Later On

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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Game has passed me by, Part 2: World trade visualization software for all $15.3 trillion of it

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Astonishing. Emiko Jozuka reports in Motherboard:

World economies can be mind-boggling systems made up of complex chains of supply and demand, buoyed by commodities and fueled by different currencies.

Owen Cornec and Romain Vuillemot, data visualization fellows at Harvard Kennedy School, wanted to reimagine the global spread of goods in a new visualisation. Dubbed the “Globe of Economic Complexity,” Cornec and Vuillemot’s colorful 3D world portrays cold economic fact as “clouds of confetti.”

The Globe of Economic Complexity—an interactive tool—lets users see a country’s total trade as well as which products are made, and where in the world they’re exported. The map allows specialists and non-specialists alike to explore and understand the world through the production and trade trajectory of commodities. It was inspired by the original Atlas of Economic Complexity, which is a tool used by policymakers to view exports and the economic health of countries.“We wanted to find a novel way to convey the scale, diversity, and inequality of world economies using new 3D web technologies, to make these massive amounts of international trade beautiful and understandable,” Cornec told me over email.

The data visualization maps out “the entire world production of goods” by visualizing the $15.3 trillion-worth of world exports reached in 2012. One tiny dot equates to $100 million of exports (the “equivalent of 15,0000 swiss watches”). Each color represents a different industry and there are 153,000 dots in total.

What’s fun about the site is that it allows you to explore the similarities and differences in products stemming from different countries. A range of products including “vegetable products,” “textiles,” and “metals” are listed at the bottom of the site. Click on any given one, and the distribution of where those products are in the world emerges on the world map. The visualization also makes clear that no country can export everything, and that some industries such as machinery will generate more networks around the world as opposed to something like vegetables. . .

Continue reading.

Here’s what it looks like:

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 1:39 pm

When it hit me that the game has passed me by: Building apps using blockchains

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Oh, my. Alyssa Hertig reports in Motherboard:

We live in a day and age where it only takes 48 hours to program a decentralized horse registry.

All it takes is the Ethereum blockchain, also known as the “world computer,” which seeks to use the technology that enables cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to support other applications.

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin. You might have heard of Ethereum, whose developers have far-reaching goals like disrupting the internet. (Interesting  internship opportunity?) Blockchains are the open, tamper-proof, distributed databases—meaning they don’t require a central keeper—that underpins each of them.

At a recent 48-hour hackathon, developers explored the power of the Ethereum blockchain, building decentralized replacements for Twitter, lawyers, and horse registries.

“This is not a regular bleeding-edge event,” said Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys, which hosted the hackathon (dubbed dAppathon) a week ago in New York. “It’s sharp all over the place.” ConsenSys is Brooklyn-based blockchain production studio that toils away on everything dApps (decentralized apps) and designs tools like BlockApps that helps developers to code up their own.

Tweether, for instance, is a censorship-resistant version of Twitter created by hackathon participant Stefan George. He kicked off his presentation with a list of countries where censorship is commonplace. The Twitter copycat uses the Ethereum blockchain, which again, is totally tamper-proof. So when you “Tweeth” with the app, it uses the blockchain so that no one can later remove it, foiling censors.

Lawyerless, created by hackathoners Jeff Ward, Mike Goldin, and Jess Grushak, helps regular people . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Another Reason to Use an Ad Blocker: Malvertising Has Tripled This Year

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Some sites—Hulu, for example—have user-blockers that are trigger by the detection of use of an ad-blocker. I cannot use Hulu unless I turn off the ad-blocker so they can play their ads—and I’m not about to do that for reasons explained in this Motherboard article by Nicholas Deleon:

Proponents of ad-blocking software may have another reason to continue blocking ads.

A new report from cybersecurity firm Cyphort published this morning notes that instances of malware served via online advertising networks increased 325 percent between June 2014 and February of this year. The report notes that several high-profile websites, including the Forbes, Huffington Post, and LA Weekly, served malware via their ads in that time frame.

Spreading malicious software, or malware, via online advertising networks is commonly referred to as “malvertising,” and, according to Cyphort, is seen by cybercriminals as being particularly effective because compromised ads are visually indistinguishable from safe ads.

The process typically works as follows: Posing as benign advertisers, cybercriminals will initially seed advertising networks with safe ads in order to build trust with the networks and the websites that use these networks. They then periodically insert ads laden with malware, which then infect users’ computers. Infected ads are typically Flash-based, which is partly why so many companies, including Mozilla and Amazon, are phasing out their support of Flash.

