30 December 2016

Bloomberg: “Confessions of an Instagram Influencer”

Earlier this year, on the marketing website Digiday, an anonymous social media executive ranted that marketers were essentially throwing money away on influencers, whom the ranter characterized as talentless. That made me curious, and I started asking around to understand just how hard this job really is. Some swore the work is difficult. If it was so easy to be an influencer, then every single person on earth would do it, said Gary Vaynerchuk, who parlayed a YouTube channel into an ad agency, VaynerMedia, that specializes in social media marketing and now employs about 750 people. But another influencer guru, Daniel Saynt of the agency Socialyte, disputed that. With the right guidance, he said, almost anyone could Instagram professionally. To prove it, he made me an offer: He’d help me become an influencer myself.

The plan, which I worked out with my editor and a slightly confused Bloomberg Businessweek lawyer, was this: With Saynt’s company advising me, I would go undercover for a month, attempting to turn my schlubby @mchafkin profile into that of a full-fledged influencer. I would do everything possible within legal bounds to amass as many followers as I could. My niche would be men’s fashion, a fast-growing category in which I clearly had no experience. The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay me cash money for my influence.

Max Chafkin

A ‘My Fair Lady’ story for the 21st century.

25 December 2016

Kij Johnson – The Cat who walked a Thousand Miles

in Bucharest, Romania
The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles by Kij Johnson

Demult, pe vremea când pisicile era rare în Japonia, în capitală trăia un clan de pisici. Adunate într‑o casă părăsită, ele își duceau zilele vânând prin grădină, crescându‑și pisicii și depănând poveștile de familie care formează esența legăturii dintre ele. Acolo trăia Pisica cea Mică, a cărei stră‑străbunică sosise de undeva din Nord după o călătorie lungă și plină de peripeții care a intrat în fudoki‑ul familiei de pisici. Un incendiu devastează însă orașul, atingând și casa pisicilor; acestea fug speriate în toate părțile și dintr‑o dată Pisica cea Mică se trezește singură într‑un oraș mare și ostil. Amintindu‑și de călătoria din Nord a strămoașei ei, se decide să refacă drumul înapoi spre clanul de pisici din care aceasta plecase.

Povestirea e relativ scurtă, relatată într‑un mod simplu și direct, fără înflorituri sau dramatizări inutile. Din perspectiva mea (care poate nu e cea mai potrivită, de vreme ce nu am experiență cu copiii) pare o poveste bună de citit copiilor, în special celor care împart casa cu o pisică, deși asta nu înseamnă că adulții n‑o pot savura. Are aventuri și întorsături, exemple de camaraderie și afecțiune, dar și de trădare și egoism. Și mai presus de toate o morală demnă de ținut minte: în adâncul nostru toți ne dorim un cămin, o familie în care să fim acceptați, dar de multe ori asta necesită efort și sacrificii, o călătorie de mii de mile care ne va marca viața și moștenirea.

At first the servants in the house kicked at Small Cat whenever she was close, but the monk stopped them. “But she’s a demon!” the young wife said.

“If she is,” the monk said, “she means no harm. She has her own destiny. She deserves to be left in peace to fulfill it.”

“What destiny is that?” the innkeeper asked.

“Do you know your destiny?” the monk asked. She shook her head, and slowly everyone else shook their heads as well. The monk said, “Well, then. Why should she know hers?”

Nota mea: 3.5

disponibilă online pe site‑ul editurii Tor

23 December 2016

BuzzFeed News: “Uber can now Find Your Friends without needing an address from you”

How it works: First, you have to give Uber access to your contacts; then you’d enter a friend’s name as the destination. Uber will ping that friend, asking to access the GPS on their phone to confirm the destination, and once they accept, you’ll be on your way.

Important note: Uber won’t follow the friend as they move around. One they confirm their location, it’s a static destination. The friend you set as your destination also has to answer Uber within 30 minutes.

Blake Montgomery

Sounds like a really useful feature, and likely one of the reasons Uber recently updated its app to constantly track users’ location. But I don’t really understand how this 30 minutes interval until your friend shares his location is supposed to work: is the driver going to wait for confirmation? Or do both driver and passenger drive around aimlessly in the Uber car until they get a destination? If the friend refuses your request do you still get partially billed for the trip?

22 December 2016

Business Insider: “Apple’s new AirPods are good, but get ready to make a lot of tradeoffs”

The second major problem is much worse though. Controlling audio with the AirPods is a frustrating experience.

Since there are limited physical controls on the AirPods, you have to use Siri for everything. For example, if you want to raise the volume, you have to double tap the one of the AirPods. That pauses your music and activates Siri. Then you have to tell Siri to raise or lower the volume. Assuming Siri understands you, the music starts playing again at the adjusted volume. But if the volume isn't what you wanted, you have to go through the process again.

Oh, and Siri needs an internet connection to work. So, yeah, you literally need an internet connection just to adjust the volume or switch tracks using the AirPods. Welcome to 2016.

