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Alibaba to buy all remaining outstanding shares of local delivery service Ele.me

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 10:32 PM PDT

As expected since February, Alibaba will buy all outstanding shares of Ele.me that it doesn't already own. Best-known for food deliveries, Ele.me claims to be China's biggest online delivery and local services platform. In an announcement, Alibaba said the deal values Ele.me at $9.5 billion. Alibaba, which first invested in Ele.me two years ago, and its affiliate Ant Small and Micro Financial Services Group currently hold about 43% of the company's outstanding voting shares.

This is the latest in a string of investments and acquisitions by Alibaba to expand its physical retail presence as part of its so-called "new retail" strategy to combine e-commerce and offline retail. The company's goal is to make it easier for users to move (and spend money) between brick-and-mortar stores and Alibaba businesses like Tmall and Taobao. For example, they may view products at pop-up stores and then order them on their smartphones for almost-immediate home delivery.

Ele.me, which will continue to operate under its own brand, is at its heart a logistics technology company. Founded in 2008, it utilizes its logistics system to provide services like Fengniao, an express courier for local deliveries. After the deal is finalized, Alibaba said that founder and chief executive officer Zhang Zhuhao (also known as Mark Zhang) will become chairman of Ele.me and special advisor to Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang on its new retail strategy. Wang Lei, currently vice president of Alibaba Group, will take over as Ele.me's CEO.

In a press release, Zhang said "Under the leadership of its founder and management team, Ele.me has achieved leading market share in China's online food delivery and local services sector. Our shared belief that New Retail will create more value for customers and merchants has brought us together. Looking forward, Ele.me can leverage Alibaba's infrastructure in commerce and
find new synergies with Alibaba's diverse businesses to add further momentum to the New Retail initiative."

Bloomberg reported at the end of February that Alibaba planned to buy the rest of Ele.me's shares from its other investors, including Baidu.

The deal deepens Alibaba's competition with Tencent, in particular its own local services and delivery platform, Meituan Dianping, which was formed by a merger in 2015. Alibaba previously owned shares in Meituan Dianping, thanks to its investment in Meituan, but began offloading them soon after the merger with Dianping.

In a statement, Alibaba said Ele.me complements its affiliate Koubei, a platform that gives restaurants and stores a way to go online and reach more local customers.

"By combining Ele.me's online home delivery services with Koubei's consumer acquisition and engagement capability for a range of restaurants and service establishments, Alibaba will be able to offer an integrated experiences to customers both online and offline," said the company.

Cloudflare’s new ‘privacy-focused’ DNS service speeds up your web browsing

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 01:21 PM PDT

Cloudflare decided to use April Fool’s Day (4/1) to share some news about four 1’s that could help speed your internet browsing. The company announced today that it’s launching a DNS service for consumers called

The company’s tool — which is not some super nerdy April Fool’s joke — will allow users to shorten load times of web pages and keep some data away from network providers. Cloudfare boasts it will be “the Internet’s fastest, privacy-first consumer DNS service.”

In layman’s terms, by punching the number 1 four times into their DNS network info, consumers can hand over the reigns over to Cloudflare to connect a URL that they type into the tool bar — say, techcrunch.com — with that site’s IP address, a process that’s done by making requests to the Domain Name System (DNS). If you go to, you’ll get some info on how to enable this on the device that you’re on.

It’s completely separate from the startup’s authoritative DNS service for its customers but it does take advantage of Cloudflare’s existing network to provide the fastest speeds possible to users, shaving off milliseconds from other service like Google’s Public DNS Service.

It’s important to note that this DNS service isn’t some magical catch-all, you’re still much better off operating a VPN if you don’t want any of your web activity being exposed. One of the main use cases that the company seems to be tackling here is how governments have used DNS to get network providers to censor citizens access to the web.

“[I]t’s been depressing to us to watch all too frequently how DNS can be used as a tool of censorship against many of the groups we protect. While we’re good at stopping cyber attacks, if a consumer’s DNS gets blocked there’s been nothing we could do to help,” Prince said in blog post.

The company says that the new service will help keep some data out of ISPs’ hands and that they won’t keep data in their hands for long either. Cloudflare has pledged to both never write users’ IP addresses to disk and that they’ll purge all logs from their system after 24 hours. CEO Matthew Prince doesn’t want you taking their word for it though, he detailed in a blog that the company has paid for an independent audit firm to take a look at their code annually and ensure that they’ve been doing this.

Cloudflare has always seemed to prioritize securing a healthy future for the internet, that’s led it into some tough predicaments with like Nazis and stuff, with this latest launch it seems that the company is trying to enact some positive changes for promoting privacy and speed on the consumer side.

