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September 30, 2016

Clinton's tech policy in five tweets

Hillary Clinton’s tech policy is progressive. This doesn’t surprise me because the techies she has surrounded herself with understand the Internet not only as an information system but as a democratizing, person-to-person, many-to-many, cultural force.

Her policy brief, however, is long and detailed. No, of course you won’t agree with everything in it. Me neither. But that’s how politics works, and how it’s supposed to work.

So I decided to try to reduce the policy down to a more manageable scale, starting with a bumpersticker and working my way up. It’s here.

If you care about the cyber, vote.

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September 22, 2016

The Trump Stand-in Audition Tapes

The Clinton campaigned apparently auditioned a bunch of celebrities to stand in for Trump as she practices debating him. I somehow managed to get the transcripts of their auditions. They include, perhaps surprisingly, Louis CK, Bryan Cranston, Quentin Tarantino, and some others.

You can read the full transcripts here.

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September 21, 2016

[iab] Frances Donegan-Ryan

At the IAB conference, Frances Donegan-Ryan from Bing begins by reminding us of the history of online search.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

We all leave digital footprints, she says. Every time we search, data is recorded. The sequence of our searches gives especially useful information to help the engine figure out what you’re trying to find out. Now the engines can refer to social graphs.

“But what do we do with data?”

Bing Predicts
looks at all the data it can in order to make predictions. It began by predicting the winners and losers in American Idol, and got it 100% right. For this election year, it tried to predict who would win each state primary or caucus in the US. Then it took in sentiment data to figure out which issues matter in each state, broken down by demographic groups.

Now, for example, it can track a new diabetes drug through the places people visit when logged into their browser. This might show that there are problems with the drug; consider for example people searching for unexpected side effects of it. Bing shares the result of this analysis with the CDC. [The acoustics where I was sitting was poor. I’m not sure I got this right.]

They’re doing the same for retail products, and are able to tell which will be the big sellers.

Frances talks about Cortana, “the only digital system that works across all platforms.” Microsoft is working on many more digital assistants — Bots
— that live within other services. She shows a temporary tattoo
made from gold leaf that you can use as a track pad, and other ways; this came out of MIT.

She says that the Microsoft version of a Fitbit can tell if you’re dehydrated or tired, and then can point you to the nearest place with water and a place to sit. Those shops could send you a coupon.

She goes quickly over the Hololens since Robert Scoble covered it so well this morning.

She closes with a story about using sensor data to know when a cow is in heat, which, it turns out, correlates with them walking faster. Then the data showed at what point in the period of fertility a male or female cow is likely to be conceived. Then they started using genetic data to predict genetically disabled calves.

It takes enormous computing power to do this sort of data analysis.

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[iab] Privacy discussion

I’m at the IAB conference in Toronto. Canada has a privacy law, PIPEDA law (The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) passed in 2001, based on OECD principles.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Barbara Bucknell
, the director of policy and research at Office of the Privacy Commissioner where she worries about how to protect privacy while being able to take advantage of all the good stuff data can do.

A recent large survey found that more than half of Canadians are more concerned about privacy than they were last year. Only 34% think the govt is doing enough to keep their privacy safe. Globally, 8 out of 10 are worried about their info being bought, sold, or monitored. “Control is the key concern here.” “They’re worried about surprises: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were using my information that way!'”

Adam Kardash [this link
?] says that all the traditional approaches to privacy have be carefully reconsidered. E.g., data minimization says you only collect what you need. “It’s a basic principle that’s been around forever.” But data scientists, when asked how much data they need for innovation, will say “We need it all.” Also, it’s incredibly difficult to explain how your data is going to be used, especially at the grade 6-7 literacy rate that is required. And for data retention, we should keep medical info forever. Marketers will tell you the same thing so they can give you information about you what you really need.

Adam raises the difficulties with getting consent, which the OPC opened a discussion about. Often asking for consent is a negligible part of the privacy process. “The notion of consent is having an increasingly smaller role” while the question of control is growing.

He asks Barbara “How does PEPIDA facility trust?”

Barbara: It puts guardrails into the process. They may be hard implement but they’re there for a reason. The original guidelines from the OECD were prescient. “It’s good to remember there were reasons these guardrails were put in place.”

Consent remains important, she says, but there are also other components, including accountability. The organization has to protect data and be accountable for how it’s used. Privacy needs to be built into services and into how your company is organized. Are the people creating the cool tech talking to the privacy folks and to the legal folks? “Is this conversation happening at the front end?” You’d be surprised how many organizations don’t have those kind of programs in place.

Barbara: Can you talk to the ethical side of this?

Adam: Companies want to know how to be respectful as part of their trust framework, not just meeting the letter of the law. “We believe that the vast majority of Big Data processing can be done within the legal framework. And then we’re creating a set of questions” in order for organisations to feel comfortable that what they’re doing is ethical. This is very practical, because it forestalls law suits. PEPIDA says that organizations can only process data for purposes a reasonable person would consider appropriate. We think that includes the ethical concerns.

Adam: How can companies facilitate trust?

