AirBNB = RAISED RENTS

Th NYC Comptroller’s Office has released their report on the effect of AirBNB on rents in the city.

The report covers the years 2009-2016, and uses some interesting mechanisms to control for outside factors.

The takeaways (copied from the report):

 

  • For each one percent of all residential units in a neighborhood listed on AirBNB, rental rates in that neighborhood went up by 1.58 percent.
  • Between 2009 and 2016, approximately 9.2 percent of the citywide increase in rental rates can be attributed to AirBNB.

This rent hike particularly affected the neighborhoods with the greatest concentration of AirBNBs. The two neighborhoods with the highest absolute increase are Williamsburg and Greenpoint, where rent increased on average by $659.

Why it’s hot

The battle over AirBNB and selectively enforced regulations has been going on for awhile. Here we have hard data that in aggregate, AirBNB has a negative effect on NYC specifically. It will be interesting to see what happens moving forward.

Millennial English

https://twitter.com/DeannaHoak/status/970129313415749632/photo/1

Millennials, or maybe just the Internet, is changing the way that we communicate, at least according to these people on Tumblr and this Mashable article.*

You may be thinking “teh /\/\i113|\||\|14l5 haven’t done anything that hasn’t been done before LOL ROFLCOPTER” and maybe you’d be right? It’s still interesting to think about the way that communication is changing in today’s Text Heavy and increasingly image based society.

From the article:

[Dr. Lauren] Fonteyn [of the University of Manchester]  says millennials are “breaking the constraints” of written English to “be as expressive as you can be in spoken language.” This new variant of written English strives to convey what body language, and tone and volume of voice can achieve in spoken English.

Fonteyn specifies a few ways Millennials are twisting English:

  • Atypical capitalization. Capitalization isn’t necessarily used traditionally: at the beginning of a sentence, for people or proper nouns. The letter “I” may not be capitalized, in order to “play down the person’s sense of self”. However, capitals are being used for emphasis, irony or mockery. This tweet from the article sums it up well:

  • Changes to expressive punctuation. For example, leaving the period off of a sentence may be neutral, using “..” means “continue” and “…” can indicate an “‘awkward or annoyed silence’ or ‘are you serious?'”.
  • Use of imagery or glyphs unavailable in spoken conversation, such as:

https://twitter.com/_lbaillie/status/979232946761605120

There are other examples of this:

Why it’s hot:

The way we communicate is changing. It’s neat to see the new ways people take language and twist it to new ends and meanings using the tools they’ve got.

 

Meme Alert

There’s a meme and this is a post about it. The meme is the American Chopper meme. Here is the thing about the meme: it takes a format unsuitable for Twitter (vertical image), four frames of two volatile motorcycle reality stars with facial hair, and crams in surprisingly dense arguments.

Like:

https://twitter.com/PaulMMCooper/status/981460668846104576

People also used it in strange ways.

https://twitter.com/JDunnah/status/981928011342675968

People used it for other Twitter memes. Wow!

https://twitter.com/apostlebrawl/status/981952219468595202

It also got meta:

Krang T Nelson, a very smart person, sums up this meme:

There is another meme, though, but it’s a bad meme. This is the meme:

https://twitter.com/SrtSlender/status/982235032570937344

What does it mean? Who cares. It is bad.

Say no to this meme, unless it is Fleetwood Mac adjacent:

This guy is good though. Look at that chomping:

https://twitter.com/HoneyWizard_/status/981430999870558208

This has been a meme alert. Thanks.

Goodbye Casual Encounters and Hello SESTA/FOSTA

Both houses of Congress have passed Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865) and in response, Craigslist has removed the Casual Encounters section of their website.

Goodbye

Before we talk about SESTA/FOSTA, we need to talk about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was, according to Wikipedia, “the first notable attempt by the United States Congress to regulate pornographic material on the Internet.” I’ve left the hyperlinks in, just in case you need Internet defined.

The Communications Decency Act make it a crime for anyone who “knowingly (A) uses an interactive computer service to send to a specific person or persons under 18 years of age, or (B) uses any interactive computer service to display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs.”

This was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court on 1st amendment grounds.

However, there was a section of the bill that survived and has been significant: Section 230. Section 230 says “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”. Basically, this allowed sites to avoid liability for publishing content created by others. As the EFF points out, this directly led to Yelp, Amazon, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube and a huge host of other websites. 

So, now we’re at today and SESTA/FOSTA. What will SESTA/FOSTA do?

It’s hard to put it more succinctly than the EFF did:

SESTA/FOSTA upends that balance, opening platforms to new criminal and civil liability at the state and federal levels for their users’ sex trafficking activities. The platform liability created by new Section 230 carve outs applies retroactively—meaning the increased liability applies to trafficking that took place before the law passed. The Department of Justice has raised concerns [.pdf] about this violating the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause, at least for the criminal provisions.

 

The bill also expands existing federal criminal law to target online platforms where sex trafficking content appears. The bill is worded so broadly that it could even be used against platform owners that don’t know that their sites are being used for trafficking.

 

Finally, SESTA/FOSTA expands federal prostitution law to cover those who use the Internet to “promote or facilitate prostitution.”

Why it’s hot

Getting back to Craigslist, we can immediately see what kind of effect this may have on the Internet: forcing platforms to shut down rather than host speech that potentially infringes SESTA/FOSTA. Given that a huge amount of the Internet is conversation platforms, this could significantly effect our lives online.

PS and totally unrelated: this is a good Twitter thread that takes aim at many of tech’s favorite buzzwords and concepts:

The Internet Is Still Weird: Toto’s Africa in an Empty Mall; Simpsonwave; Know Your Meme is 10

It’s Internet Recess!

