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Newsfeeds from around the industry
Geeking with Greg


  • 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]) 


  • Quick links
    What has caught my attention recently:
    • Netflix says the value of its recommendations algorithms is $500M/year ([1])

    • Details on the internals of LinkedIn's recommender system ([1])

    • Fantastic list of some hard and interesting big data problems at Facebook ([1] [2])

    • Google Glass may target "'superhero vision', like seeing in the dark, or magnifying subtle motion or changes" ([1] [2])

    • A claim that Amazon's cloud revenue is $4.7B this year, supposedly x30 bigger than Microsoft ($156M) and x70 Google's ($66M) ([1])

    • "We have a 10 petabyte data warehouse on S3" ([1])

    • Google's Eric Schmidt says, "Our biggest search competitor is Amazon" ([1])

    • Apple was and still is almost entirely an iPhone company ([1])

    • Tablet sales are projected to be flat now, and the growth boom for tablets appears to be done ([1])

    • But, it's interesting that specialized, expensive, and often poorly done custom hardware is getting replaced with a cheap touchscreen tablet ([1])

    • So far, it doesn't look like Windows 10 is going to fix what was wrong with Windows 8 ([1])

    • What? "Microsoft loves Linux" ([1] [2])

    • Delivery startups are back: "Silicon Valley wants to save you from ever having to leave your couch. Will it work this time around?" ([1])

    • Despite the difficulty older adults have with tiny mobile keyboards, older adults and seniors don't use voice search much ([1])

    • Speculation that hardware to enable gesture control on mobile phones will be widespread on new phones next year ([1])

    • A claim that "solar will soon reach price parity with conventional electricity in well over half the nation: 36 states" ([1])

    • "HP’s Multi Jet Fusion printer can crank out objects 10 times faster than any machine that’s on the market today ... 3D print heads that can operate 10,000 nozzles at once, while tracking designs to a five-micron precision." ([1] [2])

    • Is biology about to be transformed by the use of many drones to gather lots of data? ([1] [2])

    • More evidence that some of the best innovations come from combining ideas from two very separate fields ([1])

    • "Every success in AI redefines it. But we haven't just been redefining what we mean by AI-we've been redefining what it means to be human [and intelligent]." ([1])

    • "China is merely regaining a title that it has held for much of recorded history" ([1])

    • Funny Dilbert comic on multitasking and checking e-mail too often ([1])

    • The Onion: "This already vanishing glimmer of pleasure is exactly what we've come to expect from Apple" ([1])

    • Great SMBC comic: "The humans aren't doing what the math says. The humans must be broken." ([1])


  • At what point is an over-the-air TV antenna too long to be legal?
    You can get over-the-air HDTV signals using an antenna. This antenna gets a better, stronger signal with less interference if it is direct line-of-sight and as near as possible to the broadcast towers. So, you might want an antenna that is up high or even some distance away to get the best signal.

    But if you try to do this, you immediately run into a question: At what point does that antenna become too long to be legal or the signal from the antenna is transmitted in a way where it is no longer legal?

    Let's say I put an antenna behind my TV hooked up with a wire. That's obviously legal and what many people currently do.

    Let's say I put an antenna outside on top of a tree or my garage and run a wire inside. Still seems obviously legal.

    Let's say I put an antenna on top of my roof. Still clearly fine.

    Let's say I put it on my neighbor's roof and run a wire to my TV. Still ok?

    Let's say I put the antenna on my neighbor's roof, but have the antenna connect to my WiFi network and transmit the signal using my local area network instead of using a direct wired cable connection. Still ok?

    Let's say I put the antenna on my neighbor's roof, but have the antenna connect to my neighbor's WiFi network and transmit the signal over their WiFi, over the internet, then to my WiFi, instead of using a direct wired cable connection. Still ok?

    Let's say I put my antenna on my neighbor's roof, but my neighbor won't do this for free. I have to pay a small amount of rent to my neighbor for the space on his roof used by my antenna. I also have the antenna connect to my neighbor's WiFi network and transmit its signal over their WiFi, over the internet, then to my WiFi, instead of using a direct wired cable connection. Still ok?

    Let's say, like before, I put my antenna on my neighbor's roof, pay the neighbor rent for the space on his roof, use the internet to transmit the antenna's signal. But, this time, I buy the antenna from my neighbor at the beginning (and, like before, I own it now). Is that okay?

    Let's say I put my antenna on my neighbor's roof, pay the neighbor rent for the space on his roof, use the internet to transmit the antenna's signal, but now I rent or lease the antenna from my neighbor. Still ok? If this is not ok, which part is not ok? Is it suddenly ok if I replace the internet connection with a direct microwave relay or hardwired connection?

    Let's say I do all of the last one, but use a neighbor's roof three houses away. Still ok?

    Let's say I do all of the last one, but use a roof on a building five blocks away. Still ok?

    Let's say I rent an antenna on top of a skyscraper in downtown Seattle and have the signal sent to me over the internet. Not ok?

    The Supreme Court recently ruled Aereo is illegal. Aereo put small antennas in a building and rented them to people. The only thing they did beyond the last thing above is time-shifting, so they would not necessary send the signal from the antenna immediately, but instead store it, and only transmit it when demanded.

    You might think it's the time shifting that's the problem, but that didn't seem to be what the Supreme Court said. Rather, they said the intent of the 1976 amendments to US copyright law prohibit community antennas (which is one antenna that sends its signal to multiple homes), labelling those a "public performance". They said Aereo's system was similar in function to a community antenna, despite actually having multiple antennas, and violated the intent of the 1976 law.

    So, the question is, where is the line? Where does my antenna become too distant, transmit using the wrong methods, or involve too many payments to third parties in the operation of the antenna that it becomes illegal? Can it not be longer than X meters? Not transmit its signal in particular ways? Not require rent for the equipment or space on which the antenna sits? Not store the signal at the antenna and transmit it only on demand? What is the line?

    I think this question is interesting for two reasons. First, as an individual, I would love to have a personal-use over-the-air HDTV antenna that gets a much better reception than the obstructed and inefficient placement behind my TV, but I don't know at what point it becomes illegal for me to place an antenna far away from the TV. Second, I suspect many others would like a better signal from their HDTV antenna too, and I'd love to see a startup (or any group) that helped people set up these antennas, but it is very unclear what it might be legal for a startup to do.

    Thoughts?

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