In the short term, Cyphort notes that infected ads can be blocked through the use of software like ad blockers like Adblock Plus and uBlock. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 1:26 pm

Switch from NewsBlur to G2Reader

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When Google abandoned Google Reader, I did some looking around, tried Feedly, but settled on NewsBlur. But NewsBlur has been having some niggling but on-going problems, so I did more exploration. I thought I would switch to Feedly, but now you can sign in only through Facebook, Google+, or the like. I don’t care to link all those things so easily.

So I came across G2Reader, and I started using it yesterday. So far, it’s quite nice. It’s a bit different: it shows me (in effect) an archive of all past articles for each feed, but if I leave it open at “Unread items” I can easily scan the new stuff only. Nice format. So far, so good.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2015 at 11:38 am

Posted in Software

The undermining of the hyperlink

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Marketing and business is all about control in general and more specifically about controlling you, the consumer. Once you control the consumer, you’ve got it made, so naturally enough much money, research, and thought goes into controlling you (the consumer).

And some things you don’t notice if they change gradually. <Cue story of frog in slowly heated water: apocryphal but useful. It works only if the frog has been pithed—is brain dead—but an amazing proportion of consumers fall into that category.>

Hossein Derakhshan describes what happened to the hyperlink while he was away:

Seven months ago, I sat down at the small table in the kitchen of my 1960s apartment, nestled on the top floor of a building in a vibrant central neighbourhood of Tehran, and I did something I had done thousands of times previously. I opened my laptop and posted to my new blog. This, though, was the first time in six years. And it nearly broke my heart.

A few weeks earlier, I’d been abruptly pardoned and freed from Evin prison in northern Tehran. I had been expecting to spend most of my life in those cells: In November 2008, I’d been sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail, mostly for things I’d written on my blog.

But the moment, when it came, was unexpected. I smoked a cigarette in the kitchen with one of my fellow inmates, and came back to the room I shared with a dozen other men. We were sharing a cup of tea when the voice of the floor announcer — another prisoner — filled all the rooms and corridors. In his flat voice, he announced in Persian: “Dear fellow inmates, the bird of luck has once again sat on one fellow inmate’s shoulders. Mr. Hossein Derakhshan, as of this moment, you are free.”

That evening was the first time that I went out of those doors as a free man. Everything felt new: The chill autumn breeze, the traffic noise from a nearby bridge, the smell, the colors of the city I had lived in for most of my life.

Around me, I noticed a very different Tehran from the one I’d been used to. An influx of new, shamelessly luxurious condos had replaced the charming little houses I was familiar with. New roads, new highways, hordes of invasive SUVs. Large billboards with advertisements for Swiss-made watches and Korean flat screen TVs. Women in colorful scarves and manteaus, men with dyed hair and beards, and hundreds of charming cafes with hip western music and female staff. They were the kinds of changes that creep up on people; the kind you only really notice once normal life gets taken away from you.

Two weeks later, I began writing again. Some friends agreed to let me start a blog as part of their arts magazine. I called it Ketabkhan — it means book-reader in Persian.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically. I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated.

Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested. At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted.

People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.

The iPhone was a little over a year old by then, but smartphones were still mostly used to make phone calls and send short messages, handle emails, and surf the web. There were no real apps, certainly not how we think of them today. There was no Instagram, no SnapChat, no Viber, no WhatsApp.

Instead, there was the web, and on the web, there were blogs: the best place to find alternative thoughts, news and analysis. They were my life.

It had all started with 9/11. I was in Toronto, and my father had just arrived from Tehran for a visit. We were having breakfast when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I was puzzled and confused and, looking for insights and explanations, I came across blogs. Once I read a few, I thought: This is it, I should start one, and encourage all Iranians to start blogging as well. So, using Notepad on Windows, I started experimenting. Soon I ended up writing on, using Blogger’s publishing platform before Google bought it.

Then, on November 5, 2001, I published a step-to-step guide on how to start a blog. That sparked something that was later called a blogging revolution: Soon, hundreds and thousands of Iranians made it one of the top 5 nations by the number of blogs, and I was proud to have a role in this unprecedented democratization of writing.

Those days, I used to keep a list of all blogs in Persian and, for a while, I was the first person any new blogger in Iran would contact, so they could get on the list. That’s why they called me “the blogfather” in my mid-twenties — it was a silly nickname, but at least it hinted at how much I cared.

Every morning, from my small apartment in downtown Toronto, I opened my computer and took care of the new blogs, helping them gain exposure and audience. It was a diverse crowd — from exiled authors and journalists, female diarists, and technology experts, to local journalists, politicians, clerics, and war veterans — and I always encouraged even more. I invited more religious, and pro-Islamic Republic men and women, people who lived inside Iran, to join and start writing.