Jia Tolentino has a great article in the New Yorker about a video of Toto’s “Africa” being played in an empty mall. Apparently this is a thing, that people do. They edit videos to make it sound like songs are being played from another room. This particular video has roughly 751,000 views, and the comments look like this:

She ends the piece by saying:

Our lives increasingly play out in virtual spaces: instead of going to malls, we surf on Amazon; many of us would happily forgo the mess of a party to stay home and flirt through an app. Listening to music, too, is now mostly frictionless, and this quality is why the little shadow world of music that Robert, allyson m., and others inhabit is so appealing to me. It’s nice to think of a handful of young people playing around on Ableton on their laptops, in their bedrooms, trying to reintroduce a sense of physical space into a listening environment of digital isolation: conjuring the sort of scenario in which, say, you’re down the hall from your older sibling who loves the Beach Boys, or in a place where, for a change, someone else controls the music—in a crowd, or at a mall, or in a pounding bathroom—someplace where you’ve taken the chance of being lonely in public, instead of retreating and clicking around alone.

This brings me to Simpsonwave, which has been a favorite meme for a couple years now. Simpsonwave is a flavor of Vaporwave. Vaporwave has been described “as a satire of corporate and consumerist culture and modern capitalism,” but we don’t have to get into that right now.

Simpsonwave is Simpson Vaporwave.

According to Know Your Meme, it was born with this vine:

It has spawned many videos, like this one:

That’s all, I just like this meme. The Internet is still weird.

Finally, the cataloger of the weird Internet is 10 years old this year. Know Your Meme has been explaining memes on the Internet for a full decade now, and The Verge has a great article cataloguing its history. 

Why the things are hot

Despite everything, the Internet is still weird.

PS: All the fish in the ocean are going to be extinct by 2048. The sea will be empty.

Facebook overcharged Clinton because her posts were boring

Image via Wired/Getty Images

Regardless of how much influence the Russian Internet Research Agency may or may not have had on the 2016 election, there is one way in which Facebook may have significantly affected the election.

This wired story by Antonio Garcia Martinez explains how Facebook charged the Trump Campaign significantly less than the Clinton campaign thanks to how it’s ad auction system works.

Martinez explains:

As on Google, Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.

This means that content that is especially alluring can result in the marketer paying significantly lower rates. The Trump campaign used what Martinez terms “provocative content” to encourage clicks and reduce their overall cost.

Additionally the difference in their geographic power bases affected their costs as well. Rural voters (more likely to go for Trump) are much much cheaper than urban voters (more likely to go for Clinton).

Another way that Facebook affected the election is through Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences, two ways in which marketers can identify and spread content. Custom Audiences are merely segmentation. Martinez uses the examples of shoes. Browsed for shoes and got cookied? You’re in a custom audience for shoes now.

Lookalike Audiences take the people in Custom Audiences and look for people like them through mutual engagement, and then spread the messages from the Custom Audiences to the Lookalike Audiences.

All of this is powered through engagement in the user’s feed, and created a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

The Trump Campaign leveraged both of these tools to do things like depress voter turnout in specific communities.

Interestingly, Facebook has released data to rebut these claims, though the data may not accurately cover what needs to be known.

Why it’s hot

We don’t understand how social networks are affecting our democratic process.

Good Posts On The Internet

It’s easy to think of the Internet as a bad, ugly place. Dissertations are being written about how the Internet of the late Teens got to be such a horrible place.

However, there are still good posts on the Internet! They are hidden away in fusty servers and often employ strange hex codes, such as #eeff99.

Strange hex codes are employed on the Internet

“Where are these good posts located?!” you might ask scornfully, while refreshing your Instagram feed in the hopes of seeing that red circle in the top right; someone messaged me!

Well, Hacker News user jsomers noticed that many of the best posts on Hacker News were old posts. He threw together a site that scraped everything that contained a year in parenthesis, which is the common convention for identifying old posts.

The result can be found here, and contains some outright bangers such as E.M. Forrester’s “The Machine Stops“, George Kennans “The Long Telegram” and many more. I highly recommend scrolling through it.

Why it’s hot

Knowledge is always hot. Knowledge, on the Internet, is Hot Sauce hot.

No more “View Image” on Google Image Search :(

Google has removed the “View image” button, along with the “Search by Image” function. This follows a lawsuit by Getty Images in Europe.

As slashgear says:

Getty’s complaint stems from how Google has made it too easy to lift material without attribution. That is factually true since View Image doesn’t exactly inform users of any copyright or licensing requirements. But there is another aspect to its beef with Google. By delivering the image instantly, users no longer have to go to the source website, which deprives them of page hits and ad revenue from visits.

Search by image is also being removed, as it makes it easier to find the same image without watermarks.

Why it’s hot:

  1. Life is gonna be harder for designers
  2. I think this is interesting because it shows the difference in regulation and enforcement between Europe and the US. There’s a growing divide between the two, particularly in regards to the “right to be forgotten”. Obviously, the Internet is a worldwide entity, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

 

The Case for Breaking Up the Big 4: Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon

Big purple octopus representing the big 4 tech companies

By Andrew Rae

This week in Esquire: Silicon Valley’s Tax-Avoiding, Job-Killing, Soul-Sucking Machine

Scott Galloway has an interesting article in Esquire this week calling for breaking up the big four tech companies: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

He has a number of reasons why we should be concerned about the power accumulated by “the four”:

  1. They’re really really big
    1. “Together, they have a market capitalization of $2.8 trillion (the GDP of France), a staggering 24 percent share of the S&P 500 Top 50, close to the value of every stock traded on the Nasdaq in 2001.”
    2. “How big are they? Consider that Amazon, with a market cap of $591 billion, is worth more to the stock market than Walmart, Costco, T. J. Maxx, Target, Ross, Best Buy, Ulta, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Saks/Lord & Taylor, Dillard’s, JCPenney, and Sears combined.”
  2. They dominate our every day lives
  3. They don’t pay enough taxes
    1. “Our government operates on an annual budget of approximately 21 percent of GDP, money that is used to keep our parks open and our military armed. Does big tech pay its fair share? Most would say no. Between 2007 and 2015, Amazon paid only 13 percent of its profits in taxes, Apple paid 17 percent, Google paid 16 percent, and Facebook paid just 4 percent. In contrast, the average tax rate for the S&P 500 was 27 percent.”
  4. They make money by employing fewer people, which results in fewer jobs
    1. “The destruction of jobs by the Four is significant, even frightening. Facebook and Google likely added $29 billion in revenue in 2017. To execute and service this additional business, they will create twenty thousand new, high-paying jobs.The other side of the coin is less shiny. Advertising—whether digital or analog—is a low-growth (increasingly flat) business, meaning that the sector is largely zero-sum. Google doesn’t earn an extra dollar by growing the market; it takes a dollar from another firm. If we use the five largest media-services firms (WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, IPG, and Dentsu) as a proxy for their industry, we can estimate that $29 billion in revenue would have required about 219,000 traditional advertising professionals to service. That translates to 199,000 creative directors, copywriters, and agency executives deciding to “spend more time with their families” each year—nearly four Yankee Stadiums filled with people dressed in black holding pink slips.”
  5.  They have so much power that their abuse is a national security matter, but the government feels powerless to stop them
    1. However, the alarm for trust busting, not just regulation, rang for me in November, when Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr pleaded with the general counsels of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, “Don’t let nation-states disrupt our future. You’re the front line of defense for it.” This represented a seminal moment in our history, when our elected officials handed over our national defense to firms whose business model is to nag you about the shoes you almost bought, and remind you of your friends’ birthdays.
    2. It’s not just federal officials who have folded in the face of big tech. As part of their bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, state and city officials in Chicago proposed to let Amazon keep $1.3 billion in employee payroll taxes and spend this money as the company sees fit. That’s right: Chicago offered to transfer its tax authority to Amazon and trusts the Seattle firm to allocate taxes in a manner best for Chicago’s residents.

It turns out those aren’t even the reasons he wants to break them up. These are:

  1. Big tech and the start up economy is destroying the middle class
    1. “It’s never been easier to be a billionaire or harder to be a millionaire. It’s painfully clear that the invisible hand, for the past three decades, has been screwing the middle class. For the first time since the Great Depression, a thirty-year-old is less well-off than his or her parents at thirty.

      Should we care? What if these icons of innovation are the disrupters we need to keep our economy fit? Isn’t there a chance we’ll come through the other end of the tunnel with a stronger economy and higher wages? Already there’s evidence that this isn’t happening. In fact, the bifurcation effect seems to be gaining momentum. It’s likely the biggest threat to our society. Many will argue it’s the world we live in. But isn’t the world what we make of it? And we have consciously shifted the mission of the U. S. from producing millions of millionaires to producing one trillionaire. Alexa, is this a good thing?”

  2. They’re currently under-regulated compared to other monopolies
  3. They’re squeezing out the competition
    1. It’s happening everywhere across the Four, whether it’s the slow takeover of the entire first page of search results that Google can better monetize, substandard products on your iPhone’s home screen (like Apple Music), coordinating all assets of the firm (Facebook) to arrest and destroy a threat (Snap), or information-age steel dumping via fulfillment build-out and predatory pricing no other firm can access the capital to match (Amazon).
  4. Breaking up big monopolies is good for the market; they are “oxygenating events”. At the moment, there is no oxygen in the market
    1. Indeed, the DOJ’s case against Microsoft may have been one of the most market-oxygenating acts in business history, one that unleashed trillions of dollars in shareholder value. The concentration of power achieved by the Four has created a market desperate for oxygen. I’ve sat in dozens of VC pitches by small firms. The narrative has become universal and static: “We don’t compete directly with the Four but would be great acquisition candidates.” Companies thread this needle or are denied the requisite oxygen (capital) to survive infancy. IPOs and the number of VC-funded firms have been in steady decline over the past few years.
  5. No, but really, they are huge monopolies acting like monopolies
    1. Amazon is so big that when they say they will do something, stocks in other sectors fall
      1. “The day Amazon announced it would enter the dental-supply business, dental-supply companies’ stock fell 4 to 5 percent. When Amazon reported it would sell prescription drugs, pharmacy stocks fell 3 to 5 percent.”
    2. They control huge percentages of the market

      34 percent: Amazon’s share of the worldwide cloud business

       44 percent: Amazon’s share of U. S. online commerce

      • 64 percent: U. S. households with Amazon Prime

      • 71 percent: Amazon’s share of in-home voice devices

      • $1.4 billion: Amount of U. S. corporate taxes paid by Amazon since 2008, versus $64 billion for Walmart. (Amazon has added the entire value of Walmart to its market cap in the past twenty-four months.)

    3. Google, for its part, now commands a 92 percent share of a market, Internet search, that is worth $92.4 billion worldwide. That’s more than the entire

      advertising market of any country except the U. S. Search is now a larger market than the following global industries:

      • paper and forest products: $81 billion

      • construction and engineering: $79 billion

      • real estate management and development: $76 billion

      • gas utilities: $58 billion

    4. “Apple is set to spend $1 billion on original content this year. The company controls 2.2 million apps and set a record in 2013 when the number of songs it sold on iTunes hit twenty- five billion. Apple’s library now includes forty million songs, which can be distributed across the company’s one billion active iOS devices, and that’s not even mentioning its television and video offerings. But AT&T needs to sell Cartoon Network?”

Regardless of whether it is actually a good idea to break up the big four, it sparks an interesting conversation around the effects of tech in our lives.

Why it’s hot

These companies have a huge amount of influence on our lives and our economy. Breaking them up would have a massive effect on the economy and the fight to do so would likely be very ugly.

 

 

 

If You’re At A Secret Military Base, Turn Your Dumb Fitness App Off

Strava, the exercise tracking application, released an update to their global heatmap. The global heat map now contains:

  • 1 billion activities
  • 3 trillion latitude/longitude points
  • 13 trillion pixels rasterized
  • 10 terabytes of raw input data
  • A total distance of 27 billion km (17 billion miles)
  • A total recorded activity duration of 200 thousand years
  • 5% of all land on Earth covered by tiles

A smart 20 year old college student in Australia noticed this, and wondered what he could find, and lo and behold:

This kicked off a whole bunch of Twitter users looking through the data.

