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Texas Winter Week Continues

Today is Thursday. I had to check a few times. We thought the weeks were long last year during the first days of lockdown, but this is something else. Texas is still frozen, but the politics and opinions as hot as ever.

Texas has become a national poster child for how to fail its citizens during an emergency. It’s an embarrassment. Our politicians, the ones who aren’t jetting off to vacation in Mexico, are busy blaming green energy for the trouble, or saying that a few days without power is our civic duty as Texans.

In other words, we’re going to do nothing to prevent this from happening again.

The Frozen Tundra of Texas

It’s been quite a week here in Texas. The snow wasn’t so bad, we’re prepared for a bit of that. But the bitter cold temperatures, even some below zero, this week are crippling the state’s energy grid.

Texas is just not prepared: Stories from around North Texas chronicled by the Dallas Morning News.

In Texas’s Black-Swan Blackout, Everything Went Wrong at Once: Power plants weren’t prepared for the cold weather, which wiped out generators and extra capacity. The Texas power grid is separated from other states, so we’re on our own.

No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages: Our inept leadership tries to blame the problem on green energy, even though it only makes up a tiny fraction of the total energy production in the state.

Texas grid fails to weatherize, repeats mistake feds cited 10 years ago: The Super Bowl was played in DFW 10 years ago, and was plagued with similar weather to this week. It seems like we’ve learned nothing since then.

🥶

Your 2020 NFL Champions: The Tampa Bay Bucs

Congrats to Tampa Bay.. what a dominating performance over the defending champion Chiefs.

Tom Brady is without a doubt the best to have ever played the game. He now has more Super Bowl wins than anyone else, and any other franchise has too. The first and only to person to do this in the major sports leagues. Quite incredible.

Jeff Bezos to Step Down as Amazon CEO

Big announcement yesterday from Amazon: Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO will be stepping down later this year.

From Bezos’ letter to employees:

This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name. The question I was asked most frequently at that time was, “What’s the internet?” Blessedly, I haven’t had to explain that in a long while.

Today, we employ 1.3 million talented, dedicated people, serve hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and are widely recognized as one of the most successful companies in the world.

How did that happen? Invention. Invention is the root of our success. We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal. We pioneered customer reviews, 1-Click, personalized recommendations, Prime’s insanely-fast shipping, Just Walk Out shopping, the Climate Pledge, Kindle, Alexa, marketplace, infrastructure cloud computing, Career Choice, and much more. If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.

It’s hard to overstate how much Bezos’ work has impacted the world. The Amazon story is very clear, but transparent to many people is how much of an impact AWS has had on startups, tech, and nearly every online business today. It’s astounding.

The announcement seems very reminiscent of the Bill Gates announcement over 20 years ago with the same move. First to chairman, then retirement years later. Imagine if, like Gates, Bezos uses his focus and skills for the public good and philanthropy.

Nice timing here too: Amazon just delivered its first $100 billion quarter.

GameStop, Reddit, and Robinhood

I can’t seem to get enough of the Reddit GameStop stock story this week. It’s seeming to become more interesting by the day.

Jason Koebler, writing at Vice, has a great summary of how we got to this point:

What is going on is that GameStop, a company that sells physical copies of video games next to Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops in dying malls, is the most highly traded asset in the United States, a “meme stock,” and currently the primary front in a micro class war. GameStop’s stock price jumped from $4 last summer to $20 at the end of 2020, to $40 two weeks ago. It was worth $100-ish at times on Monday and Tuesday, and as I write this it is worth close to $300. Essentially, many normal-ish people have made a huge bet against gigantic financial institutions and are currently winning. In practice this means we are seeing one of the largest wealth transfers from the financial ruling class to the middle and middle-upper classes in recent memory, so it is, understandably, the only thing anyone is talking about.

Other redditors and [Reddit user] DeepFuckingValue eventually caught on that something else was happening with GameStop stock: It was the most shorted stock in the entire stock market. That, combined with what DeepFuckingValue described as “strong fundamentals,” suggested that, at some point, these short sellers would be forced to close their positions. The opportunity, as I mentioned earlier, is that short sellers overextended themselves and would only be able to close their positions: A) at a loss and B) if suddenly a bunch of people who own GameStop stock sold their stock, which would drive it down.

