Mark Smith’s Newsletter - Saturday 17th April, 2021
Coinbase goes public, Bitclout, FSF & RMS, LinuxOnM1, tech & society, AI regulations in EU, speech recognition, NodeJS radio server, laptops, PeerTube, digital transformation, missed calls in India...
Hello and welcome to my newsletter!
Another season 2 instalment…
British folks this week will have seen the news that the Queen’s husband HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh died at the age of 99. Though it’s not really relevant to the newsletter as far as topics go, it’s sort of important context from a personal point of view, because however you feel about the monarchy, it’s something that for us Brits is a constant from our earliest years, always sort of in the background, unlike anything else in life, it’s got something of a geological timescale to it, that’s overstating it somewhat but hopefully you get a sense of what it’s like. It’s bound to affect you in ways that aren’t totally obvious. Anyway, that happened and I paid tribute in the way that I tend to do these things.
As I was collecting the links this week, I kept getting the sense that the new structure for the newsletter wasn’t working, that many of the links didn’t appear to fall under the intro categories nicely. That’s a challenging state to be in when you are producing media because your gut is saying “nope nope nope this isn’t right” and so it’s really difficult to get into flow where you can think unencumbered, and start to see the trends amongst the articles.
I pressed ahead regardless, reasoning that although things might not fit super well, the important thing was to have something, and I could perhaps refactor the structure for next week. Just get started, put the article under the best fit available, move on to the next item. Note the gut feeling, ignore it, Repeat.
Now that I’ve gone through and done the first pass, it’s not looking as bad as I had initially thought. I think what happened was that I was getting hung up on the ‘write-ups’ section. Until this week, these have mostly been quite technical articles written by engineering teams, but this week there weren’t so many of those types of articles, instead there were more ‘think pieces’, that reflect on a moment in history, or look at a problem at a very high level. With a broader view of what write-ups are, the links actually fit surprisingly well. Mental blocks like this are really tough to deal with. A Keep calm and carry on approach works surprisingly well.
Crypto’s Netscape Moment
The big news this week was Coinbase going public, there’s been a lot of articles about how great a business they are and what it all means for the crypto space. It’s being compared to the impact Netscape had on the World Wide Web when it went public back in the 90s, but for crypto/blockchain. I’m kind of excited about it too, but personally I’ve been having mostly negative experiences with Coinbase, so I’m not really feeling like discussing it much.
Brian and Chris did another great live Ride Home Experience podcast where they explore many of the interesting angles of the Coinbase situation. I must have gotten distracted by something because I had planned to link to it on the linkblog but that never happened, so I’m linking to it now.
The other crypto story that surfaced in the Zeitgeist was BitClout where you can buy crypto coins minted for individuals online. I’m not sure how much I like this idea, the idea of selling people doesn’t sit right with me, but it’s not so obvious if that’s actually what is happening because the crypto nature makes it a bit hard to reason about since it’s very new technology. There was an article about people’s careers being turned into Ponzi schemes which covers some of the topics worth familiarising yourself with as we press in in these bizarre and futuristic waters.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) made an attempt to clarify the situation with Richard Stallman returning to be on the board. They apologised about how the information was released. The whole situation appears super sketchy to me. Hopefully all involved are healthy, well and have the resources and autonomy they need to do what they do, despite all the politics.
There’s been ongoing work happening in public over the past few months to get Linux running on Apple Silicon, so it’s great to see initial M1 support merged into the kernel. I’m awaiting to read reports about how well the different hardware components are functioning. Linux running on these laptops would be awesome.
Society is changing
There wasn’t a clear trend or theme for these articles but they all appear to impact society a lot, so that’s what I’m highlighting, acknowledging that we are right in the middle of huge societal changes.
I’ve linked to Substack several times over the past few weeks, because their business model is reshaping the publishing business. Peter Kafka’s interview with the founders in the Recode Media podcast is worth a listen, to hear why they believe that writers should have the ability to leave, and why it’s a core feature of their platform. Hopefully we’ll start to see innovation in this area, we need the number of companies with this approach to be greater than 1 for the approach to be meaningful.