What Apple’s education announcements mean for accessibility

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 12:30 PM PDT

From an accessibility news standpoint, this week's Apple event in Chicago was antithetical to the October 2016 event. At the latter event, Apple began the presentation with a bang — showing the actual video being edited using Switch Control in Final Cut. Tim Cook came out afterwards to talk some about Apple's commitment to serving the disabled community before unveiling the then-new accessibility page on the company's website.

By contrast, the education-themed event in Chicago this week went by with barely a mention of accessibility. The only specific call-out came during Greg Joswiak's time on stage talking about iPad, when he said "accessibility features make iPad a learning tool for everyone."

That doesn't mean, however, accessibility has no relevance to what was announced.

I was in the audience at Lane Tech College Prep on Tuesday covering the event. As a former special educator –and special education student — I watched with keen interest as Apple told their story around education. While Apple is targeting the mainstream, I came away with strong impressions on how Apple can make serious inroads in furthering special education as well.

It's Called 'Special' for a Reason

Apple is obviously—rightfully—building their educational strategy towards mainstream students in mainstream classes. It's a classic top-down approach: Teachers assign students work via handouts, for such activities as writing essays or completing science projects. This is the entire reason for Apple's Classroom and Schoolwork apps. However well-designed, they lack an element.

Where they lack is there is nothing afforded, at least in specific terms, to teachers and students in special education settings. Apple's strategy here is defined, again, by the classic teacher-student relationship, without any regard for other models. I'm not levying a criticism on the company; this is the reality.

At many levels, special education classrooms do not function in a way that's conducive to Apple's vision for learning at this time. In the moderate-to-severe early childhood (Pre-K) classrooms I worked in for close to a decade, the structure was such that most, if not all, activities were augmented by a heavy dose of adult support. Furthermore, most of our students were pulled out of class at certain times for additional services such as speech services and physical/occupational therapy sessions.

In short, there were no lectures or essay prompts anywhere.

This is where accessibility comes in. There is enormous potential for Apple to dig deeper and expand the toolset they offer to educators and students. To accommodate for special education is, in my view, akin to accommodating disabled users by offering accessibility features on each of Apple's software platforms.

Special education is special for a reason. It involves ways of teaching and learning that are unique, and the people who work and learn in these environments deserve the same consideration.

Accessibility is Apple's Secret Weapon

Leading up to the event, there was much talk in the Apple community of writers and podcasters that Google is eating Apple's lunch in the schools market because Chromebooks are dirt cheap for districts and most everyone relies on Google Docs.

I'm not interested in the particulars of this argument. What I am interested in, however, is simply pointing out that despite the perception Apple products are too expensive and less capable, they are better in one meaningful sense: accessibility.

Consider Chromebook versus iPad. In many levels of special education, an iPad is far superior to a Chromebook. The tablet's multi-touch user interface is far more intuitive, and more importantly, iOS is built with accessibility in mind. From VoiceOver to Dynamic Type to Switch Control and more, an iPad (or an iPod Touch, for that matter) can provide a far more accessible and enriching learning experience for many students with disabilities than a Chromebook. And lest we forget the App Store effect; there are many outstanding apps geared for special ed.

This is a crucial point that many technology pundits who lament Apple's position in the education market always seem to miss.

Making Special Educators More Special

One area where Apple can greatly improve the lives of teachers is by broadening the Schoolwork app such that it makes IEP prep easier and, playing to Apple's core strength, more modern. Historically, even today, IEPs are planned and written using stacks of paperwork. Goals, assessments, and consent forms are handwritten (sometimes typed) and stapled together. And being a binding legal document, teachers must ensure there are the proper signatures on every page, or else be dinged for being out of compliance with protocols. In sum: the IEP is the bane of every special educator's existence because they take so much time.

To this end, Apple could do special education teachers a grand service by adding a module of sorts to its Schoolwork app that would allow them to more easily create and track a student's IEP. There could be charts for tracking goal progress, as well as ways to collate and distribute documents amongst the IEP team (SLPs, OT/PT, etc) and of course parents. Teachers could even send an email to parents with any consent forms attached and encourage them to sign with Apple Pencil on their iPad, if they have one.

At the very least, it would make IEP prep infinitely more efficient, and perhaps alleviate some of the stress at the actual meetings. Digitizing the process would be game-changing, I think.

Bottom Line

The ideas I've outlined here are well within Apple's wheelhouse. They would likely need to collaborate with special educators and districts on things like IEP forms and policies, but it is certainly within them to do so. They can do this if they want.

