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Where to find more fun online diversions during the pandemic

May 8, 2020, 1:49 PM UTC

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After a day of pondering Elon Musk’s contributions to society, let’s shift our focus from big innovations to small and even tiny ones.

There is no professional sports play in the United States right now and that’s left many sports fans bereft. ESPN’s amazing documentary series “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan’s last year with the Chicago Bulls notwithstanding, there’s not much to get excited about right now. Some are turning to e-sports, and Amazon’s Twitch network is doing quite well. But if you’re looking for something a little more physical and happening IRL, may I introduce you to the Marbula One racing circuit? Yes, that’s marble racing. It’s got enthusiastic announcers, high production values, and even some drama as the marbles roll over the finish line.

Maybe e-sports are your thing. The teens tell me Animal Crossing is keeping them sane. Ars Technica has the story of some players who are getting even more out of the Nintendo title. Using the “gold farming” strategy first seen eons ago in games like World of Warcraft and Ultima, some players are gathering all the bells they can (Animal Crossing‘s in-game currency) and then selling them for real cash.

Finally, I know lots of you watched the amazing Juilliard video from Tuesday’s newsletter, but obviously many, many more singers, musicians, comedians, and artists of all kinds have taken to Zoom to release their work. It’s hard to keep up with all the great stuff. Theater writer Elisabeth Vincentelli has a great list of some online options, and Fast Company also published a bunch of worthy links. If you see other worthwhile compilations, please send them my way.

Take time to enjoy the small pleasures and have a good weekend.

Aaron Pressman



Double, double toil and trouble. Trying to bring order to chaos, Google put one of its top app execs, G Suite boss Javier Soltero, in charge of all of its messaging offerings. That reportedly includes Google Chat, Google Duo, Google Meet, Google Voice, plus the Android phone dialer and a new RCS messenger. Soltero has only been at Google for about six months. He was previously at Microsoft but is best known as the brains behind the Acompli email app that was bought by Microsoft. He tells The Verge there are no plans to thin the herd yet. That's disappointing.

Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Elsewhere at the Googleplex, Sidewalk Labs dropped its controversial plan to build a smart city in a Toronto neighborhood. Opponents said the 12-acre planned community would have been inundated with surveillance gear and lacked safeguards to protect residents' privacy.

Calgon, take me away. Easy-to-find online streaming entertainment continues to kill it. ViacomCBS said its CBS All Access and Showtime Internet services hit record viewing levels in the first quarter. Paid subscriptions reached 13.5 million people, up 50% over the past year. And the company's free-with-ads service, Pluto TV, increased even faster. Its monthly active users hit 24 million, up 55%.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie. On Wall Street, Uber shares got a lift, Dropbox broke through the clouds, and Roku got a fuzzy reception on Thursday. Uber said first-quarter revenue rose 14% to $3.5 billion, slightly beating already lowered analyst estimates. Its shares, previously up 4% in 2020, gained 8% in pre-market trading on Friday. At Dropbox, the company reported its first proper profit since going public two years ago. Revenue increased 18% to $455 million and net income totaled $39 million. Its shares, already up 22% this year, gained another 5% in pre-market trading. Roku's revenue jumped 55% to $321 million, better than expected, but the company also warned of a big ad slowdown ahead. Roku's stock, up just 3% in 2020, lost 9% in pre-market trading.

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Computer science professor Cal Newport is a leading proponent of using technology wisely and blocking out the noise of modern day digital life. Recently, he had a thoughtful essay about how working at home can lead to overwork and inefficiency. 

[The loss of being at the office] might even collapse into a dismal state I call inbox capture, in which essentially every moment of your workday becomes dedicated to keeping up with email, Slack, and Zoom meetings, with very little work beyond the most logistical and superficial actually accomplished — an incredibly wasteful form of economic activity.

What’s the solution to this particular issue? Knowledge work organizations might have to finally get more formal about how tasks are identified, assigned, and tracked. This will require inconvenient new rules and systems, but will also, in the long run, probably be a much smarter way to work, even when we can return to our offices.

More generally, I think this is just one example among many where the sudden disruption that defines our current moment will force us to confront aspects of knowledge work that up until now have been barely functional, and ask: what’s the right way to get this work done?


A few long reads that I came across this week:

Forget Smartphones: It’s Time For Our Phones to Interact With Us (Medium)

There was enough computer power sitting on my desk to make a 1960s-era NASA moon rocket engineer suffer a stroke through pure excitement, and it was just…well, it was all just sitting there doing absolutely nothing interesting unless I first did something to it. 

An AI can simulate an economy millions of times to create fairer tax policy (MIT Technology Review)

Deep reinforcement learning has trained AIs to beat humans at complex games like Go and StarCraft. Could it also do a better job at running the economy?

What to Ask Instead of ‘How Are You?’ During a Pandemic (The Atlantic)

Everyone’s doing badly. We need better questions to ask.

The Quarantine Moment That Finally Broke Me, According to 10 Dads (Fatherly)

Broken printers. Stepping on Beyblades. A Keurig machine glued shut by a mischievous toddler. These are the moments that finally broke these quarantined parents.


Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff describes what office life will be like after COVID-19 By Jonathan Vanian

A tale of two entertainment companies—one thriving, one struggling By Lucinda Shen

Zoom acquires encryption startup Keybase to help make video calls more secure By David Z. Morris

Sonos cofounder hits back at Spotify CEO Daniel Ek for complaining about Apple By Aric Jenkins

IBM thinks tech being tested by astronauts could help us take care of isolated loved ones By Jeremy Kahn

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This week's trawling for distractions at Casa Pressman turned up the work of Carnegie Mellon senior and visual artist Lumi Barron. We particularly liked her series of videos to describe it? the woods...playing ...with tiny human things...sort of. Just check it out. And see you back here on Monday.

Aaron Pressman