Categories
Thought Starters

Thought starters: impact of coronavirus, Trump’s failures and the grow of VR and blockchain

We are beginning to see countries emerge from lockdown typically as the spread of coronavirus begins to peter out. Sweden has been something of an outlier in Western Europe with a relatively approach to social distancing and its embracing of the process of herd immunity as Nils Karlson, Charlotta Stern, and Daniel B. Klein recount:

As the pain of national lockdowns grows intolerable and countries realize that managing—rather than defeating—the pandemic is the only realistic option, more and more of them will begin to open up. Smart social distancing to keep health-care systems from being overwhelmed, improved therapies for the afflicted, and better protections for at-risk groups can help reduce the human toll. But at the end of the day, increased—and ultimately, herd—immunity may be the only viable defense against the disease, so long as vulnerable groups are protected along the way. Whatever marks Sweden deserves for managing the pandemic, other nations are beginning to see that it is ahead of the curve.

As we attempt to move back to something close to normal life, many of us are beginning to look at ways of mitigating the risks we face particularly in our workplace. It looks increasingly like it’s indoor spaces where we’re most vulnerable to infection. Dr Erin Bromage reviews case studies of where we have a clearer view on where coronavirus was spread, providing some helpful advice:

Basically, as the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, possibly even resuming in-office activities, you need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment. If you are in an open floorplan office, you really need to critically assess the risk (volume, people, and airflow). If you are in a job that requires face-to-face talking or even worse, yelling, you need to assess the risk.

It’s proving hard to get a clear picture on the impact of coronavirus on countries health, complicated by difficulties in gathering statistics and attributing deaths to the virus. The Economist has pulled together figures on excess mortality for different countries which provide an indication of how big a mark the virus has left on different populations.

Excess mortality since region/country’s first 50 covid deaths

It’s not hard to find reasons to criticise Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic but Edward Luce’s account provides one of the better ones:

In hindsight, Trump’s claim to global leadership leaps out. History will mark Covid-19 as the first time that ceased to be true. US airlifts have been missing in action. America cannot even supply itself.

The coronavirus pandemic has made disparities between different parts of society more apparent with knowledge workers often able to work from home. Service and manufacturing workers on the other hand are more likely to face unemployment or working in environments where working with social distancing might not be possible. Sara Selevitch’s account of life as a restaurant worker in Los Angeles makes clear some of the challenges many people are facing:

What I am getting used to instead is the arrival of a future that tech companies have been priming us for: public spaces populated mostly by delivery drivers purchasing doomsday groceries and meals for those wealthy enough to stay home.

The reality ignored by every #StayAtHome PSA is that people’s ability to social distance relies on the labor of others. It’s not so much that the work we’re doing is itself essential. It’s our working, rather, that is essential to maintaining the status quo.

Amazon is one of the organisations that has strengthened its hold on society during the pandemic acting as online department store for the masses (or at least those who can afford Amazon Prime). Unfortunately some of Amazon’s workers are doing better than others, so it’s encouraging to see some of their more privileged workers such as Tim Bray making their voices known:

Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward.

The election of Barack Obama gave many of us hope that America would become a post racial society but the election of Donald Trump has brought on a retrogressive trajectory. Here Adam Serwer reflects on what he describes as America’s racial contract:

The implied terms of the racial contract are visible everywhere for those willing to see them. A 12-year-old with a toy gun is a dangerous threat who must be met with lethal force; armed militias drawing beads on federal agents are heroes of liberty. Struggling white farmers in Iowa taking billions in federal assistance are hardworking Americans down on their luck; struggling single parents in cities using food stamps are welfare queens. Black Americans struggling in the cocaine epidemic are a “bio-underclass” created by a pathological culture; white Americans struggling with opioid addiction are a national tragedy. Poor European immigrants who flocked to an America with virtually no immigration restrictions came “the right way”; poor Central American immigrants evading a baroque and unforgiving system are gang members and terrorists.

I am a big fan of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, so it’s great to see him writing about the food industry again even if the words are not especially flattering:

The pandemic is, willy-nilly, making the case for deindustrializing and decentralizing the American food system, breaking up the meat oligopoly, ensuring that food workers have sick pay and access to health care, and pursuing policies that would sacrifice some degree of efficiency in favor of much greater resilience. Somewhat less obviously, the pandemic is making the case not only for a different food system but for a radically different diet as well.

