Charles Krauthammer writes: Fractured and divided as we are, on one thing we can agree: 2015 was a miserable year. The only cheer was provided by Lincoln Chafee and the Pluto flyby (two separate phenomena), as well as one seminal aeronautical breakthrough.
On Dec. 21, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after launching 11 satellites into orbit, returned its 15-story booster rocket, upright and intact, to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. That’s a $60 million mountain of machinery — recovered. (The traditional booster rocket either burns up or disappears into some ocean.)
The reusable rocket has arrived. Arguably, it arrived a month earlier when Blue Origin, a privately owned outfit created by Jeffrey P. Bezos (Amazon chief executive and owner of this newspaper) launched and landed its own booster rocket, albeit for a suborbital flight. But whether you attribute priority to Musk or Bezos, the two events together mark the inauguration of a new era in spaceflight.
Musk predicts that the reusable rocket will reduce the cost of accessing space a hundredfold. This depends, of course, on whether the wear and tear and stresses of the launch make the refurbishing prohibitively expensive. Assuming it’s not, and assuming Musk is even 10 percent right, reusability revolutionizes the economics of spaceflight.
Which both democratizes and commercializes it. Which means space travel has now slipped the surly bonds of government — presidents, Congress, NASA bureaucracies. Its future will now be driven far more by a competitive marketplace with its multiplicity of independent actors, including deeply motivated, financially savvy and visionary entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »
With the South China Morning Post, Jack Ma’s personal politics will move into a global spotlight, for anyone to see and read in English.
Josh Horowitz writes: After lengthy negotiations, Alibaba founder Jack Ma may be close to an investmentin the publisher of the South China Morning Post, according to reports in Bloomberg, the New York Times, and Caixin.
Neither party has commented publicly about a deal, and it is unclear whether Ma would buy all or some of the SCMP Group. He already has a media empire that rivals Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and has invested in two US-based social media apps—Tango and Snapchat. But the maybe-pending SCMP bid has already attracted nearly as much attention as any of those done deals.
That’s because with the SCMP, Ma’s personal politics will move into a global spotlight, for anyone to see and read in English.
The SCMP was once the English-language paper of record for reporting on China. Founded in 1903 as the “printing house for the Chinese revolution,” it covered far more than just Hong Kong. Throughout the fifties and sixties, it was often the first source for information about the famines and political clashes of the Mao era. After the country opened up, its multi-national staff would regularly break stories about political scandals and human rights abuses on the mainland, even after Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997.
Its reporting was rewarded financially. In 1997 it earned HK$805 million (over $200 million) in net profits, about $420 in profit per-reader. Read the rest of this entry »
On October 27, 1961, the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Nation marked a high point in the 3-year-old Saturn development program when the first Saturn vehicle flew a flawless 215-mile ballistic trajectory from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The 162-foot-tall rocket weighed 925,000 pounds and employed a dummy second stage.
Edward Kosner writes: Desperate times call forth desperate journalism. Suddenly, what we used to think of as the big-time press is being convulsed by a spasm of amateurism.
Rolling Stone, since the 1960s a paragon of hip investigative journalism and gonzo reportage, finds itself sweatily backpedaling from a single-sourced exposé of gang rape at the University of Virginia, an article that rattled the campus designed by Thomas Jefferson and went viral.
The 30-something Facebook zillionaire who bought the New Republic two years ago decided to convert the century-old journal of political and arts commentary into “a vertically integrated digital media company.” The two top editors quit as they were being pushed—and nearly all their staff and contributors followed them out the door, devastating the magazine.
[Order Edward Kosner‘s book “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist” from Amazon]
Not long ago, Newsweek resurrected itself in print after a near-death experience. Its very first cover story claimed to identify the mysterious Asian creator of bitcoin, the brave new digital currency—only to have the putative inventor surface to insist persuasively that the magazine had the right name, but the wrong man. And the vastly experienced author of a new 500-page biography of Bill Cosby managed to blow the lead: to leave out detailed accusations by more than a dozen women that the beloved comedian had drugged and raped or otherwise sexually molested them.
