Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

April 4, 2017

Our conversations don’t matter so much

Filed under: Internet,Technology — Razib Khan @ 7:25 am

One of the things about being on the internet is your local social and communication network looms really large. Controversies or concerns in your part of the pool seem to take up all your energy and attention. But it’s a big world out there. I’ve been using the internet since 1994, and one of the aspects I’ve observed is how geographically insulated we are. Back then I remember being excited to have an e-mail exchange with a sysadmin in Oxford or a high school student in Quito (real examples). Today my conversations are much more narrowcast. Yet the internet is so much more diverse and there are billions instead of tens of millions conversing every day.

In my case I even have family which lives in a foreign country. Many of them are now my Facebook friends and we “like” each others photos, but that’s about it. There’s not much conversation. I suppose we are busy with life…but the internet perhaps foregrounds in some ways how little we have in common, because we can’t even be bothered to talk.

I’ve collected Google Analytics for the main Gene Expression domain since 2006. Below are the top ten nations in terms of accesses (the USA is 60% in 2007 and 50% in 2017, to give you a sense that the proportions haven’t changed much.

Top countries of origin for GNXP.com accesses by year
2017     2007
USA USA
UK Canada
Canada UK
Australia Australia
India Germany
Germany India
France Sweden
Sweden Finland
Japan Ireland
Netherlands France

There are many conversations out there happening in other languages and nations. I do wondre what they are.

November 20, 2012

The Kindle price

Filed under: Kindle,Technology — Razib Khan @ 7:11 pm

I’ve had a Kindle for a few years now. I read a lot on it. And yet I observed something recently: I’ve stopped going to the library much. This is a big deal for me…probably since the age of 7 I’ve clocked in at least one visit to the public library per week in my life. I never turn books in past due because of the frequency with which I patronize the public or university libraries which I’ve had access to in life. Until recently. Now on occasion books go overdue, because I don’t go very often.

In the short term the Kindle has been a boon. But I’m not sure if it’s good for us in the long term. I’d rather pay more for a device which allowed for easier usage of different formats, as well as looser distribution policies.

October 15, 2012

Twitter is not declining

Filed under: Technology,twitter — Razib Khan @ 11:09 pm

The Decline and Fall of Twitter?:

Even Twitter? Can Twitter be declining? Over at the Atlantic‘s Technology Channel I note that my own Twitter conversations are not quite as dynamic as they once were, and speculate about why that might be. I didn’t say this in the post, but I wonder whether it might have something to do with people who enjoy online conversations also enjoying new tools and toys: perhaps we get tired of Twitter not because it has a deficiency, but just because it’s been around a while. I’m not suggesting this in lieu of the explanations I offer there, but in addition to them.

I think this is an artifact of the fact that Alan Jacobs seems to have been a very early Twitter adopter. Here’s Google Trends for the USA for searches for Twitter:

Singularity Summit 2012: the lion doesn’t sleep tonight

Filed under: Singularity,Singularity Summit,Technology — Razib Khan @ 9:07 pm

Last weekend I was at the Singularity Summit for a few days. There were interesting speakers, but the reality is that quite often a talk given at a conference has been given elsewhere, and there isn’t going to be much “value-add” in the Q & A, which is often limited and constrained. No, the point of the conference is to meet interesting people, and there were some conference goers who didn’t go to any talks at all, but simply milled around the lobby, talking to whoever they chanced upon.

I spent a lot of the conference talking about genomics, and answering questions about genomics, if I thought could give a precise, accurate, and competent answer (e.g., I dodged any microbiome related questions because I don’t know much about that). Perhaps more curiously, in the course of talking about personal genomics issues relating to my daughter’s genotype came to the fore, and I would ask if my interlocutor had seen “the lion.” By the end of the conference a substantial proportion of the attendees had seen the lion.

This included a polite Estonian physicist. I spent about 20 minutes talking to him and ...

September 17, 2012

The end of Diaspora

Filed under: Diaspora,Technology — Razib Khan @ 9:15 pm

I didn’t even notice, Founders of Diaspora, Intended as the Anti-Facebook, Move On. Though I was skeptical about the prospects after one of the co-founders committed suicide. One of the reasons I took an interest is that I gave $50 to the project when it first made a media splash…but honestly I thought the chances of success were always pretty low. The chances of many worthwhile endeavors are low.