The breadth of what was available those days amazed us all. It was partly why I promoted blogging so seriously. I’d left Iran in late 2000 to experience living in the West, and was scared that I was missing all the rapidly emerging trends at home. But reading Iranian blogs in Toronto was the closest experience I could have to sitting in a shared taxi in Tehran and listening to collective conversations between the talkative driver and random passengers.

There’s a story in the Quran that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep. They wake up under the impression that they’ve taken a nap: In fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food — and I can only imagine how hungry they must’ve been after 300 years — and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realizes how long they have actually been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. Stemming from the idea of thehypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realized how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2015 at 10:24 am

A simulator for Big Pharma explores trends produced by incentives

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Edwin Evans-Thirlwell reports at Motherboard:

Big Pharma is a management simulation game that, to quote its UK-based creator Tim Wicksteed, explores “the strange ethical dilemmas that occur when you bring together the goal of curing the sick with the burden of running a profitable business.”

Unlike many an artwork with a social or political message, however, it isn’t an exercise in pointing fingers. Rather, Big Pharma shows how dangerously easy and routine it can become to disregard the human fallout of a decision while operating in an abstract world of market trends and logistical planning.

The game’s world isn’t just abstract—it’s downright cosy. Now available in beta to pre-ordering players, with a Steam release to follow, Big Pharma recalls the cartoon look and handling of the Bullfrog-developed classic Theme Hospital. Most of it takes place on your production floor, a cheery expanse of checkerboard floating in a clinical grey void, where you buy and click together chunky, pleasingly animated machines that turn raw materials into products such as pills and creams.

Each ingredient must be discovered by hiring explorers to scour the unseen world beyond your factory, then imported for a fee. All of them have a number of possible effects, good and bad. To unlock or cancel out these traits, you need to feed the ingredient through various devices that alter its concentration, or combine it with another substance, before ferrying the results to the export hopper. In theory, of course, you’ll want to ship the most effective cures you can while ironing out negative symptoms such as constipation. But in practice, this may not make sense economically.

Each component in a production line takes a small chunk out of your earnings each and every time it’s used, so the more elaborate the purification and enhancement process you set in motion, the smaller your net profit. A cheap ‘n’ dodgy migraine remedy that causes hypertension and diarrhea may prove more lucrative, overall, than an expensive miracle cure that obliges you to fill up your real estate with ionisers and condensors.

More sinisterly yet, Big Pharma also generates an evolving worldwide market simulation that takes into account the global distribution of diseases versus the distribution of income. Thus, in addition to letting the player cut corners with each drug, it allows you to callously ignore regions where the need for treatment is greatest but wallets are light.

“A cure for hair loss is a relatively small market but is highly valuable to the rich Westerners who demand it,” Wicksteed told me by email. “Whereas an antimalarial drug is in very high demand but can’t sustain such a high price, because most of the demand is coming from people living in poorer countries.”

There’s the projected infection rate of each disease to consider, too. “You can deliberately hold off producing your tuberculosis remedy until it infects half of Africa, in order to maximise your profits.”

Wicksteed became interested in such ethical breaches after reading Dr Ben Goldacre’s acclaimed 2012 book Bad Pharma, which examines how companies such as GlaxoSmithKline have distorted or buried data about the usefulness and drawbacks of their products. On balance, he feels that such failings are evidence of “systematic” problems rather than confined to a particular set of corporations.

“People are incentivised to make decisions for the good of the company or themselves to the detriment of patients,” Wicksteed commented. “This is very human. It’s something we’ve all encountered at work under the pressure to hit a deadline or get a certain result. The problem with this in the pharmaceutical industry is that it can lead to human suffering, or worse, death. It’s because of this that I try to avoid overtly demonising the industry in the game, and prefer to simply place the player in a position of power and ask ‘what would you do?’”

Not very encouragingly, Wicksteed has found that Big Pharma players “are very profit driven, and don’t give a second’s thought to sacrificing quality to make a few extra dollars per sale.” This may, however, reflect a lack of in-game accountability systems to counter the siren wail of your company’s bottom line—compromised or feeble remedies sell for less, but there’s no blowblack from injured members of the public, and no threat of a legal challenge. . .

Continue reading. Fascinating article, which supports my own view that for-profit hospitals should be illegal.

Here’s a promo video of the game. Turn off sound to avoid irritating and irrelevant music:

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2015 at 10:45 am

Scanner Pro 6 simplifies scanning documents with your iPhone

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Maybe this will stop people from cutting pages out of library books. The app is only $2.99.

More at the link above.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2015 at 10:36 am

Posted in Software


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