Archive for the ‘Software’ Category
As Paul Waldman writes in his article, the sheer magnitude of surveillance data available on you—cellphone and landline calls (numbers called, content, duration, frequency,…), credit card transactions, web-browsing history—sites, duration, etc.-, web-interaction history (all Facebook stuff, for example). . .
Think about it. Add in the CCTV surveillance cameras with facial-recognition software—and everything else that Waldman writes about.
Then consider: There is no safety in numbers. Our unconscious assumption is that analysts would drown in such a sea of data—but of course, the analysts will not be dealing with the data directly except by drill-down. The grunt work of seeking for patterns and connections will be done by software—initially hand-coded algorithms, then perhaps genetic programming—where the programs evolve in the desired directions, and perhaps neural nets. That would cost a lot, but a lot would be available to develop an All-Seeing Eye that could constantly monitor cyberspace/communications-space and flag as suspicious anything that fits certain criteria (probably state-secret criteria) as well as provide incredible market research for business/politics.
In other words, having such an enormous sea of data just makes it worse: then it becomes a treasure trove of information demanding good AI to mine. We’re well on our way, I bet.
Scrivener (for Mac and Windows, and the two versions use teh same file format) is a superb program for any writing you might do, from a short paper to a screenplay to a magazine article to a book, novel or nonfiction. It’s an amazing program, very easy to use but with many non-obvious capabilities. You can watch the series of training videos, but now James Fallows points out an excellent guide to the program, available as a free PDF download or for $2 as a Kindle edition from Amazon.
Note that you can use Scrivener for 30 days for free. Give it a go with your next writing task. If you like it, it costs $45 to buy.
Read this if you’re a programmer (or interface designer or usability engineer or … etc.):
Max Nanis’s website prominently features about two dozen head shots of the skinny, scruffy 22-year-old Southern Californian with his shirt off. At the top of his “About” page, there’s a personalized contact number (936-CALL-MAX) and a link to 10X Management, his professional representation. It looks like the résumé of an actor, seemingly pitched for casting directors and producers—but Nanis’s background is in computational biology. He’s a coder, part of a generation of programming hotshots starting to view themselves more like Hollywood talent than bit jockeys.
Nanis has his agent at 10X Management working to find him the best freelance programming gigs. Launched about a year ago as a dedicated agency for software developers, 10X now represents more than 30 people, taking a 15 percent cut of its clients’ earnings from each assignment. In exchange for that fee, 10X promises to help guide a programmer’s career development, negotiate with employers for better compensation, and handle the mountain of associated paperwork. “We deal with the necessary evils of being a freelance coder so they don’t have to,” says Altay Guvench, one of the management firm’s founders.
After graduating from Harvard in 2003, Guvench went to Silicon Valley and started a user-generated trivia website. When the site fizzled out a couple years later—“It was a side project that got out of hand,” he says—Guvench became a freelance coder. The flexible lifestyle left him with time to pursue his other love, music. While he was hopping in and out of bands, Guvench ran into Rishon Blumberg and Michael Solomon, a pair of musician managers best known for guiding John Mayer from playing bars to packing stadiums. “Their job is to do the business bulls- - - for these artists,” says Guvench. “So, in this weird experiment, I hired them to act as my agent for freelance programming.”
The experiment worked: . . .
Kevin Drum on an important paper whose importance seems to be unraveling.
So you don’t lose your data if they go belly-up. James Fallows has details.
James Fallows puts his finger on the reason people have lost interest in Google’s cloud software programs. Worth the click.
Our educational system is obsessed with novelty. Remember how many rushed to “The New Math”? That one in particular involved me, and as a college admissions director I once interviewed a student who had worked through the Great Cleveland Mathematics Program (GCMP). So it’s a familiar trope in education, sad and familiar sight. A recent example of the gravy-train bandwagon is reported by Pamela Paul in the NY Times:
WHEN I was a child, I liked to play video games. On my brother’s Atari, I played Night Driver. On his Apple II, I played Microwave, Aztec, and Taipan! When I got to go to the arcade, I played Asteroids and Space Invaders.
Here’s what I learned: At a certain level on Microwave, the music from the bar scene in Star Wars comes on. If I am at the front line when aliens descend to Earth, we’ll all be in trouble. Also, dealing opium in the South China Sea is more lucrative than trading in commodities.
In short, I didn’t learn much of anything. My parents didn’t expect me to. I just had fun.
Today, educational technology boosters believe computer games (the classroom euphemism for video games) should be part of classroom lessons at increasingly early ages. The optimistic theory is that students wearied by the old pencil-and-paper routine will become newly enchanted with phonemic awareness when letters dressed as farm animals dance on a screen.
