Archive for the ‘Software’ Category
In the Washington Post Jonathan Capeheart has a very thought-provoking audio interview, accompanied by a report that includes an interesting quotation from the interview. That reportbegins:
“We’re in a period analogous, truly analogous, to the time in Europe just after Gutenberg mechanized the Chinese invention of the printing press,”Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, told me. “After Gutenberg, any Tom, Dick or Martin Luthercould print whatever they want, and it took a hundred years to figure out, to sort it all out.”
The 11th episode of “Cape Up” is all about the state of journalism in the age of social media. “Confused,” is how Ibargüen describes it. The former publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald pointed out that while two Supreme Court decisions have shaped our present-day understanding of the First Amendment as it pertains to newspapers and broadcast television, “The law of First Amendment as to Internet … simply isn’t settled.”
In an effort to “help shape First Amendment law” in the digital age, the Knight Foundation and Columbia University announced in May the creation of the Knight First Amendment Institute at the Ivy League school in New York. Ibargüen told me that when such cases come before the court, “I want somebody at the table, somebody at the courthouse that is saying, ‘Let’s err on the side of transparency. Let’s err on the side of free speech.’ ” But what he said next highlighted the unanswered legal questions facing all of us: Congress, companies, courts and consumers.
That’s not to say that everything is black-and-white. We know it isn’t. The First Amendment itself isn’t. Although, the First Amendment is fairly clear. It says, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, a redress of grievance.” Five phenomenal rights. But they also don’t say, well, what happens if it is not Congress? What happens if it’s Google? … Think about it. Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have more ability to control what we know or think we know than anything in history. Than anyone in history. Than any government has ever had.
We talked about the power of search-engine programmers to mold what we accept as facts. “Even algorithms have parents,” Ibargüen said, “and the parents, the programmers, imbue the algorithm, consciously or not consciously, with some kind of values.” He went on to talk about what happened when you typed “thug” into Google. The ensuing controversy forced changes, so now when you type the word in you get an array of “thug” choices to search. “Somehow that algorithm knows what it is supposed to present,” Ibargüen told me, “and that affects what we think and what we think we know.”
And read this as well: how corporations are programming you—that sounds like corny science-fiction, but it’s behavioral design: it’s here now and it works. On you, and me.
Mass customization of the prices you pay—figuring in the phone or computer you’re using and your ZIP code
Shopping on-line can mean that the page and prices you see are not seen by others: you may be paying more (or less) than others, certain products may not be shown to you, and in general your shopping experience is shaped by algorithms that use whatever information they can access about your to more efficiently siphon away your money. Julia Angwin, Terry Parris Jr. and Surya Mattu report in ProPublica, as part of a series:
You may not realize it, but every website you visit is created, literally, the moment you arrive. Each element of the page — the pictures, the ads, the text, the comments — live on computers in different places and are sent to your device when you request them.
That means that it’s easy for companies to create different web pages for different people. Sometimes that customization is helpful, such as when you see search results for restaurants near you. Sometimes it can be creepy, such as when ads follow you around from website to website. And sometimes customization can cost you money, research has shown. Orbitz showed higher-priced hotels to owners of Mac computers, for instance. Staples offered the same products at higher prices to people living in certain ZIP codes.
Last year, we found that The Princeton Review was charging different prices for its online SAT tutoring course in different ZIP codes. In some ZIP codes, the course cost $6,600; in others that same course was offered for as much as $8,400.
Charging different prices to different geographic regions is regulated in Europe, but is not in the United States. In this case, it resulted in inadvertent discrimination. Our analysis found that Asians were nearly twice as likely to get that higher price from The Princeton Review than non-Asians. Asians make up 4.9 percent of the U.S. population overall, but they accounted for more than 8 percent of the population in areas where The Princeton Review was charging higher prices for its SAT prep packages.
Consider the difference between two ZIP codes with similar incomes in Texas. In Houston’s ZIP code 77072, with a relatively large Asian population, the Princeton Review course was offered for $7,200. While in Dallas’ ZIP code 75203, with almost no Asians, the course was offered for $6,600. And in heavily Asian, low-income Queens ZIP code 11355, the course was offered for $8,400. . .
Paprika Recipe Manager is offered on a variety of platforms, including smartphones, and can use the cloud to keep the database in synch across your devices. But I’m an old fuddy-duddy and just use a Macbook, so I paid $20 to get it.
The problem, as TYD pointed out, is that I have scores if not hundreds of Recipes in Word documents, including a couple of documents that are recipe collections, though many of them are single-recipe documents: a page that I print when I want to make it.
So how to do the conversion? Paprika does have an import capability, but I didn’t even look at that. I’m sure it has specific format requirements, etc. So here’s how I’m doing it: When I discover a new recipe, I capture it into Paprika Recipe Manager. I no longer keep a Word document (though I still have those old ones), so the Paprika recipe is it. I immediately edit it to assign a category and make any changes I want. Then, when I want to cook it, I use the very nice print function on Paprika to print it.
So all new recipes go into Paprika directly. And then each time I make an old recipe, I first enter it into Paprika (and with copy-paste it’s a cinch) and then print it from there. So old recipes are gradually brought over, and in a logical order: popularity.
Sometimes I take a food photo, since Paprika can show a photo with recipe title. I did that when I brought over Shari’s Chicken Marinade (which I’ve blogged).
I’m very happy with the program. It’s by far the best recipe database I’ve used. They finally got it right: memetic evolution in action.