Inevitably in any journalistic trend story, there is an element of coincidence in the cascade of these sorry episodes. And, even in the best-run publications, mistakes are as inescapable in journalism as they are in any sustained human activity. But there is an unseen common denominator to all these fiascoes that helps explain why they happened, illuminating both the existential dangers that serious journalism now faces and its fraught future.
“Here was a story made to go viral—doing journalistic due diligence on it might blunt its sharp edges and sap its appeal. As it happened, the Rolling Stone piece was undone by old-school reporting by the Washington Post, which has the resources to do its job…”
Quite simply, print editors and their writers, and especially the publications’ proprietors, are being unhinged by the challenge of making a splash in a new world increasingly dominated by the values of digital journalism. Traditional long-form journalism—painstakingly reported, carefully written, rewritten and edited, scrupulously fact-checked—finds itself fighting a losing battle for readers and advertisers. Quick hits, snarky posts and click-bait in the new, ever-expanding cosmos of websites promoted by even quicker teasers on Twitter and Facebook have broadened the audience but shrunk its attention span, sometimes to 140 characters (shorter than this sentence).
Whether they realize it or not, and most do, print journalists feel the pressure to make their material ever more compelling, to make it stand out amid the digital chatter. The easiest way to do that is to come up with stories so sensational that even the Twitterverse has to take notice. Read the rest of this entry »
After months of leaks and speculation, Amazon unveiled its ‘Fire Phone’ smartphone. The new phone has a 4.7-inch screen, a 13-megapixel camera and unlimited photo storage in cloud, as well as a 3-D like effect where the images move where you do.
The phone will be available July 25, and sells for $649 to $749 with no contract…(read more)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos holds up the new Amazon Fire Phone Associated Press
The Facebook generation isn’t bothered about the data e-readers are collecting – just another victory for market forces
So some big companies are using technology to improve their services – big deal. Or at least that seems to be the balance of opinion around these parts on the news that while you’re reading your favourite ebook, your favourite ebook is reading you. Of course it’s not strictly speaking news to those of you who follow the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or indeed the Wall Street Journal, but for those of us who don’t spend our lives cogitating on the details of every End User License Agreement we sign up to, it still comes of something of a shock to realise that – sotto voce – your electronic device is keeping up running commentary on your reading habits.
Maybe you’ve already followed dickcheeseman’s advice and sprung your Kindle out of Amazon’s embrace or maybe, as R042 suggests, you’ve cut your e-reader off from its natural habitat and foresworn WiFi, but even if like Commontata you “couldn’t care less” what any business has on you, the default collection of user data is another signal that electronic devices shift reading into something a little more commercial. Read the rest of this entry »
To grasp the magnitude of this realignment, imagine if the New York Times declined to renew veteran left-wing crackpot Paul Krugman‘s contract, and replaced him with Instapudit‘s Glenn Reynolds. Or if HBO fired Bill Maher, and offered a prime-time talk show to Greg Gutfeld. Yes, it’s like that.
Could this be a sign of intelligent life in media? What if Maureen Dowd was booted out of her nest at the NYT, replaced by Mona Charen? Imagine if ABC’s Good Morning America dumped its on-air talent and hired Ann Coulter, Tucker Carlson, and Michelle Malkin. Or if editorial control of The Huffington Post was turned over to me, Nick Gillespie, and Jonah Goldberg…
Okay that part is wishful thinking. But you get the idea. It’s a big deal.
John Nolte reports: Very interesting day at The Washington Post. Left-wing Ezra Klein is out and the much-respected conservative legal blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, is in. Already the Jeff Bezos era is becoming an interesting one. Numerous reports claim that Bezos wasn’t interested in a multi-million dollar proposal Klein pitched, but he was apparently interested in giving Volokh full editorial control:
We will also retain full editorial control over what we write. And this full editorial control will be made easy by the facts that we have (1) day jobs, (2) continued ownership of our trademark and the volokh.com domain, and (3) plenty of happy experience blogging on our own, should the need arise to return to that…
After all, they approached us because of who we are and what we write. They know our ideologies. They know our blogging style. They know that we sometimes put up quirky non-law posts. They tell us they’re fine with all of that.
