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  • From Nikhil Suresh’s blog:

    And then some absolute son of a bitch created ChatGPT, and now look at usLook at us, resplendent in our pauper’s robes, stitched from corpulent greed and breathless credulity, spending half of the planet’s engineering efforts to add chatbot support to every application under the sun when half of the industry hasn’t worked out how to test database backups regularly. This is why I have to visit untold violence upon the next moron to propose that AI is the future of the business – not because this is impossible in principle, but because they are now indistinguishable from a hundred million willful fucking idiots.

  • Ecosia is a non-profit web search engine (powered by Bing), dedicated to planting trees from the profits of web search ads. It’s pretty ingenious. According to TechCrunch, it’s pretty popular in Europe. It’s not a total panacea for climate-change, and it rightly so is criticized for greenwashing, since the organization itself isn’t even planting the trees:

    Ecosia also isn’t planting trees for carbon offsetting — another measure that’s frequently framed as climate action but has been extensively criticized as greenwashing.

    There’s a whole episode of Last Week Tonight dedicated to carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are suspect and a victim of their own success. The entire concept has been commandeered and ensnared by shady marketing. Company executive pine to be viewed as a climate-righteous leader in their space and yearn to be viewed as a “climate-conscious company.” More often than not, these companies use third-party companies (called offset brokers) to offset their footprint. Unsurprisingly, this ends up begin abused by offset brokers bullshit promises and inflated claims:

    So, is using Ecosia worth it? Maybe. Maybe not. It appears that Google, DuckDuckGo and even Microsoft/Bing are all carbon offsetting. So no matter who you choose to search the web with, you’re participating in some sort of carbon offset program. The real question remains, just how much of your carbon offset is bullshit or not?

  • According to the Wall Street Journal, ByteDance, the parent company behind TikTok is in talks to sell the app to Microsoft. As a primer, Microsoft prefers to buy their innovations instead of inventing or building them. No shame there. It’s literally how Microsoft has done business for years. They bought MS-DOS (QDOS) in 1981 from a Seattle software firm. In 2016, they purchased LinkedIn for $26B. A pretty hefty price-tag.

    How much do you think Satya Nadella will pony up for TikTok? $10B? $30B? Who knows. What we do know, is that the entire deal could evaporate (or at the very least go on hold). You see, the two parties are waiting for guidance, and approval from America’s favorite dictator — President Trump. Yesterday he said he was going to sign an executive order to force the app to cease operations in the US. Everyone is waiting to make moves until he literally makes an executive decision.

    Regardless, it’s unclear just how profitable TikTok could be, but they’re investing heavily in a in-house business-first ads platform. Think… Facebook or Twitter. I think that’s pretty telling. I guess we’ll have to wait until the curtain is pulled back to know more.

  • Pretty big announcement from Microsoft happened yesterday. Tom Warren for The Verge reports:

    Microsoft has been working on Xbox Series X under the name Project Scarlett previously, and today’s naming follows confirmation from Sony that it’s choosing PlayStation 5 for the name of its next console. Microsoft is also claiming Xbox Series X will be the “fastest” and “most powerful,” in what could be a reference to having a more powerful console than Sony’s PlayStation 5.

    Earlier this month, Project Scarlett (the alias the Xbox has been known as up until now), officially became Phil Spencer’s (Phil is Microsoft’s Head of Xbox) primary console at his home:

    Well, now we have a few more details, and can expect it to go on sale in 2020. It kinda looks like a boxy Mac Pro with a slot-loading disk drive. While we don’t have a list of specs or internal photography, looking at this design so far I would be concerned about thermals. The Mac Pro wrestled with that problem til the very end, and the Series X is supposed to be playable resting upward or on its side like a soundbar.

    Here’s the new trailer, it’s a little over-the-top, but definitely a tour-de-force of creative CGI that can be appreciated. The console appears around 1:18

    Here’s a few stills from the video:

  • Stasior has an incredible resumé. A small selection of the giants he’s been stationed at include: Amazon, A9, Alta Vista, (and now Apple joins the A-list) Oracle and various positions at MIT before that.

    According to CNBC’s reporting, he led the growth of Apple’s machine learning initiative which wasn’t siloed to the Siri product alone:

    He said that he expanded the team from 70 engineers to more than 1,100 people and that he “played the leading role in bringing modern machine learning to Siri and Apple.” Apple said in 2018 that Siri was being actively used on more than 500 million devices, and earlier this year the company said that Siri would sound more natural in the forthcoming iOS 13 release. Apple previously made gains in this area through AI work.

