• Kochs Plan to Spend Million on 2016 Campaign

    Breathtaking:

    The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalelled effort by outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history.

    The goal, revealed Monday at the Kochs’ annual winter donor retreat near Palm Springs, Calif., would effectively allow their political organization to operate at the same financial scale as the Democratic and Republican parties. In the last presidential election, the Republican National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million.

    In what universe is this anything other than an attempt to buy an election?

  • Charlie Hebdo Puts Another Caricature of Muhammad on Its Cover

    From The New York Times:

    While surviving staff members, at an emotional news conference, described their choice of cover as a show of forgiveness, most Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous. Moreover, interpretations quickly swirled around the Internet that the cartoon also contained disguised crudity.

    One of Egypt’s highest Islamic authorities warned that the cartoon would exacerbate tensions between the secular West and observant Muslims, while death threats circulated online against staff members.

    A preacher, Anjem Choudary, the former leader of a radical group that was banned in Britain, was quoted by a British newspaper, The Independent, as saying that the image was “an act of war” that would be punishable by death if judged in a Shariah court.

    Bravo to Charlie Hebdo for holding up free speech in the face of religious barbarism. Here’s the author of the cartoon speaking about his work:

    With this cover, we wanted to show that at any given moment, we have the right to do anything, to redo anything, and to use our characters the way we want to. Mohammed has become a character, in spite of himself, a character in the news, because there are people who speak on his behalf. This is a cover aimed at intelligent people, who are much more numerous than you think, whether they’re atheists, Catholics, Muslims. …

    Phrases like “an act of war” applied to a cartoon recalls for me old Christopher Hitchens articles about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. For example:

    Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against “all those involved in its publication,” which led to the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient.

  • I’ve Joined Twitter

    Today was my first day working at Twitter! I’m starting as a senior engineer on the iOS team, where I’ll be working on the core Twitter app.

    I truly could not be more excited to start this job. I absolutely love Twitter as a product. It’s probably the most important service I use on the Internet. I view it as a truly transformative force in the world, and it’s a privilege and an honor to have an opportunity to contribute toward its success.

  • George Lucas Was Bored By Scripts

    My rekindled interest in Star Wars has me reading The Making of Star Wars1, and within just the first few pages, I came across this choice piece:

    “When I was in college I took a creative writing class,” Lucas says, “but I really didn’t like it. My real thing was art, drawing, visuals. When I went to USC, my primary interest was camera and editing. That was what I really excelled in, so that was what I really liked. I was bored by scripts, and most of the films I did were abstract visual tone poems or documentaries—those were the things I really loved.”

    For some reason, not really sure why, it feels like he was being sincere.


    1. This series of making-of books was recommended by John Siracusa on the Star Wars episode of The Talk Show
  • Wasting Time Hating on The Phantom Menace

    Every so often there’s some kind of trigger event that rekindles my interest in the horribleness of the Star Wars prequels. There’s something about the complete train wreck of those movies that makes me love to hate them. The most recent episode of The Talk Show has once again brought forth the anger, which leads to hate, which leads to… oh whatever.

    Some prequel criticism I recommend include all relevant episodes of The Incomparable, the highlight of which is the always astute criticism of John Siracusa. I also recommend a seven part video review by Red Letter Media. There are also reviews of Episode II and Episode III.

    I also started hunting for some criticism from 1999 when the movie was released. My recollection is that reviews generally ranged from lukewarm to positive, so I was curious who got it right at the time. I came across a review by Eli Roth, writer and director of Hostel, that pretty much nails the problems with the movie:

    By the end of the film I was so disconnected from any of the characters that I really couldn’t have cared less about any of them. Watching an army of computer generated aliens fight an army of computer generated robots is boring after five minutes. None of it’s real, and you can’t even let yourself believe it’s real because there’s just too much computer generated imagery. What’s Lucas got against puppets? Halfway through the film I was bored–the story just isn’t very interesting at all. Forget the fact it’s too confusing, forget the fact the dialogue is embarrassing, the film doesn’t even follow it’s own logic. We meet young Anakin Skywalker and go to his house on Tatooine. He’s a boy genius who’s building his own robot named C-3PO. What? Excuse me? Are you telling me that Darth Vader built C-3PO? And 3P0 grew up on Tatooine? In the first Star Wars, when R2 and 3PO land on Tatooine they make it very clear that they have no idea where they are. They’ve never been there before, so how could they have grown up there? It’s obvious that Lucas wanted to throw the droids in, which gave me some sense of familiarity, but the way he used them makes no sense, even within the logic of Star Wars. Another major problem with The Phantom Menace is that Lucas casts great actors and gives them nothing to do. Save for a few light saber fights, Liam Neeson wanders around Tatooine for most of the film. And why is Sam Jackson in this movie? Not that he’s not a great actor, but he’s in the movie for five minutes and he just sits around talking. I’ve seen him in too many movies to buy him in the “Star Wars” universe. I just kept picturing him ending every sentence with “muthafucka!” However, this isn’t really Sam Jackson’s fault, since Lucas couldn’t come up with anything interesting for the character of Mace Windu, except to sit around and spout out preachy dialogue. The Jedi knights sit around in a room philosophizing about stuff. It looks boring as shit. The acting on the whole was good, but again, with Ewan MacGregor, Lucas makes him, literally, sit around and wait for Liam Neeson. MacGregor’s great as Kenobi, but most of the film he sits on the ship while Liam Neeson walks around Tatooine trying to get parts to fix the ship. Whereas all three Star Wars films were different in structure, The Phantom Menace follows the same blueprint as Jedi. There’s a battle on land with cutesy animals, a battle in space with fighters trying to “knock out the shield,” and a light saber fight all happening simultaneously. Here was the only interesting part of the movie: Darth Maul. Lucas created a wonderfully dark, mysterious character and decided to put him in the movie for about twelve minutes. We never learn anything about him, he’s just a bad guy who appears to be the only one who can take on Qui Gon and Obi Wan. The scenes he’s in are great, and it gave me a really good idea for a Halloween costume, but you will make yourself insane trying to figure out why Lucas had so many scenes with Jar Jar Binks, and so few with Darth Maul.

    I was so angry after the film I wanted to punch someone in the face.

  • Panic’s Low iOS Revenue in 2014

    From Panic’s 2014 report:

    [Low iOS revenue] is the biggest problem we’ve been grappling with all year: we simply don’t make enough money from our iOS apps. We’re building apps that are, if I may say so, world-class and desktop-quality. They are packed with features, they look stunning, we offer excellent support for them, and development is constant. I’m deeply proud of our iOS apps. But… they’re hard to justify working on.

    Here’s a way to visualize the situation. First up is a sample look at Units Sold for the month of November 2014:

    Wow! 51% of our unit sales came from iOS apps! That’s great!

    But now look at this revenue chart for the same month…

    Despite selling more than half of our total units, iOS represents just 17% of our total revenue.

    There are a few things at work here:

    1. We’re not charging enough for our iOS apps. Or Mac users are simply willing to pay more for apps. Or both.
    2. We’re not getting the word out well enough about our iOS apps.
    3. The type of software we make just isn’t as compelling to iOS users as it is to Mac users. Our professional tools are geared for a type of user that simply might not exist on the iPad — admins and coders. We might have misjudged that market.

    It’s really hard to say for sure. One thing is for certain: we are more likely to increase the price of our iOS software over time in an effort to make it make sense. And we’re less likely to tackle any huge new iOS projects until we get this figured out.

    Another data point that’s part of a larger trend that’s been visible for a while. The question is whether Apple also views this as a problem. I’m in the camp that thinks they don’t. I think the store they have right now, full of free and low cost apps is exactly what they want. I believe they would like the Panics of the world to stick around, but maintaining a huge quantity of free and low cost apps is more important.

    The real question is not whether Apple will change the structure of the App Store to help companies like Panic be successful there, but whether the Panics of the world can find a way to make money despite the App Store’s limitations.

  • Fred Wilson’s Predictions for 2015

    Fred Wilson’s Predictions for 2015