It’s not Facebook big, or even (dare I say it?) VodkaPundit.com big — but it’s big:
Just nine months after hitting 200 million users, Instagram now says 300 million people use its photo app every month, with 70% of them coming from outside the US. That makes Instagram officially bigger than Twitter, which had 284 million active users as of six weeks ago.
Instagram’s been going strong for four years now, and despite fears that the acquisition by Facebook would screw it up, there’s now 70 million photos shared each day, and over 30 billion total. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom says “Over the past four years, what began as two friends with a dream has grown into a global community.”
The story came my way via John Gruber, who adds:
Instagram is clearly run by people who get what it is that makes Instagram a cool thing. Twitter seems run by people who just don’t get Twitter.
Exactly. Most of the conventions which make Twitter wonderful — the @, the RT, the #FF — were created by its early users, and not by Twitter’s creators. In other words, Twitter began as an easy-to-use and easy-to-modify social platform. What Twitter has become is a confused and impossible-to-modify web app.
That’s a shame, too. I think of Twitter as a 24-7 cocktail party, where I can flit about, enjoy fun conversation, and occasionally rub elbows with people far higher up the media food chain. I go there when I want to, and unlike some other social media platforms I could name, Twitter never bugs me when I don’t want to be there. That part still works great.
But the company has squeezed almost all the life out of the market for Twitter apps and front ends, in a shortsighted effort to homogenize the Twitter experience. The Wild West days are over; the Progressive Era has begun.
With a tip of the hat to Charlie Martin, a team of Australian scientists just blew away the previous record for solar conversion efficiency:
A team from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just set a new world record for solar energy efficiency by successfully converting 40.4% of available sunlight into electricity. And what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the record was achieved by using commercially available solar cells in a new way – which means, as the team explains, “these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry.”
The efficiency record was first set outdoors in Sydney, and was then independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Lab in the United States. The photovoltaic technology used by the UNSW team differs from conventional solar cell technology in one key way: it utilizes triple-junction solar cells. These cells, as Motherboard explains, “are basically a sandwich of differently tuned semiconductors with each one able to capture a different wavelength of sunlight.”
As the innerweb saying goes — faster, please.
Casa Verde has some excellent southern exposure, and my part of the state is famous for averaging 300 days of sunny skies each year. Melissa and I have looked just a little into adding enough solar panels to our electrical system to take the edge off those rising electricity prices.
If the Aussies really can deliver those efficiencies at affordable prices with COTS materials, then we might be able to make a decision sooner than we thought.
Or are we dreaming?
Cross-posted from Vodkapundit
That’s right: Christopher Lee.
My holidays are officially happy.
Florida woman really did it this time:
Angela Stoldt, 42, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole Friday for the murder of 36-year-old James Sheaffer.
Stoldt and Sheaffer argued over money before Stoldt stabbed her neighbor in the eye with an ice pick and strangled him in a cemetery April 3, 2013.
She wrapped Sheaffer’s head in plastic to prevent blood leaking in her car and transported the corpse to her house, prosecutors said.
Stoldt chopped him up in two kiddie pools and threw a leg in the oven and other limbs on the stove in an attempt to cremate the body, police said.
Some stories are beyond even my ability to make light. I could easily have left aside my qualms with the death penalty in this case.
I suppose this was inevitable — a nicely appointed RV to take you and some friends on a tour to some of Colorado’s natural wonders, and to some of Colorado’s perfectly legal head shops.
They even do weddings.
(H/T, Colorado Rebecca.)
We are entering a Stoned New World here, as Colorado entrepreneurs come up with new ways to make money in the new… ah… atmosphere… of tolerance. It’s also an interesting test case for longtime proponents of legalization such as myself, to see what happens when perfect theory encounters an imperfect world. Our first stumbling block is that the state-sponsored growers and sellers cartels have kept prices artificially high (no pun intended), so we still have a black market for the green herb. That also means, as we’ve discussed here before, that tax revenues are not meeting expectations.
The controversial app-based taxi company is taking some heat — justified in one ugly incident — for various things, but I did get my first Uber experience last weekend and thought I’d share it with you.
