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Links and Notes

Links and Notes – Week 45, 2019

Any Amount of Running Linked to Significantly Lower Risk of Early Death

When the study data were pooled, any amount of running was associated with a 27% lower risk of death from all causes for both sexes, compared with no running.

You really can’t afford not to be doing a small amount of regular exercise. We’re not talking about marathons or three hour long cycle rides here. There’s been so many studies finding that just twenty minutes of exercise three times a week gives humans massive life extending gains (not to mention the added benefit of the slowing down of cognitive decline). This is a really good deal that your body is offering you. Take it up on the offer and exercise!

There’s a Whole Category of Software to Help People Manage Friendships

While many of the apps have an explicit professional-networking utility, the Irish company Monaru, one of the Y Combinator companies, is focused specifically on users’ 10 to 15 closest relationships. Not only will Monaru remind you of a loved one’s birthday, but it will also suggest specific gifts to buy her. It can help you plan a date night, or remember to call your parents regularly. “Millennials are four times lonelier than seniors,” the company’s homepage reads, probably erroneously. The service costs $20 a month, and its tagline is “Be the most thoughtful person you know.”

Apple Has Released a 16-Inch Macbook Pro

‘New’ keyboard with a physical Esc key. Not as expensive as I was expecting. Good short reviews from Marco Arment and Daring Fireball:

No one would ever suggest that the steering wheel for a car be designed by people who don’t drive. But yet somehow the entire Macintosh world has spent the last three years dealing with or avoiding keyboards that were seemingly designed by people who don’t type.3 The whole saga of the butterfly keyboards — their unreliable switches, poor typing feel, and anti-functional layout — betrays a certain arrogance. The more powerful an organization — a corporation, a nation, a sports team, whatever — the more at risk that organization is to hubris. It’s power that allows one to act on hubris.

We shouldn’t be celebrating the return of longstanding features we never should have lost in the first place. But Apple’s willingness to revisit these decisions — their explicit acknowledgment that, yes, keyboards are meant to by typed upon, not gazed upon — is, if not cause for a party, at the very least cause for a jubilant toast.

Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure — Stephen Wolfram

This is my third time reading this long and in depth look at Stephen Wolfram’s personal tech setup. I love stuff like this.

Instagram Is Testing Hiding ‘Likes’

Probably a good move. However, in the video linked in the article Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri says “private likes”. So I’m presuming the poster can still see the ‘like’ count, but the outside world can’t. The main reason ‘likes’ are so harmful is because people obsess over how many their photos receive. If they can still see this metric I’m not sure this fixes anything.

All the International Brands That Have Apologised to China

It’s eerie how all the PR press releases from these companies are so similar. “[Company] consistently respects and upholds China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” To the word repetition of the same thing is very dystopian. And let’s be honest, China is very dystopian.

The King (2019)

The Netflix movie “The King” is out. Directed by David Michôd – who also made “War Machine” – this in many ways has a lot of the same disjointed elements. With the lack of flow and continuity in some scenes making the film feel a bit like the effort of an inexperienced first time director. The script is decent and this could have been a much improved movie with a better director involved. However there’s enough here to make it worth the 2 hours 15 minutes of your time. I’m not sure if the restrained realism of the sets was planned or due to budget constraints, but either way it works. I also really like how realistic the light is, considering the period it’s set in. No artificial flood lighting here. Just sun streaking in through the windows. Timothée Chalamet is maturing as an actor and despite his boyish frame and bad posture sometimes undermining the believability of certain moments he leads the film very well. And Robert Pattinson is great in his brief moments on screen. 6/10

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Technology

Amazon Prime Video

There’s a nice little article by Alex Sherman at CNBC on Amazon Prime Video, beginning with this interesting rumour as to why the Lord of the Rings TV show rights went to Prime Video:

But money alone wasn’t going to separate Amazon from the pack — Amazon’s $250 million offer wasn’t even the highest bid for the show’s rights, according to a person familiar with the matter. The ultimate selling point, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations, related to Amazon’s original business from over two decades ago: books. The Tolkien estate was convinced that in promoting the series, Amazon could sell truckloads of Tolkien’s fantasy novels, including “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion” as well as “The Lord of the Rings.”

So it looks like maybe part of the deal involves the Amazon homepage pushing Tolkien books as hard as it does its Echos.

Amazon Prime Video is a curious thing. It has some good ideas and potential but somehow it’s just not coming together.

According to the above article Prime Video originally focused on ‘high-minded, potentially award-winning content to lure users into Prime’. Which is true, with rather niche films like The Neon Demon, Paterson, and Manchester by the Sea being funded by them. All of which were good, but not exactly mainstream. They’ve had more luck on the TV side, with Transparent and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel finding more appeal. However the rest of their TV offerings haven’t quite cut the mustard.

And now it seems like Prime Video is changing tactic slightly, realising that what really stops people from not renewing their Prime membership is not a bunch of four-star shows, but a couple of five-star shows that customers can’t live without. They’re doubtless aware there are plenty of people who subscribe to HBO GO just for Game of Thrones. And I think that’s one reason they’ve overpaid for The Grand Tour and Lord of the Rings. They need a hit. I’m sure they’ll continue funding lots of original content and seeing what sticks, à la Netflix. But they’re now aggressively pursuing what they perceive as ’ready-made’ hits, in desperation.

Another thing the article mentioned was Amazon Channels, which is essentially a way for users to get streaming content that isn’t on Prime Video into the service if they’re willing to pay for it. For example, $15/mo gets you HBO and $9/mo gets you Showtime. Now that every television network seems to be making its own streaming service, requiring users to deal with a bunch of different apps and bills, why not put all in one easy centralised place? Amazon Channels is a great idea. But it doesn’t quite work. And a large part is due to, what I think, is Prime Video’s biggest weakness: its UI.

Amazon products aren’t exactly known for their design, with nearly everything they make being ugly. But Prime Video is actively dysfunctional. My Mum can’t use it, whereas she has no issues with Netflix. It also makes the catastrophic mistake of showing non-Prime content that you have to purchase alongside the stuff that you get as part of your subscription. You see a movie that takes your fancy and then you realise once you click on it that you have to rent or purchase it. Truly ludicrous. Amazon needs to separate Prime Video and the Prime Video store. And talking of separating. They separate the above mentioned Amazon Channels, the one thing they shouldn’t. Rather than nicely adding Channel content into the interface, it’s almost treated like an app within an app.

If Amazon offered users Prime at $99 rather than $119, but for that they didn’t get access to Prime Video, how many would go for the cheaper plan? I believe a healthy majority would. Prime Video as it stands today, is a fairly limp, ugly offering.