Tag Archives: nytimes

Quote

Invisible cities: the eruv of Manhattan

What’s the eruv of Manhattan? Well according to the article below:

The eruv encircles much of Manhattan, acting as a symbolic boundary that turns the very public streets of the city into a private space, much like one’s own home. This allows people to freely communicate and socialize on the Sabbath—and carry whatever they please—without having to worry about breaking Jewish law.

Here’s a map of it:

You might think that it is hard to believe such a thing could last for long, but as this piece shows, it is diligently maintained.

I found this fascinating. There’s many interesting aspects of New York, but this is one of the better ones. For more on this, read: There’s a Wire Above Manhattan That You’ve Probably Never Noticed

Quote

For the few (I hope) young people who think they have nothing to fear from COVID-19

I recommend you read this: ‘Feeling Like Death’: Inside a Houston Hospital Bracing for a Virus Peak – The New York Times.

Sure, your survival rates may be higher than someone much older than you. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t suffer intensively and be weakened for much longer in the future.

Quote

On Reddit finally getting its act together

Glad to see Reddit is finally getting it’s act together:
Reddit, Acting Against Hate Speech, Bans ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit – The New York Times.

Reading the story, you can see how extremely slow Reddit has been to deal with this. And even before they shut down this part of their site, they gave it ample warning:

… the company’s executives have struggled in particular with how to handle “The_Donald” and its noxious content. Reddit said people in “The_Donald” consistently posted racist and vulgar messages that incited harassment and targeted people of different religious and ethnic groups on and off its site.

“The_Donald” has also heavily trafficked in conspiracy theories, including spreading the debunked “PizzaGate” conspiracy, in which Hillary Clinton and top Democrats were falsely accused of running a child sex-trafficking ring from a pizza parlor in Washington.

Reddit said that as of Monday, it was introducing eight rules that laid out the terms that users must abide. Those include prohibiting targeted harassment, revealing the identities of others, posting sexually exploitative content related to underage children, or trafficking in illegal substances or other illicit transactions.

While the site had already banned many of these behaviors, the latest changes take a harder line on speech that “promotes hate based on identity or vulnerability.”

Mr. Huffman said users on “The_Donald” had frequently violated its first updated rule: “Remember the human.” He said he and others at Reddit repeatedly tried to reason with moderators of “The_Donald,” who run the subreddit on a volunteer basis, to no avail. Banning the forum was a last-ditch effort to contain harassment, he said.

“We’ve given them many opportunities to be successful,” Mr. Huffman said. “The message is clear that they have no intention of working with us.”

I mean, the rules (highlighted in bold) were what they had to follow. And they couldn’t. Meanwhile you have Glenn Greenwald tweeting this blanket statement:

Why trust Silicon Valley? Well, for once, they seem to be waking up to the problem they’ve been having. I trust them more now than I have for decades. For too long Reddit has hosted some of the worst parts of the Internet. Glad to see they’ve decided to flush it. Let it crawl off to the chan sites of the world.

Quote

How to be more resilient? Emulate resilient people

To be more resilient, be more like resilient people. And what makes them resilient? According to this: What Makes Some People More Resilient Than Others – The New York Times resilient people have the following qualities:

They have a positive, realistic outlook. They don’t dwell on negative information and instead look for opportunities in bleak situations, striving to find the positive within the negative.

They have a moral compass. Highly resilient people have a solid sense of what they consider right and wrong, and it tends to guide their decisions.

They have a belief in something greater than themselves. This is often found through religious or spiritual practices. The community support that comes from being part of a religion also enhances resilience.

They are altruistic; they have a concern for others and a degree of selflessness. They are often dedicated to causes they find meaningful and that give them a sense of purpose.

They accept what they cannot change and focus energy on what they can change. Dr. Southwick says resilient people reappraise a difficult situation and look for meaningful opportunities within it.

They have a mission, a meaning, a purpose. Feeling committed to a meaningful mission in life gives them courage and strength.

They have a social support system, and they support others. “Very few resilient people,” said Dr. Southwick, “go it alone.”

If you want to be more resilient, try and adopt those qualities.

Quote

How to think better about regrets

Can be found here: How to Have Fewer Regrets – The New York Times

People will say they have few or no regrets. I wonder how challenged they were in life to be that way. Chances are you have more than a few regrets. That’s ok. Read the piece and things better about that.

Quote

How to get more cooperation from your kids regarding chores and morning activities

For people struggling with their kids while they work from home, this piece from The New York Times in 2018 might help. I think a lot depends on the personality of the child, but for some of you, it just might be the thing you need. In a nutshell, they did this:

We devised a personalized morning checklist for each child — with their input. And we created a breakfast menu and a lunch menu, just like the ones they give you in hotels. We’re talking the works here. For breakfast the children can have cereal, muffins, eggs however they want, smoothies. You name it! And the lunch menu is equally expansive. Each night the kids complete their menus for the next day’s breakfast and lunch.

Do you need last minute gift ideas?

Then you need this article in the New York Times:

www.nytimes.com/2019/12/18/smarter-living/last-minute-gift-ideas.html

It has a wide range of gift ideas but more importantly, it will help you better think about what to get someone.

Don’t panic, you still have time!

Quote

The iPod Touch lives!


And as someone who is a fan of it since a long time, I was glad to hear about it here:  There’s a New iPod Touch. Yes, in 2019, and Yes, It’s Worth Looking at. – The New York Times

Back in the day when Blackberries were the rage and I needed one for work, the iPod Touch was my way of tapping into the world of Apple. Today if I had to use Android for whatever reason, I’d be inclined to get a Touch again, just so I could do things the Apple way. It’s a great device still, and if you read the article, you’ll see it is not obsolete.