I flew into LA on Friday for a quickie overnight to attend Kurt Schlichter’s surprise 50th birthday roast. The Hilton’s airport shuttle wasn’t available, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to clean up and enjoy a pre-party cocktail, so I marched down to the taxi stand and hopped in.
You probably know the drill from here, but just in case, here you go.
The curb attendee shoved a receipt at me. The cabbie told me three times, in broken English, of the $19 minimum to leave the airport, even though my hotel was only five minutes away. That price wasn’t his fault of course, but it did serve to focus my attention on trying Uber ASAP. Upon arrival at the hotel, I whipped out my ATM card to pay, but the cabbie raised his hands, shrugged his shoulders in a childish way, and made an unpleasant “muh” sound at my card.
It’s not that his cab didn’t take plastic; it’s that he just didn’t want to. To make matters worse, I overtipped the guy because I didn’t want to deal with him long enough to get change back from a fiver. Total paid: $25.
Imagine this: You’re sitting in a booth in TGI Fridays, minding your own business, thinking about which appetizer to order, when a flying drone covered in mistletoe comes careening at your face.
This is literally what happened to photojournalist Georgine Benvenuto last Thursday evening at a TGI Fridays in Brooklyn.
The drone, NYMag reports, is “part of a TGI Fridays promotion meant ‘to help inspire more guests to come together underneath the mistletoe and experience #Togethermas this Christmas.’”
In the future, maybe all restaurants should be Taco Bell.
A man police tied to at least four casino robberies in Las Vegas was shot dead by cops at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino on Sunday.
The serial robbery suspect had been under surveillance by undercover officers for four days when he was gunned down while resisting arrest near the guest elevators at 5:05 a.m.
Police initially used a stun gun on the man, but opened fire when he reached for his waistband, Metro police Capt. Matt McCarthy said.
In the old days, the casinos would have handled this as a strictly internal matter, happy to give the thief a choice — “You can either have the money and the hammer or you can walk out of here. You can’t have both.”
Here’s Allahpundit on the mess in Jackie’s story, Erdely’s account, and Rolling Stone’s lackadaisical editing and fact-checking:
What are we left with from all that? [Jackie] told her friends one thing around the time the attack, which supports the idea that something happened, but her story now seems to line up in most particulars with the RS version, which at least one of those same friends regards as false. Maguire thinks it’s more likely than not that something happened but that the post-traumatic stress she suffered afterwards left her memories of it a hash over time — which, of course, made it all the more important for Rolling Stone to talk to everyone involved in the case, friends and alleged attackers alike, to see what was real and what wasn’t. Erdely and the crack RS editorial team apparently didn’t do that. Nor, as it turns out, is this the first story that Erdely’s written where the details seemed sensational enough to arouse suspicion. Ed mentioned one piece from her archives that appears to have problems in his post this morning; Mollie Hemingway found another, about a housewife turned madam, with enough implausible twists and turns to support 20 Lifetime movies of the week. Maybe Erdely just has a nose for fantastic stories involving protagonists who, for one reason or another, can’t be identified.
There’s a fair complaint that whatever happened to Jackie, and it seems like something did, Erdely and RS have done real damage to other rape victims who might now be even more afraid than ever to come forward. Left unsaid though is what Erdely has done to Jackie. Here we have a young woman who might be the victim of some sort of attack, or who might be a fabulist, or maybe something in between. But thanks to Erdely “rape shopping” adventures to find the storyline she had preconceived, even Jackie herself may never know the truth of what, if anything happened to her at UVA.
The University of Texas at Austin is missing about 100 brains — about half of the specimens the university had in a collection of brains preserved in jars of formaldehyde.
One of the missing brains is believed to have belonged to clock tower sniper Charles Whitman.
“We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don’t know at all for sure,” psychology Professor Tim Schallert, co-curator of the collection, told the Austin American-Statesman.
My brain tells me they didn’t just get up and walk away.
But that’s not how they see it in the City of Buttinsky Angels:
The Los Angeles city attorney filed a lawsuit Tuesday to shut down a mobile phone application that arranges medical marijuana home deliveries.