To reiterate an earlier point, special education deserves just as much thoughtful consideration and innovation as the education industry at large. Given Apple's unwavering support of accessibility, this is an area in which they can surely improve.

China’s 9-ton Tiangong-1 space station will burn up tonight, but no one knows quite where

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 10:39 AM PDT

What goes up must come down. That’s generally the rule, anyway, certainly for spacecraft that have fulfilled their purpose and have no way to stay in orbit. Such is the case of Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, which after nearly 7 years in space is making an uncontrolled descent and should provide a nice fiery light show in the skies over… somewhere.

Update: Tiangong-1 is no more; it went down over the South Pacific at about 5:16 PM Pacific.

Because there are so many unknowns about Tiangong-1’s trajectory, observers can only give an educated guess. The only thing they’re pretty sure about is that it’s going to drop some time in the next 24 hours — probably sometime tonight, and somewhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south.

But owing to the speeds involved and the inherently unpredictable nature of how a large body will tumble through the atmosphere, the exact time and location won’t be known basically until the event occurs. “At no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible,” explained reentry experts at the European Space Agency.

That sounds quite dire, but it isn’t.

Sure, Tiangong-1 is about the size of a schoolbus and weighs 9.4 tons, but unlike a meteorite of that size the station is hollow and fragile, and should break apart completely during its descent. There’s no danger, experts insist. No one is on board the station and it isn’t on a collision course with any crewed craft.

It may seem a little crazy, but burning up in the atmosphere is just a part of the natural life cycle of large spacecraft. This one isn’t even that big.

Tiangong-1 (the name roughly translates to “Heavenly Palace”) was launched in late 2011 in two parts, which connected in space — the first such feat accomplished by China’s space program. Over the next two years, three spacecraft docked with the newly formed station: one robotic craft, Shenzhou-8, and two crewed missions, Shenzhou-9 and 10, each with three on board.

These missions proved the viability of China’s space station tech (another test platform, Tiangong-2, was launched in 2016), and in 2013 Tiangong-1, having accomplished what its creators set out to do, was deactivated. Its creators planned to have it execute a controlled descent at some point, using its thrusters to put it on a path to break up over the ocean.

As little risk as there may be of debris hitting someone, it’s good practice not to take that risk if you don’t have to, and good manners not to dispose of your space junk over someone else’s country.

A helpful visualization of the expected debris footprint of Tiangong-1 from The Aerospace Corporation.

Unfortunately, the spacecraft stopped responding to its handlers in China about two years ago, meaning that a controlled descent was no longer possible. As a result, Tiangong-1’s orbit has decayed naturally and it’s only in the last few months that it’s become clear when it would come down.

Because we have no telemetry from the station, we only know what we can observe from outside the station (like Fraunhofer’s radar imagery, shown above), and a host of variables make it difficult to say anything with certainty. It wasn’t until this week that its deorbit path has become clear enough that space authorities are confident giving even a 24-hour window when it will come down.

Those on the ground there may possibly be treated to a “splendid” light show, as China’s space agency put it, as if a large meteor is breaking up in the upper atmosphere. It should be visible for a minute or so as the station tumbles and breaks up and its constituent pieces burn.

Predictions may get slightly better depending on observations, so I’ll update this post if the window is significantly altered.

STEAMRole is like Tinder for mentorship

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 10:38 AM PDT

Providing ongoing mentorship can be impractical for busy professionals. With STEAMRole, the idea is to empower professionals to easily share their stories with students and young professionals.

It’s like Tinder for finding your role model and dream career in science, technology, engineering, art or math, STEAMRole founder and CEO Clarence Wooten told me.

“As the saying goes, you can't be what you can't see,” Wooten said.

Similar to Snapchat’s story functionality, students and aspiring professionals can consume inspirational content from role models. For role models, they can post about how their backgrounds, the work they do and how they landed their dream job.

[gallery ids="1614865,1614864,1614863,1614862,1614861,1614860"]

“We want to make it easy for role models to give back and who want to mentor,” Wooten said. “We do it in a way that’s like creating a Snapchat story, and then followers can subscribe to content.”

STEAMRole is also incorporating blockchain technology to incentivize learners to achieve certain skills through its digital currency, RoleCoin. STEAMRole currently has several hundred role models signed up to be notified when it launches.

DARPA wants new ideas for autonomous drone swarms

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 10:18 AM PDT

The Defense Department’s research wing is serious about putting drones into action, not just one by one but in coordinated swarms. The Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program is kicking off its second “sprint,” a period of solicitation and rapid prototyping of systems based around a central theme. This spring sprint is all about “autonomy.”