Yesterday things escalated even more when Robinhood, a stock trading app with no user-fees, blocked purchases of GameStop and other stocks targeted by Redditors. Robinhood was an app of choice by many of the Reddit users, so this is particularly impactful to them. Robinhood, as of this morning at least, is now saying that users can only sell their positions in GameStop and others. They aren’t the only trading provider to stop activity on these stocks, but they are the most prominent in this market.

This move by Robinhood has seen some pretty interesting agreement from a very diverse group of people.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday:

This is unacceptable.

We now need to know more about @RobinhoodApp’s decision to block retail investors from purchasing stock while hedge funds are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit.

As a member of the Financial Services Cmte, I’d support a hearing if necessary.

And even got a “fully agree” from the Senator from Texas.

Next up: this morning it was announced that Robinhood is attempting to raise more than $1 billion from its investors.

Robinhood still needed more cash quickly to ensure that it didn’t have to place further limits on customer trading, said two people briefed on the situation who insisted on remaining anonymous because the negotiations were confidential.

It seems that this was the real issue all along with Robinhood suspending the trading on GameStop and other stocks: they apparently don’t have the liquidity or cash to handle it. If that’s the case, why not just come out and say that? The damage to its brand and reputation is going to be extremely difficult to fix.

What a week!

Tweetbot 6

Tapbots has released the latest version of its great Twitter client: Tweetbot 6. Tweetbot has been my Twitter client of choice for longer than I can remember so I’m happy to see them continuing to release new major versions.

This version switches to a subscription model: $6 per year. Seems very fair.

Tweetbot 6 on the App Store

The Business of Influence with MKBHD

Excellent interview by Nilay Patel of YouTuber Marques Brownlee, aka MKBHD:

I still edit 99 percent of everything. I have the motion graphics artist and cinematographer, Vinh and Brandon, who will just go in on eight hours of editing for the first seven seconds of the intros and fun stuff like that. But I’m 99 percent of the edit, I’m writing everything, and I think at the end of the day, it’s still my face and it’s still my presentation of my ideas. Andrew is sort of a co-producer and assistant. We share the vision of how the thing grows and what we want to make. But I really say “we” because I just like to give credit to the people who’ve made it possible.

When the pandemic started, it felt like a throwback where it was just me making things again. I gave everyone the chance to get home and stay safe. And I realized, this is kind of how it started and it’s really hard to make the stuff you want to make this way. It’s a team process and I like to give credit for that.

Including some interesting tidbits about the business of being primarily a content creator on YouTube:

So, YouTube ads is the primary, fundamental way that YouTubers make money. You upload a video, there’s ads somewhere on it or in it, and the YouTuber gets paid for the placement of those ads because they brought the eyeballs to the video.

The deeper understanding of that is, there’s different types of ads. There’s the ads that are built into YouTube through the AdSense program. That’s one version of it. You don’t really get to control those ads, but you can still have banner ads, you can have pre-rolls, mid-roll video ads, things like that. And there’s a whole ecosystem there where you try to find a balancing act between how many ads do you place? Do you put mid-rolls in your videos or not?

But then there’s also the integrations that you do control, which can be inside the videos. Sometimes it’s a pre-roll, you say “this video is sponsored by…” You have an integrated section inside of a video or a post-roll. You get control over that, which is often very beneficial because that’s way better targeting for the company who’s trying to talk to somebody. And then there’s all kinds of other alternate ways that YouTube channels make money. For example, we have a merch store.

“Why iPhone is today’s Kodak Brownie Camera”

Lovely piece by Om Malik on the iPhone and comparing it to the original point-and-shoot.

A century apart, many professionals still miss the point. Photography is about people and their creation of their own narratives. As Dr. Michael Pritchard, President of the U.K-based Royal Photographic Society, said in an interview, “The Brownie was transformative because it allowed people to take photographs, get decent results most of the time and then share those photographs through the family album, in a way it was much quicker and simpler to do without having any technical knowledge.”

The professional photographers often get caught up in the technology, forgetting that how people engage with image making is just as important, if not more so. It should also be acknowledged that casual photographers are the ones who have given the industry its much needed scale, helping further the development of new technologies.

Super Bowl Ad Sitouts

An interesting twist on this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup: no Budweiser or corresponding Clydesdale horses this year. For the first time since 1983.

