Technology Is as Biased as Its Makers

The road ahead is going to be turbulent as more people realize the extent to which technology can be biased. What we do about now will possibly set the direction for the next few decades…

Longreads

Lizzie O’Shea | an excerpt adapted from Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Teach Us about Digital Technology | Verso | May 2019 | 30 minutes (8,211 words)

In the late spring of 1972, Lily Gray was driving her new Ford Pinto on a freeway in Los Angeles, and her thirteen-year-old neighbor, Richard Grimshaw, was in the passenger seat. The car stalled and was struck from behind at around 30 mph. The Pinto burst into flames, killing Gray and seriously injuring Grimshaw. He suffered permanent and disfiguring burns to his face and body, lost several fingers and required multiple surgeries.

Six years later, in Indiana, three teenaged girls died in a Ford Pinto that had been rammed from behind by a van. The body of the car reportedly collapsed “like an accordion,” trapping them inside. The fuel tank ruptured and ignited into a fireball.

Both…

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Whose advice should you take?

A useful way to look at advice…

It's only chemo

My wife finds it irritating that I often take a long time to get round to following her recommendations, even though the ones I follow almost always turn out to be successful. This post is about what sort of advice is worth taking – my view of the evidence is, not much – and why a (very basic) bayesian attitude is worthwhile.

Everyone wants their advice to be taken, but almost no one actually wants or ever follows unsolicited advice. That paradox is worth thinking about.

The quality of people’s advice varies considerably depending on how specialist it is.

Even those people who are experts offering expert advice may not be that useful to you. A 2014 meta-study found, ‘deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions.’

All that practice will give…

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Facebook’s Crypto Strawman

This is their first attempt after all…

alexdanco.com

If you haven’t heard already:

Welcome to Libra | Facebook
Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: all you need to know | Josh Constine, Techcrunch

I mean, hey, good for Facebook for… going for it, I guess? After two-plus years of being called all sorts of nasty names – a threat to democracy, a nest of lies, a horde of children playing run-the-universe, you get the idea – Facebook has announced their newest plan to get everybody mad at them: they’re launching a new cryptocurrency / payments product for their users around the world. They call it “A simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.” And it’s called Libra.

The actual mechanics of the Libra blockchain protocol are a real Rorschach test: whatever it is you already thought Facebook was doing, you’re probably going to keep thinking that, but armed with more talking points: 

  • Libra is a private…

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How the Model T drove hats out of fashion

Lama Al Rajih

Last week, I came across this tweet from an account I follow on Twitter.

Take a closer look at the picture.

Every single person in this picture, man or woman, was wearing a hat. There isn’t a single person in that picture that isn’t wearing a hat. People even wore broad-rimmed and Panama hats to the beach (unless they were swimming).

Of course, createstreets was pointing out the large sidewalks and tiny roads in the picture, reminding the audience that this was at a time when everybody was walking or riding a horse, and very few people drove cars.

I’m not really sure how my train of thought ended up where it did, but I quickly asked this question: did hats fall out of fashion because of cars?

I ended up getting into a conversation with Andrew, who previously worked in the fashion world, about this particular subject, and…

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First impressions of Spotify in India

The service launched yesterday in India in the midst of the Warner music conflict, but it seems to have a pretty decent catalogue in India. The recommendations engine is also top notch as I experienced it first hand by feeding in my preferred artists across different genres and it right away created a bunch of playlists with some of my favorite songs. Definitely the best experience of all the music streaming services so far for me.

I’m currently on the free tier which doesn’t lose out much other than the highest audio quality and offline storage. The ads are bearable for now. It also seems that Amazon is holding back with their Spotify support on the Echo line in India as seen in this mail from customer support.

The premium pricing is also in line with Apple Music though quite a bit more expensive than the Indian services like Wynk or Saavn. It also doesn’t seem to support in app purchases on iOS as evidenced below.

I’ll probably go for the premium subscription once the Echo support kicks in or I require the offline access. For now, happy with the free tier of Spotify and making do with Amazon Music on the Echo.

The social (VFX) lives of Hollywood

vfxblog

MOCAP_V3 Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

One of the toughest things about covering visual effects can be getting great VFX imagery to display with a story. There’s often a lengthy approvals process, and sometimes film and TV distributors just want to keep certain things under wraps. That can make it hard to produce interesting stories; in visual effects, behind the scenes images and videos tell so much of the process.

But lately, I’ve started noticing that many actors, directors and filmmakers have been posting a bunch of fun on-set and often VFX-related pics and clips to their social media accounts. We’re talking actors on greenscreens, in mocap suits, being scanned, or otherwise interacting with the teams behind the visual effects shots they’ve been working on.

What I love about these postings, too, is occasionally they’ll hint at the VFX work to come, often months down the track. It’s fun to compare…

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Bringing IoT to sports analytics

IoT for cricket!

the morning paper

Bringing IoT to sports analytics Gowda et al., NSDI 17

Welcome back to the summer term of #themorningpaper! To kick things off, we’ll be looking at a selection of papers from last month’s NSDI’17 conference.