And this guy found Burning Man:

Of course, this is very, very bad. It’s very bad that you can identify secret installations, and understand common routes taken by staff.

However, it seems that it goes deeper than that.

The good thing is that the data does not allow people to view this information in real time, and only goes up to September 2017.

Now, of course, lawmakers are angry!

Congressional Democrats on Wednesday called on Strava, the maker of a popular fitness app, to explain why it published a global “heat map” online that inadvertently highlighted the locations of sensitive government facilities throughout the world by revealing the movements of millions of users.

Why it’s hot

  1. What are our responsibilities when it comes to creating products? Strava forced users to opt out, instead of opt in. Strava also didnt consider the implications of this technology on a fairly small subset of users.
  2. What does the increasing number of personal wearables and other pieces of technology mean for the military? How do you restrict access, while also keeping troops happy who may be on deployments away from their families?

Justin O’Beirne on Google Maps Moat

Justin O’Bierne, a cartographer from San Francisco, has a great article about the huge distance between Google Maps, and Apple Maps. Mr. O’Beirne writes a lot about maps, especially online maps. His most recent article centers around buildings. Namely, how is it possible that Google has so many buildings on their maps, even in very small towns?

Gif by Justin O’Beirne

This is something that Google has been adding in the last few years. Mr. O’Beirne notes that Google isn’t just adding addressed places, but they’re adding garages and other structures as well.

Gif by Justin O’Beirne

Not only are they doing that, their buildings are highly detailed..

Image by Justin O’Beirne

He goes on to examine a full range of buildings across the US, that show up as highly detailed models in Google Maps. He also shows that Apple and Bing have nothing even close to this imagery, so what’s going on? How are they doing it?

The answer lay in an old press release, dug up by Mr. O’Beirne. The models are coming from computer vision analysis of Google Earth satellite imagery. So, as summed up in a gif:

Gid by Justin O’Beirne

Not only is Google doing this, but it’s doing it FAST, and much faster than it’s competitors. As Mr. O’Beirne notes:

Just two years after it started adding them, Google already had the majority of buildings in the U.S. And now after five years, it has my rural hometown—an area it still hasn’t Street View’d (after 10+ years of Street View).

Graph by Justin O’Beirne

Finally, Google has also introduced another feature into Maps: Areas of Interest. Area’s of Interest are known by another name is academic research: Commercial Corridors. They’re typically defined by locations with densely packed shops and restaurants. This may seem simple, but it presents a problem to Google: how do you display all of those places on a map without the place names overlapping? If you can’t show all of the businesses, which businesses get picked? How will the user know, at a glance, which areas of the city are areas of interest?

As you can see in this screenshot of my neighborhood, Google has solved this by creating areas of lightly shaded orange.

Not a fancy gif

Justin O’Beirne notes that these areas are not smoothly defined, they seem to be form by conglomerations of actual buildings, and when you zoom in, Google is actually locating where physically the businesses sit in each building.

Also not fance

So how do they do THAT?

Well, this post is very long now so I’ll just show you a couple more gifs that Mr. O’Beirne made:

As Mr. O’Beirne notes:

…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts:

To sum up: Google made a map of the entire Earth available on Google Maps, and then used computer vision to create detailed models of precisely located buildings. It also sent a car with a camera around the world to all the road’s that it could to give street view imagery, and then analyzed that information for signs and other details. It then combined all of that information to create precisely detailed, located buildings with precisely accurate location information for businesses and areas of interest in cities. As Mr. O’Beirne notes, Google is making data out of data.

And that’s why Google is so far ahead.

Part of this years Cards Against Humanity event: wealth redistribution

Cards Against Humanity has a history of satirical Black Friday promotions. In 2013 they held an “anti-sale” and raised the price by $5. In 2014 they held a “bullshit” sale where their products were removed from their website and replaced by boxes of sterilized bull feces. In 2015 they replaced their online site with a message urging viewers to give Cards Against Humanity $5 and receive nothing in return. The money was divided among Cards Against Humanity team members, and then a site was put up showing what they purchased with the money. In 2016, they asked for money to dig a big hole for no reason, and raised $100,000.They dug a big hole and then they filled it back in again.

This year, the creators announced a campaign called Cards Against Humanity Saves America, in protest of the Trump Administrations. The creators purchased a plot of land along the US-Mexican border to block the creation of a border wall. A $15 donation to the campaign would receive “six surprises” through December.

The first surprise is radical wealth redistribution.

When customers signed up for Cards Against Humanity Saves America they filled out a questionnaire with “with a mix of demographic questions and red herrings”. The team then ranked the respondents. Out of roughly 150,000 people that signed up, 140,000 got nothing, 10,000 got a full refund, and 100 received a check for $1,000.

You can read about the recipients, and more information, here: https://cardsagainsthumanityredistributesyourwealth.com/.

Why it’s hot

While Cards Against Humanity has found it’s share of detractors since blowing up (including the New York Times), it’s clear that they are masters of off beat self promotion.

Google Offsets Entire Energy Need With Renewables

Google announced that they are buying enough offsets to cover their entire energy usage. While they are not using 100% renewable energy for all of their needs, they are paying for the production of an equivalent amount of renewables, specifically wind or solar power.

Google’s Senior Lead, Energy & Infrastructure announced on LinkedIn:

535 MW more wind brings Google over 3 GW worldwide — 2*98 MW with Avangrid in South Dakota, 200 MW with EDF in Iowa, and 138.6 MW with GRDA in Oklahoma — cementing Google as the largest corporate purchaser of renewables on the planet @ 100% renewable in 2017!