June 26, 2012

Technology that brought down civilization

Filed under: Technology — Razib Khan @ 9:58 pm

The IVF Panic: ‘All Hell Will Break Loose, Politically and Morally, All Over the World’:

For many, IVF smacked of a moral overstep — or at least of a potential one. In a 1974 article headlined “The Embryo Sweepstakes,” The New York Times considered the ethical implications of what it called “the brave new baby”: the child “conceived in a test tube and then planted in a womb.” (The scare phrase in that being not “test tube” so much as “a womb” and its menacingly indefinite article.) And no less a luminary than James Watson — yes, that James Watson – publicly decried the procedure, telling a Congressional committee in 1974 that a successful embryo transplant would lead to “all sorts of bad scenarios.”

Specifically, he predicted: “All hell will break loose, politically and morally, all over the world.”

The past is not always prologue, but it’s very instructive to look at newspapers from a given time period and see what the public mood was. Fear is a natural human reaction to new technology. My general bias is that technology itself usually isn’t as disruptive as social innovation. That being said, when technology is genuinely revolutionary it can have a much bigger impact than ...

June 18, 2012

The Facebook search plateau

Filed under: Facebook,Technology — Razib Khan @ 6:48 pm

I check on this every 6 months or so. Here’s the search trend for Facebook:

Everyone basically knows about Facebook now. Contrast this with Twitter:


All that being said, Twitter has such a smaller footprint compared to Facebook that it seems obvious that it will “peak” far below Facebook in both mindshare and public utilization. I do find it interesting that Facebook peaked literally months about The Social Network.

April 28, 2012

Handicap breeds excellence?

Filed under: Technology — Razib Khan @ 12:13 am

There’s a wide-ranging story in LA Weekly on the decline of 35mm film. It covers a lot of angles, but this one issue jumped out at me:

No wonder, then, that directors like Christopher Nolan worry that if 35mm film dies, so will the gold standard of how movies are made. Film cameras require reloading every 10 minutes. They teach discipline. Digital cameras can shoot far longer, much to the dismay of actors like Robert Downey Jr. — who, rumor has it, protests by leaving bottles of urine on set.

“Because when you hear the camera whirring, you know that money is going through it,” Wright says. “There’s a respectfulness that comes when you’re burning up film.”

This particular variant of critique of new technologies is very old. It is famously well known that writing and printing both ushered in warnings that these were simply crutches, and might diminish mental acuity. But I’m 99% sure that when bow & arrow become common, some hunters warned that the skills and traditions associated with the atlatl would decay. The piece highlights some genuine advantages of analog over digital. I do not think making filming more difficult is an advantage, to state the obvious.

Handicap breeds excellence?

Filed under: Technology — Razib Khan @ 12:13 am

There’s a wide-ranging story in LA Weekly on the decline of 35mm film. It covers a lot of angles, but this one issue jumped out at me:

No wonder, then, that directors like Christopher Nolan worry that if 35mm film dies, so will the gold standard of how movies are made. Film cameras require reloading every 10 minutes. They teach discipline. Digital cameras can shoot far longer, much to the dismay of actors like Robert Downey Jr. — who, rumor has it, protests by leaving bottles of urine on set.

“Because when you hear the camera whirring, you know that money is going through it,” Wright says. “There’s a respectfulness that comes when you’re burning up film.”

This particular variant of critique of new technologies is very old. It is famously well known that writing and printing both ushered in warnings that these were simply crutches, and might diminish mental acuity. But I’m 99% sure that when bow & arrow become common, some hunters warned that the skills and traditions associated with the atlatl would decay. The piece highlights some genuine advantages of analog over digital. I do not think making filming more difficult is an advantage, to state the obvious.

April 22, 2012

The culture that is Microsoft

Filed under: Microsoft,Technology — Razib Khan @ 11:03 pm

Frustration, Disappointment And Apathy: My Years At Microsoft:

Large companies have overheads, a necessary evil, you say. Overheads need to be managed. And managed they are: Group Managers, Program managers, General managers, together with ‘Senior’ flavours of those and a whole new breed of directors, stakeholders, business owners, relationship leads coupled with their own countless derivatives.

All those meeting-goers are not making anything. Deciding upon and making something is hard. And if this onerous activity has to be done, then hire external consultants for it. It’s easier and less risky.

There is no creative tension, no vision these days. Left to Microsoft’s hands we’d still be toiling on overheating Vista desktops.

This company is becoming the McDonalds of computing. Cheap, mass products, available everywhere. No nutrients, no ideas, no culture. Windows 8 is a fine example. The new Metro interface displays nonstop, trivial updates from Facebook, Twitter, news sites and stock tickers. Streams of raw noise distract users from the moment they login.