We haven’t looked at an IoT paper for a while, and this one happens to be about cricket – how could I resist?! The results are potentially transferable to other ball sports – especially baseball – so if that’s more your thing the results should also be of interest. More generally, it’s an interesting case study in embedding intelligence into everyday objects.

Sports analytics is becoming big business – for broadcasters, coaches, sports pundits and the like. Typically the data for such systems comes from expensive high-quality cameras installed in stadiums.

We explore the possibility of significantly lowering this cost barrier by embedding cheap Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors and ultrawide band (UWB) radios inside…

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My iPhone Home Screen for 2016

20170101_083446000_ios

Last year turned out to have quite a lot of changes for my iPhone, thanks in parts to the entry of the 2 major video streaming services into India. That along with some amount of app rationalisation on my part due to the constraints of a 16 GB iPhone led to a bit of diversity on the home screen unlike the last two years.

I was also quite tempted by the iPhone 7 plus and its dual lens camera (not to mention the 128 GB storage tier) as a replacement for my iPhone 5s, but a change of battery a few months back gave it a new lease of life. Plus I got an Apple Watch a few months ago (review coming up hopefully) to replace my Pebble Time (turned out to be just a month before the Pebble sale to Fitbit).

Coming to the apps:

  • No change in the first row, but the second row see some major changes with the Reminders app being relegated to a separate screen. Todoist continues to feature on the second row thanks to its IFTTT & cross platform support, and is now augmented by the Apple Watch app that makes it easy to refer to reminders on the go.
  • Alarmed finally moves off the screen making way for Due that’s a very similar app and has an Apple Watch app. This turned out to be the major reason for the switch. While Alarmed did expose the notification actions on the Apple Watch, there was no way to add reminders or act on dismissed notifications. Due fully support adding reminders through the Apple Watch and also gives access to the timers on the wrist.
  • I got rid of Inbox and consolidated my Gmail account into the Outlook app, mainly due to the space constraints. But, it doesn’t hurt to have the emails and calendars consolidated into one app, and it supports the Apple Watch as well with a full fledged app and complication.
  • Whatsapp also swaps places with Outlook based on my more frequent usage of Whatsapp due to the introduction of voice calls last year.
  • Messages continues to stick around along with Day One though the usage of both has reduced over the year. There was also a new version of Day One launched with web and IFTTT support, but I am sticking to the original version for the time being.
  • While I continue to use One Note as my primary note taking app, I have found the performance of the app to be quite poor on both the iPhone and Mi 4, and finally moved it out of my home screen. The Apple Watch app is also quite handy though it is of limited utility for note taking on the wrist. An honorable mention for the Zoho Notebook app that is cross platform just like One Note and also supports the Apple Watch, but not IFTTT. It also allows you to make audio notes from the wrist.
  • My trio of travel apps – Google Maps, Uber and Ola – remain in the same places and my reliance on each of them remains unchanged as well. That said, the apps themselves have changed quite a bit over the last year with Uber undergoing a major rebranding exercise and a complete overhaul of their iOS app. Ola has also expanded its range of services over the last year.
  • Oura is one of the new entrants to the home screen and it is the companion app to the Oura ring that I got in May 2016. I use it through the day to track my activities, starting off with my sleep first thing in the morning.
  • Streaks continues to remain on the home screen and I have tweaked the activities that I’m tracking to make them more automated where possible like the ones that read data from the Health app for steps, sleep and weight. It again has an Apple Watch to make it easier to track habits.
  • Netflix and Amazon Video don’t need much of an introduction of course and 2016 saw the entry of both the services in India albeit at either end of the year. I even upgraded my data plan so that I could watch shows on the go. Here again, the 16 GB storage of my iPhone 5s prevents me from downloading any shows though both apps support offline videos. Good thing I have my Mi 4, but Netflix for some reason doesn’t allow downloads on itNetflix for some reason doesn’t allow downloads on it.
  • The Money Pro app also finally displaces the MoneyBook app for my finance tracking. The main advantage was the search feature, making it easier to track expenses. The Apple Watch app also helps in making quick entries. It has a macOS app as well along with iCloud sync support.

A few other apps that don’t feature on the home screen but get used regularly are PayTM (was using it long before the demonetisation), Workflow, Pedometer++, Data Counter and Copied (a clipboard manager with a keyboard and widget) some of which I use through widgets or the Watch apps.

Rogue One

Some quick thoughts on the movie:

  • The Star Wars movie with just one light saber in the whole movie, and more akin to the Westerns and War movies of the yesteryears as many reviewers have noted
  • This poses some interesting questions for the Star Wars Machete order, now that we have a storyline that comes in between Episodes III & IV
  • It also lays to rest the “big” design flaw in the Death Star that allowed its eventual destruction
  • It seems we’re also seeing the beginning of a new era where dead actors will be resurrected for key roles in prequels/sequels
  • The entire climax of the movie gives a new physical dimension to data search and security
  • This story also pretty much disregards the Jedi Knight video game series’ plot which started off with the Dark Forces game and involved Kyle Katarn stealing the Death Star plans