Brian Steinberg, for Variety:

Beverage giant Anheuser-Busch InBev is benching Super Bowl commercials from Budweiser, perhaps its best-known product — the first time in nearly four decades that the brand won’t have a place on the Big Game ad roster. The move follows decisions by both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to sideline Super Bowl ads for their flagship products, and suggests CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LV will lack some of the event’s most familiar trappings as the world continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Budweiser will give the money it might have spent on running a Super Bowl commercial to the Ad Council, an industry coalition that produces and places public-service announcements, to help raise awareness of the benefits of getting the coronavirus vaccine.

A New Day

It’s a new day, and a new era in the United States. For the first time in years it feels like the adults are back in charge of the country. They aren’t going to be perfect, they’re human. But they have the correct intentions and are setting themselves up to do their best.

The Biden/Harris administration is already on its way towards repairing the country. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m optimistic and encouraged for the first time in a long time.

One great example: Jen Psaki, the new press secretary, held a press briefing in the White House and committed to the truth, facts, and serving the American people before closing the briefing with “Thank you everyone”, and “Let’s do this again tomorrow.”

Indeed, let’s.

New MacBook Rumors

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg with some good news for MacBook fans coming later this year:

A major change to the new computers will be how they charge. Over the past five years, Apple has relied on USB-C ports for both power and data transfer on its laptops, making them compatible with other manufacturers’ chargers. But the company is now bringing back MagSafe, the magnetic power adapter that means any accidental yanking of the power cable would simply detach it from the laptop rather than pull down the entire computer. It was a favorite feature of the company’s portable PC lineup that was first introduced in 2006 and most recently revived for its latest lineup of iPhones.

MagSafe was one of the coolest innovations in the industry. Prior to MagSafe we all had a moment, whether for a computer or a video game console, where we experienced someone tripping over a cord and pulling a device off a table. MagSafe was one of those features that when you saw it, it was completely obvious. A hallmark of great Apple design. I understand the desire to remove it in favor of uniform ports that all can charge, but it always felt like a step backwards. I’d be super excited about its return.

In developing its next set of Mac laptops, Apple has also tested versions that remove the Touch Bar from its laptop keyboards. The Touch Bar, introduced as part of the last MacBook Pro redesign in 2016, turns the keyboard’s top row from function keys into a touchscreen strip that can display a variety of information and a changing set of controls to adapt to apps and tasks. Some professional users have said they found that control scheme less convenient than physical keys.

The Touch Bar on the other hand, is one of my least favorite features. It adds zero value for me and makes my everyday computer life harder. Instead of feeling around for a key and being able to hit it directly, I now have to look down at the Touch Bar to hit the correct button. And that’s if the Touch Bar is active. If it has fallen asleep you first have to tap the Touch Bar to make it visible, then tap again on the area where the button is. This would be a welcome change as well.

Raymond Wong, writing in a delightfully designed post on Input, agrees:

Apple is going to return to the very features it removed five years ago? That is seismic. Apple hates to admit any wrongdoing. But with Ive long gone and Schiller no longer leading marketing, Apple no longer has these old balls and chains weighing it down.

He also mentions the SD card slot, which would be a very welcome improvement to have back as well. I don’t see it happening, but sure would be nice.

Baltimore and Buffalo

Tonight’s NFL playoff divisional matchup features two teams I know and love very well: The Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. I was born in Buffalo, and my entire family is from there. It’s where we spent holidays as kids. I grew up a Bills fan, despite moving to Baltimore and spending the majority of my life there. We didn’t have an NFL football team in Baltimore until much later.

The 90’s Bills had an amazing run of ups and downs. An incredible team led by one of my childhood heroes, Jim Kelly. They came so close to winning it all: 4 times in a row! Agonizing. There will always be a special place in me for the Bills.

A few years later we finally got that NFL team in Baltimore and I’ve been a Ravens fan ever since. Now my own kids are getting into it and are budding Ravens fans themselves. It’s a fun family tradition. Especially this year, with so many awful things happening in the world, football has been a great distraction from real life.

This should be a great game tonight. Of course I’d like the Ravens to win. But I can’t think of a team I’d be fine with losing to more than the Bills. Whoever wins this game we’ll be happy to cheer for to win the whole thing.

My pick: Bills 27, Ravens 24.

