June 30, 2016
In the capital city of Bamako 800 miles away, the founder of Timbuktu’s Mamma Haidara Library, a scholar and community leader named Abdel Kader Haidara, saw the burning of the manuscripts as a tragedy—and a vindication of a remarkable plan he’d undertaken. Starting with no money besides the meager sum in his savings account, the librarian had recruited a loyal circle of volunteers, badgered and shamed the international community into funding the scheme, raised $1 million, and hired hundreds of amateur smugglers in Timbuktu and beyond. Their goal? Save books. ... Months earlier, Haidara had been pacing the courtyard at his home, pondering how to respond to the rebels’ seizure of Timbuktu. Largely thanks to Haidara, the city now had 45 libraries, ranging from small private archives to 10,000-volume collections. The libraries served as repositories for a total of 377,000 manuscripts—from 400-hundred-page, leather-encased volumes to single folios—including some of the greatest works of medieval literature in the world.
Xiaomi’s tale may sound like merely another iteration of that now familiar headline, tech unicorn gallops into wall. But Xiaomi (pronounced “SHAO-me,” with the first syllable sounding like the “show” in “shower”) isn’t just any privately held, multibillion-dollar startup. It’s a rising power in a nation eager to prove that its consumer-oriented companies can compete globally. ... The company didn’t attain that valuation on the strength of its phones, though those get raves in the tech press (and have even made Xiaomi modestly profitable) while selling for half the price of an iPhone. No, private investors judged Xiaomi to be more valuable than FedEx or Caterpillar or Delta Air Lines because of the promise that it could build a network of products, services, and recurring revenues—an ecosystem like Apple’s—not just in China but around the world. ... If anything, Xiaomi’s idea of an ecosystem is more ambitious than Apple’s. Apple focuses on services like iTunes and a tightly focused suite of tablets, computers, and smartphones. Xiaomi envisions a sprawling Internet of things. The company hopes you will someday control your Xiaomi water purifier, Xiaomi air filter, and Xiaomi mood lighting—an entire Xiaomi smart home, essentially—with a few taps on your phone. ... as Xiaomi’s progress slows, there’s growing skepticism that a startup without innovative technology of its own or much success outside of smartphone sales can produce an ecosystem anywhere nearly as big or “sticky” as Apple’s and Google’s. ... Xiaomi’s team works primarily with outside companies. The company partners with hardware startups (and often creates new ones), providing seed money for ecosystem products. Xiaomi avoids taking full control, encouraging the founders to act like risk-taking entrepreneurs. The company gets an exclusive deal to sell most of the startups’ products, and in turn the startups, now numbering 55, get access to Xiaomi’s supply chain, marketing, and even its industrial engineers.
Comcast has installed tens of millions of cable boxes, Wi-Fi routers, and other hardware in American homes over the years. These devices have been forgettable at best. Stirling hopes that’s about to change. Later this year, the company will begin rolling out a family of slimmed-down internet, TV, and home-security gadgets. The devices are designed according to a radical concept that’s largely gone untested in more than a half-century of cable-TV history—that hardware doesn’t have to be hideous. ... The new devices are designed to work in concert with X1—the software at the heart of Comcast’s strategy to keep its 22.4 million cable subscribers from cutting the cord and defecting to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Think of X1 as the company’s own Android or iOS—a technological platform upon which an empire of software, hardware, and services can be built. ... Instead of just throwing every channel into a linear grid accessed by clicking up and down with a remote, X1 aggregates programming from hundreds of TV networks and online sources and arranges everything by genre. ... Unlike most cable companies, Comcast has actually been gaining TV subscribers.
If you think bringing Marshawn Lynch to the ground was a challenge, try getting on his calendar. The recently retired Seahawks running back (more on that later) agreed to talk during a tour of his hometown of Oakland—a serious achievement, given his arm’s-length relationship with the media—but then there was the matter of settling on a date. Since his exit announcement, slyly dropped during the Super Bowl, the five-time Pro Bowler has traveled to Haiti, Canada and Egypt, where he led a football camp, rode a camel and toured the Great Pyramid of Giza. A stealth visit to Flint, Mich.—he wanted to volunteer and lend solidarity to the citizenry—was postponed until later this summer; he appeared that week instead at a Clinton Global Initiative function in Oakland. When Lynch finally blocked out three free days, he warned that he would be spending one of those afternoons with his financial adviser. Then he would head to Seattle, where he would appear at a job fair as a favor to his friend, Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz. ... All of which speaks to this point: Lynch, maybe more than any other athlete, embodies the gulf between perception and reality. Make no mistake, Beast Mode is no façade. Lynch, 30, carries himself the same way he played during his potential Hall of Fame career, all bluntness and brute force. This is a man who, even with cameras rolling, uses the word “motherf-----” as if it were punctuation. But he is also a gracious tour guide, with a diverse circle of friends and a wide range of interests. With no threat of getting fined for noncompliance, he’ll happily talk about everything from Bay Area gentrification to the importance of authenticity to the much-talked-about status of his NFL career.