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‘Poor Charlie’s Almanack’ (and the Tragic State of E-Books)


When Charlie Munger — Warren Buffet’s longtime partner at Berkshire Hathaway — died last month at 99, I mentioned that a new edition of Poor Charlie’s Almanack was about to be published by Stripe Publishing (a subsidiary of the very same Stripe of e-payments renown).

The hardcover edition is out, but Stripe has also made the entire book available on this marvelous website. The site is beautiful, fun, and clever, and reminds me greatly of the web edition of The Steve Jobs Archive’s Make Something Wonderful. Both are damning condemnations of the state of e-books.

Regarding Make Something Wonderful, Sebastiaan de With wrote:

It’s hard to capture the delight of a real book, but this website does a fantastic job coming close. Lots of delightful, thoughtful little details.

I say “ebook” because it isn’t a word used anywhere on the website, likely for good reason: there are no good ebooks. The ePub file lacks all the delight of the beautiful website. Books on Apple Books are objectively worse than their written counterparts. This might be nicer.

Kindle editions are even more primitive, design-wise. Compare the Kindle preview of Poor Charlie’s Almanack to the website edition. It’s like comparing a matchbook to a blowtorch. With the e-book editions — Kindle, Kobo, Apple Books, whatever — you can merely read these books. With the web editions, you experience them.

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206 days ago
Gruber is overlooking the « Berkshire mode » format you can also find on the website.
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2 public comments
197 days ago
I'm building an epub reader now (solreader.com) but I have experience with both RSS and ePubs, which are open formats designed to normalize the differences between different publishers and make it easy to read more. These websites are beautiful but they are not scalable, in that publishers can't make a bespoke website for each book, and readers will fatigue of having a new reading UX for each book/feed they read.

In other words, these solve different problems.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
206 days ago
I think Gruber is overlooking the economy of making a technology to support such experience. Not every Kindle books are designed with such visuals and multimedia. To slight Kindle or Apple Books for not building that technology into ePub or whatever format is not considering the economy of building vs the returns.

Ghost Trick is a summer beach read in video game form

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Key art from Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective featuring a graphic that includes the game’s two main characters: a male with very tall blonde hair, red suit and sunglasses, and a woman with bright red hair

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is 2023’s perfect summer video game.

Now, you might be wondering how I could call a Switch port of a Nintendo DS game from 2010 “perfect” (the game’s also available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam) over any of the games actually released this year, like Diablo IV or Final Fantasy XVI. But while I enjoyed both of those games, I actually don’t think either are ideal summer games for two reasons.

  1. They’re way too involved, requiring a bit too much mental commitment to play.
  2. Their hardware requirements force you to play them indoors.

Therefore, a perfect summer game must instead:

  1. Be simple
  2. Be portable

(Yes, I know you can play Diablo IV on your Steam Deck with a bit of work, but level with me here.)

Ghost Trick was directed by Shu Takumi, the same developer who created the Ace Attorney series, which explains why Ghost Trick feels very much like Ace Attorney while also being wildly different in every way.

For starters, in Ghost Trick, you’re not solving other people’s murders but your own. Also, you’re not doing the solving in a courtroom but at the scene of the crime. In Ghost Trick, you play as a recently departed ghost who must use his newfound powers of matter manipulation to solve his murder by saving the people around him from their own untimely deaths. Each life you save (notice I said “life” not “person,” remember this) brings you that much closer to the truth of your own life and death.

You save lives via your ability to rewind time to four minutes before a death and by interacting with common objects, aka the titular “ghost tricks.” Thwart an assassin by shining a spotlight in his face or stop a death row inmate’s execution via an elaborate ghost-powered Rube Goldberg machine that has you jump from object to object until you can guide the inmate to safety.

Screenshot from Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective featuring a messy junk yard filled with everyday objects the player can manipulate with their powers Capcom
Use your ghost tricks to move objects and cause reactions that can save lives and thwart enemies.

