being Funky