This is significant because Google uses a LOT of power. The dirty secret of cloud computing used to be how energy intensive they were. However, in the last few years companies have been working to make their servers more efficient. According to this article in Fortune,

The energy use by data centers only grew 4% between 2010 and 2014. In contrast it grew 90% from 2000 to 2005, and 24% from 2005 to 2010. The report predicts that data center energy use will only grow another 4% between 2014 and 202o.

Why it’s hot:

Hopefully this represents a continuing shift towards renewables. The question is whether the shift is happening fast enough to mitigate the very worst effects of climate change.

World: “Weird Twitter is so weird!” Youtube: “Hold my beer”

All sourced from James McBride’s Medium Article

James McBridge published an interesting and disturbing medium article this week, describing how algorithmic content creation has spawned nightmarish videos that are consumed by children throughout the world.

This is complicated and I am dumb, so I’m going to try and break it down simply, so I can understand it.

  1. Babies, toddlers, and children watch a huge amount of YouTube. Parents rely on branded content to be safe and reliable, so they dont have to police the content their children watch. Kid’s YouTube is a mishmash of nursery rhymes, branded content (“Peppa Pig” videos) and a bunch of other weird stuff, like “Surprise Egg” videos. “Surprise Egg” videos are basically “unboxing” videos, where someone opens kinder eggs and displays what’s inside.
  2. It’s convenient for parents if these videos are lengthy, so their children can watch for extended periods and not worry about finding a new video, so many of these videos are compilations that are chopped together.
  3. The content creation of these videos is driven by “keyword/hashtag association”. If some type of video gets popular, content creators make more and more of that type, and include the keywords in their videos to get seen on search. It seems that there is a recursive loop at play here: algorithms aggregating popular titles, which cause content creators to make content for those titles (whether real or bots) and then repeating. This results in titles such as “Surprise Play Doh Eggs Peppa Pig Stamper Cars Pocoyo Minecraft Smurfs Kinder Play Doh Sparkle Brilho”.
  4. Many of these channels are created by live actors and humans. Many are also animation, and are created by, upvoted, and commented on by bots.
  5. These channels have millions of subscribers.
  6. Side note: full automation does weird stuff, eventually. One example is t-shirts with algorithmically generated slogans. Generate enough slogans and eventually you end up with: 
  7. All of this leads to automatic content being generated and shown to kids that is disturbing and weird. McBride says repeatedly that there is much worse out there, but provides a couple of examples. In one, Peppa Pig goes to the dentist and is “tortured” (McBride’s words) before the video transitions in a softer mishmash of other types of videos. As McBride says:

    What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal.

  8. Here’s some examples of very weird kid’s videos:
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=fLwi-OLvgGE
    2. https://youtu.be/uXjJdv5fj5k
  9. Ultimately, McBride’s point is not just that YouTube is showing bad videos to children, but that YouTube is complicit in the abuse of children for ad dollars, and that the systems we’re creating are damaging us as a society, but in ways that we hardly understand or can talk about.

From Oysters to Design

From this 99 invisible story.

What do oysters have to do with design?

Well, back up.

Oysters and New York

New York used to be known for it’s incredible abundance of oysters. The native Lanape people ate oysters. Huge oyster beds ringed the harbor. As the city grew, more and people people ate oysters, rich and poor alike. Oysters were farmed, and then eventually overwhelmed by harbor pollution. Oyster farms were shut down due to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid brought on partially from eating oysters from a harbor full of waste.  Eventually, the last oyster farm closed, and the harbor was almost devoid of Oysters

Why oysters? 

These days, there has been a resurgence of interest in oysters. Oyster beds act as buffers and cleaners, both building huge structures that help slow waves and filter them at the same time. Oysters can be a critical element in protecting and assisting our waterways.

Oysters and New York

The destruction of the oyster beds removed a critical ring of protection for New York, and climate change is beginning to make that protection critical. Hurricane Sandy showed that the city needs to take action to protect its citizens from rising sea levels.

Kate Orff, a landscape architect, has helped lead the construction of oyster beds. Her firm, SCAPE, has a plan to rebuild the harbor landscape to be more conducive to oysters, leading to cleaner and calmer water. Her plan, called Living Breakwaters, received $60 million in funding from the government from a design competition staged after Sandy.

Project images from the 99% Invisible article, and originally from SCAPE

From the 99% invisible article:

The plan now is to build a necklace of offshore breakwaters out of large rocks and stones, and seed them with oysters so they grow into reefs.

 

Much like a natural oyster reef, the Living Breakwaters are designed to  break up dangerous waves before they reach the shore. These will reduce coastal erosion, build beaches, and make storms less dangerous, but they won’t keep flood water out altogether.

As the world comes to grips with the changes created by climate change, this type of integrated environmental thinking will be more and more important. As Gina Wirth of SCAPE says:

“I think our changing world really requires a new approach[.] We need to integrate ecosystem thinking into all of our engineered and infrastructural systems, all of our urban systems.”

As designers, and as citizens, “ecosystem thinking” is an important idea. How do we consider the larger environment as we move through our daily lives, and as we create work for our clients. How do we look beyond the immediate intent and effect of our projects and understand their larger impact? How do we attempt to prevent and mitigate potential harm our projects may be created? How do we responsibly create work that integrates with existing systems, whether environmental or otherwise, in order to create positive and sustainable change?

 

Is it a bot? There’s a 1/5 chance

Story via TechCrunch

Quartz released a service to score Twitter accounts on their possible “bot-ness”. The tool, called “Probabot” is itself using a tool called Botometer. Botometer is a creation of the Indiana University Network Science Institute (IUNI) and the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research (CNetS).

To assess bot-ness, Probabot “scans accounts on potential axes of botliness, including when they tweet, if the content of their tweets is positive or negative in sentiment, who they tag in their tweets and how often, and who else is in their network.” A 48% bot likelihood score by Botometer indicates a potential bot; a 60% score indicates a likely bot.

While Twitter will only say that roughly 5% of accounts are “fake of spam accounts”, the researchers responsible for Botometer say that “We found that approximately 15% of the users active in the political conversation one month prior to the 2016 election were likely bots… and they were responsible to about one in five such political tweets (nearly 20%).”