Franklin Foer points to the fragility of the American democratic system given the threat from the Russian state and Donald Trump’s unwillingness to address it:

Vladimir Putin dreams of discrediting the American democratic system, and he will never have a more reliable ally than Donald Trump. A democracy can’t defend itself if it can’t honestly describe the attacks against it. But the president hasn’t just undermined his own country’s defenses—he has actively abetted the adversary’s efforts. If Russia wants to tarnish the political process as hopelessly rigged, it has a bombastic amplifier standing behind the seal of the presidency, a man who reflexively depicts his opponents as frauds and any system that produces an outcome he doesn’t like as fixed. If Russia wants to spread disinformation, the president continually softens an audience for it, by instructing the public to disregard authoritative journalism as the prevarications of a traitorous elite and by spouting falsehoods on Twitter.

Virtual reality has been one of those technologies that has seemed just around the corner for the last 10 years. While the consumer version of Oculus’s VR headsets have now been available for over 10 years now and there’s little sign of them making major in roads, even within the gaming community. Benedict Evans reflects on where to next:

To put this another way, it’s quite common to say that the iPhone, or PCs, or aircraft also looked primitive and useless once, but they got better, and the same will happen here. The problem with this is that the iPhone or the Wright Flier were indeed primitive and impractical, but they were breakthroughs of concept with clear paths for radical improvement. The iPhone had a bad camera, no apps and no 3G, but there was no reason why those couldn’t quickly be added. Blériot flew across the Channel just six years after the Wrights’ first powered flight. What’s the equivalent forward path here? There was an obvious roadmap for getting from a duct-taped mock-up to the Oculus Quest, and today for making the Quest even smaller and lighter, but what is the roadmap for breaking into a completely different model of consumer behaviour or consumer application? What specifically do you have to believe will change to take VR beyond games?

In a similar manner, Chris Dixon and Eddy Lazzarin explores the development of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies, positing that we’ve seen three waves of innovation (with presumably more to come):

Crypto Price-Innovation Cycle

Andy Greenberg’s profile of Marcus Hutchins provides an engaging tale of redemption in the latters transition from black to white hat hacker:

Stadtmueller began, almost as if reminiscing to himself, by reminding Hutchins that he had been a judge for more than three decades. In that time, he said, he had sentenced 2,200 people. But none were quite like Hutchins. “We see all sides of the human existence, both young, old, career criminals, those like yourself,” Stadtmueller began. “And I appreciate the fact that one might view the ignoble conduct that underlies this case as against the backdrop of what some have described as the work of a hero, a true hero. And that is, at the end of the day, what gives this case in particular its incredible uniqueness.”

Header image: Clearing VII by Antony Gormley from his 2019 Royal Academy exhibition.

Categories
Media diet

Who to follow on Twitter

There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about Twitter’s move to an algorithmic feed. There’s definite potential if it eases the burden of sifting through our current feed but there’s a real risk that in doing so, Twitter might loose the ‘special sauce’ that makes it so attractive to its current users (it’s worth reading Adam D’Angelo on this).

I figured now might be a good time to give a plug for the Twitter accounts that provide me with a healthy signal to noise ratio and generally avoid double posting (my current pet hate).

Tech, Startups, Media and Marketing

Balaji S. Srinivasan tech analyst, CEO of 21 inc of, board partner of Andreessen Horowitz and blockchain fan.

Ben Thompson technology analyst behind the Stratechery blog and host of the Exponent podcast.

Benedict Evans technology analyst with a focus on mobile who is now working as partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Apparently not a great fan of cultural world of San Francisco despite living there.

Chris Dixon Hunch founder and another Andreessen Horowitz with pointers on the world of technology and startups.

Ian Maude UK based technology, media and internet analyst working for the Be Heard Group.

Marc Andreessen cofounder of Netscape, Loudcloud and now Andreessen Horowitz with strong opinions on technology, economics, the world of startups and politics (libertarian). Bit more noise to signal than the other recommendations.

Om Malik technology analyst, founder of GigaOm and now partner at True Ventures

News and Analysis

If You Only…  Matter cofounder Bobbie Johnson provides a recommended long form journalism read each day.

Max Roser: typically provides an antidote to the naysayers of the world with data that point to human development around the world.

The Economist Daily Charts: provides a regular feed of charts, maps and infographics shedding light on issues in the news.

Tim Harford, journalist who writes as the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times and presenter of More or Less on Radio 4. Great for shining light on some of the issues that matter.

Cycling

Inner Ring: providing updates on the Inner Ring website and announcements from the world of professional cycling

And Me…

Finally, if you’re interested in following me on Twitter, more digital content can be found here and if you like riding bikes there’s here as well.

The featured image is No Amnesia by Pastel in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

Categories
Thought Starters

Thought Starters

Content that has caught my eye recently or got me thinking, which includes coverage of enterprise technology, changing nature of interaction on the internet and citizen journalism among other subjects.

