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Newsfeeds from around the industry
Geeking with Greg


  • Quick links
    What caught my attention recently:
    • "Big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs .... As people dredge the unknown, they are engaging in a highly creative act .... the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough" ([1])

    • Lots of details on recommendations, personalization, and experimentation at Netflix in a new ACM paper ([1])

    • Fun and interesting Slate article on how Facebook selects posts for the news feed ([1])

    • New paper claims the filter bubble for news is much stronger in what people self-select and on social media than in search and recommendations ([1])

    • "Bayesian program learning (BPL) framework, capable of learning a large class of visual concepts from just a single example and generalizing in ways that are mostly indistinguishable from people" ([1] [2] [3])

    • NIPS 2015 paper on problems that accumulate in machine learning systems, such as dependencies between features, dependencies between models that build off each other, and complicated and fragile data preprocessing ([1])

    • "Should they teach [self-driving] cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble?" ([1])

    • Wal-mart is doing poorly against Amazon, which is surprising, I think ([1])

    • Good article on product management. I particularly like the points that most products fail (so you should expect to experiment, adapt, and iterate) and that a good product is about experiences not features ([1])

    • "People keep mentioning how different things are to the period just before the AI winter" ([1])

    • "Smartwatches still have a long way to go in terms of proving their usefulness, necessity, and style" ([1])

    • "CYA security: given the choice between overreacting to a threat and wasting everyone's time, and underreacting and potentially losing your job, it's easy to overreact." ([1])

    • A new $7M XPrize for autonomous undersea drones ([1] [2])

    • Simulating the World in Emoji is a very fun educational simulation, similar to the Artificial Life work a while back, great for kids ([1])

    • From the Exploratorium Museum, a demo of how wave motion arises from swirling smaller movements in water ([1])

    • Dilbert comic on tech jargon ([1])

    • Pearls Before Swine comic on clickthrough agreements ([1])

    • SMBC comic: "Update 9.1.2.001.241 has been a test of your loyalty." ([1])


  • SwipeLingo and Javascript Notebook
    I've been working on a couple educational projects since Google, SwipeLingo and Javascript Notebook. SwipeLingo is a quick matching game for touchscreens. Javascript Notebook is a tool for writing coding tutorials, exercises, and examples.

    I'm unable to fully finish them and get them exactly where I wanted them before starting at Microsoft. But I'm launching anyway in case they or the ideas in them are useful to others.

    SwipeLingo is a game-with-a-purpose, a quick matching game that is both fun and helps with memorization like flash cards do. There are example games — particularly interesting is Chinese numbers, where you learn the characters pretty quickly after starting with wild guessing — and it's also easy to create your own. I was motivated to create SwipeLingo by loving Duolingo but wanting the vocabulary memorization in it to be more fun, and also wanting to try to build a non-native touch web app game that works equally well across desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone.

    Javascript Notebook tries to make it easy to write and share coding tutorials, coursework, examples, exercises, and experiments. It was heavily motivated by Stanford's CS101 class and their content. Here are some examples: "Getting Started", "Introduction to Programming", "What You Can Do". It's a bit like a simple Javascript-only IPython Notebook in feel, but runs entirely in the browser, requiring no configuration or set up, just write and share. Others can modify the code, run it, and save and share their own copies.

    Please let me know if take a look and have any comments or suggestions. And please tell others who might be interested about them too!

  • Working at Microsoft
    I'm joining Microsoft! I'll be part of the excellent Analysis and Experimentation team, helping people learn from data. I'm excited!

    I've been geeking out with big data from before data science was a thing and before being a geek ever could be considered a compliment. For two decades, I've enjoyed looking at the paths people take online, where they find success and where they become annoyed, and how changes can help more find success.

    Sometimes this is prioritizing things people like and find useful. Sometimes it is changing or eliminating things that, despite the good intentions of the developers and designers, don't work for people. Sometimes it is anonymously sharing things that only some people found with others who haven't found it yet. And sometimes it is having humility about being able to guess what will work and deciding to try many things to discover what actually does work.

    If you're at Microsoft, whether an old friend, a team looking to talk about recommendations, personalization, data science, and experimentation, or just looking to chat, please get in touch! I'd love to hear from you.

  • Quick links
    What has caught my attention lately:
    • Tog (of the famous Tog on Interface) says Apple has lost its way on design: "Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalizing the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty. No, not so! Design is a way of thinking, of determining people’s true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them." ([1] [2])

    • Good advice on adding features to a product: "'Great or Dead', as in, if we can't make a feature great, it should be killed off." ([1])

    • Great data on smartphone and tablet ownership. Sometimes it's hard to remember that only five years ago most people didn't have smartphones. ([1])

    • Advice for anyone thinking of doing a startup. Here's the conclusion: "So all you need is a great idea, a great team, a great product, and great execution. So easy! ;)" ([1])

    • Related, a Dilbert comic on the value of a startup idea ([1])

    • "People might think that human-level AI is close because they think AI is more magical than it actually is" ([1])

    • "VCs hate technical risk. They’re comfortable with market risk, but technical risk is really difficult for them to reconcile." ([1])

    • Google finds eliminating bad advertisements increases long-term revenue, concluding: "A focus on user satisfaction could help to reduce the ad load on the internet at large with long-term neutral, or even positive, business impact." ([1] [2])

    • "Crappy ad experiences are behind the uptick in ad-blocking tools" ([1])

    • On filter bubbles, a new study finds algorithms yield more diversity of content than people choosing news themselves ([1] [2] [3])

    • Facebook data center fun: "The inclusion of 480 4 TB drives drove the weight to over 1,100 kg, effectively crushing the rubber wheels." ([1])

    • Great data on who uses which social networks ([1])

    • "One of the great mysteries of the tech industry in recent years has been the seeming disinterest of Google, which is now called Alphabet, in competing with Amazon Web Services for corporate customers." ([1])

    • "Maybe part of AWS value prop is the outsourcing of outages: when half the net is offline, any individual down site doesn't look as bad." ([1])

    • "87% of Android devices are vulnerable to attack by malicious apps ... because manufacturers have not provided regular security updates" ([1])

    • Fun maps showing where tourists take photos compared to locals ([1] [2] [3])

    • Multiple camera lenses, an idea soon coming to mobile phones too? ([1])

    • Another interesting camera technology: "17 different wavelengths ... software analyzes the images and finds ones that are most different from what the naked eye sees, essentially zeroing in on ones that the user is likely to find most revealing" ([1])

    • And another: "Take a short image sequence while slightly moving the camera ... to recover the desired background scene as if the visual obstructions were not there" ([1])

    • Useful to know: "Survey results are mostly unaffected when the non-Web respondents are left out." ([1])

    • Surprising finding, meal worms can thrive just eating styrofoam: "the larvae lived as well as those fed with a normal diet (bran) over a period of 1 month" ([1])

    • Autonomous drone for better-than-GoPro filming? ([1] [2])

    • "We see people turning onto, and then driving on, the wrong side of the road a lot ... Drivers do very silly things when they realize they’re about to miss their turn ... Routinely see people weaving in and out of their lanes; we’ve spotted people reading books, and even one [driver] playing a trumpet." ([1])

    • A fun and cool collection of messed up images out of Apple maps. It's almost art. ([1])

    • SMBC comic, also applies to AI ([1])


  • Not working at Google
    It was a surprise, to me at least, that I wasn't able to find a good fit at Google Seattle.

    Google nowadays is different than I expected, and, after four months of trying hard to find any way to make it what I wanted, I resigned.

    I'm saddened and disappointed. On the bright side, I did get a chance to work with many remarkable people, which I think made it worthwhile.

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