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Geeking with Greg

  • Quick links
    What has caught my attention lately:
    • Dilbert on A/B testing: "Bend to my will and choose the orange button, you mindless click-puppets!" ([1])

    • Major performance increases on smartphones are disappearing, which will slow sales and reduce revenues ([1] [2])

    • Price war in cloud services ([1])

    • On Facebook buying Oculus: "The dominant reaction to the move could be summed up in three letters: WTF" ([1] [2])

    • Remember this? "Companies could cause their stock prices to increase by simply adding an 'e-' prefix to their name or a '.com' to the end, which one author called 'prefix investing'" ([1] [2])

    • VCs favor pitches from attractive men ([1] [2])

    • "We've known for a while that email providers could look into your inbox, but the assumption was that they wouldn't" ([1] [2])

    • Bad new trend: Apps that covertly mine Bitcoins for someone else ([1] [2])

    • More companies should do this: Run large scale surveys of employees to discover what makes people happy and productive ([1])

    • Combining dissimilar fields is hard, but can also lead to discovering lots of low hanging fruit (at least from where you are standing) that no one else has picked ([1])

    • Good idea from a recent Google paper: Mine the web to build up knowledge of objects that are likely and unlikely to co-occur, then use that to accept or reject candidates during object recognition ([1] [2])

    • Cool throwback idea from a recent MSR paper: Old school circuit-switched networks in the data center using cheap commodity FPGAs ([1] [2])

    • “There doesn't need to be a protective shell around our researchers where they think great thoughts" ([1] [2])

    • Surprisingly compelling results: Generate likely 3D models of facial appearance solely from DNA ([1] [2])

    • Stem cells used to grow strong muscles that repair themselves when damaged ([1])

    • The ancient Greeks and Persians had to occasionally fight off lions ([1] [2])

    • Great visualization of conditional probability ([1])

    • Galleries of hilariously useless items ([1] [2])

  • More quick links
    More of what caught my attention recently:
    • Cool new tech, especially for mobile, detecting gesture movements from the changes they make to ambient wireless signals, uses a fraction of the power of other techniques ([1] [2] [3])

    • Also for mobile: "The big trick here is ... two [camera] lenses with two different focal lengths. One lens is wide-angle, while the other is at 3x zoom ... magnify more distant subjects ... improved low-light performance ... noise is reduced ... just as we would if we had one big imaging sensor instead of two little ones ... [and] depth analysis allows ... [auto] blurring out of backgrounds in portrait shots, quicker autofocus, and augmented reality." ([1])

    • "These are not the first artificial muscles to have been created, but they are among the first that are inexpensive and store large amounts of energy" ([1])

    • "Tesla is a glimpse into a future where cars and computers coexist in seamless harmony" ([1])

    • "Fields from anthropology to zoology are becoming information fields. Those who can bend the power of the computer to their will – computational thinking but computer science in greater depth – will be positioned for greater success than those who can’t." ([1] [2])

    • The CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Netflix, and Yahoo have CS degrees

    • Details on fixing What's so impressive is how much they changed the culture in such a short time, from a hierarchical structure where no one would take any responsibility to an egalitarian one where everyone was focused on solving problems. ([1])

    • Clever idea, advertise to find experts on the Web and then get them to answer questions for free by enticing them into playing a little quiz game ([1] [2])

    • "A key to Google’s epic success was the discipline the company maintained around its hiring ... During his first seven years, the executive team met every week to review every single hiring candidate." ([1] [2])

    • "Peter Norvig, Google's research director, said recently that the company employs 'less than 50% but certainly more than 5%' of the world's leading experts on machine learning" ([1])

    • Yahoo is trying to rebuild its research group, which was destroyed by its previous CEO ([1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6])

    • Software increasingly needs to be aware of its power consumption, the cost of power, and the availability of power, and be able to reduce its power consumption when necessary ([1] [2])

    • "Viewers with a buffer-free experience watch 226% more and viewers receiving better picture quality watch 25% longer" ([1])

    • Gaming the most popular lists in the app stores: "Total estimated cost to reach the top ten list: $96,000" ([1] [2])