Post-game update: Wow! I was hoping that this game would at least be competitive and entertaining to watch. One team showed up, and the other seemed to not be ready at all. For the Ravens, it’s on to next season after that embarrassment. For the Bills, good luck in the AFC Championship. First time since 1993!

Trump Impeached, Again

Worth noting for the official record that is this blog: Trump was impeached by the House for the second time in as many years. It seems like this will mean next to nothing since his conviction in the Senate is unlikely, but it feels like an important milestone. Half of the impeachments ever in our country are for this man.

Even more noteworthy than the impeachment is the 197 Republicans in the House that think causing an insurrection that jeopardized their own lives and our democracy itself is no big deal at all. If we’re trying to send a message to future would-be-authoritarians in our country, the message is clear: you won’t be held accountable.

Corporate America stepping up

While Congress and the Justice Department are in no hurry to do much of consequence for the insurrection at the Capitol, at least some of the corporate citizens in America are starting to step up:

  • WSJ: Stripe Stops Processing Payments for Trump Campaign Website
  • BuzzFeed: Amazon Is Booting Parler Off Of Its Web Hosting Service
  • The Verge: Apple removes Parler from the App Store
  • The Verge: Google pulls Parler from Play Store for fostering calls to violence
  • Popular Information Three major corporations say they will stop donating to members of Congress who tried to overturn the election
  • CNN: PGA cancels plans to play 2022 championship at Trump golf course

On Insurrection Responsibility

Last week’s insurrection at the Capitol still looms large in my head, and in the world. This week is setting up to be another interesting one with impeachment and the calls for invoking the 25th Amendment still on the table. The 25th doesn’t seem likely–it would have happened by now you’d think. Impeachment is a nice gesture, but now we’re hearing that even if Trump is impeached it most likely won’t be heard by the Senate until well into the Biden administration.

I’m struggling to imagine a scenario where a different mob of people invaded our Capitol. What if it was a foreign government or a known foreign terrorist organization? Would members of Congress shrug it off and keep going with their business? Would we not see any press conferences from the Justice Department? Would we not go after those responsible for inciting the attack?

I understand the calls for unity. I would like nothing more than unity and bringing us together as a country again, regardless of party. But we should hold those responsible for this attack accountable. We should make it so it doesn’t happen again. Only then can we come together, heal as a nation, and move forward.

Twitter Suspends Trump

Last night, Twitter announced it would be permanently suspending Trump’s account. This following Facebook’s similar announcement a day earlier.

This is the worst thing that could happen to Trump. They just took away his megaphone and ability to reach the most people.

Better late than never.

Former President Statements on Yesterday

What the former presidents had to say about yesterday’s events:

President Barack Obama:

History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation. But we’d be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise.

For two months now, a political party and its accompanying media ecosystem has too often been unwilling to tell their followers the truth — that this was not a particularly close election and that President-Elect Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. Their fantasy narrative has spiraled further and further from reality, and it builds upon years of sown resentments. Now we’re seeing the consequences, whipped up into a violent crescendo.

President George W. Bush:

This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement. The violent assault on the Capitol – and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress – was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes. Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation. In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law.

President Clinton:

The assault was fueled by more than four years of poison politics spreading deliberate misinformation, sowing distrust in our system, and pitting Americans against one another. The match was lit by Donald Trump and his most ardent enablers, including many in Congress, to overturn the results of an election he lost.

The election was free, the count was fair, the result is final. We must complete the peaceful transfer of power our Constitution mandates.

President Carter:

This is a national tragedy and is not who we are as a nation. Having observed elections in troubled democracies worldwide, I know that we the people can unite to walk back from this precipice to peacefully uphold the laws of our nation, and we must. We join our fellow citizens in praying for a peaceful resolution so our nation can heal and complete the transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.

Insurrection at the Capitol

What an incredible day it was yesterday. It was shocking to see our United States Capitol building completely swamped with a rabid mob of people. It was shocking to see how easily they were able to overcome the minimal security forces in play to have their way with such a sacred building. But perhaps the most shocking of all is that the entire event was incited and encouraged (then not halted) by the sitting president. Incredible. I spent most of yesterday stunned and glued to the news. It’s a day I’ll certainly never forget.

At the end of the day, as shocking as this episode was, it accomplished nothing. President-elect Biden was confirmed by congress early this morning. He will be inaugurated, as expected all along, on January 20th. The democratic party now controls the House, and the Senate after the victories in Georgia by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. It is going to take years to repair the damage done by the Trump presidency. It’s time to get started.