Barbara: It’s vital to get these privacy management programs into place that will help facilitate discussions of what’s not just legal but respectful. And companies have to do a better job of explaining to individuals how they’re using their data.

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[iab] Robert Scoble

I’m at a IAB conference in Toronto. The first speaker is Robert Scoble, who I haven’t seen since the early 2000s. He’s working at Upload VR that gives him “a front row seat on what’s coming.”

WARNING: Live blogging. Not spellpchecking before posting. Not even re-reading it. Getting things wrong, including emphasis.

The title of his talk is “The Fourth Transformation: How AR and AI change everything.”

First: The PC.

Second: Mac and GUI. Important companies in the first went away.

Third: Mobile and touch. Companies from the second went away.

We’re now getting a taste of the fourth: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Kids take to VR naturally and with enthusiasm, he notes.

“Most people in the world are going to experience with VR with a mobile phone because the cost advantages of doing that are immense.” This Christmas Google will launch its Tango sensors that map the world in 3D. Early games for the Tango phone will give a taste of AR: mapping the physical space and put virtual things into it. Robert shows what’s possible with the Tango phone. Retail 411 is working on bringing you straight to the product you want in a physical store. This tech will let us build new games, but also, for example, put a virtual blue line on a floor to show you where your meeting is. Or, in a furniture store it can show you the items in a vision of your home.

Robert calls AR “Mixed Reality” because he thinks AR refers to the prior generation.

Vuforia was designed for mobile phones, placing virtual objets in real space. But soon we’ll be doing this with glasses, Robert says. Genesis [?] puts a virtual window on your wall. Click on it, and zombies crawl through it and come toward you.

Magic Leap got huge investments because the optics of the glasses they;re building are so good. He points out that the system knows to occlude images by interfering real world objects, e.g., the couch between you and the zombie.

He shows a Hololens app preview. Dokodemo Teleportation Door, made in Unity. You place a door on the ground. Open it. There’s a polygonal world inside it. Walk through the door and you’re in it.

Robert says Apple ditched the headphone jack in order to put advanced audio computing in your head, replacing ambient sound with processed sound that may include virtual audio.

Eyefluence builds sensors for eyes. Robert shows video of someone navigating complex screens of icons solely with his eyes. “Advertisers will be able to build a new kind of billboard in the street and know who looked at it.” [Oh great.]

ActionGram puts holograms into VR. [If you need a tiny George Takei in your living room — and who doesn’t? — this is for you.]

SnapChat bought a company that puts a camera in glasses. SnapChat is going to bring out a connected camera. It could be the size of a sugar cube.

Sephora has an app that shows you how their makeup looks like on your face, color matched.

Robert talks about the effect on sports. E.g, Nascar has 100+ sensors in cars already Researchers are putting sensors in NFL players’ tags for “next gen stats.”

“We’re in the Apple II stage” of this. It wasn’t great but kicked off a trillion dollar industries. Robert’s been told that we’re two years away, but says maybe it’s four years. “The new Ford cards are all built in virtual reality…If you don’t have a team thinking about working in this new world, you’ll be at a disadvantage soon.”

“This is the best educational technology humans have ever invented.”

This is intensely social tech, he says. You can play basketball or ski jumping with your friends over the Internet. He shows a Facebook demo. You can share things with others, things with media inside of them. E.g., go to a physical space and see it together. [Very cool demo. I think this is it:]

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September 18, 2016

Lewis Carroll: Technodeterminist

From Sylvie and Bruno (1889) by Lewis Carroll:

“If Steam has done nothing else, it has at least added a whole new Species to English Literature!”

“No doubt of it,” I echoed. “The true origin of all our medical books—and all our cookery-books—”

“No, no!” she broke in merrily. “I didn’t mean our Literature! We are quite abnormal. But the booklets—the little thrilling romances, where the Murder comes at page fifteen, and the Wedding at page forty—surely they are due to Steam?”

“And when we travel by Electricity if I may venture to develop your theory we shall have leaflets instead of booklets, and the Murder and the Wedding will come on the same page.”

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Lewis Carroll on where knowledge lives

On books and knowledge, from Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll, 1889:

“Which contain the greatest amount of Science, do you think, the books, or the minds?”

“Rather a profound question for a lady!” I said to myself, holding, with the conceit so natural to Man, that Woman’s intellect is essentially shallow. And I considered a minute before replying. “If you mean living minds, I don’t think it’s possible to decide. There is so much written Science that no living person has ever read: and there is so much thought-out Science that hasn’t yet been written. But, if you mean the whole human race, then I think the minds have it: everything, recorded in books, must have once been in some mind, you know.”

“Isn’t that rather like one of the Rules in Algebra?” my Lady enquired. (“Algebra too!” I thought with increasing wonder.) “I mean, if we consider thoughts as factors, may we not say that the Least Common Multiple of all the minds contains that of all the books; but not the other way?”

“Certainly we may!” I replied, delighted with the illustration. “And what a grand thing it would be,” I went on dreamily, thinking aloud rather than talking, “if we could only apply that Rule to books! You know, in finding the Least Common Multiple, we strike out a quantity wherever it occurs, except in the term where it is raised to its highest power. So we should have to erase every recorded thought, except in the sentence where it is expressed with the greatest intensity.”