The idea is to collect lots of ideas on how new technology, be it sensors, software, or better propeller blades, can enhance the ability of drones to coordinate and operate as a collective.

Specifically, swarms of 50 will need to “isolate an urban objective” within half an hour or so by working together with each other and ground-based robot. That at least is the “operational backdrop” that should guide prospective entrants in their decision whether their tech is applicable.

So a swarm of drones that seed a field faster than a tractor, while practical for farmers, isn’t really something the Pentagon is interested in here. On the other hand, if you can sell that idea as a swarm of drones dropping autonomous sensors on an urban battlefield, they might take a shine to it.

But you could also simply demonstrate how using a compact ground-based lidar system could improve swarm coordination at low cost and without using visible light. Or maybe you’ve designed a midair charging system that lets a swarm perk up flagging units without human intervention.

Those are pretty good ideas, actually — maybe I’ll run them by the program manager, Timothy Chung, when he’s on stage at our Robotics event in Berkeley this May. Chung also oversees the Subterranean Challenge and plenty more at DARPA . He looks like he’s having a good time in the video explaining the ground rules of this new sprint:

You don’t have to actually have 50 drones to take part — there are simulators and other ways of demonstrating value. More information on the program and how to submit your work for consideration can be found at the FBO page.

Charting the adoption of direct startup investments by family offices

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 10:00 AM PDT

There's money, and then there's wealth. In all likelihood, money is what most of us have (or don't have). It's what we use to buy lunch, pay rent or put a down payment on a house. Wealth, on the other hand, is what buys yachts. But more than superficial material things, wealth also buys financial security (and all the good and ill that comes with it) for subsequent generations.

What is a family office?

Although close to half of Americans hold no stocks, bonds or real estate, most of the remaining half that are lucky and prosperous enough to do so choose to manage their assets on their own, or perhaps with the help of a financial advisor. But as you move further along the privileged end of the socio-economic curve, managing, preserving and growing one's wealth becomes more complicated.

Many of the world's highest-net-worth (HNW) families employ an entire office full of accountants, lawyers and investment professionals to manage their assets. These "family offices" sometimes manage the assets of more than one family, but they are still relatively close-knit.

Historically, family offices haven't made many direct investments into individual tech startups, instead favoring a more diversified approach to tech investing by being limited partners in venture capital and other private-market funds. Or, outside of tech, they invest in public-market equities, real estate, fixed income or other "alternative" asset classes besides VC, PE and hedge funds, according to a 2017 article about ultra HNW investors' portfolios from KKR.

Increasingly, however, family offices are investing more into individual tech startups, at least according to anecdotal reports and a recent funding round Crunchbase News covered. But one anecdote doesn't document a trend, so let's take a look at the numbers.

Family offices' direct investment into startups picked up the pace

Data covering direct startup investments from family offices listed in Crunchbase bears out that trend. The chart below is based on more than 1,700 venture deals (seed, angel, equity crowdfunding, Series A, Series B, etc.) struck with individual technology companies by 193 family offices located around the world.

The 193 family offices with listed venture investments are, no doubt, only a fraction of the total count of such groups, which tend to be private. Combined with the fact that many startups are slow to announce funding, it's not like the list of funding rounds or their participants is comprehensive. However, assuming it's fairly representative, we can treat the figure above as a directional indicator of general trends.

And what are those trends?

First off, at least when it comes to deal volume, family offices' startup investment activity tracks with the broader venture investment market (which includes individual angels, venture capital groups, seed funds, accelerators and others).

During the several years leading up to 2015, there was a run-up in the number of deals being struck. After that high point, though, deal volume began to decline in the U.S., which Crunchbase News has documented, as investors eschewed writing many smaller checks to early-stage startups, instead favoring fewer, larger checks with later-stage tech companies. On a global scale, projected deal volume is roughly flat on an annualized basis from 2015 through 2017, whereas reported deal data is down primarily due to reporting delays. Because there are more U.S. family offices that invest in startups than international ones, it's not surprising to see that family office deal volume hews closer to the U.S. market in general.

Family office venture deal volume growth outpaced VC

But what's different about family offices — and what lends credence to the anecdotal evidence suggesting there are more family offices investing in more startups — is the growth rate in deal volume over time as compared to institutional venture capital investors. To be sure, worldwide, there were more deals struck by both types of investor in 2017 than in 2010 (even when accounting for reporting delays). But the difference between these two types of investor is in the magnitude of the change.

In the chart below, we compare reported deal volume between VC funds (which have a lot of known deals per year) and family offices (which, as we showed above, have much fewer recorded startup investment deals per year). We adjust for this discrepancy in deal volume by indexing reported deal volume against 2010 levels. In doing so, we're able to deliver a relativistic, apples-to-apples comparison between the two.