The suit alleges that the iPhone and Android free app, Nestdrop, is a “flagrant attempt” to bypass restrictions contained in Proposition D, the medical marijuana law approved by Los Angeles voters last year.
Nestdrop links customers with delivery services. It started as an alcoholic beverage delivery service but added marijuana in November, promising arrival within an hour.
Pot delivery is currently only available in Los Angeles, but the company has said it wants to expand throughout Southern California.
California, the birthplace of beach music and hotrods, now takes the fun out of everything.
he Bv2 model has a lot of improvements and the army is in the process of upgrading all 400 of its existing RQ-7Bs to the v2 standard. Among the improvements is the use of the same communications system (TCDL) used in the larger MQ-1C. TCDL is encrypted, has higher throughput, is more reliable and allows data to be shared with other aircraft or ground troops using the latest comm and network gear. The v2 wings are 42 percent larger helping to increase endurance to nine hours. It’s now easier to remove and install different (or just malfunctioning) sensor packages. The sensor packages now come with a laser designator.
Version 3 is already in development, and this one will include a more powerful and reliable engine as well as the ability to use weapons.
We’re damn near reaching a Singularity in the ongoing increase of deadly firepower available to the individual combat soldier. But as each soldier becomes deadlier, he also becomes more expensive to train, equip, supply, and send to war — and to lose.
As a result, we need to get out of the Occupy & Rebuild business we’ve been in since WWII, to declining success rates. Occupation of a relatively civilized place like post-Imperial Japan or post-Nazi Germany can be accomplished with a comparatively light footprint. Defeating the Iraqi Army only took three weeks and about five divisions — but pacification of a place like Iraq or Afghanistan can’t be accomplished without a lot more boots on the ground and the patience of Job. But we lack the patience and Cold War-sized Army is out of the question.
When dealing with great numbers of primitive barbarians, the proper role for a small, professional and deadly military is the same as it was for the professional legions of ancient Rome or imperial Britain: The punitive expedition. Get in, get out, and by the damage done leave one simple and unforgettable message…
“Don’t make us come back here.”
It must have been a really good party:
Internal investigators say a contractor picked by the National Science Foundation to run a national ecological monitoring study has been wrongly spending millions in government funds, charging that taxpayer dollars may have been wasted on items that included a $25,000 Christmas party, booze for company executives and a nearly $1,000 a month coffee service.
“The NSF is out of touch and out of control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who will chair the hearing of the House Science Committee.
“Federal agencies must be held accountable for their waste and misuse of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Smith added.
Honestly, I’d rather most federal agencies blow money on booze than spending our tax dollars the way they usually do — crimping our liberties and harming our economy.
In the Bad Old Days, we had a tiny, amateur government filled with unqualified cronies who were just in it for the paychecks. But a hundred years ago or so, the Progressives “fixed” that, and paved the way for a massive government filled with highly trained specialists who really care.
Which, in hindsight, seems preferable to you?
Robert Fox says the counterattack may have already begun:
Last week the Financial Times reported that the computer security specialists Symantec had identified one of the most powerful attack viruses, code named ‘Regin’. It appears to have been aimed at Russian and Gulf banking networks; it gets in, does its work, then disappears in days leaving no trace.
Because of Regin’s targeting pattern, Symantec suspects it came from the US and/or the UK and could not have happened without the foreknowledge, at least, of the NSA and GCHQ and/or the intelligence services, the CIA and MI6.
But here’s where it really gets interesting:
The first overt sign that a new era of virtual war is upon us came at the recent G20 summit in Australia.
Vladimir Putin turned up in Brisbane with his pocket flotilla of warships offshore and had a public contretemps with David Cameron over Ukraine. This was plain for all to see. But what went on behind the scenes before Putin’s early departure was far more interesting: there it is believed that Cameron and President Obama’s teams sent the Russians a clear message – “stop the escalation” of cyber attacks before things get out of hand.
The Russian and Chinese hackers seem to generate most of the headlines, but our people are scary good at this stuff. It also plays into one of President Obama’s few strengths as a war leader, which is to direct from on high some very sneaky and deadly actions.
If I were Vlad Putin, I’d have taken the message directly to heart.
