30 January 2018

BuzzFeed News: “Facebook’s Bad Idea: Crowdsourced Ratings Work for Toasters, but not News”

Consumer reviews of products like toasters work because we have direct experience using them. Consumer reviews of news sources don’t work because we can’t personally verify the facts from direct experience; instead, our opinions of news are driven by strong emotional attachments to underlying sociopolitical issues. Put simply, our research shows that we’ll trust anyone to be objective about their kitchen appliances, but when it comes to news, we want experts who can verify the facts.

Second, user ratings are easily manipulated. We rely on online reviews, but research shows that 15-20% of online reviews are fake. Fake reviews are more common on websites that don’t verify whether the user has actually used the product or service. Zuckerberg said that Facebook would only accept ratings from users who say they are familiar with the news sources they are judging, but the honor system, while logical, won’t stop fake reviews.

Alan Dennis, Antino Kim & Tricia Moravec

Facebook has been struggling with its fake news problem for over a year, but apparently they still haven’t got a clue how to fix it. Their latest idea: just make people vote on what they think are reliable news sources. Never mind that this so-called solution raises more questions than it answers; personally, I fail to understand how this proposal is any different than the way News Feed algorithms selected news items until now. Instead on implicitly guessing your opinions and political attachments (by analyzing likes and reactions to previous posts and links), Facebook wants to ask people to list them explicitly… What could possibly go wrong?

21 January 2018

Reading stats for 2017

This past year hasn’t been very productive in terms of reading for me: I’ve finished only 18 books, down from 22 in 2016. This is due in part to consuming more long-form articles and podcasts on my daily work commute, but also to personal issues in the latter half of the year, which are affecting the frequency of posting on the blog as well. On the other hand, the number of pages read hasn’t dropped so significantly, from 6400 to 6040; the biggest contributor here was most likely the massive novel The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton. It alone accounts for 28.5% for the number of pages I’ve read during 2017.

20 January 2018

The Guardian: “Orbiting Jupiter: my week with Emmanuel Macron”

Watching him, I was reminded of the opening credits of the TV series The Young Pope, in which Jude Law, dressed in an immaculate cassock, advances across the screen as if on a cloud, in slow motion, weightless, and at one point turns and winks at the camera. Macron winks often. He did it to me. In any event, no matter what you think of him, whether you see his rise as a political miracle or a mirage destined to fade away, everyone agrees: he could seduce a chair. The professional commentators who started to drop him after just a few months of his presidency can keep calling him a powdered marquis, a megalomaniac with royal pretensions, a rich man’s president or a communicator without a cause, but he couldn’t care less. The people, by contrast, with whom he is directly, physically in contact, are his bread and butter. Anyone who’s had their hand shaken by Macron is lost to the opposition: they’re destined to vote Macron and to convert to Macronism. But you can’t shake hands with everyone in the country. And anyway, just what is Macronism?

Emmanuel Carrère

Quite the pompous title for this piece on France’s recently-elected President, Emmanuel Macron. I find it a little disturbing how self-confident he sounds in this article; I think he will either transform the world – or France at least – or (more likely) fail miserably, as others have before him. The contrast with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is particularly striking; one has to wonder how will they find a common path forward leading the European Union in these turbulent times.

05 January 2018

The New York Times: “Researchers discover Two Major Flaws in the World’s Computers”

The Meltdown flaw is specific to Intel, but Spectre is a flaw in design that has been used by many processor manufacturers for decades. It affects virtually all microprocessors on the market, including chips made by AMD that share Intel’s design and the many chips based on designs from ARM in Britain.

Spectre is a problem in the fundamental way processors are designed, and the threat from Spectre is “going to live with us for decades”, said Mr. Kocher, the president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research, a division of Rambus.

“Whereas Meltdown is an urgent crisis, Spectre affects virtually all fast microprocessors”, Mr. Kocher said. An emphasis on speed while designing new chips has left them vulnerable to security issues, he said.

“We’ve really screwed up”, Mr. Kocher said. “There’s been this desire from the industry to be as fast as possible and secure at the same time. Spectre shows that you cannot have both.”

Cade Metz & Nicole Perlroth

So 2018 is off to a great start, with the disclosure of major hardware-based security vulnerabilities in virtually every computer around us. It’s never been a better idea to update your operating system and browser to protect your data, at least partially. Windows users need to be particularly careful, as the Microsoft fix is apparently interfering with some third-party antivirus software – there’s a compatibility list here – and more advice here and in the official support documentation.

01 January 2018

Engadget: “Twitter is developing a ‘Save for Later’ bookmarking feature”

While most tweets are a quick read, a lot of people still want a way to save those worthy of a more in-depth inspection. After getting tons of requests for a "Save for Later" feature, the company has finally started developing a Bookmarking tool during its annual Hack Week activities. Twitter product manager Jesar Shah has announced the feature on the platform and posted a quick demo of the prototype they created at the event.

Mariella Moon

The feature appeared in my account sometime in the past week, but curiously only when I’m using Twitter Lite, their new mobile website; there’s no sign of bookmarking in either the regular desktop site or in the official iOS app. As the article above mentions, this experiment replaces the ‘send via direct message’ icon with a new menu, which includes the option to add the tweet to bookmarks. There is also a new entry in the profile menu for Bookmarks, where you can access your saved tweets.