Both moves are a huge boost for the Post for a few reasons.
As much as Ezra Klein was worshipped by others in the elite media, he badly damaged the Post’s credibility as an objective news outlet. It was unconscionable of the Post to frame Klein’s hysterical leftism and Obama water-carrying as objective analysis and reporting. Klein is a wild-eyed Statist, and a wildly dishonest one to boot.
Philip Elmer-DeWitt writes: “How would you feel,” Google chairman Eric Schmidt asked in the Guardian last April, “if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”
How would I feel about a drone that could snoop on me? Probably the same way I’d feel about a company that monitored all my online activities — the e-mail I send and receive, the websites I visit, the places I visit, the products I buy, the YouTubes I watch, etc. etc. — and sold that information to advertisers.
Yet, in some contexts, drone delivery has shown potential. Last year, a startup called Matternet in Palo Alto, California, tested drones as a way to deliver supplies to refugee camps in Haiti and found it cost only 20 to 70 cents to deliver a two-kilogram package 10 kilometers—at least a fivefold savings compared to standard truck delivery.
“Technically it is totally feasible,” says R. John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics at MIT. “The key issues will be if the [Federal Aviation Administration] allows this kind of operation—they should—and if the business case makes sense.”
But Hansman says the delivery cost could be steep: “They will have to charge a significant premium for this kind of delivery, so the products would need to be worth a $100 to $200 delivery fee for a five-pound or so package.”
The robot future is coming, and helping human laborers will require creative responses
Jonah Goldberg writes: After you heard President Obama’s call for a hike in the minimum wage, you probably wondered the same thing I did: Was Obama sent from the future by Skynet to prepare humanity for its ultimate dominion by robots?
But just in case the question didn’t occur to you, let me explain. On Tuesday, the day before Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage, the restaurant chain Applebee’s announced that it will install iPad-like tablets at every table. Chili’s already made this move earlier this year.
With these consoles customers will be able to order their meals and pay their checks without dealing with a waiter or waitress. Both companies insist that they won’t be changing their staffing levels, but if you’ve read any science fiction, you know that’s what the masterminds of every robot takeover say: “We’re here to help. We’re not a threat.”
But the fact is, the tablets are a threat. In 2011, Annie Lowrey wrote about the burgeoning tablet-as-waiter business. She focused on a startup firm called E La Carte, which makes a table tablet called Presto. “Each console goes for $100 per month. If a restaurant serves meals eight hours a day, seven days a week, it works out to 42 cents per hour per table — making the Presto cheaper than even the very cheapest waiter. Moreover, no manager needs to train it, replace it if it quits, or offer it sick days. And it doesn’t forget to take off the cheese, walk off for 20 minutes, or accidentally offend with small talk, either.”
Applebee’s is using the Presto. Are we really supposed to believe that the chain will keep thousands of redundant human staffers on the payroll forever?
George Will, syndicated columnist and a Fox News Contributor, suggested on “Special Report with Bret Baier” that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos should purchase the federal agency that is responsible for the enrollment of ObamaCare.
“What the administration is trying to do is sell something on-line that it can’t do it,” Will said. “Get Jeff Bezos, he bought the Washington Post. Let him buy the Department of Health and Human Services. He knows how to do this. The difference is people go to amazon.com a) voluntarily and b) because they know what they want to buy. People go to healthcare.gov because they’re under government coercion and they’re confronted with something that poll after poll indicates that they don’t want to buy.”
