What if Apple and Google Went to Actual War? A Thought Experiment

What would happen if two of the world’s largest tech companies went to actual war? That’s the thought experiment behind this Slate feature. Dan Kois provides the introduction:

I asked two experts here at Slate to do a little wargaming with me. Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo will play Google. Moneybox columnist Matthew Yglesias will play Apple. I will play referee as Farhad and Matt imagine their way through a (totally speculative!) (fictional and not true!) Google vs. Apple all-out-war for world supremacy. Could Google erase Apple from the Internet? Could iPhones control killer drones over Mountain View? How different is Apple willing to think? And how evil is Google prepared to be?

Google’s offensive begins with Ghostfruit:

It’s an unseasonably overcast morning in Mountain View when Larry Page gives the Go command. He does so with a heavy heart. Though the feud with Apple has been escalating for months, Google’s CEO has never given serious consideration to the plan known internally as Operation GhostFruit. Then Apple decided to test him, first by removing Google as the default search engine on the iPhone and iPad, and then—when Google complained to regulators and launched a petition drive calling on Apple to reinstate Google—by blocking Apple devices’ access to Google.com entirely. The iPhone and iPad provide the bulk of Google’s mobile ad revenue. Page has no choice but to go nuclear.

After a big acquisitions spree by Apple, their next offensive move follows:

War is a game of coalitions. Not only are there whole countries where Google barely exists (think China), but there’s a whole world of online services companies out there who’ve been chomping at the bit for a big Google scandal to get them into the game.Bing search, Outlook webmail, Yahoo Calendar, and Dropbox for storage. Google’s one-stop shopping is a convenience, but people in Google-hostile territory can use the Web without it and the company’s behavior is frightening people. Apple’s hearty band of loyalists can shop at the Apple Store and punch apple.com into the browser just fine—and while they’re there, many of them are adding their contact information to a new page which urges Apple fans to join the “Apple Army.” The photo accompanying sign-up shows a cheerful, attractive, multicultural group massed in front of Apple headquarters, everyone wearing T-shirts of bright, primary colors. In the first week, 20,000 Apple partisans sign up. 

Read on how Google responds. The Cult of Apple, however, grows to 500,000 in the last offensive.

The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Peter Buffett, a son of Warren Buffett, has an important op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he calls for a re-definition of charitable giving; he argues for humanism, not capitalism:

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

What can you do today and in the long term to bring down the perpetual poverty machine?

The Opposite of Loneliness

In two separate conversations over the weekend, I mentioned the concept/idea of loneliness. It reminded me of the late Marina Keegan’s essay on what the opposite of loneliness would be:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Amen to this:

What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.


On Editing Wikipedia in Museums

As a self-professed Wikipedia junkie, I love that there are people going to museums on edit-athons. An awesome New York Times article dives deeper:

Amid this vast ocean of bewilderment, however, a small group of volunteers managed to expand the well of shared human knowledge last week by joining a daylong group editing session sponsored by Wikipedia and the Smithsonian Institution’s American Art Museum in Washington. The gathering — called an edit-athon — was the latest collaboration between the online encyclopedia and cathedrals of culture like the Smithsonian to expand and improve Wikipedia entries, which are subject to the vagaries of volunteer contributions. At the same time, the Smithsonian is able to better publicize what’s in its extensive collections.

“Wikipedia is driven by this desire to share knowledge freely with the world, and that is in sync with our mission,” said Sara Snyder, webmaster at the Archives of American Art, a Smithsonian research center that held an editing session in March to beef up the digital encyclopedia’s entries on female artists.

These amateur-professional collaborations began in 2010 as the brainchild of Liam Wyatt, a former bartender, fire twirler, podcaster and vice president of Wikimedia Australia, during an unpaid five-week stint as Wikipedian in residence at the British Museum. The following year, the Archives of American Art appointed its own Wikipedian in residence and organized an edit-athon, enlisting local volunteers to create new articles using the archives’ resources. Other institutions, including the New York Public Library, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona have joined what has been called the GLAM-Wiki initiative. (GLAM stands for galleries, libraries, archives and museums.)

And in case you didn’t know, there are super dedicated Wikipedia editors out there. Take Gerald Shields, for instance:

Mr. Shields said he generally edited articles on North Korea and on feminism, primarily because few other people do. He combs through the English-language version of The Pyongyang Times for citations, and last year, even spent part of a trip to China trying to track down a photograph of Ri Sol-ju, the wife of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. At the museum, Mr. Shields, camera in hand, took on the role of the day’s official chronicler.

Don’t read the article if you aren’t prepared for a serious nerd alert.

Interview with Matt Mullenweg as WordPress Celebrates Ten Years

Readers of this blog and anyone else hosting theirs on WordPress will appreciate this San Francisco Chronicle interview with the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, as the site celebrates its 10 year anniversary (yay!):

Q: It’s been 10 years. What’s been the most significant change for WordPress?

A: The big shift has been how it’s changed from being just something that people used just for blogs to being something that they build entire websites or applications on top of. People are now using WordPress for things I never could have imagined even five years ago.

The result of this has been that because there’s so much more flexibility and so many more options for customization, it started to gain some significant market share of the top websites in the world, actually over 18 percent now.