Worldwide, in 2015, reported deal volume from VC firms was almost precisely 2.5x that of 2010's totals. But that multiple for family offices is roughly 6x. And, although it isn't pictured above, family office deal volume growth outperformed traditional VC between 2011-2017, 2012-2017 and 2013-2017.

In relative terms, across a range of measures, deal volume growth was higher and faster among family offices than VC funds for a significant period of time. The data suggest that family offices making direct investments into startups recently became a trend. Especially for that period through 2014, family offices were on the early side of the adoption curve for making direct startup investments. Whatever growth we see on the VC side is the product of growth in the market in general, but it's not like VC funds are still adopting direct startup investments into their repertoire. It's been their model for decades. For comparatively stodgy family offices, it was still the new, new thing.

Nostalgia eats itself in ‘Ready Player One’

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 09:38 AM PDT

First things first: I had a really good time watching Ready Player One. As promised, the movie feels like a chance for Steven Spielberg to return to his roots as a blockbuster filmmaker, and to take all the toys out of the box and smash them together.

The film is based on Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel, with a script by Cline and Zak Penn. It’s ostensibly set in Columbus, Ohio, 30 years in the future, in a world overwhelmed by climate change and overpopulation. But Ready Player One‘s real setting is the OASIS, an enormous virtual reality world.

The story’s hero is Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), who spends most of his time in the OASIS, hoping to complete three challenges  left behind by James Halliday, the technology’s inventor. Halliday has promised that the first person to complete the challenges will gain control of the OASIS.

The film’s central achievement is bringing this virtual world to life. Rather than aiming for a photo-real effect, Spielberg has embraced the OASIS’ essentially cartoony and video game-like qualities, and after a few minutes of acclimation, I had no problem jumping back-and-forth between the movie’s digital free-for-all and its live action dystopia.

ready player one

It’s clear that the characters take what happens in the OASIS as seriously as anything in the “real world,” and that they see their virtual avatars as an extension or expression of their real selves, so I was happy to follow their lead.

And as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Wreck-it Ralph have already shown, there can be something exhilarating about seeing elements from classic films and video games thrown together. I genuinely felt like I was 10 years old again as I watched the first big set piece, with Wade racing through the streets of New York City in his Back to the Future-style DeLorean, dodging King Kong and the Tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park.

But I also felt a rapidly growing sense of diminishing returns.

True, Spielberg and other directors of his generation have openly borrowed from old movies throughout their careers. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars were inspired by the pop culture that Spielberg and his friend George Lucas loved as kids, but those movies transformed what had come before into something new.

There’s nothing quite as magical here. At its worst, Ready Player One amounts to little more than a game of spot-the-reference. And even at its best, any excitement feels more like a rapidly fading sugar rush, not the indelible thrill of Spielberg’s best work.

He’s has been happy to talk about Ready Player One as a return to making movies “from the audience, for the audience,” but Spielberg’s also suggested that he has more on his mind than pure entertainment — that the film is meant to highlight some of the ways that the Internet and virtual reality could be used to isolate us, to distract from the world’s very real problems.

Some of that comes across in the film’s opening moments, when Wade climbs down a tower of rundown trailers. Inside each one, we can see that his neighbors are all hidden behind goggles, living in their own fantasies.

But despite a few pious nods towards the importance of the real world, the film doesn’t seem very interested in the flaws of the OASIS — or the dark side of the nostalgic fan culture that Wade embodies. Sure, Wade has a hard time to talking to girls, but it’s clear that when he confronts the film’s villain (a corporate executive who could never love John Hughes movies the way Wade does), we’re meant to see cheer him on as he declares, “A fanboy knows a hater.”

And while Mark Rylance delivers the film’s most compelling performance as Halliday, the script falls short. By portraying the most powerful technologist in the world as a lonely, awkward but ultimately benign and Willy Wonka-ish figure, it feels strangely out-of-sync with 2018, when everyone seems to be wrestling with the damage that these digital platforms may be doing.

And yet … I had a good time. I felt plenty of reservations as I left the theater, but I made my peace with them by accepting Ready Player One as the ultimate expression of geek nostalgia, with all the virtues and the limitations that implies.

I suspect Spielberg and Cline have taken us as far down the pop culture rabbit hole as any movie can go. Hopefully, other filmmakers will realize that, and they’ll look elsewhere for inspiration.

Patterns, Predictability, and the Rise of Donald Trump 

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 09:30 AM PDT

Think you’ve heard that song before? Were there more Jennifer’s or Jessica’s in your class at school? And what does this have to do with the rise of Donald Trump?