The rise of sclerotic bureaucratic intermediaries isn’t just a problem with Microsoft. Remember when parasitic squid were generating 40 percent of the economy’s profits? It’s no better in academia:

April 19, 2012

The end of IE; the rise of Chrome

Filed under: Browsers,Technology — Razib Khan @ 5:24 am

A comment below prompted me to recheck the browser stats on the web. People are now starting to give Google crap for not having really hit the jackpot on anything since Gmail, especially after the flubs with Google Wave and Buzz, and the mixed reviews at best for Google+. But it looks like Chrome may actually reach a plural majority this year. Back in the day (i.e., 1990s) control of the majority browser share was actually a big deal. My earlier hunch that eventually Chrome will start eating into IE’s user base more than Firefox’s seems to be panning out.

He’s a similar chart from the w3schools website (because it’s a tech oriented site IE automatically suffers a penalty, but the overall trends are similar):

April 10, 2012

The way we were

Filed under: Technology — Razib Khan @ 12:43 am

I found out today that a private equity firm has purchased the majority of the Yellow Pages from AT&T. Which prompts me to ask: when was the last time you used the yellow pages? A pay phone? In a similar vein, Google And The Death Of Getting Lost. In 10 years (2001 to 2011) wireless penetration in the USA went from ~40 percent to ~100 percent.* This is the difference between arranging a rendezvous ahead of time in precise detail, and being confident that you can just end it with “I’ll call you.”

Image credit: Wikipedia

* This is actually calculated by comparing the number of phones to people. Since some people have multiple phones, and businesses purchase them for their employees, “real” penetration is somewhat less than this. I suspect that it is a larger underestimate for 2001, as a larger proportion of phones were probably business-related.

The way we were

Filed under: Technology — Razib Khan @ 12:43 am

I found out today that a private equity firm has purchased the majority of the Yellow Pages from AT&T. Which prompts me to ask: when was the last time you used the yellow pages? A pay phone? In a similar vein, Google And The Death Of Getting Lost. In 10 years (2001 to 2011) wireless penetration in the USA went from ~40 percent to ~100 percent.* This is the difference between arranging a rendezvous ahead of time in precise detail, and being confident that you can just end it with “I’ll call you.”

Image credit: Wikipedia

* This is actually calculated by comparing the number of phones to people. Since some people have multiple phones, and businesses purchase them for their employees, “real” penetration is somewhat less than this. I suspect that it is a larger underestimate for 2001, as a larger proportion of phones were probably business-related.

March 6, 2012

Google+ bombs

Filed under: Google,Technology — Razib Khan @ 7:57 am

Google+ Lags Far Behind Facebook, Twitter and MySpace in Latest Study:

Google+ became the fastest growing social network within months of its debut last June, but a recent study casts doubt on whether most of its users are spending much time on the site.

According to ComScore, users spent an average of just 3.3 minutes on Google+ in the month of January, a decline from its recent figures and a tiny sliver of Facebook’s total.

I accept the argument of friends that G+ and Facebook are fundamentally different, and that Google’s aim here is not to replicate Facebook. But I also think that this is well short of what Google was intending for G+ at this stage; otherwise they would surely have quashed the media bubble and hyperbole which crested last summer. G+ is obviously much better than Buzz. But that’s a low bar.

February 21, 2012

Books Made From Electrons!

Filed under: Science and the Media,Technology,Top Posts,Words — Sean Carroll @ 8:47 am

[Updated to provide a better link for DtU overlord Carl Zimmer.]

The conventional presentation of a book — words and images printed on sheets, bound together in a folio — is a perfected technology. It hasn’t changed much in centuries, and likely will be with us for centuries to come.

But that doesn’t mean that other technologies won’t be nudging their way into the same conceptual space. Everyone knows that the practice of publishing is being dramatically altered by the appearance of ebooks — a very broad designation for book-length content that is meant to be read on an electronic device. At the simplest level, an ebook can simply be a text file displayed by a reading program. But the possibilities are much more flexible, allowing for different kinds of images, video, interactivity with the user, and two-way connections with the outside world. The production and distribution process is also much easier, which opens the door to books that are faster, shorter, longer, and quirkier than the usual set of hardbacks and paperbacks. If I put my mind to it, I could meander through this blog’s archives, pick out a few posts, and have an ebook published by this evening. It would suck — editing and presenting a good collection requires effort — but it would be published.