Unlike Ace Attorney, which requires you to look and listen for the tiniest details to thwart your enemies, Ghost Trick is straightforward, which is why I enjoyed it so much as a summer game. It allowed me to play while I baked my body in the hot Las Vegas sun, blitzed on (way too expensive) drinks by the pool.

Despite Ghost Trick’s simplicity, I was caught off guard by how sweet the game is and how emotional it made me. What started as a simplistic “I have lost my memory and I’m dead, I must find out who I am and who killed me” premise turned into a deep story about love and devotion that hit me so hard in the game’s final moments.

Promotional image from Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective featuring a talking red lamp named Ray with the text: He calls himself “Ray”. I don’t know who he really is. He wants me to find the truth behind the mysterious happenings in this town tonight. Capcom
The lamp will break your heart.

I won’t get into spoilers, but I will say this: remember how that Futurama episode “Jurassic Bark” made you feel... yeah.

Some of Ghost Trick’s puzzles are a little unintuitive, while others require split-second, twitchy timing that I didn’t expect and, at times, found hard to execute given that I was, y’know, out of my mind in Las Vegas. The story also takes some too-wild turns in the third act, and it gets a bit unwieldy keeping track of who’s who. But there were several stunning points where it pierces the veil between game and player that are cleverly done and make for real “holy shit” moments.

There’s something about Capcom’s visual novel murder mystery games that just make them perfect for the summer. If you’re looking for a low-effort, outdoor-playable game, give Ghost Trick a shot.

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365 days ago
The game is also available on iOS, and is indeed a nice way to spend a few relaxing hours.
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EU names 19 large tech platforms that must follow Europe’s new Internet rules

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Large Google logo in the form of the letter

Enlarge / Google's booth at the Integrated Systems Europe conference on January 31, 2023, in Barcelona, Spain. (credit: Getty Images | Cesc Maymo )

The European Commission will require 19 large online platforms and search engines to comply with new online content regulations starting on August 25, European officials said. The EC specified which companies must comply with the rules for the first time, announcing today that it "adopted the first designation decisions under the Digital Services Act."

Five of the 19 platforms are run by Google, specifically YouTube, Google Search, the Google Play app and digital media store, Google Maps, and Google Shopping. Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram are on the list, as are Amazon's online store, Apple's App Store, Microsoft's Bing search engine, TikTok, Twitter, and Wikipedia.

These platforms were designated because they each reported having over 45 million active users in the EU as of February 17. The other listed platforms are Alibaba AliExpress, Booking.com, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, and German online retailer Zalando.

Companies have four months to comply with the full set of new obligations and could face fines of up to 6 percent of a provider's annual revenue. One new rule is a ban on advertisements that target users based on sensitive data such as ethnic origin, political opinions, or sexual orientation.

There are new content moderation requirements, transparency rules, and protections for minors. For example, "targeted advertising based on profiling towards children is no longer permitted," the EC said.

Companies will have to provide their first annual risk assessment on August 25, and their risk mitigation plans will be subject to independent audits and oversight by the European Commission. "Platforms will have to identify, analyse and mitigate a wide array of systemic risks ranging from how illegal content and disinformation can be amplified on their services, to the impact on the freedom of expression and media freedom," the EC said. "Similarly, specific risks around gender-based violence online and the protection of minors online and their mental health must be assessed and mitigated."

New rules

New requirements for the 19 platforms include the following, today's EC announcement said:

  • Users will get clear information on why they are recommended certain information and will have the right to opt-out from recommendation systems based on profiling;
  • Users will be able to report illegal content easily and platforms have to process such reports diligently;
  • Platforms need to label all ads and inform users on who is promoting them;
  • Platforms need to provide an easily understandable, plain-language summary of their terms and conditions, in the languages of the Member States where they operate.