According to the National Retail Federation’s Thanksgiving weekend spending survey, 55.1 percent of holiday shoppers were expected to visit stores or go online over Thanksgiving weekend, down from 58.7 percent last year.
“A strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.
According to the survey, the average weekend shopper was expected to spend $380.95, down 6.4 percent from $407.02 last year.
Of that amount, $159.55, or nearly 42 percent, was spent online, down from $177.67 spent online last year.
Total spending was expected to reach $50.9 billion, down from last year’s estimated $57.4 billion.
I’m a little wary, to say the least, of Shay’s estimation of a “strengthening economy.” That certainly doesn’t jibe with what we’ve seen happen to middle class incomes since the “end” of The Great Recession. Anecdotally, I have a contact in management at a local Target, who said to me with no small amount of sympathy that “crazy” Black Friday shoppers are buying things they simply can’t afford the rest of the year.
So what do all the numbers mean? Probably nothing until we get the Q4 GDP revision a few months from now.
Automatic budget sequestration cut deeply into the U.S. Air Force’s training in 2012. Air Combat Command got just $3.1 billion—three-quarters of what it needed to fully train the thousands of pilots flying the command’s 1,600 F-15, F-16 and F-22 fighters, A-10 attack jets and B-1 bombers.
So the command did something radical—and with far-reaching consequences as American air power retools for fighting high-tech foes following more than decade bombing insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Air Combat Command stripped certain airplanes of many of their missions, thus cutting back on the number of flight hours a particular pilot needed to be officially war-ready. Air-to-air dogfighting and low-altitude maneuvering suddenly became much rarer skills.
Perhaps most interestingly, the command essentially barred F-16s—at a thousand strong, America’s most numerous fighter—from engaging any enemy jet newer than a 1970s-vintage MiG-23.
No one, apparently:
While Apple is known for providing a top-notch integrated software and hardware experience, its ability to provide services, particularly those that run remotely, has been scrutinized in recent years. Apple Maps was a fiasco on its own, leading to a shakeup of the company’s executive team, and the company hasn’t fared particularly well since.
According to the report, iCloud Photo Library has been in flux because of the lack of a “centralized team working on core cloud infrastructure” at Apple. iCloud Photo Library also lacks a project manager to lead the initiative at One Infinite Loop, leaving developers responsible for working on “nearly everything on their own.”
“One person close to the company says Apple is taking some steps to build some common cloud technology but has moved slowly in part because it’s used to projects residing in isolated teams,” the report claims.
iCloud usually works just fine at what it does; the problem is it doesn’t do enough. That’s why millions of otherwise happy Apple customers still use third-party solutions like Dropbox and Google’s services. One of the smartest things Tim Cook has done so far as CEO was to eliminate Scott Forstall’s iOS silo, and force development across hardware and software lines.
It’s past time to do something similar for iCloud.
Sadly, they’re not arresting them for the crime of making people look uncool. No, the Korean government are organising a crack down because the bluetooth devices haven’t been properly tested before going on sale and could cause other electronics to malfunction, Korea Times reports. Anyone found selling the untested tech could face fines of up to 30 million won (£17,000) and a prison sentence of up to three years.
Sophie Gadd is the author of this piece, and for once I’m going to take issue with the snark. Selfie sticks seem like a great idea for getting group shots, which used to put people at the mercy of strangers. “Hi, excuse me, would you take a picture of us?” And the stranger would smile and nod and say “sure” and then, about 60% of the time in my experience, take a really crappy photo. I know, I know — beggars can’t be choosers. But with a selfie stick, you don’t have to beg. You do, however, need to keep the regulators happy, and that means making sure your Bluetooth shutter release is compliant with the local regulations.
Christian Bale on learning that Ben Affleck would play Batman in the next Superman movie:
“I’ve got to admit initially, even though I felt that it was the right time to stop, there was always a bit of me going, ‘Oh go on … Let’s do another,’” he told Empire magazine, according to Comic Book Movie.
“So when I heard there was someone else doing it, there was a moment where I just stopped and stared into nothing for half an hour,” Bale added.
“I’m 40,” he said. “The fact that I’m jealous of someone else playing Batman … I think I should have gotten over it by now.”