Steve Kovach

After months of unexplained delays, Apple’s AirPods are now available for purchase, triggering a new wave of reviews and revelations. My favorite this time around: Siri is required to control the volume and Siri only works with an active Internet connection, so if you lose the signal (like in the subway or on a flight), you can’t control the volume anymore! Speechless.

19 December 2016

The Guardian: “Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster”

The source of the problem was the system that had done so much to keep A330s safe for 15 years, across millions of miles of flying: the fly-by-wire. Or more precisely, the problem was not fly-by-wire, but the fact that the pilots had grown to rely on it. Bonin was suffering from a problem called mode confusion. Perhaps he did not realise that the plane had switched to the alternate mode that would provide him with far less assistance. Perhaps he knew the plane had switched modes, but did not fully understand the implication: that his plane would now let him stall. That is the most plausible reason Bonin and Robert ignored the alarm – they assumed this was the plane’s way of telling them that it was intervening to prevent a stall. In short, Bonin stalled the aircraft because in his gut he felt it was impossible to stall the aircraft.

Gary Klein, a psychologist who specialises in the study of expert and intuitive decision-making, summarises the problem: When the algorithms are making the decisions, people often stop working to get better. The algorithms can make it hard to diagnose reasons for failures. As people become more dependent on algorithms, their judgment may erode, making them depend even more on the algorithms. That process sets up a vicious cycle. People get passive and less vigilant when algorithms make the decisions.

Tim Harford

A problem that will only be exacerbated by the migration to self-driving cars on the roads and software assistants all around us: as more and more tasks are delegated to algorithms, people loose the ability to make fast and accurate decisions. Without practical experience, drivers of self-driving cars will not know how to react in the fringe situations where AI fails, possibly leading to less crashes, but more severe and harder to prevent.

Verge 2021: “Humanity and AI will be inseparable”

Do you think we’ll get to a point where we can ask personal assistants something like, Oh, the check engine light turned on in my car, should I take it in? Or Google, I just got this job offer, should I take it?

I think you might. These types of questions are decision-making questions — but suppose you had to decide between health insurance plans and you were confused about all the options. You might tell Alexa as you were going to sleep, “Alexa, why don’t you look at all these health insurance plans, or all these cars I can buy, or these schools my kid can go to”, and it could compile a report for you overnight.

Russell Brandom

“Alexa, who should I vote for president?” – I think that’s a safe question to leave for the AI, right?

17 December 2016

The New Yorker: “Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency”

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

Trump had triumphed in rural America by appealing to a ferment of anti-urban, anti-coastal feeling. And yet Obama dismissed the notion that the Republicans had captured the issue of inequality. “The Republicans don’t care about that issue,” he said. “There’s no pretense that anything that they’re putting forward, any congressional proposals that are going to come forward, will reduce inequality… What I do concern myself with, and the Democratic Party is going to have to concern itself with, is the fact that the confluence of globalization and technology is making the gap between rich and poor, the mismatch in power between capital and labor, greater all the time. And that’s true globally.”

David Remnick

Some valid observations here from President Obama about social media, its noxious role in the recent US election, and the complicated social challenges brought about by globalization and automation. Unfortunately, his long-term vision interferes with his ability to act decisively on the short term, as recently demonstrated (again) by the Russian hacking scandal: Obama knew about it for more than a year, and his lack of reaction may have ironically cost Hilary Clinton the presidency.

11 December 2016

‘The Expanse’ (SyFy, season 1)

in Bucharest, Romania
The Expanse | Syfy

Two centuries into the future, humanity has spread throughout the inner Solar System. Mars is a thriving colony with a powerful navy intent on challenging the dominance of an overpopulated and declining Earth. The newer colonies in the Belt, who are supplying Earth’s raw materials and Mars’ water, are trying to assert their independence against these two powers effectively locked in Cold War. Against this background, an incident at the fringe of human space threatens to ignite tensions into a full blown interplanetary conflict: the ice hauler Canterbury is destroyed near the rings of Saturn and the survivors publicly blame it on the nearby Mars Navy ship who rescues them. On Ceres, the local detective Joe Miller is on the trail of a missing rich girl from Earth and soon runs into the Belter Resistance. Meanwhile on Earth, UN Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala is trying to prevent the war by any means necessary – including torture and betraying old friends.

I picked up the first season of The Expanse as it recently became available worldwide on Netflix and ended up completely underwhelmed. I’ve read many praises and comparisons with the recent Battlestar: Galactica but I didn’t see any convincing evidence of similar quality. The scenes starring Chrisjen have real depth, a sense of intrigue and impending threat that must be dealt with. But otherwise detective Miller is running around in the Ceres tunnels beating the crap out of criminals, getting wasted and making enemies. Jim Holden and the other survivors of the Cant are jumping from one tense situation to the next with barely a scratch and manage to get hold of a new state-of-the-art ship in the process. Some of the scenes showing critical events in the past or other parts of the solar system can be confusing, as it’s not very clear how they relate to current characters. Unfortunately, we’re spending too much time following Miller and Holden and much less with Chrisjen.