That’s obviously a big responsibility, because that’s lot of the Web that’s dependent on the work we do. I also think there’s a huge opportunity because the tools we’re building have the opportunity to democratize Web publishing and make it so everyone is on equal footing, and has an equal opportunity to create a really amazing website.


Q: What’s next for WordPress?

A: I think the key is taking things that are possible now, if you are a developer, and making them so that they’re easy for anyone, so you don’t need the “WordPress for Dummies” book.

I don’t think it’s a goal. I don’t think it’s something you wake up and say that you did it. I think it’s really a process. It’s constantly and tirelessly iterating every aspect of the software to make it more accessible.


Q: Take me back 10 years ago. What was it like?

A: It wasn’t super exciting. It was mostly me. I moved out to an apartment and I ate A&W fast food. I was in school studying political science, but I was way more excited about online stuff. To bootstrap WordPress, I did pretty much everything. I was on the support forums. I was writing the code and doing the design and marketing. Over the next couple of years, people came in and said, “Hey, I can do that better” and they were right. So it was just building up that community, and getting people to work together.

Had no idea about this staggering statistic:

Q: Why do you think WordPress has endured and others have not?

A: It has that resilience of being something that matters to a lot of people. There are 20,000 people who make their living from WordPress. They want to see it continue to grow.

I recommend WordPress.com to everyone I meet if they want to start a blog. Here’s to ten more years, Matt and the entire Automattic team!

Implanting False Memories in the Mouse Brain

A fascinating new paper coming out of MIT details how researchers were able to implant false memories in mice. From the abstract:

Memories can be unreliable. We created a false memory in mice by optogenetically manipulating memory engram–bearing cells in the hippocampus. Dentate gyrus (DG) or CA1 neurons activated by exposure to a particular context were labeled with channelrhodopsin-2. These neurons were later optically reactivated during fear conditioning in a different context. The DG experimental group showed increased freezing in the original context, in which a foot shock was never delivered. The recall of this false memory was context-specific, activated similar downstream regions engaged during natural fear memory recall, and was also capable of driving an active fear response. Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means.

In their research, scientist Susumu Tonagawa and his team used a technique known as optogenetics, which allows the fine control of individual brain cells. They engineered brain cells in the mouse hippocampus, a part of the brain known to be involved in forming memories, to express the gene for a protein called channelrhodopsin. When cells that contain channelrhodopsin are exposed to blue light, they become activated. The researchers also modified the hippocampus cells so that the channelrhodopsin protein would be produced in whichever brain cells the mouse was using to encode its memory engrams.

The Guardian summarizes:

In the experiment, Tonagawa’s team placed the mice in a chamber and allowed them to explore it. As they did so, relevant memory-encoding brain cells were producing the channelrhodopsin protein. The next day, the same mice were placed in a second chamber and given a small electric shock, to encode a fear response. At the same time, the researchers shone light into the mouse brains to activate their memories of the first chamber. That way, the mice learned to associate fear of the electric shock with the memory of the first chamber.

In the final part of the experiment, the team placed the mice back in the first chamber. The mice froze, demonstrating a typical fear response, even though they had never been shocked while there. “We call this ‘incepting’ or implanting false memories in a mouse brain,” Tonagawa told Science.

Why is this fascinating? Because a similar process may occur when powerful false memories are created in humans, even if the process is much more complicated in the human brain.


A Reservation-Thieving Bot Battle on Urbanspoon

A fun story in Ars Technica today about an engineer who hacked a bot that hacked Urbanspoon:

It’s not uncommon for new San Francisco Bay Area restaurants to spring up and take both the neighborhood and nation by storm (see Mission Chinese Food). But State Bird Provisions (SBP) in the Fillmore district lived this ascent in hyper speed. Despite only opening in 2012, the small plate virtuosos earned distinctions like Bon Appetit’s Restaurant of the Year 2012, the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant 2013, and a place in Zagat’s 10 Hottest Restaurants in the World. Needless to say, it’s hard to just walk up and get a table, even midweek. SBP easily made theSanFranciscoWaits Tumblr.

Diogo Mónica, a security engineer at Square, knows this pain as well as anyone. He was a fan from the start, calling SBP “nothing short of spectacular.” But as the restaurant’s profile grew, its online reservations portal kept returning the same message: “No reservations are currently available. Reservations are taken online up to 60 days in advance. As tables become available, they will be shown here.”

Rather than getting discouraged, Mónica went to his developer tool kit. He SSHed into his remote server and wrote some code to get notified (via e-mail) every time the SBP reservations page changed. (See the code in full on his blog.) He learned that new reservations open around 4am everyday, saw that most were gone by 5am, and received heads-ups about newly available times from cancellations. But curiously, his setup revealed that most of the primetime reservations were scooped up by 4:01am.

“One day I found myself looking at it and noticed that as soon as reservations became available on the website (at 4am), all the good times were immediately taken and were gone by 4:01am,” he wrote. “It quickly became obvious that these were reservation bots at work. After a while, even cancellations started being taken immediately from under me. It started being common [to receive] an e-mail alerting of a change, seeing an available time, and it being gone by the time the website loaded.”

How does one deal with reservation-thieving bots? With one’s own reservation-thieving bot, of course. 

This is like Inception for programmers. Read the story for the rest of the highlights.