Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Post Hamilton Slump

Has playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s career fizzled just four years after the debut of HamiltonKyle Smith makes the case that Miranda is “spending what ought to be some of his most productive years essentially killing time with one minor project after another”:

Miranda turned up as a singer-actor in Mary Poppins Returns. He had a funny guest gig on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Last year he did the voice of Gizmoduck on Disney’s Duck Tales. This week we learned he’s going to do another guest appearance, on Brooklyn Nine-Nine…It’s as if Stephen Sondheim followed up West Side Story by doing guest shots on The Flying Nun while contributing a few songs to The Aristocats. 

2. Will Alexa Destroy the Internet?

The rise of the voice computing has given way to what Wired calls“one-shot answers,” e.g., How many moons does Neptune have?Alexa answering “14” is a bigger disruption than anyone realizes:

The move toward one-shot answers has been just slow enough to obscure its own most important consequence: killing off the internet as we know it. The conventional web, with all of its tedious pages and links, is giving way to the conversational web, in which chatty AIs reign supreme. The payoff, we are told, is increased convenience and efficiency. But for everyone who has economic interests tied to traditional web search—businesses, advertisers, authors, publishers, the tech giants—the situation is perilous.

3. VR at Work

Virtual Reality headsets aren’t just for hardcore gamers. According toThe Verge, Microsoft’s HoloLens2 may bring the power of VR to work:

The HoloLens 2 is only being sold to corporations, not to consumers. It’s designed for “first-line workers,” people in auto shops, factory floors, operating rooms, and out in the field fixing stuff. It’s designed for people who work with their hands and find it difficult to integrate a computer or smartphone into their daily work. The idea is to replace the grease-stained Windows 2000 computer sitting in the corner of the workroom. 

The article is technical, but worth reading ahead of the launch this spring.

4. 50 Years After the Harvard Riots

In 1969, local police officers and state troopers entered Harvard Yard armed with clubs. Through brute force, they evicted and arrested 200 protestors who were occupying the university’s administration buildings. What followed was weeks of protests, a student strike, and the end of Harvard’s ROTC program – as well as a trend that played out at campuses across the country. This month, Harvard Magazinerepublished the article written by its then-editor in the wake of the protests. His conclusion: Harvard's leadership had no idea how to communicate:

President Pusey, other administrators, even members of the [University] Corporation should have appeared on television to initiate a dialogue. Once established, the dialogue should have been kept up unremittingly through various media. Instead the prime objects of the community’s hostility…remained virtually invisible for a week, and hostility and suspicion fed on their invisibility. Not only in this instance, but throughout the whole affair, communications were strangely deficient for a great center of learning.

5. Making Insurance Interesting

Even though Berkshire Hathaway had a rough financial year, Warren Buffet’s annual letter to shareholders retains its clarity and hard-nosed realism. Consider, for example, Buffet's assessment about both the attraction and risk of the insurance business:

In effect, we have been paid in most years for holding and using other people’s money. As I have often done before, I will emphasize that this happy outcome is far from a sure thing: Mistakes in assessing insurance risks can be huge and can take many years to surface. (Think asbestos.) A major catastrophe that will dwarf hurricanes Katrina and Michael will occur – perhaps tomorrow, perhaps many decades from now. “The Big One” may come from a traditional source, such as a hurricane or earthquake, or it may be a total surprise involving, say, a cyber attack having disastrous consequences beyond anything insurers now contemplate. When such a mega- catastrophe strikes, we will get our share of the losses and they will be big – very big. Unlike many other insurers, however, we will be looking to add business the next day. 

The Gates Foundation also released its annual letter this month. Another masterful piece of clear, organized writing.

6. The Oscar’s Grouch 

Three days prior to the Academy Awards, The Concourse offered its annual, indispensable guide to hating the Oscars. Even days after the "tacky, bloated mess" of an event, the article can't be beat for its pure venom and sarcasm, as it breaks down the 2019 nominees movie-by-movie, actor-by-actor. Of the many gems, this take on Bohemian Rhapsody wins the day: 

Bohemian Rhapsody was like if someone made the movie version of a Wikipedia page but somehow read the wrong Wikipedia page. Here’s a movie that made nearly a BILLION dollars worldwide despite the fact that you can listen to Queen for free at home anytime you like, and despite the fact that it was “directed” by an accused pederast who apparently abandoned the set every six minutes.

Not to be outdone, the National Review yawns that the #WhoCares Oscars lost its star power, as it features a procession of winners that “the average American would not recognize if they were waiting in line ahead of you at the DMV.”

Websites Worth Reading

Stephen Wolfram Numbing detail about Wolfram Alpha’s daily work habits

The Cut Portfolio of photos of the late Marella Agnelli, Europe’s most cultivated society grand dame

Google Perspectives Google's blog on technology issues

Feeds We Follow

@PCollinsTimes Disgruntled Labour writer for the Times

@GeoffreySBatt Investor, makes case for Iraq's economic revival

@LizzaDwoskin Expanding Silicon Valley coverage for Washington Post