UPDATE: You create the categories to which a recipe can be assigned, and the categories are check boxes, not radio buttons, so you check all the categories to which a recipe might belong. A single recipe thus might be in the categories “Snack,” “Lunch,” “Halloween,” “Uncle Ted,” and “Low-carb.” When you click “All recipes” you see it once; if you click any category, you see all recipes in that category.
Here’s my current main page in Paprika. You’ll note the recipes are in alphabetic order. BTW, when the menu mentions a time (“simmer 10 minutes,” for example), Paprika highlights the time (“10 minutes”) and if you click it, a countdown timer (set at 10 minutes in this example) pops up. Not so useful on my computer, but nice if you’re using an iPad or smartphone.
Julia Angwin and Surya Mattu report in ProPublica:
One day recently, we visited Amazon’s website in search of the best deal on Loctite super glue, the essential home repair tool for fixing everything from broken eyeglass frames to shattered ceramics.
In an instant, Amazon’s software sifted through dozens of combinations of price and shipping, some of which were cheaper than what one might find at a local store. TheHardwareCity.com, an online retailer from Farmers Branch, Texas, with a 95 percent customer satisfaction rating, was selling Loctite for $6.75 with free shipping. Fat Boy Tools of Massillon, Ohio, a competitor with a similar customer rating was nearly as cheap: $7.27with free shipping.
The computer program brushed aside those offers, instead selecting the vial of glue sold by Amazon itself for slightly more, $7.80. This seemed like a plausible choice until another click of the mouse revealed shipping costs of $6.51. That brought the total cost, before taxes, to $14.31, or nearly double the price Amazon had listed on the initial page.
What kind of sophisticated shopping algorithm steers customers to a product that costs so much more than seemingly comparable alternatives?
One that substantially favors Amazon and sellers it charges for services, an examination by ProPublica found.
Amazon often says it seeks to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Jeffrey P. Bezos, its founder and CEO, has been known to put an empty chair in meetings to remind employees of the need to focus on the customer. But in fact, the company appears to be using its market power and proprietary algorithm to advantage itself at the expense of sellers and many customers.
Unseen and almost wholly unregulated, algorithms play an increasingly important role in broad swaths of American life. They figure in decisions large and small, from whether a person qualifies for a mortgage to the sentence someone convicted of a crime might serve. The weightings and variables that underlie these equations are often closely guarded secrets known only to people at the companies that design and use them.
But while the math is hidden from public view, the effects of algorithms can be vast. With more than 300 million active customer accounts and more than $100 billion in annual revenue, Amazon is a shopping giant whose algorithm can make or break other retailers. And so ProPublica set out to see how Amazon’s software was shaping the marketplace.
We looked at 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks to see which ones were selected for the most prominent placement on Amazon’s virtual shelves — the so-called “buy box” that pops up first as a suggested purchase. About three-quarters of the time, Amazon placed its own products and those of companies that pay for its services in that position even when there were substantially cheaper offers available from others.
That turns out to be an important edge. Most Amazon shoppers end up clicking “add to cart” for the offer highlighted in the buy box. “It’s the most valuable small button on the Internet today,” said Shmuli Goldberg, an Israeli technologist who has extensively studied Amazon’s algorithm.
Amazon does give customers a chance to comparison shop, with a listing that ranks all vendors of the same item by “price + shipping.” It appears to be the epitome of Amazon’s customer-centric approach. But there, too, the company gives itself an oft-decisive advantage. Its rankings omit shipping costs only for its own products and those sold by companies that pay Amazon for its services.
We found that the practice earned Amazon-linked products higher rankings in more than 80 percent of cases. Amazon’s offer of the Loctite glue, a respectable No. 5 on the comparison list, dropped to the 39th best deal when shipping was included. (The prices Amazon shows are ranked correctly for those who pay $99 per year for Amazon’s Prime shipping service and for those who are buying $49 or more in eligible items.) . . .
And read the whole thing for a survey of what the shaving world refers to as “shady business practices.”
I’m make this recipe, which made me discover that diced salt pork is a substitute for diced pancetta and about 1/4 the cost. UPDATE: Wrong! Salt pork is way too salty to eat: when the recipe says discard what’s left after rendering the salt pork (which takes longer than you might think), do it.
And I’m using Patrika Recipe Manager (multi-platform), which I’m liking a lot. With the edit mode I can fix recipes: making changes to the on-line version. For example, in this recipe it calls for 4 tablespoons of Pommery mustard, but it turns out that you use 1 Tbsp at one point and 3 Tbsp at another, so I changed the ingredients list to reflect that, and putting the revised entries in the list of ingredients in order of use in the recipe, so in fact the two are well separated.
And that brings me to Pommery mustard. It’s just whole-grain mustard, though a particular brand that’s been made for centuries. But I think any good whole-grain mustard would work as well. I suppose I’ll find out: I still have a lot of Pommery mustard left to use.
UPDATE: The trick in this recipe is to know when to add which mustards when. I suggest measuring out everything in advance and group by step. I want to make it again to get mustard sequence right. I also added the first 2 Tbsp (1 oz) butter too early: it should be added after onions are removed.
After reading this recommendation, I got the Paprika Recipe Manager, and I have to say I’m impressed. It includes a browser with a lengthy list of links to recipe sites, and when you find a recipe you like, you can save it directly to Paprika Recipe Manager, where it is nicely formatted for reading and can be printed as a shopping list (ingredients organized by category) or as a recipe to use in the kitchen.
Recommended. Here’s where to get it.