Last week, GlassLab (Games, Learning and Assessment Lab) unveiled a free version of the role-playing game SimCity created specifically for classrooms. According to its Web site, GlassLab’s mission, in part, is to show that “digital games with a strong simulation component may be effective learning environments.” At the new PlayMaker school in Los Angeles, financed in part by the Gates Foundation, a gaming curriculum includes adventure quests and other educational game apps. A 2012 report by the New Media Consortium identified “game-based learning” as one of the major trends affecting education in the next five years.
Meanwhile, many parents believe that games children play on home computers should edify children, improve their hand-eye coordination and inculcate higher math skills. The most popular apps in the Apple store for toddlers and preschoolers are educational. Even parents who scoff at the idea of toddlers learning from Dora gleefully boast about their 2-year-olds’ having mastered basic math on Mommy’s phone.
The concepts of work and play have become farcically reversed: schoolwork is meant to be superfun; play, like homework, is meant to teach. There’s an underlying fear that if we don’t add interactive elements to lower school curriculums, children won’t be able to handle fractions or develop scientific hypotheses — concepts children learned quite well in school before television.
In a 2012 survey of elementary and middle school teachers by Common Sense Media, . . .
And it is, in fact, a Cool Tool—and I imagine that there are a jillion of these. I am not smart-phoned, so that’s an entire product category I can safely ignore.
UPDATE: After reflection, the remarks below have been revised and extended.
Habits are first cobwebs, then cables, as the saying goes, and the transition from cobweb to cable takes time and consistency, but after four weeks (or 30 days, your choice), a habit is commonly taken to be well established. True cablehood probably takes longer, but 30 consecutive successful days lays a good foundation.
The problem is the consistency part. It’s quite easy to skip a day—just one day—early on, and since you skipped that day, the next day is harder, so maybe restart come Monday… and so it goes.
I have some habits I definitely need to establish. Since giving up Pilates, my primary form of physical exercise has been keyboarding, which obviously is not quite enough. A 45-minute walk daily would be better. (It is some help that my new domicile is on the second floor.)
A long time ago, I signed up at HabitForge.com, and after getting a couple of “come back” emails, I thought I would give it another go. When you enter a habit you want to work on, a drop down list of suggestions appears—obviously, a lot of people want to work on the same habits. I picked up “brush teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once”—why not, and my flossing’s not been what it should be. And I added “45 minute walk daily” and “small lunch and small dinner” to the list, plus “make and follow a daily plan”.
That’s four habits, a reasonably small number. I’m in the second full day, and it seems effective. Somehow, the goal of clicking “I’ve already succeeded” once I’ve accomplished the daily task is quite specific and finite. Whereas (say) a walk is of a kind of indefinite size/time and thus somewhat intimidating, clicking “I’ve already succeeded” is not, and it becomes quickly something the client very much wants to do. So the focus shifts from the walk (both extent and extended action being difficult to picture in the imagination) to the click (very specific and brief and can readily be pictured): I thus see the walk as something to get out of the way so I can click “Succeed” and add another step in the sequence. Same with meals, brushing, and planning: each one is not that big a deal, and by getting them done on consecutive days (which is actually pretty easy), I get to click. Missing a day is severely penalized, with the severity increasing pretty much in line with strength of habit.
And so the habit grows. Worth a look, definitely. (If you miss a day, I assume the arrow goes back to zero—and I’m not testing that.)
My one requested enhancement: each click, instead of simply advancing an arrow one step around a circle (21 days) should work like this:
Clicking “success” suspends a thread from a beam; if there were already 3 threads there, those are first braided into a string and the new thread then added; if the new string makes 3 strings present, those are first braided into a cord and then the new thread is added; if the new cord makes 3 cords present, they are first braided into a rope and then the new thread is added; if the new rope makes 4 ropes, those are first braided into a cable, and then a new thread is added; if the new cable makes 3 cables, the three are braided into a supercable, and a “You win!!” message of some sort flashes. Because success is self-reported, and thus easy to fake, the prize must be of low monetary value. My suggestion: Restart the game but the winner (the guy who made it all the way without missing a single day—for that would restart the game with a bonus of n threads, when the nth restart begins: a small bonus, just to pull them into the next cycle; for some, the bonus will in time be substantial—probably a prize is due the person who achieves number of consecutive restarts = “rope” (or “cable”).
If a day is missed, the beam is cleared, and you start again, with a click of “success” suspending n threads from the beam (braidings as needed) where n is the number of consecutive restarts.