    Microsoft has always been a company who grows throw acquisition, but recently they’ve been on a hiring spree. Which isn’t normally their modus operandi for acquiring talent. Something tells me they’re laying the pipework for an aggressive regime of ML and Voice growth in the coming years.

    I find this to be curious timing. Given Apple’s vestigial connection to its Jobsian past. Jony Ive has essentially severed that connection with his departure and newly launched design firm LoveFrom. Apple hasn’t engaged in this sort of assault from software and hardware competitors in decades.

  • General Magic was probably the single-most important project of the 20th century. Originally spun out of an internal Apple project. The at-the-time CEO, John Sculley later joined the board of General Magic and despite Apple’s minority stake in General Magic, attempted to cannibalize their research and neuter their products:

    Even though the company folded shortly after the dot-com bust in 2004, the spoils of their research and development gave us Palm’s Pilot, RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, and countless other products that we now collectively call: the smartphones. Veterans of General Magic are, to say the least, numerous:

    But wait, there’s more:

  • It’s been an exciting year for Microsoft. Microsoft continues to make bets on thrilling components of software development. This was a huge missed opportunity for giants like Apple, Google and even Adobe. This morning, Microsoft announced they have acquired Lobe.

    If you don’t know what Lobe is, here’s a primer: Lobe, is basically software for building, training, and exporting custom deep learning models. The interface is very Quartz Composer-esque. I previously wrote about Lobe here.


    To be honest, I’m a little shocked Apple didn’t acquire Lobe first. Considering the boundless software opportunities and Lobe’s earnest genesis in Quartz Composer, it’s strange Apple didn’t beat Microsoft to the punch. Maybe there were meetings between Apple and Lobe, who knows. What I do know, is that Microsoft knows that ML tools are going to be huge.

    From Lobe’s announcement email:

    As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, a global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools. This will allow us to rapidly scale Lobe to its full potential, making it more intelligent and available to more people. 

    We plan to continue building Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms. Together we are committed to making deep learning simple, understandable, and accessible to everyone. We deeply appreciate your support and look forward to sharing more with you soon! 

    Sounds familiar huh?

    I’m nervous Lobe will be assimilated into some obscure product, never to be heard from again. But, historically that hasn’t always been the case — LinkedIn and Github (at the time of writing this) are both still stand-alone services.

    On the other hand, I’m really happy for the Lobe team. They have a remarkable product on their hands. And Microsoft has essentially given them AI research carte blanche. Lobe lacked that world-class research ability until now. It’s entirely possible that joining Microsoft might have been the only real way to scale their shared vision of “deep learning for everyone.”

    So all-in-all, I’m into it. ✌️

  • So, this just happened. It’s official. Microsoft will acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in Microsoft stock. Quite the price tag.

    I’ve used Github for years. I’m sure many of you have too. It’s really a remarkable place. Millions of users, all humming at their own pace, piecing code together. Hundreds of millions of unique repositories of codebases, open-source projects, communities, and amazing software.

    I’m a little concerned and sidewinded by the sheer magnitude of this story. Github has largely been hailed as the neutral library of the world’s code. Communities and enemies alike have been forged in fiery maelstroms of pull requests and pithy “+1” comments on issues. But, for the most part, Github has been a great product. Apart from the occasional server downtime or DDoS attack from China, it’s been great. And personally, the community has largely been life-changing for me. If it weren’t for the community, I probably wouldn’t be where am now.

    I can say with certainty, I’m a better developer because of Github.

    It’s important to note that Github has been the center of decentralized projects such as Bitcoin Core, or IPFS. Which may be problematic for many organizations realizing that their codebase is hosted online by none other than Microsoft now. I’m sure the irony is not lost on them either. The Hacker News discussion is pretty temperate so far. Very few are conflicted, and even fewer hate it. But, going forward, I believe Github will have an uphill battle regarding trust.

    So, what are we to make of the new proprietor? Will Microsoft make sweeping changes to how the product operates? How will repos change? Will repos become a signal for Microsoft to source talent on LinkedIn? I’m so curious to understand Satya Nadella’s motive for acquisition. Microsoft is so huge, and we’ve all seen the negative side of acquisitions before. You know, like LinkedIn.

    Ugh. Damnit. That’s the stuff of nightmares right there.

