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Geeking with Greg


  • More quick links
    Some of the best of what I've been thinking about lately:
    • Great TED talk titled "The mathematics of love", but probably should be titled "A data analysis of love" ([1])

    • Manned submarines are about to become obsolete and be replaced by underwater drones ([1] [2] [3])

    • "No other algorithm scaled up like these nets ... It was a just a question of the amount of data and the amount of computations." ([1] [2])

    • What Google has done is a little like taking a person who's never heard a sound before, not to mention ever hearing language before, and trying to have them learn how to transcribe English speech ([1] [2])

    • Teaching a computer to achieve expert level play of old video games by mimicking some of the purpose of sleep ([1] [2])

    • "Computers are actually better at object recognition than humans now" ([1] [2] [3] [4])

    • The goal of Google Glass was a "remembrance agent" that acts as a second memory and gives helpful information recommendations in real time ([1] [2] [3])

    • A new trend, large VC investments in artificial intelligence ([1])

    • "Possibly the largest bank theft the world has seen" done using malware ([1])

    • "Users will prioritise immediate gain, and tend to dismiss consequences with no immediate visible effect" ([1] [2])

    • "Crowds can't be trusted". It's "really a game of spamfighting". ([1] [2])

    • SMBC comic: "All we have to do is build a trustworthiness rating system for all humans" ([1])

    • Dilbert describes most business books: "He has no idea why he succeeded" ([1])

    • Architect Clippy: "I see you have a poorly structured monolith. Would you like me to convert it into a poorly structured set of microservices?" ([1])

    • Man kicks robot dog. Watching the video, doesn't it make you feel like the man is being cruel? The motion of the robot struggling to regain its balance is so lifelike that it triggers an emotional response. ([1] [2] [3])

    • SMBC comic: "Are we ever going to use math in real life?" ([1])


  • Quick links
    What has caught my attention lately:
    • "Ads are often annoying ... [and] the practice of running annoying ads can cost more money than it earns" ([1] [2] [3])

    • Robot plays beer pong, but the real story is the clever bean bag robotic gripper using the "jamming phase transition of granular materials" ([1] [2] [3])

    • Good list of features a modern phone should have but does not ([1])

    • "At this point, Apple is basically an iPhone company with a few other side businesses ... The iPhone accounted for ... a staggering 69 percent ... of Apple's revenue." ([1])

    • "We were not building the phone for the customer — we were building it for Jeff [Bezos]" ([1] [2])

    • "One of the biggest problems in organizations is that the meeting is a tool that is used to diffuse responsibility" ([1] [2])

    • Pew poll on how opinions of US scientists differ from the US population, and public's perceptions of scientists ([1])

    • Pair a "brash, young scientist" with a "wiser, older scientist" to maximize innovation ([1] [2] [3])

    • Google Earth Pro is now free, lets you get high res stills and movies of anywhere on the planet ([1] [2])

    • People told a placebo was "expensive" had twice the improvement as measured by physical tests and brain scans ([1])

    • Blind men successfully train themselves to "see" using echolocation, and brain scans determine that they are using the otherwise unused visual centers of their brains to do so ([1] [2] [3] [4] [5])

    • Rather than modeling crowds with attraction and repulsion between agents, only avoiding anticipated collisions behaves closer to real humans ([1])

    • Xkcd comic: "I can't wait for the day when all my stupid computer knowledge is obsolete" ([1])

    • Xkcd What If: "Getting to space is easy. The problem is staying there." ([1])


  • More on what to advertise when there is no commercial intent
    Some of the advertising out there is getting spooky. If you look at a product at many online stores, that product will then follow you around the web.

    Go to BBC News, for example, and there will be those dishes you were looking at yesterday on Overstock. Not just any dishes, the exact same dishes. Just in case you forgot about them, there they are again next time you go. And again. And again.

    A few years ago, I wrote an article, "What to advertise when there is no commercial intent?". That article suggested that, on sites like news sites, we might not have immediate commercial intent, and might have to reach back into the past to find strong commercial intent. It advocated for personalized advertising that helped people discover interesting products and deals related to strong commercial intent they had earlier.

    However, this did not mean that you should just show the last product I looked at. That is refinding, not personalized recommendations. Refinding is all a lot of these ads are doing. You look at a chair, ads follow you around the web showing you ads for that same chair that you already know about over and over again. That's not discovery. That's spooky and not helpful.

    Personalized ads should help people discover things they don't know about related to past purchase intent. If I look at a chair, show me highly reviewed similar furniture and good coupons and big deals related in some non-obvious way to that chair and that store. Don't just show me the same chair again. I know about that chair. Show me something I don't know. Help me discover something I haven't found yet.

    I understand the reason these companies are doing refinding is because it's hard to do anything better. Doing useful recommendations of related products and deals is hard. Helping people discover something new and interesting is hard. Personalized recommendations requires a lot of data, clever algorithms, and a huge amount of work. Refinding is trivially easy.