Tech Crunch’s John Biggs writes: In another episode of “Sticking It To The Man Through Lego” we present a spider that manually clicks through the pages of a Kindle book and then signals a computer to take a picture of the e-ink screen, perform some OCR, and spit out a completely DRM-free copy of the text. In short, it’s a sort of intelligent photocopier that is, in theory, completely legal. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jim Treacher
The Washington City Paper just published an “open letter” to Jeff Bezos, new owner of the Washington Post, from former WaPo ombudsman Patrick Pexton. In addition to some sound general advice on being a successful newspaper publisher — grow a thick skin, remember that the product you’re selling is news, get to know your audience, etc. — Pexton also has one specific request:
Have Fred Hiatt, your editorial page editor—who I like, admire, and respect—fire opinion blogger Jennifer Rubin. Not because she’s conservative, but because she’s just plain bad. She doesn’t travel within a hundred miles of Post standards. She parrots and peddles every silly right-wing theory to come down the pike in transparent attempts to get Web hits. Her analysis of the conservative movement, which is a worthwhile and important beat that the Post should treat more seriously on its national pages, is shallow and predictable. Her columns, at best, are political pornography; they get a quick but sure rise out of the right, but you feel bad afterward.
See, it’s not that Pexton doesn’t like her conservative views, whatever those might be. It’s that she says silly right-wing things! She doesn’t have the depth and readability of, say, Ezra Klein or Greg Sargent or the rest of the WaPo staffers who Pexton happens to agree with politically.
Incidentally, Alana Goodman at the Washington Free Beacon reports:
The former Washington Post ombudsman who called on the paper to fire conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin on Thursday wrote an obsequious apology to Rubin after making similar comments in 2011…
Pexton had previously suggested that the Post had grounds to fire Rubin in an “off the record” email response to one of Rubin’s critics in November 2011, which was later published by ThinkProgress.
Pexton emailed an effusive apology to Rubin shortly after his 2011 comments went public, calling his remarks “glib,” “uninformed,” and “amateurish.”
“I wanted to apologize for my glib, off-the-record remark to this reader who was exchanging e-mails with me about your retweet,” wrote Pexton, according to a copy of the Nov. 11, 2011, email obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. “I was in the middle of several e-mail conversations at once and I reacted quickly, without thinking, and with uninformed speculation. It was a stupid and amateurish move, and I’m sorry for it.”
Clearly, now Pexton is sorry that he said he was sorry.
As for Rubin:
via The Daily Caller
By Paul Farhi
The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.
Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to The Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.
JUST IN: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to purchase the @washingtonpost for $250 million
— NBC Nightly News (@nbcnightlynews) August 5, 2013
Reason Magazine’s Ira Stoll has a novel take on Romney’s sideswipe at Garage
Bands Banks, and asks, hey, what’s wrong with garage-based businesses? …or even garage-based financial institutions? It’s worth reading…
The most infuriating moment of the first presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.
That moment was when Governor Romney, the Republican, in response to a question about regulation, declared it “essential” and went on, “You couldn’t have people opening up banks in their — in their garage and making loans.”
That sound you heard during the debate was the echo of me ripping my hair out while throwing my drink at the television in frustration at the idea of a Republican presidential nominee who portrays himself as the defender of free markets yet who also describes garage-based businesses as a grave danger that must be regulated out of existence.
Among the successful American businesses that began in garages are:
- Hewlett-Packard, which began in a 12-foot by 18-foot garage at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif., and grew into a company with nearly 350,000 employees and more than $100 billion a year in revenue.
- Apple, which assembled some of its first computers in Steve Jobs’ parents’ garage at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, Calif. Apple now has a market capitalization of more than $600 billion.
- Google, whose official company history explains that it set up workspace in September 1998 in Susan Wojcicki’s garage at 232 Santa Margarita, Menlo Park, Calif.
- Amazon, which for nearly a year in 1994 and 1995 consisted of founder Jeff Bezos and five employees working in the garage of a Seattle home that Mr. Bezos had rented.
- Mattel, the toy company that is known for Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars and that began in a Southern California garage. Senator Marco Rubio spoke about it in his maiden speech.
- Lender’s Bagels, which began in a West Haven, Conn., garage and grew into a business with tens of millions of dollars in annual sales.
Okay, none of those garage-based startups was in the lending business. But there’s no reason that the same kind of garage-style innovation that brought growth and dynamism to the technology, toy, and bagel businesses can’t also penetrate into lending…
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