Another content-moderation rule requires platforms to "analyse their specific risks, and put in place mitigation measures—for instance, to address the spread of disinformation and inauthentic use of their service," the EC said.

In addition to banning targeted advertising based on profiling children, the EC said that "platforms will have to redesign their systems to ensure a high level of privacy, security, and safety of minors."

"Special risk assessments including for negative effects on [children's] mental health will have to be provided to the Commission four months after designation and made public at the latest a year later," the announcement said. "Platforms will have to redesign their services, including their interfaces, recommender systems, terms and conditions, to mitigate these risks."

Several requirements are designed to let outside auditors and researchers verify a company's compliance. Compliance with Digital Services Act obligations must be "externally and independently audited;" companies must provide researchers with access to data; companies must "publish repositories of all the ads served on their interface;" and companies must "publish transparency reports on content moderation decisions and risk management," the EC said.

"Thanks to the Digital Services Act, European citizens and businesses will benefit from a safer Internet," European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said in a video posted on Twitter. "As of the 25th of August, online platforms and search engines with more than 45 million active users in the EU will have stronger obligations, because with great scale comes great responsibility."

The Digital Services Act is complemented by the EU's Digital Markets Act, which imposes requirements on online "gatekeepers" to prevent them from stifling competition.

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455 days ago
Curious to see how Twitter will handle this.
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TikTok Spied on Forbes Journalists

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Emily Baker-White, reporting for Forbes:

An internal investigation by ByteDance, the parent company of video-sharing platform TikTok, found that employees tracked multiple journalists covering the company, improperly gaining access to their IP addresses and user data in an attempt to identify whether they had been in the same locales as ByteDance employees.

According to materials reviewed by Forbes, ByteDance tracked multiple Forbes journalists as part of this covert surveillance campaign, which was designed to unearth the source of leaks inside the company following a drumbeat of stories exposing the company’s ongoing links to China. As a result of the investigation into the surveillance tactics, ByteDance fired Chris Lepitak, its chief internal auditor who led the team responsible for them. The China-based executive Song Ye, who Lepitak reported to and who reports directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang, resigned. [...]

Forbes first reported the surveillance tactics, which were overseen by a China-based team at ByteDance, in October. Asked for comment on that story, ByteDance and TikTok did not deny the surveillance, but took to Twitter after the story was published to say that “TikTok has never been used to ‘target’ any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists,” and that “TikTok could not monitor U.S. users in the way the article suggested.” In the internal email, Liang acknowledged that TikTok had been used in exactly this way, as Forbes had reported.

I feel like I’m shouting into the void on this issue, but I will reiterate that Chinese-owned internet services should be banned in the United States, and TikTok exemplifies why. Just ban it.

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578 days ago
« I will reiterate that Chinese-owned internet services should be banned in the United States, and TikTok exemplifies why. Just ban it. »

Given the extra-territorials laws put in place by the USA, all other countries in the world should do the same for US services.
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What If? 2 Flowchart

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Don't worry, the dogs are all fine. That's actually kind of the problem.
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676 days ago
Love the page % :)
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We can remember it for you wholesale

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A day or two ago — I don’t remember exactly — I was disturbed by my inability to remember the name of Novak Djokovic’s opponent in the 2008 Australian Open final. I could picture him perfectly well: a dark-skinned Frenchman built like a tank, with an exotic non-Gallic-sounding name, that I could not recall, who I have seen play in at least a couple of dozen matches in the years since.

This has been happening more and more to me lately. My memory is going — I can feel it, Dave — and I indulge in various exercises to assure myself it hasn’t gone completely: Djokovic’s birthday is May 22, 1987 (Or is it May 15? Andy Murray’s is either the 15th or the 22nd of that month and year and I can’t remember which is which); Nadal’s is June 3, 1986; Federer was born in August, 1981, and Serena Williams the next month, but I can’t remember the exact dates, and so on.