My Lady laughed merrily. “Some books would be reduced to blank paper, I’m afraid!” she said.

“They would. Most libraries would be terribly diminished in bulk. But just think what they would gain in quality!”

“When will it be done?” she eagerly asked. “If there’s any chance of it in my time, I think I’ll leave off reading, and wait for it!”

“Well, perhaps in another thousand years or so—”

“Then there’s no use waiting!”, said my Lady. “Let’s sit down. Uggug, my pet, come and sit by me!”

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September 13, 2016

Top Ten Names for Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Ice Cream

Top 10 new names for Ben & Jerry’s coffee ice cream to convince them to bring it back. #BringBackCoffee @benandjerryspdx

10. Coffee Hold the Gimmicks

9 . Coffee with OMG SO MUCH Cream and Sugar. Also, It’s Frozen.

8. Coffee Uncrunchy

7. St. Agnes‘ Coffee Purity

6. Coffee Coffee Reanimation

5. Larry David’s I Said I Don’t Want Anything In My Cone Except Coffee

4. Coffee Shutup

3. Jack Nicholson’s Coffee and Chicken Salad Sandwich on Wheat Toast

2. What Part of Coffee Do You Not Understand?

1. Just Fucking Coffee

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September 2, 2016

Wait, did I become a jock?

I believe we invented the indoors because it’s better than being outdoors.

I don’t care about sports. Oh, sure, I watched the clips of the USA’s women’s gymnastics team, but mainly as amazing science fiction because clearly that was not possible.

I enjoy watching dance for the same reason, although I am also capable of being moved by it, something that no home town team does for me. I went to a couple of dance classes with my not-yet wife when we were courting, but I stopped coming out of pity for our poor, kind teacher who would not accept that someone could fail to master walking with his arms in opposition to his legs…you know that thing humans do when their right hand swings back as their left leg swings forwards.

Needless to say, I was not on any high school or college teams.

In short, I am your basic indoor Jew. A schlub.

I prefer it this way. Bodies are over-rated, except for eating and, well, you know. They’re high-maintenance and whiny. But what are you going to do? You can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em, am I right?

So I was surprised to realize that I may have become a jock.

It’s September. I live in Boston. Tomorrow we might get snowed in until April, or, like last year, it might stay early Fall until January. Which means my jogging days are numbered. And, of course, they’ve got a big red number counting down as well, given that I’m 65 years old and never thought I’d still be sweating into a baseball cap at this age.

Jogging — yes, I know the whippersnappers don’t call it that any more — is the only athletic activity I’ve ever succeeded at, where success means doing it more than twice in a row. I started doing wind sprints when I was in college, very occasionally, and then in grad school in Toronto started running at the local YMCA. That came to an end when people complained about the volume of my footfall on the wooden track. Apparently my feet have hinges that cause them to slap the boards like cricket bats. So, I began running outside.

I reached my peak around 1977 when I trained for and then ran in a 10K. I was pretty proud of myself as I reached the finish line until a twelve year old girl sprinted past me chewing gum and holding a transistor radio to her ear. But in truth I’ve never been motivated to run fast or even a bit faster. I’ve been motivated by making it back home where I can sit indoors.

That ultimately is the secret to my success with jogging: I head out in a loop and the only way to make it stop is to keep going.

I am a terrible jogger. I was always slow but now I watch who’s passing me and realize that I only feel like I’m running. Still, I come home and sweat for half an hour.

Being a world-class athlete isn’t always pretty

During the intervals when I’m running, I do it maybe 3 times a week, although I’ve been running every day, compulsively, all summer. I put on my bright green shorts, one of my ancient baseball hats, and my earphones playing something upbeat that I can stop listening to as the voice in my head gets more insistent, and run 2.5-3.5 miles depending on how I feel and how cool the temperature is; my endurance is in a non-linear negative relationship with the heat.

The truth is that my mood is better during the months when I’m running. Could be the sunlight, which I otherwise avoid the way other people duck out of the rain. Could be the cardiovascular effects; my heart rate is lower during my running months. Could be the general lassitude the exertion brings on; when it comes to everything, I just give less of a damn. Who knows.

But what’s made me think that I’m slipping into jockhood is that I’ve actually been looking forward to my daily jog. I’m not running any faster, I’m not running any better, I still look like a bag of potatoes falling down the stairs, but I sort of enjoy it. Sort of.

It will pass. As will we all.

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August 31, 2016

Socrates in a Raincoat

In 1974, the prestigious scholarly journal TV Guide published my original research that suggested that the inspector in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was modeled on Socrates. I’m still pretty sure that’s right, and an actual scholarly article came out a few years later making the same case, by people who actually read Russian ‘n’ stuff.

Around the time that I came up with this hypothesis, the creators of the show Columbo had acknowledged that their main character was also modeled on Socrates. I put one and one together and …

Click on the image to go to a scan of that 1974 article.

Socrates in a Raincoat scan

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