    • "The Rapiscan 522 B x-ray system used to scan carry-on baggage in airports worldwide ... runs on the outdated Windows 98 operating system, stores user credentials in plain text, and includes a feature called Threat Image Projection used to train screeners by injecting .bmp images of contraband ... [that] could allow a bad guy to project phony images on the X-ray display." ([1])

    • "It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person." ([1])

    • "Ohhh there's not another cable company, is there? Oh that's right we're the only one in town." ([1])

    • It "sounds like it's straight out of a sci-fi horror flick: they thawed some 30,000-year-old permafrost and allowed any viruses present to infect some cells" ([1])

    • Very funny if you (or your kids) are a fan of Portal, educational too, and done by NASA ([1])

    • NPR's "Wait Wait" did a segment on Amazon's "Customers who bought this", very funny ([1])

  • Quick links
    What caught my attention lately:
    • Colorful description of Google's servers in 1999: "A thin layer of cork to protect the motherboards from the cookie trays on which they were mounted ... Rack switches were bungee corded to the water pipes above the cage to prevent them from toppling off the tops of the racks." ([1])

    • A critical part of the 1971 break-in that exposed the FBI spied on civil rights groups: "One of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: 'Please don't lock this door tonight'" ([1])

    • "We have no evidence that any of this [NSA] surveillance makes us safer ... Bulk collection of data and metadata is an ineffective counterterrorism tool .... And ... it's extremely freaky that Congress has such a difficult time getting information out of the NSA." ([1] [2] [3])

    • "Chromebooks have come from nowhere to grab ... 19% of the K-12 market for mobile computers in the U.S. in 2013 ... In 2012, Chromebooks represented less than 1% of the market" ([1] [2])

    • Amazon (and online in general) is killing off physical stores rapidly: "Borders has closed ... All major music retailers are out of business ... recently announced that it would close its remaining 300 company-owned Blockbuster stores ... Circuit City has closed ... all of the computer superstores are long gone ... Staples ... has closed 107 stores in the past year ... Sales at Sears have declined for 27 straight quarters" ([1] [2])

    • The T-mobile CEO says, "This industry blows. It's just broken ... total horseshit ... a pile of spectrum waiting to be turned into a capability." ([1])

    • "Less than two years after acquiring it, Google is ditching Motorola" ([1] [2] [3] [4])

    • Microsoft in a nutshell: "Basically, consumer PC sales are tanking, but sales to enterprises are strong." ([1] [2] [3])

    • Someone should do something about this: "Sales of banner and video ads slipped 6% in the fourth quarter and search ad sales fell 4%. Yahoo was once the Web's advertising leader, but over the past several years has fallen behind rivals Google and Facebook ... Many are wondering if Yahoo has what it takes to compete in the online ad space with companies like Google and Facebook" ([1] [2])

    • "Open [plan] offices ... were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction" ([1] [2])

    • Target's credit cards were stolen through its website. Amazon used to run Target's website for them, but Target dropped Amazon in 2011 and outsourced to others, probably because Target execs thought it would be cheaper. ([1] [2] [3] [4])

    • “Patents [trolls] are unproductive, undead, unholy, and intent on sucking economic and entrepreneurial lifeblood” ([1] [2])

    • The studios have been fighting for DRM for 35+ years and been awful at every step: "In 1976 ... the studios ... said that home taping was illegal. They hoped to force ... a royalty for each device and cassette sold or to withdraw [the devices] from the market" ([1])

    • TouchDevelop from Microsoft Research is impressive, similar to Scratch, teaches kids to code ([1] [2])

    • A funny and accurate summary of what research labs look like in industry ([1])

    • Seems that viruses have won the selfish gene war: "Viruses are by far the most abundant biological entities in the oceans, comprising approximately 94% of the nucleic-acid-containing particles" ([1] [2])

    • Connectivity in a network determines whether you get a system where people benefit from their position or their talent ([1] [2])

    • Amazing SIGGRAPH video using evolutionary optimization to discover muscle placement and controllers for 3D models ([1] [2])

    • For we old geeks, a Mac Plus emulated in the browser, amazing ([1] [2] [3])

    • The CEOs of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Yahoo all have Computer Science degrees ([1] [2] [3] [4] [5])

    • "Software developer rose from No. 7 in 2013 to this year's most attractive profession" ([1] [2])

  • Shouldn't wearable computing let you be super human?
    Wearable computing so far seems to be going after mimicking a tablet, but I wonder if the real success will be in augmented perception.