Why it’s hot

Twitter’s bot problem is wide spread, from politicians artificially inflating their followings with bots, to suspected political manipulation. Twitter has long been criticized for their lax moderation of the service, from Gamergate doxxing and abuse of journalists and female game developers, to today’s Nazi and alt-right resurgence. This tool shows that there are ways for Twitter to manage this problem, and that Twitter is simply not interested in doing so, for whatever reason.

Spanish Internet Crackdown Pre-Referendum

An interesting breakdown of how to stifle dissent on the Internet from the recent Catalonia referendum from the EFF:

  • Seize top level domains: the Spanish Civil Police seized refendum.cat, as well as a host of associated websites. Associated domains were seized if they were on the .cat TLD, and blocked if they were not.
  • Spain didnt stop with existing websites, but also blocked “any future sites with content related to the referendum, publicized on any social network by a member of the Catalonian Government. This order accelerated the blocking of further websites without any further court order. These apparently included the censorship of non-partisan citizen collectives (e.g. empaperem.cat) and other non-profit organizations (assemblea.catwebdelsi.catalerta.cat), and campaign websites by legal political parties (prenpartit.cat).”
  • Spain obtained a court order blocking a voting app on the Google Play store, as well as any other apps made by the same developer. This order included penalties for mirrors, proxies, or other copies made to circumvent the other.

Why it’s hot: 

This demonstrates the level of government control that exists on the Internet these days. We’re used to thinking of the wild west, and enabling democratic revolutions, but it’s increasingly clear that governments have become much more sophisticated in blocking information sources online. What does this mean for the future of free communication?

The UX tricks of booking.com

Roman Cheplyaka at thenextweb has done an interesting breakdown of the different UX tricks that booking.com utilizes to try and get you to book. 

He outlines four main ways that the site tries to get you to book: different ways of displaying prices, instilling a sense of urgency, creative organization of reviews, and a multi faceted rating system.

Pricing: booking.com tells the user that the price is “the cheapest price you’ve seen for your dates!” Roman Cheplyaka points out that the user hasnt seen any other prices for those dates, so of course it’s the cheapest. booking.com also tries to anchor the user by displaying a number of struck through prices and a lower ultimate price.

Urgency: the site tells users “someone just booked this” and “3 other people looking right now” and “prices might go up, so secure your reservation today” and “only three rooms left!”. All of these are somewhat subjective, for example, what does “just” mean in the statement “someone just booked this?” For the Four Seasons New York it apparently means 3 hours ago.

Reviews: Put the good reviews where the user can see them, and put the bad reviews where the user has to try hard to see them.

Rating system: booking.com provides many different facets for the user to rate the hotel, but then averages those results. As Cheplyaka points out, a good rating for an unrelated facet can then heavily balance out a particularly bad rating for another aspect.

Ultimately, whether or not you decide to use booking.com is up to you, it’s just good to keep in mind the different ways that websites try to get us to book.

Why it’s hot: 

These tactics illustrate how UX practices can be used to mold the users mindset and decision making (whether or not you believe that the user ultimately comes out on top).

 

Silicon Valley invents something that already exists (again)

Silicon Valley has done it again. “It” meaning appropriate something that already exists and reinvent it in a way that kills local business, and discourages from anyone from interacting with another actual human being ever again.

You may be thinking that this article is about the time that Lyft reinvented the bus, or the time that Soylent reinvented Slimfast, or that Juicero reinvented using your hands to squeeze something. Nope! I’m thinking about the time that “Bodega” reinvented the vending machine.

Bodega is the product of two ex-Googlers, who aim to “make [the] corner store a thing of the past”. The name is a nod to corner stores in parts of New York and LA, and the logo is a cat, a nod to the bodega cat meme.

What does Bodega do?

Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the “store.”

Your author found a similar device within steps of his desk. It carried spicy Cheetos. The credit card swipe was broken, though.

Some thoughts: 

What’s with the cultural appropriation of the name “bodega”, and why are you so focused on taking the human element out of a neighborhood lynchpin? A friend of mine was recently working on getting a grant to provide Narcan free of charge to bodega owners in Bushwick. How is your vending machine going to serve the same community need?

Why not just work with the bodega owners to streamline and update their inventory management systems to better serve their local customers?

Is this just a vending machine, or is it the above mentioned improved inventory management and delivery system?

What would it be like if Silicon Valley was somehow incented to tackle problems that are larger than unemploying working class people?

After the article FastCo article was published, and Bodega got dragged on social media, the owner responded, saying that they’re “Definitely not [trying to put corner stores out of business]. Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal” and that “We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist. Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega — delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open.”

He also acknowledged that they might not have done enough homework on the name, saying that despite “speaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause […] it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people”.

Why it’s hot

As a woman behind me in line for 29rooms described the Fyre Festival, this was a “disaster in branding”. It shows the importance of getting out of your bubble and talking to people to accurately understand the needs and desires of your audience.

Also, is the work you’re doing worthwhile? Can we push ourselves to make work for clients that is deep and meaningful and works with communities to empower and support them, and not seeking to undercut or replace meaningful parts of people’s lives with empty and pointless solutions?

Some Hot INternet CoNtEnt about Bodega:

 

Using inaudible voice commands to exploit voice assistants

Researchers in the US and China have figured out a subtle exploit to voice assistants: using frequencies above the range of human hearing (above 20 KhZ) to activate voice assistants and have them execute commands. This could allow an attacker to direct the phone to a site loaded with malware, or any perform any other voice activated action.

It seems like this exploit has a fairly simple solution: just disallow voice commands above 20KhZ. So why haven’t their makers fixed this issue? Fastco posits a couple of interesting theories:

The first is that voice assistants actually need ultrasonics just to hear people well, compared to analyzing a voice without those high frequencies. “Keep in mind that the voice analyzing software might need every bit of ‘hint’ in your voice to create its understanding,” says Amit of filtering out the highest frequencies in our voice systems. “So there might be a negative effect that lowers the comprehension score of the whole system.” Even though people don’t need ultrasonics to hear other people, maybe our computers rely upon them as a crutch.