In the latest episode of the Interesting People in Interesting Times podcast, Derek Thompson, author of Hitmakers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, explains what influences our thinking, drives our choices, and ultimately dictates human behavior.

Thompson argues that patterns and predictability are the essence of human life. What makes a hit song, a winning politician, a bestselling product, and even a successful tech startup, comes down to repetition. 

At the core of Thompson’s theory is the myth of novelty: We seemingly love to discover new things, but they only resonate with us if they’re grounded in an element of familiarity.

“We live in a culture where there’s enormous pressure to be aware of and to like new things, to be aware of new songs, to see new movies, to read new books, to seek out new ideas, to be up on the hottest fashion or the most salacious thing happening on Twitter,” Thompson says. “Yet the most fundamental finding from psychology is that people do not like new things. The [concept of] the mere-exposure effect says that the mere exposure to any stimulus to us biases us towards that stimulus: we are suckers for the familiar.”

“Take movies. We love to see new movies. That said, every year this century, a majority of the top 10 films in America have been sequels, adaptations, or reboots. This is even true in the landscape of ideas. It’s thrilling and wonderful to read a brilliant essay but what we love and pass on the most is those essays that have a clever joke or framing device to tell us that that thing we believe in is in fact true.” 

The reason we fall for certain people and products comes down to “familiar surprises: ideas that strike us as original when we confront them, but in investigating them, it’s like stepping through a door and seeing an old friend on the inside. Discovering a feeling of familiarity within products and discovering a-ha moments is what all consumers are looking for throughout the cultural landscape.” 

In politics, Thompson says, “We love new faces. But we only fall for them when they tell us familiar stories.” For example, “Make America Great Again is not only the most traditional thing you could possibly say, but it’s so traditional, Ronald Reagan said it 28 years ago.”

“For a long period of time, elites could use scarce media channels like radio to dictate taste to consumers, and consumers through sheer repetition and familiarity bias would lap up the ideas of the elites. Taste was top-down for most of history, but now it’s bottom-up.”

What does that have to do with Donald Trump?

The dominant theory in political science about elections was called “the party decides” — voters don’t decide who becomes the presidential nominee of any particular party. The party decides. The party equals the elites. The exact same phenomenon that’s happening in music, is happening in politics. But now, you have this explosion in the channels of exposure.

“Taste in politics, just like taste in music, has gone from being dictated top down to where it bubbles up. Across the cultural landscape, taste itself is becoming more chaotic, harder to predict, harder to control.”

Turns out, the structure of making a hit song, and its devices, like repetition, are key to political speechwriting, as well as marketing.

The most famous line in speech making in the 20th century is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Mark Twain said “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Hillary Clinton’s perhaps most well-known line is: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”  

“The reason this is so common in speechwriting, so clever and so powerful, is that it turns ideas into music through repetition. It takes any concept and musicalizes it so that our brain falls in love with the music before it even has time to process the substance.”

And here’s where this connects to Andrew Yang, who is running for President in 2020, as featured in the first episode of the IPIT podcast.< According to Thompson, “Andrew Yang is selling a huge proposal with Universal Basic Income. And he’s selling it based on a rather large, scary principle: that our jobs are going away in way that’s never happened before. I think it’s important for politicians to have huge visions, particularly when those visions are based in an element of morality. I would urge him however to find more ways to fit the concept of a freedom dividend within the system that we have, by suggesting, for example, that he’s open to doubling or tripling the income tax credit. Or by suggesting that he’s willing to expand Medicare maybe from 65 to 55 and even to 45, and that he has plans to expand Medicaid as well. I think that having an element of radical idealism is really really important for running for president. But it’s important that we ground our visions of radicalism to an element of familiarity, because politics, like music, is a popularizing business. Running for president is essentially the largest popularity contest in the U.S. And we know people are afraid of ideas that sound too radical.”

The takeaway here is: “Dream as big as possible, but just as it’s important to sell something familiar by making it surprising, if you’re trying to sell something surprising, do remember to make it familiar.”  

Interesting People in Interesting Times is a podcast hosted by Tom Goodwin and Adriana Stan. This episode was recorded last month at Soho House New York.

Listen to the podcast here.

‘Highly critical’ CMS bug has left over 1 million sites open to attack

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 08:33 AM PDT

The team behind the popular open-source CMS Drupal is urging admins to update their sites to ward off a nasty bug that could leave their sites “highly compromised” to attackers, according to the organization.

The effected versions (Drupal 6, 7 and 8) of the CMS power over one million websites on the internet.