1 Thread = 1 consecutive successful completion
1 String = (3+1) consecutive successful completions since the string is not braided until the next consecutive successful completion: the idea is that in order to see the little “prize” (of watching the braiding), you have to get 1 step into the next cycle: a sunk cost. And since the Sunk Cost Fallacy is frightfully common, this keeps them going: “I don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve made!” and/or “Only two more days to the next braiding!”, which you think on every third day.
1 Cord = (9+1) consecutive successful completions, for the same reason.
1 Rope = (27+1) ditto
1 Cable = (81+1) ditto
1 Super-cable = (243+1) ditto
One expects VERY few to achieve Super-Cable, but the existence of so many levels encourages the client to strive hard not to miss a day because s/he is going to beat the previous record. Thus the encouragement continues long beyond the initial 28-day period: they can keep going, and the further they go, the more determined they become not to miss a day and product a somewhat progressive restart.
So it’s kind of a game, and it also reflects in the strengthening bond how the habit becomes increasingly stronger. And the ultimate level is far enough away that achieving it will be rare, but not so far as to be impossible (as, effectively, (729+1) would be), but also avoids the Super-Super Cable. It starts to sound too much like “Final complete corrected file with the added records and Residual-indicator reset – Try 1″.
I suggest the display show:
a. Highest level ever achieved
b. Number of Restarts achieved
c. A glowing emblem with a number n atop it, n being the number of Super-Cables achieved. Thus players will be encouraged to continue to get some brass on the wall.
How far he’s come from the most recent Restart is shown by the thread/string/cord/etc. display. I encourage no arabic numeral count be shown because the larger number grows intimidating: you really are in the position of Allied troops on the slog through Europe in WWII: you keep going until you are killed. The same thing with bomber crews. Sure, they got to return home after 25 successful missions (did not have to be consecutive, thank God) But seeing the thread/string/etc. display grow, the client feels that s/he is building something, and the creative impetus provides substantial motivation. Thus the images pull the client along, but the numbers would push him/her down.
Feel free to suggest the above device if you try HabitForge, and it’s worth trying if you have a habit you want to establish. Working on one habit is free—and in general, one should not try too many habits at a time. Four is probably stretching it.
Take a look at this post (and its link).
Ben Popper has a very interesting article at The Verge:
The tech team behind the 2012 Obama campaign has probably received more attention than any political programmers in history. A so-called “dream team of engineers from Facebook, Google and Twitter [who] built the software that drove Barack Obama’s reelection” were extolled in the press for bringing Silicon Valley strategies like Agile development to the normally hidebound process of a political campaign. In the post mortems that followed Obama’s victory, many credited the superiority of the Democrats’ tech team and its famous Narwhal platform, in contrast to the failure of Mitt Romney’s digital efforts, with mobilizing the vote and winning crucial swing states.
But in the aftermath of the election, a stark divide has emerged between political operatives and the techies who worked side-by-side. At issue is the code created during the Obama for America (OFA) 2012 campaign: the digital architecture behind the campaign’s website, its system for collecting donations, its email operation, and its mobile app. When the campaign ended, these programmers wanted to put their work back into the coding community for other developers to study and improve upon. Politicians in the Democratic party felt otherwise, arguing that sharing the tech would give away a key advantage to the Republicans. Three months after the election, the data and software is still tightly controlled by the president and his campaign staff, with the fate of the code still largely undecided. It’s a choice the OFA developers warn could not only squander the digital advantage the Democrats now hold, but also severely impact their ability to recruit top tech talent in the future.
“The software itself, much of it will be mothballed,” believes Daniel Ryan, who worked as a director of front-end engineering at OFA. To the techies who supported the campaign, this would be a travesty. The historic work the campaign was able to achieve in such a short time was made possible, Ryan and others argue, because the Obama tech team built on top of open source code — code that has been shared publicly and can be “forked,” essentially edited, by anyone. “The things we built off of open source should go back to the public,” says Manik Rathee, who worked as a user experience engineer with OFA. The team relied on open source frameworks like Rails, Flask, Jekyll and Django. “We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did in one year if we hadn’t been working off open source projects,” says Rathee.