A piece about government spy agencies supporting social justice issues, I’m linking to it because I think the issues highlighted have important consequences for the tech sector.
The Engineering Task Force has been discussing the recent trend of software companies removing culturally offensive language from software products. Acknowledge the past, but don’t get stuck, remember we are building for the future which will be shared by all.
The past few years has seen governments worldwide introduce new regulations that affect the tech sector, the EU is creating some new regulations that will specifically affect AI systems, which have tremendous potential for benefiting society at large but also have big associated risks. Something to be aware of and watch for developments.
Some important Google news that has big societal impacts. They have updated their maps products so you can see the effect climate change is having in the planet. Also the Brave browser is disabling FLoC, Google’s new user tracking technology, worth being ware of because the Ad Tech space is an area we are mostly unaware of but it has a big impact on everyone.
Microsoft buys speech recognition company Nuance for $20 billion. I think we will likely hear more about this space in the future. It’s a big sum of money to invest which is a good indication that it’s an important tech area. A world where we use our voices to interact with computers is a very different world to the world of devices with screens. How will society adapt?
As you can see lots of trends that affect society, we are building a future that hasn’t been imagined yet. IMO many things to stay optimistic about, but be aware that there are dangers too.
Just one tutorial this week, but it’s a good one: Make your own online radio server in NodeJS.
Bit of a link dump, but sometimes minimal comments is preferable:
Ink 1.0 – Open-source scripting language for interactive narrative
GitHub CLI updated to include commands for working with actions
Don’t pick up! - Really fun and enjoyable read
As usual all the articles from the linkblog in chronological order are included below, which is also a good way to explore, there are some pieces there amongst the main summary items that didn’t make it into the main themes, but these are interesting in their own right, and often end up developing into something more substantial further down the line.
That’s all from me this week…
I hope you enjoy the links!
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Stuff from me
🚀 Added frontend technology to web development technologies bucketlist for 2021: Electron - In the context of web development it’s a frontend technology because it would be communicating with a NodeJS backend, but it doesn’t necessarily need to connect to a backend, it would be awesome to be able to create Desktop apps markjgsmith.com #
Stuff from around the web
Ink 1.0 – Open-source scripting language for interactive narrative - Interesting category of software that I wasn’t aware of, as games get more complex it totally makes sense to have software tools to build the narrative ycombinator.com #
Don’t pick up! The rise and fall of a massive industry based on missed calls - It’s so interesting to read about markets and software companies developing in places where the dynamics are totally different, by the sounds of it that would have been a very fun place to work during that time restofworld.org #
suryamodulus/pm2-webui - PM2 WebUI, Opensource Alternative to PM2 Plus, Minimalistic App Manager and Logs Viewer - worth checking out this project even just for the ability to view the logs via a web UI github.com #
Make your own online radio server in pure Node.js - Tutorial that takes you through creating a CLI based interface to a server that presents a simple webpage which can stream audio files to connected clients logrocket.com #
Obituary: HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh - It’s a strong obituary, and although he was somewhat in the background, when you look at his achievements, 70 years married, 4 children, grand children, great grand children, WWII, British Navy, Duke of Edinburgh Award, World Wildlife Fund, Industrial Society, International Equestrian Federation, over 22000 solo engagements, helping to navigate the Royal Family through very complex times, there’s a lot there that had considerable impact to people, that’s quite a life, RIP bbc.com #
4 Change Management Strategies for Digital Transformation - There’s a lot of movement in this space as companies move to the cloud, the truth is that digital transformation has been happening since we invented computers, but the scale is on a different level these days, and there’s a big effect both in the enterprise and across society at large, it’s great that companies are sharing their experiences hackernoon.com #
🚀 Re-Post: Moving BBC Online to the cloud - I’ve re-posted several write-ups from the BBC recently, there are for sure others doing great work too, I’d like to read their write-ups, anyway this article is a great piece that describes their audit / cloud strategy, a good read if you are involved in any digital transformation projects markjgsmith.com #