Drupal has marked the security risk as “highly critical” and warns that any visitor to the site could theoretically hack it through remote code execution due to a missing input validation.

“This potentially allows attackers to exploit multiple attack vectors on a Drupal site, which could result in the site being completely compromised,” the group noted in a blog post.

Drupal sent out an alert last week, telling users that they’d be dropping a “highly critical release” this weekend and they should update immediately. The announcement was unusual for Drupal and left developers on high alert for the targeted time frame of the release on Friday. Sites running vulnerable versions of Drupal, should update to Drupal 7.58 or Drupal 8.5.1 as soon as possible to avoid exploits. Drupal notes that they have yet to see any reports of exploits in the wild yet.

The bug’s official identifier is CVE-2018-7600 though users on social media have taken to calling it drupalgeddon2, referencing another major release from the org in 2014.

Gillmor Gang: The Great Divide

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 07:00 AM PDT

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Esteban Kolsky, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Saturday, March 312018.

@stevegillmor, @ekolsky, @DenisPombriant, @fradice, @kteare

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

Liner Notes

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Parasitism and the fight for the wrong century

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 06:00 AM PDT

Generals are famously always “studying how to fight the last war,” with the last war’s technology, while dismissing how the world and its tech have changed in the interim. This is true for dissidents, rebels, and culture wars too. Our fears tend to be of 20th century boogeymen, the Nazis and the Soviet Union — but we should be worrying about other things entirely. The world and its dystopias have moved on.

The Nazis and the Soviets obviously inspired Orwell’s “1984,” which was stunning, visionary, and enormously influential … while still being slightly myopic compared to Huxley’s earlier, much weirder, and much more subversive “Brave New World.” But Orwell too was already able to prophesy a world in which no one really fought for territory any more. What would be the point?

Militaries around the world are constructed primarily for national defense against an invading, conquering force, but invading and conquering territory makes no sense any more. Wealth and power are no longer remotely related to how much real estate or raw materials you control. South Korea’s US-dollar GDP is higher than that of Russia.

The US swept Iraq’s military away like gauze paper when they invaded in 2003, but it turns out that, even after you overthrow a brutal dictator, even when it’s one of the most oil-rich nations on the planet, attempting to occupy and control a hostile nation inevitably becomes a horribly expensive catastrophe that costs enormously more than any possible benefits.

Nation-states don’t invade and conquer each other any more because of military defenses, or any kind of Pax Americana, or because everyone has gotten nicer and kinder over the last hundred years. They don’t do it because, thanks to technology-driven transformations over that time, it simply doesn’t make any sense; in fact it has become complete madness.

Similarly, counterculture individualists and lovers of freedom worry about Nazi fascism or Soviet police states. How twentieth century of us. There are plenty of neo-fascists out there, to my dismay, and we often seem to be doing our best to accidentally construct the tools of a police state out of modern technology — smartphones, drones, facial recognition technology, etc. in the much-abused name of “security.” I’m certainly not suggesting that people or societies today are somehow less likely to construct such horrors because they have grown morally better over time. There are plenty of awful people out there.

I am, however, suggesting that awful people today are a lot less likely to aim for fascism or totalitarianism because awful people benefit a lot less from those systems than they used to. The Soviet Union collapsed because it was an economic disaster as well as a moral one. The closest things we have to fascist states today — monarchies like North Korea and Saudi Arabia — are fragile, riven by internal contradictions and internecine warfare, facing the future with desperation and fear.

There’s a new playbook for oppression today. Instead of outright totalitarian rule, you construct the appearance of democracy, while controlling it by subtly — in some cases perhaps not even consciously — restricting the options available to individual voters; by controlling a tiered system of “representative” electors behind the scenes; or by simply outright stuffing the ballot box. (There can be much sound and fury about the distinctions between the available candidates, but if you’ve done your job correctly, and made democracy as awful as possible, in general only establishment candidates or easily manipulated narcissists will ever be nominated.)

Then you give your people enough freedom to thrive; to create, to disrupt, to innovate. And you siphon as much as you can of that created wealth.

You don’t give them enough to actually seriously challenge the establishment, of course; to, say, remake the system so that the siphoned wealth goes to its poor and oppressed people instead of its silent, invisible masters. That is a red line that must not be crossed. But the beauties of this system — call it parasitism — is that it is very rare to encounter a challenger who cannot be co-opted. It vampire-squids enough wealth for its upper-tier members and their families to live lives of extraordinary, gilded luxury, without the unpleasant threat of being assassinated or deposed that comes with outright fascism or totalitarianism.