 

The second is that some companies are already exploiting ultrasonics for their own UX, including phone-to-gadget communication. Most notably, Amazon’s Dash Button pairs with the phone at frequencies reported to be around 18kHz, and Google’s Chromecast uses ultrasonic pairing, too. To the end user, that imperceptible pairing creates a magical experience that consumers have come to expect in the modern age of electronics (“How’s it work? Who cares, it’s magic!”). But because we can’t hear these mechanisms at work, we also can’t tell when they’ve gone wrong, or when they’ve been hijacked. They’re designed to be invisible. It’s the equivalent to driving a car with a silent engine. If the timing belt breaks, you might only realize it when the car inevitably stops and the engine is ruined.

This brings up the trade off between utility and security. The recent Equifax breach is another indication that these breaches commonplace, and to be expected. But if nothing is safe, how do we manage and encourage safer practices? Interestingly, the FTC sued Wyndham Hotels in 2015 for a data breach. While the FTC settled the suit with an agreement that Wyndham institute a comprehensive security program, it does bring up the question as to whether this could be an avenue in the future.

Why it’s hot:

Ultimately, the question is how we encourage Silicon Valley companies, and companies beyond the valley to consider the larger effects of their products. Digital companies have existed in somewhat of a grey area, where a large portion of the population and the government does not understand the specifics of the underlying infrastructure and technology. They are lauded for “disruption” (hashtag hot take), but it’s clear that the disruption comes at the price of lax safety regulations. How do we force companies to consider the larger impacts of their actions?

 

“URLs are UI”

Image of URL printed in local paper from Scott Hanselman’s post “URLs are UI”

Hey,

There are layers to this digital design methodology, man.

“URLs are UI” Jacob Nielsen said that back in 1999, when Google only had <1% of search volume.

18 years later, have you considered your URLs? This message is specifically for everyone who does not work in SEO: People still have to interact with URLs.

Maybe you tried to share something but couldnt get a direct URL? Maybe you were on Facebook, and were confused about how to copy a direct link to a photo, because photos are overlays for some reason? Maybe, as a commenter on Mr. Hanselman’s post points out, you wanted to buy something on Amazon. Maybe you wanted to buy:

Creative Hobbies® Synthetic Chalkboard With Unfinished Wood Frame, 4 x 6 Inch -Pack of 6 Chalkboards

How would you get there?

Oh:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EA85652/ref=s9u_cartx_gw_i3?ie=UTF8&fpl=fresh&pd_rd_i=B00EA85652&pd_rd_r=NKCYZGPFYJXAPSJWR341&pd_rd_w=XrV6G&pd_rd_wg=yhyyn&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=&pf_rd_r=GS69TAV1S481DHM1S4XF&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=f719e185-4825-42a4-9507-9df1a19229d6&pf_rd_i=desktop

So just think about your URLs.

Maybe your URLs could be something like the example that Mr. Hanselman uses in his article:

I love Stack Overflow’s URLs. Here’s an example: https://stackoverflow.com/users/6380/scott-hanselman

The only thing that matters there is the 6380. Try it https://stackoverflow.com/users/6380 or https://stackoverflow.com/users/6380/fancy-pants also works. SO will even support this! http://stackoverflow.com/u/6380.

Genius. Why? Because they decided it matters.

Here’s another

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/701030/whats-the-significance-of-oct-12-1999 again, the text after the ID doesn’t matter. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/701030/

This is a great model for URLs where you want a to use a unique ID but the text/title in the URL may change. I use this for my podcasts so https://hanselminutes.com/587/brandon-bouier-on-the-defense-digital-service-and-deploying-code-in-a-war-zone is the same as https://hanselminutes.com/587.

Why it’s hot

There’s lots of moving pieces when it comes to designing digital experiences. Sometimes the smaller ones get overlooked because the big sexy crunchy ones are all, THERE, but it’s important to remember the small persistent pieces that need love and attention too. Like URLs.

Article, and image from Scott Hanselman’s “URLs are UI”

 

Google Glass’ Surprising Second Act

Since Glass’ initial flop, Google has been quietly refining the product with a new customer base: factory workers.

Today, Google announced that the new and improved version, named Glass Enterprise Edition, is available to businesses via “our network of expert partners”.

The new version has an improved processor, a better camera, and can be clipped on to safety glasses. Companies are using Glass as a productivity tool. For example, Boeing mechanics have replaced their clunky instruction manuals with Glass, significantly streamlining the process of performing maintenance on a jet engine. At AGCO, an agricultural machinery manufacturer, Glass has reduced machinery production time by 25% and inspection time by 30%.

Why is this significant?

If AR has found a foothold in the business world, it may eventually become more and more normal in our every day lives.

Google’s post on medium

Wired article

NBA Jam Oral History

Is there anything I love more than histories of video games or online communities? Not sure. Anyway, this NBA Jam Oral History is GREAT and I recommend you read it.

https://www.si.com/longform/2017/nba-jam-oral-history/index.html

 

Blocks and Beacons

Blocks

Blocks is a new VR creation tool from Google. It seems like a pretty neat and intuitive way to create VR spaces. It’s for both Vive and Oculus and it’s free. The software allows you to create simple objects, scale and manipulate them, and snap them together into larger shapes. All of the shapes share a low poly aesthetic that’s ideal for smartphones. You can easily also make your creations available to others under a creative common license.

The New Republic Is All Like: TEENS?! On the INTERNET?!

I was going to post some boring stuff about a cyber security tool that will probably destroy the world (according to the NYTimes), but chose the article about teens and tumblr instead.

