Tidbits | Dominik Mayer – Products, Asia, Productivity

Interesting articles, videos and other tidbits from around the web.

Shanghai, a 195-Gigapixel Panorama  

Chinese Chingkun Tech crated a 195-gigapixel panorama of Shanghai:

After taking photos in the Oriental Pearl Tower which is 230 m high and after data treatment for two months, we successfully created this picture, the world’s third largest picture and Asia’s first largest picture, marking that our team became a top creative image production team of the world.

I found my old appartment building, my university, friends' houses, … Pure nostalgia…

The CIA Secretly Bought a Company That Sold Encryption Devices Across the World. Then Its Spies Sat Back and Listened.  

The Washington Post’s national security correspondent Greg Miller tells the story of Crypto AG, a trusted cryptography company with many countries among its clients:

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

The CIA exited 2018. Imagine what else they might be running.

Coronavirus: What’s Behind Vietnam’s Containment Success?  

Chris Humphrey writing for the South China Morning Post:

“Vietnam responded to this outbreak early and proactively. Its first risk assessment exercise was conducted in early January – soon after cases in China started being reported,” Park says.

I’m impressed with Vietnam’s reaction to this crisis. They closed cinemas, bars, karaoke parlors early, then restricted access to restaurants and finally closed everything that’s not absolutely necessary.

The Life of a Backpacker in Asia in the 1970s  

Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly was a backpacker before being a backpacker was a thing.

I knew nothing about Asia, or even travelling; I had never even been out of New England. I knew nothing about what to expect. I went to the bookstores and it was really hard to find any information. There were these Fodor’s guidebooks for people who had a lot of money. I didn’t have any money. They barely covered places like Taiwan, so these books weren’t of any use to me. There was no internet, of course, and the libraries didn’t have much. I travelled kind of blindly because I had to.

Heads Up: The Oral History of Iron Man’s Original HUD  

Visual effects and animation journalist Ian Failes (isn’t that an amazing title?) interviewed the creators of the original Ironman heads-up display.

Kent Seki: I have to say that ‘First Flight’, in which Tony dons his silver Mark II suit, is one of my favourite parts. In the beginning of the sequence, you see components of the armour being applied, followed by a POV of the mask coming up to his face, then the very first HUD shot of Tony as the graphics turn on. This is the moment where the HUDs could succeed or fail. Luckily for us, we got things more right than wrong. The audience was with us.

That’s what it looks like in the movie:

A Conference Call in Real Life

I used to take part in many conference call that were exactly as depicted.

These days I’m doing mostly video calls which are much better.

Uber’s Path of Destruction  

Transportation consultant Huber Horan wrote my favorite article about Uber:

An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business.

Horan then compares Uber’s business model to that of the taxi industry and concludes that “Uber has not increased taxi productivity or solved long-standing industry problems” but instead subsidizes fares so that it can offer prices consumers are willing to pay.

Go read the whole article. It’s fascinating.

Horan has a PDF version (and more articles about Uber) on his website.

Heaven or High Water  

In the next fifty years Miami Beach is going to disappear in the ocean. Sarah Miller tried to buy property:

I did not ask if Mother Nature would respect the zoning requirements, but I did say it was amazing to me that such a famous architect was taking the time to build in a city so threatened by climate change. (I do not think that, by the way. I think he is getting paid a lot and he will get to see what he created and in a world where people tell you with a straight face that no, this city will be wiped off the map in fifty years, not thirty, and you’re supposed to be like “Oh, I feel so much better now,” I am not at all surprised by an architect building an enormous luxury apartment building here.)

A Room People Love  

On his great 3-2-1 newsletter James Clear quotes architect Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language) about designing a room people love:

Light on two sides of every room. When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.

This pattern, perhaps more than any other single pattern, determines the success or failure of a room. The arrangement of daylight in a room, and the presence of windows on two sides, is fundamental. If you build a room with light on one side only, you can be almost certain that you are wasting your money. People will stay out of that room if they can possibly avoid it…

The importance of this pattern lies partly in the social atmosphere it creates in the room. Rooms lit on two sides, with natural light, create less glare around people and objects; this lets us see things more intricately; and most important, it allows us to read in detail the minute expressions that flash across people’s faces, the motion of their hands … and thereby understand, more clearly, the meaning they are after. The light on two sides allows people to understand each other.

The Anatomy of Nightfall  

Jack Forster analyzes the Apple Watch Solar Face for Hodinkee and starts talking about twilight:

Twilight, as it turns out, is further divided into three phases: Civil Twilight, Nautical Twilight, and Astronomical Twilight, and it is the phases of twilight, plus sunset, which are indicated by the four dots clustered at sundown.

He continues describing every form of twilight and why it is important to be defined. One example:

Civil Twilight is not only an astronomical event – it is also important in fields as diverse as aviation and law. Here in the United States, the FAA defines night, and the additional regulations pertaining to nighttime aircraft operations, as the period between the end of Civil Twilight and the beginning of morning Civil Twilight.

'This Is Small Talk Purgatory': What Tinder Taught Me About Love  

CJ Hauser in The Guardian:

But once I gave up on the banterers, my Tinder chats became uniform. The conversations read like a liturgy: where are you from, how do you like our weather, how old is your dog, what are your hobbies, what is your job, oh no an English teacher better watch my grammar winkyfacetongueoutfacenerdyglassesface. The conversations all seemed the same to me: pro forma, predictable, even robotic.

That’s when I realised that what I was doing amounted to a kind of Turing test.

Daughter

Also check out the behind the scenes video:

Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out  

In 2003, the philosopher Nick Bostrom made an ingenious argument that we might be living in a computer simulation created by a more advanced civilization. He argued that if you believe that our civilization will one day run many sophisticated simulations concerning its ancestors, then you should believe that we’re probably in an ancestor simulation right now. His reasoning? If people eventually develop simulation technology — no matter how long that takes — and if they’re interested in creating simulations of their ancestors, then simulated people with experiences just like ours will vastly outnumber unsimulated people.

Nick Bostrom is the author of Superintelligence. (Check out Tim Urban’s take on it for Wait but Why.)

He makes a compelling argument with, again, grave consequences.

Old-Fashioned Rice Cookers Are Extremely Clever

How a simple rice cooker uses the physical properties of water and magnets to cook perfect rice.