    Current smartwatches are clumsy. They require an impossible tradeoff between having enough space for a touchscreen and not having a brick on your wrist. The early prototypes of smart glasses like Google Glass are similar, focusing on screens floating in front of your vision and existing smartphone features like recording video and taking pictures, but having difficulty cleanly handling input and the tasks you would use a smartphone or a tablet for. Some of this may be solvable with sufficiently perfect voice and gesture recognition, but that remains impossible with any tech that looks likely to be available in the next few years.

    What no one seems to be asking is, do people really want a tablet on their wrist or tablet-like screen floating in front of their vision when they already have a smartphone in their pocket? Why would they want something they wear that is just like the smartphone they already have?

    But what if you could put on a pair of normal-looking glasses (or contacts) and insert a small device into an ear, and then suddenly you are subtly superhuman?

    I bet a lot of people would like to be able to see in infrared, have telescopic and microscopic vision, and be able to hear outside of the normal range of frequencies and volumes. I bet people would like to be able to see microexpressions, pupil dilation, skin flushes, and pulse rate changes easily. I bet people would enjoy small informational hints when they walk around like being reminded of names and who people are when they are in meetings or important road or directional cues brightened and enhanced.

    From a tech perspective, this avoids a lot of the hard I/O problems plaguing the UX on current attempts at smartwatches and on Google Glass. You don't need a large touchscreen on your wrist. You don't need to type. You don't need perfect voice and gesture recognition to make this work. Augmented perception may be closer to achievable with what we already have: tiny HD cameras, virtual displays, and access to computation. And it provides something useful that we don't already have. Shouldn't augmented perception be the goal of wearable computing?

    Tablets are pretty good at being tablets. And smartphones are pretty good at being smartphones. Wearable computing, like glasses and watches, shouldn't be mimicking what's already out there. They should let us do something new, something we cannot currently do.

  • Quick links
    What caught my attention lately:
    • Windows 8 has caused a big drop in PC sales to businesses, most of which has been picked up by Google Chromebooks, not by Apple ([1])

    • Eric Schmidt said, "Every once in a while a perfect storm occurs. Your competitors make some mistakes. You end up with the right product at the right time. There are really no other good choices of products ... That's what happened with Android." ([1])

    • Both the Google Nexus 5 and Moto G are being reviewed as the best phones on the market at half the price of the competition ([1] [2])

    • The iPhone wasn't created because Apple wanted to build a great phone but as a defensive move to protect iPod sales ([1])

    • Interesting experiment: "Zappos is going holacratic: no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy" ([1])

    • Great summary of Netflix's internal practices: "Be honest, and treat people like adults" ([1] [2])

    • Simple and apparently extremely effective idea for combating click fraud, just consider anything with bad ROI for the advertiser to be click fraud ([1] [2])

    • Hal Varian says, "Small datasets will become increasingly inadequate to deal with new problems." ([1] [2])

    • A big difference between our machine learning systems and how humans learn is how to correct errors. "You don't lock [a friend] in a room with terabytes of training data and ask him to spend a week updating his parameters." ([1] [2])

    • Computers make noises when they work harder, and you can use that to crack encryption ([1] [2] [3])

    • That clickthrough agreement you just accepted? Now your computer is owned and mining bitcoins for someone else. ([1])

    • Sounds paranoid, but it appears to be true that the government has a trail on your location (where you have been and where you are) if you have your cell phone on ([1])

    • "The Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies ... half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts ... repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft" ([1])

    • A/B testing international aid ([1])

    • "The results consistently showed that drugs and exercise produced almost exactly the same results." ([1])

    • Entanglement works by punching a hole through space-time? ([1])

    • Xkcd on hashtags: "The cycle seems to be 'we need these symbols to clarify what types of things we're referring to!' followed by 'wait, it turns out words already do that.'" ([1])

    • "Chase execs probably thought they were going to be inundated with questions, like, 'What steps can I take to try to become as totally awesome as all of you?'" ([1])

    • The Onion mocks internet ads: "This entire industry we call journalism exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to sell ads. Lots of ads. Big, stupid ads." ([1])

    • Impressive demo video of an unusual means of motion: "A cube that can jump, balance, and walk" ([1])

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