Got an email from Coinbase support earlier, they closed my ticket saying it was solved (automated email), when it clearly isn’t solved, I emailed them and their automated email reply said I couldn’t re-open the ticket and would have to open a new support ticket, so I did that, and received the same automated response as last time, with the same instructions, immediately followed by the ‘how did we do email’, same exact email funnel as last time, I tried the instructions again in case they had fixed their website, but it’s the same issue - Coinbase support is terrible, how can this company be worth $100 billion dollars when they can’t even help their customers to setup their accounts? My account is unusable - it appears to me this service is not fit for purpose, the only thing that does work is the captcha challenge I have to fill out on practically every request, honestly Coinbase currently feels very scammy to me at the minute duckduckgo.com #
The Ponzi Career -Looks at some of the latest crypto funding methods people are experimenting with, I think there is still some way to go before we figure out a way to do this that people will be comfortable with, buying ownership of people is going to be a tough sell given human history, and probably not a wise way to go IMO, but I still think there’s a lot of possibility in the crypto space drorpoleg.com #
FSF doubles down on restoring Richard Stallman to the board after non-apology apology - It’s quite the spectacle, I think the board are probably right about the value in having Stallman on the board, from what I’ve seen in person and via videos and writing, he is unrivalled when it comes to his domain knowledge, the thing that seems weird to me is how this announcement was made, the whole thing feels rushed and improvised, and also there's something else that feels off IMO, perhaps it's that the apology is very un-Stallman-like, I mean for instance why aren't Stallmans actions part of so called 'social queues', it doesn't sound like something he would say, the apology is the sort of thing you'd say followed by '...and they are treating me really well'zdnet.com #
Microsoft buys speech recognition company Nuance for nearly $20 billion - It’s almost triple what they payed for Github, Though undoubtedly useful, I didn’t realise that speech recognition was such an important area axios.com #
Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise - Glen Greenwald piece about the strangeness of government secret agencies supporting social justice causes, his article has a very Greenwaldesque slant, so bear that in mind, but whether you like his political views or not, I think he does highlight some very complex areas that societies will need to deal with at some stage substack.com #
Introducing Surface Laptop 4 and new accessories for enhanced meeting experiences - These new windows laptops look pretty nice, the touch screen is interesting and the fact that they come in 4 different colours windows.com #
Coinbase closes at $328.28 per share in Nasdaq debut, valuing crypto exchange at $85.8 billion - great business, absolutely appalling support, and that in my opinion is a massive red flag, would you trust your money to a company that only sends you automated emails messages? (That’s been my experience with Coinbase so far) cnbc.com #
Our plans for PeerTube v4 - Glad to see this project is still going strong, it’s an open source decentralised video platform, so similar to YouTube but federated, would be such an awesome addition to the ecosystem if it gets popular, it's based in France, a place that has other great video projects like VLC joinpeertube.org #
Framasoft - These are that folks the develop PeerTube, they have a very interesting portfolio of apps and services, it’s got a very “french” vibe to the way it’s organised, focussed on open source but also on the wider area of “culture”, the other thing that stands out to me is that they have distribution of software via internet but also via DVD and USB key, which might seem old fashioned, but that’s quite a robust setup, using the network but not dependent on the network wikipedia.org #
The engineering task force has been looking at renaming ‘offensive’ terms in software - Ordinarily I would say it’s important to fully understand the problem for the long term, but with this there’s the danger that the solution gets turned into a stick to hit people on the head with, and then where will we be? Proceed with caution, but proceed none the less nytimes.com #
Should You Use GitOps? - I’ve been very bullish on Github cantered workflows, for example CI/CD but also for content workflows, so I find the evolution of DevOps to include the GitOps specialisation very interesting, the article is sort of an overview but also includes some links to other relevant resources dzone.com #
Europe seeks to limit use of AI in society - The new rules will affect AI systems that manipulate human behaviour, perform indiscriminate surveillance, are used in social scoring and for targeting the vulnerable bbc.com #
Recode Media Podcast - Substack’s next target: Local news - Peter Kafka interviews Chris and Hamish from Substack, they discuss their latest effort in local news, how they compare to traditional media organisations, what in their view platforms should be like, and how the ability to leave is core to their model where they provide great tools for writers, and better value google.com #
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Have a great weekend and a fantastic next week!