Hello! I'm back and rested after a week off with family. My thanks to the whole team that took over the newsletter last week — plus there's one last set of Cyber Monday deals down below despite the fact that it is, in fact, no longer Monday.
As per usual for me, it will take me a little bit to get back into the groove of things, but I did want to make one tech observation from my trip. It will probably be obvious to a lot of people, but I found it illuminating. I'll drop it after the links.
Thankful that you've invited me into your inbox. :)
PlayStation turns 25
All this week, Andrew Webster is writing and has commissioned (and is writing) lots of great stories celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Sony Playstation. A couple are below, but keep an eye on the site today for several more. Our pals at Polygon also have this wonderful half-hour long video of war stories from the people who launched it in the first place.
It would still take time for games and the industry to adapt to what Sony had started here, but the DualShock's basic inputs of four face buttons, a D-Pad, shoulder buttons, and two analog sticks would shortly become the standard for not just PlayStation games, but for basically all console video games.
Nowhere is this discrepancy between modern games and early 3D more apparent than in an iconic scene in Uncharted 4. Partway through the game, series lead Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher plop down on a couch in their suburban home to play a video game. But not just any game: they pull out an original PlayStation and jump into some classic Crash Bandicoot action. The entirety of Crash, which was a blockbuster of its time, is available to play inside of a PS4 game. And Wells says it only took a single scripter to pull it off. "They're barely recognizable as the same product," he says.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both, technically, things of the past. Now, may I introduce you to Cyber Week? It's a relatively new thing that means you can find pretty good deals all of this week without competing with crowds. We'll be pulling them all together right here, so you can be rest assured that you won't miss out on anything big.
One big question with T-Mobile's network is whether its 5G is more real than AT&T's fake "5Ge." On an objective "it uses different technology" basis, the answer seems to be "much more real." But on a "what speeds and/or new use cases does it actually enable this year?" basis, we don't know the answer yet.
T-Mobile doesn't offer specifics on what kind of speeds you'll see on the new network, and the actual improvements will vary a lot by location. "In some places, 600 MHz 5G will be a lot faster than LTE. In others, customers won't see as much difference," a T-Mobile spokesperson tells The Verge.
For now, it sounds like a pretty limited affair, where "you" will mean Amazon's corporate customers, and where "service" means the ability to experiment by running simulations on a set of existing quantum computers from partners D-Wave, IonQ, and Rigetti.
I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Amazon to do more to deal with this issue.
So the quality of cardboard being recycled today isn't what it used to be, and it's not nearly as valuable as it once was, thanks to China's more stringent demands on cleanliness. Cities across the US are still scrambling to figure out where to send all their cardboard and plastics. There aren't enough domestic paper mills yet to meet the demand, and the glut of recovered materials has led to a dramatic drop in the value of cardboard.
People are finally waking up to the censorship in TikTok. In this instance, the company claims it was a ham-fisted attempt to reduce bullying. It seems reasonable to grant the benefit of the doubt on this one, but overall I think the right stance to take towards moderation on this platform is one of skepticism and concern. But the memes are really good. So.
Smart speakers aren't ready for pre-school yet
It is fascinating to watch small kids interact with smart speakers. Over Thanksgiving, I watched them struggle to get Alexa to do the thing they wanted and get annoyed when it didn't work. But they got annoyed in the same way they got annoyed at me when I didn't understand their babble or thwarted their little terrible twos desires.
It made me realize that smart speakers infantilize adults too — we are struggling to figure out voice interfaces and make sense of the larger system behind them. It's tiring to not be understood, to have an arcane, seemingly-powerful and knowledgable Voice just not get what we are talking about.
There's a flip side, too. In the same way that talking to little kids can be exhausting if you aren't used to it (I am not), so too is talking to a smart speaker. We are very good an intuiting a child's capabilities very quickly and adjusting our expectations to match (and, hopefully, helping them to learn). We get so many signals beyond just voice to help guide our interactions.
We have no such relationship with the Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri. We want to believe they're growing, getting smarter every day. But there's no way to see it and there's definitely no love the help smooth over the rough communications patches. The kid metaphor also isn't really a great idea, either: these are AIs built but the most powerful corporations on the planet right now, not recalcitrant toddlers.
Digital assistant speakers are the smartest dummies in our homes. When they aren't making us feel like kids ourselves, they amaze us with their flashes of knowledge — but at the end of the day we're unsure about whether they can really be trusted to know what the heck we're talking about. Or, you know, trusted with all our data in the first place.