These parasitic systems couldn’t exist without today’s technology. They are mostly networked, not hierarchical. They watch, they adapt, and they distract. They construct shell corporations that shuttle gobs of money around the globe like 747s. And they very rarely need to resort to violence, because, like the Borg, and like capitalism itself — from which it is distinct, although there are places where it has been so successful that people rarely recognize any difference — parasitism usually has the capacity to absorb all those who confront it.

I’m not saying fascism and totalitarianism are things we should be completely unworried about. They’re out there, they’re real, and they’re terrifying. But there are playbooks for how to fight them. Parasitism, though, seems almost unstoppable. Presumably the solution is a technological one; let’s hope it’s discovered soon.

Krablr’s ICO is cookin’ on gas

Posted: 01 Apr 2018 02:25 AM PDT

How many second acts can a startup have before its procession of unlikely pirouettes must raise more than a quizzical eyebrow?

It depends where you're asking the question of course.

And as we sit here, contemplating the smooth-faced Krablr founder, Wilson Poney, gazing out at the Pacific ice blue from inside his underwater glass cube, it's clear this company hasn't had any such clouds of doubt fogging its public trajectory.

A large Sea Nettle wafts past Poney's head, pausing momentarily to lend him a gelatinous hairpiece.

He breathes in with vast calm.

"We're going to run the biggest token sale in blockchain history," he announces. "We connect crab to the blockchain. Period.

"You read the whitepaper right? Bona fide golden ticket. You want to be cut in? I could pull some strings if you're keen but you'll need at least $100k for phase I. We'll be going up 100x or more in later rounds. We're not after tiddlers or hodlers or whatever they're called. Just top tier investment funds.

"Okay, okay, a few family offices in Saudi, Qatar — and Puget and Scranton. Gotta keep our little local connection happy."

He laughs a little too heartily.

"We've also been talking to SoftBank. Masayoshi might join the board. He's very interested in the long term future of crab futures."

Poney has the face of a man who's eaten more than his fair share of crab dinners.
But he cuts into our next question — about how much Krablr is targeting for its token sale — to bark into a lobster-handled landline telephone, summoning an afternoon snack.

Is that an original Dalí, your correspondent wonders. Poney ignores all our questions.

"How do I know these crab sticks are going to be fucking great? Blockchain that's how. It's a fucking miracle.

"People have been emailing me saying they're selling their grandmothers to get into KrabCoin," he adds. "Fucking A-Okay. As I always told grammy, nothing beats the smell of capitalism in the morning."

He takes a huge sniff of his own air.

"All the time actually. It smells like fresh cooked crab. Maybe that's just me. My girlfriend thinks capitalism smells like diamonds — but that was after I gave her a 22 carat diamond necklace. I had the rock cut into the shape of a carapace."

He flashes a full set of brilliantly pearly teeth.

"Anyway, where was I? — blockchain! Did you see my number plate? There's only one car parking space here. Y'know how it is with land in the Bay. But I don’t mind telling you this office was cheaper than Fresno. Marine mid shallows is actually a criminally untapped opportunity. We're going to be using a chunk of the ICO to plough into underwater real estate. Think Manhattan in an aquarium with underwater drones to ferry you home and jellyfish waving you to beddie byes. I can send you the brochure if you're interested.

"Anyway the lobster-colored lambo in the lot is mine. Did you notice the plate? It's the timestamp of Satoshi's Genesis block. I paid a small fortune to some guy in the Mission to peel it off his electric scooter. I'd have happily paid twice.

"People are going to say I'm fucking Satoshi himself soon!"

Poney ejects another ripe belly laugh. Or it might have been a belch. His assistant hurries into the room carrying a large platter of crab sticks.

"At last! I could murder a bucket of lobster! Help yourself to the shrimp. It's blockchain certified."

So why did Krablr move its HQ to SF? Was it to be closer to Pacific crab catches?

Poney pauses his vigorous mastication for a moment. "How much crab is left in the Pacific?" he muses. "No one knows. Truly no one. But they will know — we'll be putting all that on the blockchain.

"Frankly I'd put my grammy on the blockchain if I could. You can quote me on that."

He grins wolfishly through a mouthful of crabs sticks and then laughs with gusto, blasting the room with fragments of impossibly fresh crab meat.

"Pot baits, carapace metrics, poundage, sex distribution, discards, toss backs, deadloss, offload times," he reels off, staccato style, after his last gulp. "You'll know exactly how many deckhands manhandled your dinner. Down to the color of their fucking fingernails.

"Now tell me that's not worth $1TR?"

"Here, take a claw," he adds, tossing a souvenir of his snack towards the door without waiting for an answer. "You can tell your friends you got yourself a bite of KrabCoin."