    From The Verge:

    Microsoft is the top contributor to the site, and has more than 1,000 employees actively pushing code to repositories on GitHub. Microsoft even hosts its own original Windows File Manager source code on GitHub. The service was last valued at $2 billion back in 2015, but it’s not clear exactly how much Microsoft has paid to acquire GitHub.

    So that makes sense. I had no idea Microsoft was such a huge contributor. At any rate, Microsoft has never been great at shipping their own creations. Hell, Microsoft never even developed DOS. They bought it. From that perspective, I’m less worried than say if Google or Facebook had acquired Github.

    What feels like eons ago in 2014 when Nadella joined Microsoft, John Gruber wrote:

    Satya Nadella needs to find Microsoft’s new “a computer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software”. Here’s my stab at it: Microsoft services, sending data to and from every networked device in the world. The next ubiquity isn’t running on every device, it’s talking to every device.

    I thought this was noteworthy to dig up from the Daring Fireball archive. Namely because of the (very) timely news that Microsoft is now more valuable than Google. Sure, market cap fluctuates — regardless, Nadella is penning Microsoft’s new message, and it’s in permanent marker. It’s true that Microsoft in recent years has taken a backseat in services, but only because they’ve gobbled up the best talent in the world. Microsoft is and will continue to, play the long-game. This was a bold and genius move.

    I’m apprehensively optimistic about this. Like I said, trust is an uphill battle. Don’t disappoint us Microsoft.

    Further Reading:

  • Microsoft has really stepped their game up. It’s clear that Microsoft has really struggled with an identity problem. Are they a software company? Are they a hardware company? What’s their core focus? 

    Amidst the chaotic soul-searching, Microsoft has continued to outdo themselves in the gaming arena.

    The Xbox, an undefeatable goliath has seemingly persistent success in the community. But, accessibility has always been a sore spot, not just with the Xbox but as a whole, the gaming community has largely left out users who have disabilities. While accessibility standards continue to expand for web users across all platforms, the gaming community has taken a large homebrew approach. Users have built their own joysticks, buttons, and switches — all built upon the 3.5mm audio jack.

    3.5mm inputs on the back of the Xbox Adaptive Controller

    Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is a seriously awesome solution for disabled gamers. Some might say it was designed to be hacked. I love it. Some core features:

    • 25 hours of battery life
    • 2 USB inputs
    • Bluetooth capable
    • The controller is mountable
    • 19 (3.5mm) inputs, each one mapped to a specific button
    • Works with existing homebrew controllers, or Microsoft’s own suite of inclusive interface inputs

    This is a huge win for Microsoft. Xbox has existed at the intersection of casual gamers and PC purists — but the console has consistently left out the disabled. While the PC hasn’t suffered the same problem, the Xbox was heading down a dark road.

    Microsoft thankfully (through the power of feedback and community) has listened to their users.

    The Adaptive Controller is exactly what Microsoft and the Xbox needs. Microsoft has always excelled at delivering products at the beck-and-call of what their users need or want. From Windows 95 to Halo 2—I’m pleased to see a product that solves a problem for so many. It’s pleasing to see Microsoft’s core focus has shifted from listening to business customers, to hearing out all their customers.

  • Lobe

    Lobe, is a visual composer of sorts — for building, training, and exporting custom deep learning models. The interface is very Quartz Composer-esque. Check it out:

    If you’re in a hurry, watch from 6:12 for a walkthrough on how to create a project from scratch.

    Lobe is a start-up from Mike Matas, Markus Beissinger and Adam Menges. Matas, an ex-Apple and ex-Facebook Silicon Valley designer veteran — previously released published this demo called The Brain (see below), which was entirely built in Quartz Composer. A fucking awesome demo.

    No wonder Lobe looks like a Quartz composition. Keep in mind, this was published about one year ago:

    This is really really exciting stuff. Building and training deep learning models are simple in concept, but complex in reality. Lobe, may just be the first visual tool to bridge that divide.

    To quote John Gruber:

    Lobe is to CoreML what Illustrator was to PostScript — a profoundly powerful tool that exposes the underlying technology to non-experts through an intuitive visual interface.

    Gruber’s analogy is probably the best, and he’s right. When Desktop Publishing Software exploded in popularity the late 80’s and late 90’s, everything changed. Productivity skyrocketed, and progress in tooling, production and creative software just took of and to be honest, it never really cooled down. We’re still in living in that same epoch, but having different conversations about the same problems.

    Lobe truly exposes a whole new world of problem-solving to non-experts and that will lead to some really exciting tools. Hats off to everyone at Lobe. Remarkable work.