In this sense, the decision to mothball the tech would be a violation of the developers’ ethical principles. But the argument is about more than whether putting the tech back in the hands of the public is the right thing to do. “The biggest issue we saw with all of the commercial election software we used was that it’s only updated every four years,” says Ryan. It was these outdated options that convinced team Obama to build all the campaign tech in-house. If the code OFA built was put on ice at the DNC until 2016, it would become effectively worthless. “None of that will be useful in four years, technology moves too fast,” said Ryan. “But if our work was open and people were forking it and improving it all the time, then it keeps up with changes as we go.”One argument made by the DNC against making OFA’s code open-source is privacy. The campaign collected millions of names, addresses, credit card numbers and, of course, political affiliations. But Rathee says the tech was developed with this in mind. “I understand the need to keep the data sets private, but not the codebase. The work was meant to be modular, so it could go from site to site and be applied to different campaigns without sharing sensitive information.”
Members of the tech team suspect that the real rationale for keeping the code private is much less high-minded. “The gist of it is, they’re concerned that with the superior funding of the Republicans, if they had our software, they’d be unstoppable,” says Ryan.
OFA’s top engineers believe that keeping the code base private would actually do more harm than good to Democrats. . .
Read this post for instructions and links to the reasons why. Quickly, now!
I recently got an email fax that looked perfectly legit, but I couldn’t open the fax attachment—Windows only—so I forwarded it to The Wife’s gmail account so she could open it. Surprise! Gmail rejected the message because the attachment contained a virus.
That made me a little nervous, so I installed Sophos Antivirus for the Mac, which is free. It installed with no problem, and I immediately did a full scan. It spotted the virus in that attachment and found another file that contained a virus as well. Both are safely deleted, and I’m glad to have on-going virus protection.
If you use a Mac, take a look at the link.
Amazing. Article by Hal Hodson in New Scientist:
Ecstasy. Joy. Sadness. Despair. The sweeping lines and blocks of colour in abstract art prompt us to respond emotionally in ways that we do not really understand. Now computers are getting in on the act, and the results could add a new dimension to the weird world of artificial creativity.
The pioneering abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky (whose work is pictured) suggested that the emotional effects of abstract art are “objective, determined by the characteristics of the colours and their interactions”. If that is true, machines should be able to get a handle on those emotions, too.
It turns out that they can. A team led by Nicu Sebe at the University of Trento in Italy used machine vision to analyse 500 abstract paintings at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto. The system measured how colour is distributed across each work, as well as the occurrence of different shapes or outlines. Using data on how 100 people responded to the paintings, the system then worked out what emotional impact these elements had. For example, black, spiky features tended to correspond to the bleaker end of the emotional spectrum, whereas bright, smooth features were more feel-good.
To test the system, the team gave it other artworks to scan and asked it to predict the typical viewer’s emotional response on a sliding scale, from extremely negative to extremely positive. Nearly 80 per cent of the time the system came up with a score that matched the average response of 100 volunteer viewers. The study was presented to the ACM Multimedia conference in Nara, Japan, at the end of October.
James Wang of Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, says that the work opens the door to using emotional data in the creation of more advanced machine art. At the conference, he presented a similar system which predicts the emotions that certain images are likely to arouse. . .
Continue reading. (Later in the article, a link to an interesting video.)
Scrivener is a program for writing, and it’s fantastic—and it runs on Macs and Windows machines. Now he’s come out with Scapple, which might be a Mac answer (finally) to the superb Windows program OneNote.
James Fallows describes it here.
On Time Machine: My iCal suddenly lost all its appointments for no reason I can figure out. They were there one day, and a couple of days later the calendar was wiped clean. But I had regularly backed up to Time Machine, so restoring the Calendar would be simple—I thought.
Not so. So far as I can figure out, restoring the Calendar is well-nigh impossible. You have to go to ~/Library, but Lion carefully hides that file so you can’t find it. You can use Finder—Go > Go to folder > Library—but of course Time Machine lacks the “Go” prompt on its menu. And even if you get to Library, it’s not easy. So restoring the Calendar is impossible for the general run of user, which makes its self-wiping feature a great pain.
OTOH, I was all aflutter to figure out how to change the order of accounts in Mail > Preferences > Accounts. Reason: I recently added a little-used account, and since it was the more recently added, it became the default account rather than the earlier account, which I use constantly. Drag and drop doesn’t work in Preferences > Accounts, but you can delete the older account and then add it back. Drawback: that deletes all messages for that account, much too costly.
But in operating in Inbox, when I create a new mail, the default in the dropdown list is the more recent account. This was a great pain, but then I discovered something that solved the problem: you can drag and drop the accounts in Mail itself to reorder them. I dragged my earlier account to be first inside Inbox, and now when I am in Inbox and create a new message, the earlier account is the default. Problem solved.
But the Calendar thing is a great pain, and Time Machine obviously needs some work.