I’m 45 and I’m jealous of them both.
Hell, I’m jealous of Adam West.
On the heels of last hour’s story about the guy who had algorithms shred his drivers license, we have this little goody from Brandon Morse:
Candice Padavick took a cab home one night. Upon trying to pay the taxi cab driver with a credit card, she was told he only took cash. Fearing he wasn’t going to get paid, the driver called the police, but thankfully the security guard in Padavick’s building realized what was happening and paid the cab driver himself. The guard then told the cab driver to call the police back and inform them the matter was resolved.
That should have been the end of it.
It wasn’t much later that police were pulling Padavick out of her apartment. According to Padavick “They pull me out of the apartment and my towel fell of my head, and I started trying to run back inside, and the cops come into my apartment….And so he’s jerking me around and so I have his arm and my robe hanging off and this is completely open-nothing underneath. And then more cops up,” Police claimed they did not need a warrant to enter her home.
She was then cuffed, and detained completely naked in public for around 30 minutes.
So. I was juror number three in a child porn trial, and we just convicted on all 47 counts. I’ll be getting quite drunk now.
— Stephen Green (@VodkaPundit) November 20, 2014
I’ll have a full writeup for you early next week, and I trust you’ll understand why it won’t happen any sooner.
That’s from the man himself, Astro Teller, head of the company’s Google X lab:
Wearables, from Glass to smartwatches, also need to be cheaper — a lot cheaper — before they go mainstream.
“Every time you drop the price by a factor of 2, you roughly get a 10 times pick up of the number of people who will seriously consider buying it,” Teller said in an interview at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. That means “two more rounds of halving in price” for most wearables before they’re an attractive buy.
For certain products, like $30 or $40 pedometers, a big price cut probably won’t make much of a difference, he said. “But for a $200 watch, or Glass, or anything in between, I think it’s sort of fair.”
For Google Glass, which costs $1,500 today, cutting the price in half twice would mean a drop to $375 — though the company said it couldn’t comment on a price target or timeline for any cut. But Google, which generated almost $60 billion in sales and $13 billion in profit last year, could absorb the cost cut — if it did want to make Glass a mainstream gadget rather than a novelty.
More than the price, Google needs to do something to reduce Glass’s Creep Factor,
I have another science story for you, but I promise this one is much more enjoyable than the one about the peanut butter. Travel with me now past Mars, past the asteroid belt, and straight into the heart of Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot:
Scientists in Pasadena, Calif., came to the conclusion after re-creating the effects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They were able to get a Spot-like red effect by directing ultraviolet light at ammonia and acetylene, gases that are both found on the planet.
Their new theory: “Most of the Great Red Spot is actually pretty bland in color, beneath the upper cloud layer of reddish material,” says a researcher.
“Under the reddish ‘sunburn’ the clouds are probably whitish or grayish.” So why is it confined to just one spot? “The Great Red Spot … reaches much higher altitudes than clouds elsewhere on Jupiter,” the expert notes.
The Spot is actually a storm with winds of up to hundreds of miles per hour, the Daily Mail reports. Wind in the area brings ammonia particles closer to the sun, and a vortex keeps them there, the researchers say.
We don’t know how many centuries — millennia? — old that storm is, but it has been fading in recent years. While an exact cause has yet to be determined, it probably has to do with evil carbon emissions here on Earth.
On an unrelated note, the asteroid belt needs a better name. I like “Solar Rhinestones.”
In late October South Korean intelligence reported that between May and September North Korea managed to distribute over 20,000 to South Korean smart phone users games containing spy software. The North Korean “spyware” was seeking information from banks as well as documents relating to reunification plans and defense matters. The spyware allowed the North Koreans to transfer data from the infected smart phone and secretly turn on the camera. The government reported that this effort has since been blocked. North Korea denied any involvement in this, as it usually does. But over the past few year the evidence has been piling up of increasing North Korean Internet based espionage via the Internet.
In late 2013 South Korea came up with a number (over $800 million) for the cost of dealing with North Korean cyber attacks since 2007.
Theft is the only way for thoroughly progressive governments like North Korea’s to stay in business. The trick is figuring out the best place to cut them off from their ill-gotten gains.