It’s officially fall, which means one thing: summer in San Francisco. Seriously. After an actual summer where the thermometer barely touched 70, we now have heat advisories. And it’s really hot. So hot that I’m sweating while writing this. And it’s almost midnight. It’s awful.
Thus begins week two of Cold Takes… (Well, the second week of people actually reading this thing.)
Top of Mind
Hopefully many of you have read this piece by Andrew Sullivan in The New Yorker in the last week. If not, here’s your link to do so now. It’s long, but worth it.
You know the spiel: the internet — and more specifically, smartphones — have destroyed our ability to not only disconnect, but also our ability to be alone with our thoughts. And maybe even to think. With most such posts — and there have been many — I roll my eyes. But Sullivan frames it in an intriguing manner with provocative writing. It only mildly makes you hate yourself. Well worth the read.
I found this user research study to be quite interesting. The key nugget:
“However, the key UX advantage of WeChat is not that it grew out of a chat service; it’s the integrated user experience. Each individual service is fine, but not necessarily better than those offered by other companies. In fact, our user testing of WeChat revealed many usability problems in various areas. What’s superior is how these services play together and reinforce each other. Most importantly, these benefits are not the result of a superior, simple conversational UI; instead, they are often provided through a simplified graphical user interface (GUI).”
In other words, while the western world buzzes that WeChat is huge because of the messaging interface, it’s pretty clear it has more to do with the streamlining of elements such as payments and mobile websites. In that regard, WeChat is almost more akin to America Online — the old, dial-up variety — than to say, Facebook Messenger and the like (though they’re getting halfway there with payments).
(Aside: I know someone sent me this link and I can’t find where that was now — if you’re reading this, feel free to shoot me a note for full credit.)
“The provider has been working for more than a year to build a video-delivery system that can carry multiple live feeds to broadband-connected homes, said the people. Such a platform would eliminate the need for a cable hookup or satellite dish in five years or less, the people said.”
I’m a little worried that I’m starting to think this sounds interesting. As someone who cut the cord some five-plus years ago, I recognize that it’s still not feasible for many — or even most — people yet. But this sounds like a bit step in that direction.
Meanwhile, Comcast wants to launch a cellular phone service (using Verizon’s spectrum). All the companies you hate, all in one place, all in one space. What could go wrong?
China has just opened the ‘Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope’ — ‘FAST’ — in the hills of Guizhou Province. Sounds crazy:
“The telescope, which is in a majestic but impoverished part of Guizhou Province, embodies China’s plans to rise as a scientific power. The dish is made of 4,450 intricately positioned triangular panels and has a collecting area of 2.1 million square feet, equal to almost 450 basketball courts. At 1,640 feet in diameter, it will be roughly twice as sensitive as the world’s next-biggest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is 1,000 feet across.”
The lede, of course, is sort of buried. If we’re ever going to find extraterrestrial life, this is likely the dish that’s going to do it…
I always enjoy these vantage points behind episodes of Parts Unknown by Anthony Bourdain. Admittedly, especially when he writes them on Medium :)
This one about Hanoi is especially great due to the especially great surprise guest star, President Obama, “a guy who likes a bowl of spicy, savory pork and noodles with a cold beer.” Notes Bourdain:
“I will sure as shit remember this trip to Vietnam. Not very long ago at all, I was a 44-year-old guy still dunking French fries with no hope of ever seeing Rome, much less Hanoi — much less EVER sitting across from the President of the United States, talking about hot dogs.”
My cold-ish thoughts on Snap(chat) Spectacles…
(Originally published on Cold Takes, my newsletter.)