Recent data breaches at Sony, Target and Home Depot point to serious security issues within large enterprises but Steven Sinofsky points to the move to cloud infrastructure and other developments as addressing many of these concerns in the near future. It’s also worth reading Sinofsky’s look at trends within the workplace in 2015 for Re/code, taking a closer look at cloud and hybrid cloud solutions, email, tablets and mobile device management among other matters.

Ben Bajarin takes a closer look at the emergence of the mobile internet,  pointing to its dominant role in China, with Western markets likely to follow. Ignore at your peril.

Complementing Bajarin’s analysis is Chris Dixon’s coverage of the move from a search to social centric model in what he describes as a move from a pull to a push model of the internet:

Social Media

The Lending Club IPO has placed a spotlight on the emergence of peer-to-peer models within the financial sector. The Economist’s comparison of the costs of the Lending Club versus traditional channels illustrate why Lending Club and other peer-to-peer operators are seen as a disruptors:

Lending Club

The sharing economy has taken a lot of stick for what some critics has described as providing an unfettered form of capitalism. The Nation posits an alternative model of the sharing economy in which associated technologies enable a more collective model of business:

Sharing Economy

Serial reignited my interest in podcasts even if the show didn’t manage to maintain its early momentum. EJ Dickinson compared reporting of the case on the podcast to that on Reddit, with the latter providing a valuable indication of the value of citizen journalism.

Hannah Kuchler covers Pew Research Center’s study into the Ferguson riots, pointing to the long delay in television news’ coverage of the event when compared to social media:

Ferguson

A pair of Morgan Stanley analysts experiences with the much lauded GoPro point to the fact that there are likely to be limits to the success of the action sports video camera:

1) Our feats as equity research analysts provoke way fewer jaw-dropping oohs and ahhs than the world’s top motorcycle freestylers

2) it is way easier to shoot hours of raw video content (the hardware capabilities are great) than it is to create anything that is even remotely digestible

3) the video editing and creation process is incredibly laborious—it took nearly 8 hours of work to create a sub-2 minute video—even as GoPro’s Studio helped ease the process (we didn’t have to match soundtrack to video, Studio’s [software provided] templated clip lengths and transitions, while providing a general storyboard outline).

Bloomberg reports on how the American economy is becoming increasingly independent of the petroleum sector with an interactive infographic – worth a look:

OIL

The Economist profiles the emerging middle class in developing societies as more of the world’s population finds themselves emerging from poverty:

Middle Class

Joseph E. Stiglitz looks at the emergence of China as the pre-eminent global economic power and what this means to the U.S.

The featured image is mural by Patel in Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic and found on StreetArtNews.

Categories
Thought Starters

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 13

There’s been a fair amount of coverage over the last week looking at the mobile web/mobile app divide.  Matt Gemmell provides four different classifications of mobile apps running from web apps (explicitly running in a general-purpose browser) through to fully native classifications (without an HTML/CSS user interface). He goes on to look at the pros and cons of the different options.

What really kicked things off though was Flurry’s release of statistics which point to mobile apps taking a greater share of the time Americans spend on their mobile phones.

Apps Continue to Dominate the Mobile Web

Microsoft has released an infographic which give you an idea of the mobile browser and app split as well as giving an indication of which of the major Western countries are heavier users of their smartphones.

Time Spent Using Phones Online Per Month

Chris Dixon has used Flurry’s figures to raise concerns about the trend as signalling a move away from a more open web, with Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store acting as potential gatekeepers.

Steve Schlafman looks at the ‘Uberification of the US service economy’ as startups deliver app based business models that bring together discovery, order, payment, fulfillment and confirmation in a closed loop.

On-Demand Mobile Services

Benedict Evans looks at the rapidly evolving mobile environment, pointing to the issues of discovery and identity as areas that we are still looking for solutions to evolve and/or mature.

A less mobile centric picture of the online landscape in the UK is provided by the following infographic, again from Microsoft.

Where the UK Spends Its Time OnlineBoth Forrester and We Are Social are giving a plug for the sometimes neglected Google+ as part of brand’s social strategy.  Engagement levels are good, even if the user population is dwarfed by that of Facebook.

Mobile will drive growth in media usage worldwide, with television and PC based internet access showing respectable increases, with print advertising being the major loser according to ZenithOptimedia’s forecast for global media quoted in Econsultancy.

Contribution to global growth in adspend by medium 20132016

The release of the Amazon Dash is a great example of Amazon’s continuing quest to reduce consumers’ barriers to purchase.

The world is seeing increases in inequality in income and wealth with Occupy Wall Street’s drawing attention to the top 1%. Priceonomics looks more closely at the figures and finds that it’s the top .01% that are really taking the cake.

Top wealth shares decomposing the top 1%The featured image is by eko