It’s pretty “stupid adult peeks into fetid writhing mass of teen culture, is surprised to find some things of worth”, but I love deep looks into online culture. The article is both the pinnacle of cringe-y adult misunderstanding:

Lilley is tall and lanky, with dark brown curly hair. Greenfield is shorter, with glasses and honey-brown hair. They both wore plain polo shirts. Summer had just ended, and there was a pool in the backyard, but they were quite pale. After studying their mannerisms and hearing Lilley’s repeated allusions to Greenfield’s math skills and superior memory—he was briefly a mechatronics engineering major—I determined they were nerds. They were witty and warm and very smart, and I liked them immediately, but they were total nerds. It surprised me, because nerds are often defined by an inability to read social interactions and respond in a way that makes them cool, confident—relatable. So I gently asked Greenfield how he was able to make these minute social observations that hinge on complex emotions being expressed in subtle facial expressions when, perhaps, this was not his strong suit in real life. His answer: internet research.

As well as a demonstrate of how kids are growing up with an innate understanding of digital marketing:

The outrage clicks were so powerful, Lilley and Greenfield decided to experiment with “negative attention.” Haters are more loyal than fans, so they promoted the bad hacks. The worst hacks brought in thousands of followers, and that’s how Lifehackable built the bulk of its audience. “Tom knew what was happening, and so then he was more incentivized to actually not do his job right,” Lilley said. “And in sucking, he succeeded.”

And later

Lilley was disgusted by the thought of “trying to build a personal brand by sacrificing your content.”

It’s great and you should read it.

https://newrepublic.com/article/129002/secret-lives-tumblr-teens

 

Reality Winner and dots

A security contractor named Reality Winner was arrested this week for leaking documents about the Russian election hack to The Intercept.

Her arrest set off a conversation about journalism and op-sec, or operational security.

Reality Winner made a number of mistakes, but in particular she was outed by the specific printer that she used to print and carry out the documents.

A security firm contacted by BoingBoing said:

The document leaked by the Intercept was from a printer with model number 54, serial number 29535218. The document was printed on May 9, 2017 at 6:20. The NSA almost certainly has a record of who used the printer at that time.

The situation is similar to how Vice outed the location of John McAfee, by publishing JPEG photographs of him with the EXIF GPS coordinates still hidden in the file. Or it’s how PDFs are often redacted by adding a black bar on top of image, leaving the underlying contents still in the file for people to read, such as in this NYTime accident with a Snowden document. Or how opening a Microsoft Office document, then accidentally saving it, leaves fingerprints identifying you behind, as repeatedly happened with the Wikileaks election leaks. These sorts of failures are common with leaks. To fix this yellow-dot problem, use a black-and-white printer, black-and-white scanner, or convert to black-and-white with an image editor.

I thought this was an interesting look at how far digital traces can be used to identify us, and if you’re leaking something, just remember to remove all the metadata.

link: https://boingboing.net/2017/06/06/reality-winner-was-outed-by-in.html

Are algorithms dumbing down culture?

Link: The Rise of Auto-Complete Culture, And Why We Should Resist

Upfront I will say this: I really dislike this article, but I can’t quite put into words why, so I wanted to share it with you all and talk about it.

The premise of the article is that algorithms are sanding down the edges of our language and our individuality through things like auto complete messages, suggested responses, and Google’s AI drawing project.

There’s also a bit of Jaron Lanier angst about selling our data and becoming the product.

The core of the argument seems to be this:

Well, future generations of thinking humans care. Consider how scientists found that the average literate person’s vocabulary has shrunk over the last two centuries, after analyzing unique words used in books since 1800. In exchange for awesome technologies like television, text messaging, and an app called “Yo” that let you type a single word (and raised $1.5 million for it), we slowly handed over the ways we can express how we feel and what we think.

And what he is scared of is this:

What really scares me about the rise of aggregated, averaged, auto-completed culture isn’t just that I feel it chipping away at my own vocabulary, but I fear it will will teach young people how to speak via an anonymous algorithm before they can develop their own splendid, flawed voices, before they can invent new words, and new forms of self-expression, that will enrich our culture and progress as a society.

 

It sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Google is coming for our artists! But I want you to think of your favorite author or artist who bucked social norms to herald a new era of human expression and meaning. Now imagine that, instead of creating the most impactful work of their career, they phoned it in that afternoon with an auto-completed sentiment.

This strikes me as a pretty poorly argued and thinly supported argument. He’s picked three examples and cited one random statistic. Also, he appears to only be addressing the Western, English speaking world. Also, famous convention-bucking-artists are famous convention bucking artists because they buck convention!

However, I’m interested in what you guys think: is the rise of algorithms smoothing out the world around us? Do you think that snapchat, instagram, twitter, texting, facebook, email and all of the other new ways we communicate are shrinking the way we express ourselves, or expanding it?

I apologize for yet another dry sauce hot sauce. To make up for it, here’s a Vine classic (RIP Vine).

https://vine.co/v/MFBmImgeYX7

Learning to fly by crashing

 

 

One way to think of flying (or driving or walking or any other form of motion) is that success is simply a continual failure to crash. From this perspective, the most effective way of learning how to fly is by getting a lot of experience crashing so that you know exactly what to avoid, and once you can reliably avoid crashing, you by definition know how to fly. Simple, right? We tend not to learn this way, however, because crashing has consequences that are usually quite bad for both robots and people.

The CMU roboticists wanted to see if there are any benefits to using the crash approach instead of the not crash approach, so they sucked it up and let an AR Drone 2.0 loose in 20 different indoor environments, racking up 11,500 collisions over the course of 40 hours of flying time. As the researchers point out, “since the hulls of the drone are cheap and easy to replace, the cost of catastrophic failure is negligible.” Each collision is random, with the drone starting at a random location in the space and then flying slowly forward until it runs into something. After it does, it goes back to its starting point, and chooses a new direction. Assuming it survives, of course.

Link

Why it’s hot:

  • Watch the video. The drone navigating its way through the hallway is uncanny.
  • Novel approaches. Maybe instead of avoiding the problem, you embrace the problem and see where it gets you.