We, at a stroke, perceive three cups lying on a table; Funes would see all the shoots and clusters and fruit comprised by a vine. He knew the shapes of the southern clouds at dawn on April 30, 1882, and could compare them in his memory with the streaks on a book of Spanish cover that he had seen only once and with the swirls on the foam raised by an oar in the Río Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho.

That is from Jorge Luis Borges’s strange and disturbing story “Funes the Memorious,” about a boy who falls from a horse, is paralyzed, and discovers that his memory is now total: he forgets nothing that he has ever seen or thought.

Gmail and the IPhone now offer all of us something analogous:

At the societal level, ample personal data storage poses a serious problem, because there’s an incentive to privatize our cluttered, poorly organized information into individual silos instead of building public infrastructures for it. We think of the internet as having an overabundance of publicly accessible information. But perhaps it’s also causing us to file away our private selves. We have more public information than ever, but what if there is also less transmission of more personal information between people—especially between generations. What is lost if our digital heirlooms become inaccessible to close relatives? What is lost if estates do not donate prominent people’s cloud data to university archives?

I myself am an information hoarder. I recently had to upgrade my Google storage to 100 gigabytes, and I’m already inching closer to purchasing a new tier. My inbox is a disaster: nearly 200,000 emails, read and unread, dating back to my college years. The last label I created? “Summer internship applications.”

My photos are a hodgepodge of my personal life mixed in with 2,734 screenshots—mostly of tweets or paragraphs of articles that my past self apparently felt might be worth returning to. Across my various cloud-based notes apps, I store endless tossed-off lists and musings, copy-paste fragments, and links. It’s all an attempt at off-loading the deluge of information I’m confronted with each day into a kind of external memory. In theory, this is exciting and useful. In practice, I am not confident it makes me any smarter or more productive or even better informed. Occasionally, I find myself barely pausing to think about something important I’ve read, and instead, filing it away to think about it later. One effect of my external memory is that it pushes me to consume faster and in higher quantities.

I know I’m not alone. In a paper published in 2019 in the journal World Psychiatry, titled “The ‘Online Brain’: How the Internet May be Changing Our Cognition,” the researchers suggest that “the Internet is becoming a ‘supernormal stimulus’ for transactive memory—making all other options for cognitive offloading (including books, friends, and community) become redundant, as they are outcompeted by the novel capabilities for external information storage and retrieval made possible by the Internet.”

That is from a very interesting essay about how the internet is changing our relationship to information and memory, which you should read, or at least bookmark for “later,” as Ricky Ray Rector once said.

It contains this melancholy quote from the technology writer and theorist L.M. Sacasas, about scrolling through the photographs of his children on his IPhone:

They’re growing up so fast, and you want to document where they’ve been along the way. Paradoxically, in my experience anyway, I think I’ve almost found that having this very pervasive record, visual record of their growth, has made that actually a more pronounced experience, a greater sense of things slipping by, slipping away.

The internet, like God, is everywhere and nowhere; it is changing, in ways we can barely even begin to imagine, our relationship to knowledge, to memory, to ourselves.

Among the works that I have not written and will never write (but that somehow justify me, in however mysterious and rudimentary a way) there is a short story, some eight to ten pages long, whose copious draft is entitled “Funes the Memorious.” . . . Of the magical compadrito of my story I can state that he is a precursor to supermen, a suburban, incomplete Zarathustra; what cannot be denied is that he is a monster. I have remembered him because a straight, uninterrupted reading of Ulysses’s four hundred thousand words would require similar monsters. . . Ulysses — everyone knows it — is the story of a single day, within the perimeter of a single city. In this voluntary limitation, it is legitimate to perceive something more than an Aristotelian elegance: it can legitimately be inferred that for Joyce every day was in some secret way the irreparable Day of Judgment; every place, Hell or Purgatory.

Borges, “Fragment on Joyce,” published in the magazine Sur, May, 1941

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846 days ago
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ;)
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