    But publishers aren't doing themselves any favors by allowing these startups to get away with this kind of useless advertising. As a recent study says, "the practice of running annoying ads can cost more money than it earns." That short-term revenue bump from these spooky refinding ads is like a sugar rush, feels good while it lasts, but hurts in the long-term.

    They can and should do better. Personalization, including personalized advertising, should be about helping people discover things they could not easily find on their own. Personalization should not be refinding, just showing what I found before, just exposing my history. Personalization should be helpful. Personalization should be discovery.

  • Quick links
    Some of the best of what I've been thinking about lately:
    • Tiny cheap satellites will provide near real-time imagery of the entire Earth to anyone who wants it, starting in about a year ([1] [2] [3])

    • Amplifying motion and color changes in video, which allows augmented perception ([1] [2])

    • Birds can hear the very low frequency sound produced by severe weather and are able to flee well in advance of incoming storms ([1])

    • Nice example of blending computer science with another field, in this case genealogy, to yield big new gains ([1])

    • "An energy gradient 1000 times greater than traditional particle accelerators" ([1])

    • People "don't want to watch commercials, are fleeing networks, hate reruns, are increasingly bored by reality programming, shun print products and, oh, by the way, don’t want to pay much for content either. Yikes." ([1] [2])

    • Everything we know Google is working on ([1])

    • Funny and informative: "Riding in a Google Self-Driving Car" ([1])

    • Google is rejecting security based on firewalls ([1] [2] [3])

    • "Whether you call it a Star Trek Universal Translator or Babel fish, Microsoft is building it, and it's incredible." ([1])

    • "Every dollar a worker earns in a research field spills over to make the economy $5 better off. Every dollar a similar worker earns in finance comes with a drain, making the economy 60 cents worse off." ([1])

    • "I’m a big believer in making effectively infinite computing resources available internally ... [Give] teams the resources they need to experiment ... All employees should be limited only by their ability rather than an absence of resources or an inability to argue convincingly for more." ([1])

    • "We think of it as a one-on-one tutor. It will test you and generate a personal lesson plan just for you." ([1])

    • "Apparently, a sufficient number of puppies can explain any computer science concept. Here we have multithreading:" ([1])

    • Fantastic to see a US president promoting computer programming to kids: "Becoming a computer scientist isn't as scary as it sounds. With hard work and a little math and science, anyone can do it." ([1])


  • More quick links
    More of what caught my attention lately:
    • "Make infinite computing resources available internally ... Give teams the resources they need to experiment ... All employees should be limited only by their ability rather than an absence of resources or an inability to argue convincingly for more." ([1] [2])

    • "Accept that failures will always happen and guard ... [against] cascading failures by purposefully causing failures" ([1] [2])

    • "The importance of Netflix’s recommendation engine is actually underestimated" ([1] [2])

    • Courts are getting more skeptical about software patents ([1])

    • Nice way of putting it: "The prevailing business culture in the banking industry weakens and undermines the honesty norm" ([1] [2])

    • "[On] the overcrowded, overstuffed, slow-loading web, you are bound to see a carnival of pop-ups and interstitials — interim ad pages served up before or after your desired content — and scammy come-ons daring you to click. Is it any wonder, really, that this place is dying?" ([1])

    • A very effective social engineering attack "compromised the accounts of C-level executives, legal counsel, regulatory and compliance personnel, scientists, and advisors of more than 100 [major] companies" ([1])

    • An 11 hour Microsoft Azure cloud service outage that impacted just about everyone using it worldwide, including internal users like MSN.com and Xbox Live ([1])

    • Stack traces at arbitrary break points in Google's cloud services running live with near zero overhead ([1] [2])

    • Free SSL certificates (for HTTPS) from a non-profit out of EFF, Mozilla, Cisco, and Akamai ([1])

    • The journal Nature makes its papers free for everyone to read ([1] [2])

    • Combining neural networks like components yields new breakthroughs ([1] [2])

    • Robotics guru Rodney Brooks says, "Relax. Chill ... [The press has a] misunderstanding of how far we really are from having volitional or intentional artificially intelligent beings." ([1])

    • Undersea drones are enabling new feats: "The first time ... the black sea devil anglerfish ... has been filmed alive and in its natural habitat" ([1])

    • Bats jam the sonor of other bats when they're both trying to catch the same insect. It's like a dogfight up there. ([1])

    • Great tutorial on CSS and HTML just launched by Khan Academy and jQuery's John Resig ([1])

    • Fun visualization of the periodic table by how common the elements are in the earth's crust, ocean, human body, and sun ([1])

    • Hilarious parody of the Amazon Echo promotional video ([1])

    • South Park has a surprisingly good (and funny) criticism of freemium games that gets all the issues correct around preying on people with a tendency toward compulsive gambling ([1] [2])

    • Great Dilbert comic on how engineers think of marketing ([1])

    • Good Xkcd comic on over-optimization ([1])

    • Loved this SMBC comic: "He said I wasn't very good at math" ([1]) 


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