Monday, 22 September 2014

Microsoft and our virtual future

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Microsoft is buying a small game studio called Mojang for 2.5 billion dollars. Mojang is a small company with fewer than 50 employees, but they are the people behind the popular exploration and building game “Minecraft.” This is a good chunk of money — more than what Google paid for YouTube back in 2006, even adjusted for inflation. It is also more than a third of the price that Microsoft itself paid for Nokia’s devices business. “Minecraft” is an extremely popular and successful game, but is it worth that much?

As investors try to come to terms with the announcement, analysts are quick to point out that the game’s popularity on consoles and mobile devices will give Microsoft a useful asset for its faltering mobile strategy and its Xbox division, which began the new console generation behind its Sony rival.

Here is a subtler explanation.

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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dota 2: The face of professional gaming

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Just over a week ago, history was made when a team of five young Chinese men left Seattle with $5 million in winnings. The game they were playing was not poker but “Dota 2,” a multiplayer online game made by the Bellevue-based gaming company Valve. This year’s annual “Dota 2” Internationals tournament, the fourth one since its creation, presented the largest prize pool ever seen in professional gaming – a total of $10.9 million. ESPN covered the matches and it seemed like every media outlet was trying to get in on the story, if only as a human interest piece. There is a sense that we are entering new uncharted territories.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Transhumanist Wager is a terrible book

I regret paying for The Transhumanist Wager on Kindle. It has worse writing than a Dan Brown novel and its handling of the philosophical discussion is no more insightful than if you threw a bunch of words like “artificial intelligence” and “cryonics” into a bag, let a monkey pick them out at random, and then edit for some (but not all) grammar. After seeing the writer Zoltan Istvan going onto TechCrunch to peddle his book in the comment section (writing in third person), I wonder how many of the 5-star Amazon reviews are amazed by the book because they have literally never read a real science fiction novel in their lives, how many of them are the writer’s alter egos, and how many of them are really minimum wage workers in some third-world country paid to sell a poor repackaged version of Atlas Shrugged.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Ukraine: A question of history

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Be it the devout crusaders whose convictions grew from absolute faith, the American G.I. who died on a beach in France for the patriotic ideals of freedom and democracy or a science fiction writer who cynically set out to become rich by manufacturing a cult of fawning worshippers — every actor in history believes in some version of reality in which his actions are justified to the extent that right and wrong exist. It is only right, then, that the unbelievers be put to death for the glory of the rightful God. It is only right for good to triumph over evil. It is only fair for the intelligent to exploit the gullible and weak.

Assuming that the historical past is fixed and not fluid — and moreover, that in the presence of all relevant facts we somehow at long last arrive at a common definition of moral ethics — then somewhere in the complex history of Ukraine and Russia exist a set of facts that can tell us what is “right” and “wrong” in an escalating conflict between two distinct interpretations of the Ukrainian soul. Unfortunately, the past will always remain opaque to us.

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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Friday, 28 June 2013

RSS Reader Wars: It’s a Trap!

Google, the company who conquered the Internet by making a business out of giving things away for free, decided to drop its Google Reader service a few months ago. The official reason was “declining use”, but the subsequent Internet outcry suggests that Reader had a healthy user base. Internet has-beens AOL and Digg saw a golden opportunity to bring their brands back into relevance and immediately began working on replacements for Google Reader. We are now three days away from the demise of our beloved RSS reader, and I had the opportunity to try out the beta versions of both companies’ offerings.

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Atlantic on 3D Printing

First, over the past 25 years, the compound annual growth rate of the 3D printing industry was 25.4 percent. Over the past three years — during the ascent of 3D printing excitement — the growth rate was 27.4 percent. All that talk, all those magazine profiles, all those segments on television, and you get…. (drumroll please)… a slightly faster growing 3D printing market than from when few people had ever heard of 3D printing.

3D Printing: Not Every Hobby Turns Into the PC Industry

Not surprising. Most people don’t want to prototype designs and it’s hard to beat the economies of scale if you only need to buy a few trinkets occasionally.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Real Problem with MOOCs

MOOC, or massive open online course, is a hot topic these days. There is a great deal of excitement over what some see as the future of higher education, and for good reasons. It is a new yet familiar chapter of the Internet’s crusade against the old, the inefficient, and the undeserved monopolies of the pre-digital economy.

We see in the music industry that digital technology tilts the balance of power towards the consumer. Pink Floyd’s former manager Peter Jenner attacks the debundling of music albums as turning “a £10 product, the album, into a £1.60 product, the two singles that are worth buying.” Yet, from the consumers’ perspective, there is no good argument for why we should be forced to pay for the other ten songs we don’t like.

In a similar fashion, MOOCs threaten to debundle higher education. A kid in India today can take a Stanford course on cryptography on Coursera without having to move to Palo Alto and fork out sixty grand a year in tuition. Sure, she doesn’t get to enjoy the green grass and palm trees, but then again, why should she be forced to pay for the whole package if all she wants is the knowledge?

It seems that if greater access to education is good (and it is), then we should embrace MOOCs. So why are they not universally loved? I have a couple of thoughts on this question.

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

A Single Lifetime

A Single Lifetime is a short story I wrote for an English class I took at Stanford. This was my first real attempt at writing fiction. My favorite novels as a teenager were the works of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Arthur C. Clarke. It has been my dream to one day write a science fiction novel, but I find myself lacking the focus to gather my thoughts into a coherent piece. This story represents a small step. Perhaps I will make the giant leap one day.

You can also read it as a PDF.

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Embrace Eternity

For whom is this world on fire?
And what is my life’s desire?
The silence thunders.

My past is cold, forgotten.
Our future bright, uncertain.
The moment reigns.

At the heart of hearts our battles live.
Fight on for there shall never be
another present reminiscent
of now.

Cast away your hopes and dreams
and you shall realize them.
Toss away love’s sweet poison
and be renewed by its bitter embrace
everlong