In the current state of the market, one question is: how do you find good ebooks to read, ones that don’t suck? Into this breach leaps Download The Universe, a new website devoted to reviewing ebooks about science. Not just “science books with electronic editions,” but books that only exist in the e- format. (Apparently we have already passed through the awkward hypenation phase, and gone from “e-book” right to “ebook.”) Because it would be embarrassing not to, we also have a Twitter account at @downloadtheuni.

This brand-new project has been led by our inestimable blog neighbor Carl Zimmer, who has assembled a crack editorial team consisting of some of the world’s leading new-media science journalists and also me. We’ll be contributing regular (one hopes) reviews of ebooks old and new, all with a science focus. Suggestions welcome, of course.

The world is going to change, whether we like it or not. It always feels good to help channel that change in constructive ways.


January 21, 2012

The arcologies arise

Filed under: Blog,China,Technology — Razib Khan @ 2:52 pm


How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work:

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

The story emphasizes that labor costs are not the primary issue here. There is the natural discussion of skill levels, and the sheer number of Chinese works coming online. But there simply is no way that Foxconn City could exist in the United States today. There is no way I can deny the massive quality of life improvements in China over the past generation. But, the flip side of this is that a way of life has now emerged organically in places like Shenzen which is rather reminiscent of late 19th and early 20th century dystopian visions of the industrial future.

January 17, 2012

The future is here

Filed under: Futurism,Shenzhen,Technology — Razib Khan @ 12:26 pm

Believe it or not I am probably mildly skeptical about the possibilities for the 21st century as a canvas for human flourishing. That is one reason I like to emphasize the positive, because it is important for me to not get caught up in my own bias. Over the last two human generations (50 years) mean world life expectancy has gone from ~53 to ~69. This is easy for me forget concretely because I come from a relatively long lived family. Though all were born in British India and died in Bangladesh my grandparents lived to ages of 75, 100, 80, and 80. My grandparent who died at the age of 75 still lived 25 years longer than life expectancy in Bangladesh in the year he died.

Today I see a headline in The New York Times, Majority of Chinese Now Live in Cities. For some reason I was prompted to look up the Wikipedia entry for Shenzhen, a city of 350,000 in 1982, which is now at 10 million. The image below of Shenzhen captures for me the poignant banality of the future present. One the one hand it is nothing special, a typical “world city” skyline. But there is also an aspect redolent of the soft focus depictions of the cities of the future in the children’s books I would read in the 1980s. The photo is proof of nothing. Rather, it is an illustration of fact.


Image credit: Wikipedia

January 3, 2012

Kindle vs. non-kindle books

Filed under: Kindle,Technology — Razib Khan @ 10:29 am

Out of curiosity, how many readers are switching mostly to Kindle books? I myself find myself doing this. Not for any ideological or conscious reason. Rather, cost and portability are both major upsides of the Kindle. I also find that “impulse buys” are easier for me on the Kindle (purchased The Great Sea and Civilization: The West and the Rest, the latter mostly to see if Panjak Mishra actually did read the book). The Kindle has been around for a few years, but it looks like web traffic related to it is still increasing radically. I compare it o the iPad below.

Update: OK, never mind about the comparison. I suspect that the bounce for “Kindle” is due to Kindle Fire.

January 1, 2012

The aggregate flatness of Facebook

Filed under: Facebook,Technology — Razib Khan @ 4:04 pm

Most readers know that I’ve been tracking Google Trends data on Facebook for years. Now on January 1 2012 It seems pretty obviously that in the international aggregate this was the year that Facebook finally hit saturation in terms of “mindshare.”

But there are interesting international differences.


United States:

United Kingdom:

France:

Germany:

Italy:

Russia:

India:

Brazil:

Here’s Facebook vs. Orkut in Brazil:

December 27, 2011

The decline of Digg, the rise of reddit

Filed under: Digg,Reddit,Slashdot,Technology — Razib Khan @ 11:25 pm

This is probably old news to you, and I’ve read about Digg’s problems in the tech media, but I just realized how much reddit has eclipsed Digg in referral traffic. I’ve always gotten way more attention from reddit (some science bloggers have told me that reddit readers are a “smarter set”), but when I did get Digg bumps they were often of greater magnitude. No more. Not only are referrals from Digg much more rare than they used to be, but they aren’t as significant as reddit.

So of course I checked out Google Trends:


Even StumbleUpon has now surpassed Digg in search queries. Was Digg the MySpace to reddit’s Facebook? And of course Slashdot keeps going…. (Slashdot is so well established that I doubt many people are “searching” for it, so these trends probably underestimate its reach and influence).

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