Playoffs

It’s really one of the best times of sports year. The regular season of the NFL is about complete with just one game to go tonight. What an interesting season this has been, and it’s a bit incredible that all of the games were actually played. Even with the scheduling nonsense of a few weeks ago, things worked out for the most part in the end. Quite the achievement, when you think about it.

The last few weeks of the season are really fun. They can be completely heartbreaking too, and I think I remember more of those seasons than the fun ones. Watching things fall into place is always a dramatic and interesting way to end the season.

This year, it’s been more fun than normal for me. My beloved Ravens clinched a playoff spot in the first wildcard, 5th overall seed in the AFC, with an absolutely crushing win over the Bengals today. Things looked a bit different than in 2017, when a last minute touchdown by the Bengals destroyed the Ravens’ playoff hopes that year.

Here’s to a good few weeks of football left. Things should be a lot of fun here, and it’ll be interesting to see who (if anyone) can topple the mighty Chiefs and win this thing.

Happy New Year

It’s a new year, and a good time for optimism and looking forward. I’m certainly not alone in trying to move on. The past year certainly sure has been something to wish away.

There’s still much work to be done to fight this virus. There’s still civil unrest and significant racial problems to focus on. The politics of this country don’t seem to be slowing down. Just because a number on a calendar is different today than last week doesn’t mean our problems are solved. But it’s still a chance to stop and consider what’s next.

Hopefully 2021 is a year of being nicer to one another, being more compassionate for your fellow man, and being more respectful of this planet we call home.

I’m not into resolutions but I do have some things I’d like to do differently and not at all in 2021. There’s no better time to start moving forward than now.

Here’s to 2021.

Here Lies Flash

Mike Davidson, providing a proper eulogy for Flash which is about to reach end of life support in a few days:

Then one day in 1997, I clicked on a link to Kanwa Nagafuji’s Image Dive site and the whole trajectory of web design changed for me. It looked like nothing I had ever seen in a web browser. A beautiful, dynamic interface, driven by anti-aliased Helvetica type and buttery smooth vector animation? And the whole thing loaded instantly on a dial-up connection with nothing suspicious to install? What was this sorcery? Sadly, I can’t find any representation of the site online anymore, but imagine the difference in going not just from black-and-white TV to color TV, but from newspaper to television.

Nagafuji’s work was such a huge, unexpected leap from everything that came before it that I had to figure out how it was done. A quick View Source later revealed an object/embed tag pointing to a file that ended in “.swf”. A few AltaVista searches later led me to the website of Macromedia, makers of ShockWave Flash (“SWF”), the technology that powered this amazing site.

I downloaded a trial version and was blown away at the editing interface. Instead of a shotgun marriage of Photoshop, HTML, browser hacks, and a bunch of other stuff that felt more like assembly than design, here was a single interface to lay out text, shapes, images, and buttons, and animate everything together into an interactive experience! It was magic.

Flash was amazing for a few years before browsers started to catch up and standardize around modern features like, ahem, custom fonts.

This piece is a trip down memory lane for me. I’m so glad Flash is gone but like Mike, I am glad it did exist for a time.

The relentless 2020 news cycle in one chart

An interesting visual analysis of Google Trends and searches throughout 2020 by Stef W. Kight and Axios:

If you’re feeling extra tired this holiday season, blame the non-stop news cycle of 2020, as visualized in Axios’ fourth annual Google Trends chart.

Why it matters: From a pandemic to multi-city protests to contested elections, 2020 has been one unprecedented crisis after another. “We have never seen a year like this in Google Trends history,” Simon Rogers, a Google data editor, told Axios.“These were huge stories that changed how we search.”

Get Back: Sneak Peek

Acclaimed filmmaker Peter Jackson has released an exclusive sneak peek of his upcoming documentary “The Beatles: Get Back” for fans everywhere to enjoy.

The 5-minute special look is available to fans worldwide on TheBeatles.com and streaming on Disney+.

Jackson said, “We wanted to give the fans of The Beatles all over the world a holiday treat, so we put together this five-minute sneak peek at our upcoming theatrical film ‘The Beatles: Get Back.’ We hope it will bring a smile to everyone’s faces and some much-needed joy at this difficult time.”

This made my day yesterday.