The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Inside Google’s Drone Programme

Google unveils a drone-delivery project, after two years’ secret development. The technology is now proven; the question is whether the service can be made to work at scale, and whether Google or Amazon gets there first. Google’s original priority was for drones to deliver defibrillators to heart-attack victims; that has been far overtaken by plans for a general service that can deliver small packages anywhere (6,217 words)

Pinterest — A Database Of Intentions

Interview with Evan Sharp, co-founder of Pinterest. “We think of Pinterest some days as this crazy human indexing machine. Where millions and millions of people are hand indexing billions of objects — 30 billion objects — in a way that’s personally meaningful to them. We’re not building a machine that answers questions, although that’s great. We’re helping you discover the things you like” (4,000 words)

The Trick That Makes Google’s Self-Driving Cars Work

Google cars drive safely in Mountain View because Google loads them with perfect models of the terrain. “It might be better to stop calling what Google is doing mapping, and come up with a different verb to suggest the radical break they’ve made with previous ideas of maps. I’d say they’re crawling the world, making it legible and useful to computers”. It will be a long job; but Google is playing a long game (2,080 words)

Get Ready To Roboshop

Short, action-packed interview with Gibu Thomas, Walmart’s head of mobile, about Walmart’s smartphone apps, which help customers find what they want when they are inside the store. “You could search for toothpicks, let’s say, and it would show you all the different brands of toothpicks, what aisle they’re located in, and a map so you can get to them really quickly. People took to it like ducks to water” (1,200 words)

How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood

How Netflix knows what you want to watch next. It pays human viewers to tag films using more than 70,000 standard terms, which can be matched against customer preferences. “We’re gonna tag how much romance is in a movie. We’re not gonna tell you how much romance is in it, but we’re gonna recommend it. You’re gonna get an action [film] and it may have more or less romance based on what we know about you” (5,900 words)

Paul Otellini’s Intel: Can the Company That Built The Future Survive It?

Intel boss retires, looks back, he did OK, but missed the deal of his lifetime: the iPhone contract. “There was a chip that they were interested in that they wanted to pay a certain price for and not a nickel more and that price was below our forecasted cost. I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t one of these things you can make up on volume. And in hindsight, the forecasted cost was wrong and the volume was 100x what anyone thought” (5,671 words)

How Google Builds Its Maps – And What It Means For The Future Of Everything

Don’t think of Google Maps as like a paper map. “I honestly think we’re seeing a more profound change, for map-making, than the switch from manuscript to print in the Renaissance,” says one cartographic historian (h/t @polit2k)

The Perfect Technocracy

“Facebook has 900 million ‘residents’ and a few hundred bureaucrats who make all the content decisions. Facebook’s desire for efficiency means democracy is out and technocratic, developer-king rule is in”

Mechanics And Meaning Of That Ol’ Dial-Up Modem Sound

It was short burst sound of beeps, whistles, hisses and crackles, which settled back into silence when connection was made. Hearing it now is liking eating Proust’s madeleine. You are back in the 1990s and the dial-up internet

The Perfect Milk Machine

“The dairy farmers of America, and the geneticists who work with them, are the Mendels of the genomic age. That makes the dairy cow the pea plant of this exciting new time in biology.” Here’s how to produce cattle farmers dream of

Time To Get Past Facebook And Invent A New Future

The innovator’s perpetual question: What next? Decades ago it was the Internet. Followed by the world wide web, the social network, the mobile web. But now we’re stuck in a rut. It’s time to think big again. What next?

I’m Being Followed

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” 105 companies (at least) are tracking your browsing habits for money. It’s why most web sites can seem free. You should probably know about it

Nuclear Haze

Excerpt from forthcoming book on bombastic declarations of politicians as the U.S. adopted civilian nuclear power in the mid-1900s. In truth, the first plants were hastily built and at great financial, and perhaps social, loss

Pringle As Technology

“By creating a stackable potato chip that could be sealed in a container and shipped, Procter & Gamble was able to get to sell the chips nationally, benefiting from economies of scale”. A bit like Ikea’s flat-pack furniture

Inside Story Of How Facebook Responded To Tunisian Hacks

How the Ben Ali regime tried to steal “an entire country’s worth of passwords”. Activists spread their message so effectively over the social network that by late 2010 either “Facebook or electricity was going to be shut down”

12 Rules For Making A Good Publication

Guidelines for an editor of The Atlantic, from an unknown mid-20th-century hand. Touching reminder of what a cosy place old media used to be. “Don’t over-edit. You will estrange an author by too elaborate a revision”

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