Now if Apple would only bring back the Nano! 🙂

Quote

The challenges of taxing the wealthy

Is outlined here: Taxing the Wealthy Sounds Easy. It’s Not. – The New York Times.

It’s worth a read. It’s thoughtful, even if you may not agree with it. Also, just because something is not easy does not mean do not attempt it.

Taxing drives behaviour. My thought is drive behaviour in the right direction.  Tell affluent people to use their wealth in directed ways that improve our society or tax them so that it can be done. If they disagree, then it is time to make explicit the social contracts in place and ask what has to be changed to make for a better society. Because for most societies in the world, including Canada’s, the social contract can be a lot better.

Quote

Secure Your Digital Life – a relatively pain free guide from the New York Times


I highly highly recommend this: NYT Programs – Secure Your Digital Life in 7 (Easy) Days

You can never do enough to security your information technology, but the more you do, the better off you are.

Quote

How Toronto looks from the City of Buffalo

Torontoians will find this interesting: Toronto’s astonishing growth: Will it matter to Buffalo? – The Buffalo News.

This was a key passage:

For Buffalo, the question now is whether Toronto’s “reimagining” might seep south of the border, as well. Smaller cities in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe are booming, too, thanks in part to Toronto’s spillover. And Toronto and Buffalo, incorporated two years and 100 miles apart, kept pace with each other until the 1950s, said the University of Toronto’s Bourne, who used to assign a project comparing the cities’ trajectories to his undergraduate students.

That history is interesting, Bourne said, because while Buffalo and Toronto share important characteristics, they suffered opposite fates: Buffalo shrinking with the sunset of the Erie Canal and Rust Belt manufacturing, and Toronto swelling when the Quebec separatist movement made it the favored home for Canada’s banks.

As late as the 1970s, Torontonians considered Buffalo a nightlife destination. Many of their restaurants still closed on Sundays and maintained separate male and female entrances.

Torontonians “would come to shop, they would come for jazz – Buffalo was the hive,” said UB’s Foster, who lived in Toronto for more than three decades. “But then people started going the other way, and that hasn’t changed.”

Years ago going to Buffalo for shopping was still a thing in Toronto: not sure it is now. Perhaps some people still go to watch the Buffalo Sabers play hockey. Perhaps the linkages between the two cities will become stronger over time and there will be a good proportion of Torontoians making Buffalo a destination again.

For Torontoians considering going to Buffalo, I recommend this piece in the New York Times.

(Image linked to the New York Times piece)

Quote

How to Harness Your Anxiety


Easier said than done, I know. But worth addressing. And not impossible. Good luck! Anxiety may seem like a tiger, but it can also be a horse: you can get a grip on it, break it, and use it to your advantage even.

How to Harness Your Anxiety – The New York Times

Quote

The World’s Fastest Senior


This is a remarkable story of literally The World’s Fastest (Old) Man, via The New York Times.

It’s almost inconceivable someone in their 70s can be that fast, let alone setting records. Well worth reading for inspiration.

(Photo link: CreditKristian Thacker for The New York Times)

Quote

The U.S. Supreme Court is not what you think


There was much concern from progressives when Gorsuch and then Kavanaugh joined the U.S. Supreme Court. It was believed by myself and others that the court was going to vote 5-4 in lock step on every option, with the 5 conservative judges routinely beating the four liberal ones.

If you are progressive, it is still a concern. But as these two pieces show, the Supremes vote more independently than you or I might think:

  1. The Supreme Court’s Biggest Decisions in 2019 – The New York Times
  2. The Supreme Court Might Have Three Swing Justices Now | FiveThirtyEight

This is not to say it is entire unpredictable how they will vote on matters before them. The liberal and conservative labels are convenient and often useful, but there’s much more to consider than just that when trying to determine how they will vote. Read the two pieces and see if they change your mind.

(Photo by Claire Anderson via unsplash.com)

Quote

A different way to see Paris

Not for everyone visiting Paris, but if you want to see Paris in a way untypical of most visitors, consider this: Paris on Foot: 35 Miles, 6 Days and One Blistered Toe – The New York Times

Quote

The Restaurant That Has Helped New Yorkers Feel Famous Since 1984 and other links to NYC


For fans of NY back when, or people just curious about a very different New York then the current one, here’s a bunch of links worth reading:

Quote

Congrats! You have a day off! What should you do?


Well, there’s a lot of options, if you go through this list: What to Do With a Day Off – The New York Times. My take is you can either tackle those things you have been putting off (hello! Finances!) or you can literally vacate your normal life and take it easy. Either is good. Better yet: consider being productive this time off and extra lazy the next time.

Enjoy your day. You deserve it.

Quote

A gentle program to get you out of your rut in 30 days

A gentle program to get you out of your rut in 30 days can be found here: NYT Programs – 30-Day Well Challenge.

Recommended especially for people who are a) in a rut b) overwhelmed with other things to do.

Quote

Why Play a Music CD? Lots of reasons….


I really liked a recent article about Ben Sisario, the New York Times reporter who covers the music industry. He is talking about what he uses to listen to music, and this quote jumped out at me, especially the part I put in bold.

(I) try to keep an eye on all the major platforms out there, which means regularly poking around on about a dozen apps. My go-to sources are Spotify, SoundCloud, Bandcamp and Mixcloud, which has excellent D.J.-style mixes and to me feels more human than most.

At home I have a Sonos Play:5 speaker, which plays streaming music and podcasts, and is a piece of cake to use. I also have Google Chromecast Audio, a little plug-in device (now discontinued) that allows me to send high-fidelity streams to my stereo. It sounds better that way, but it’s not nearly as easy to use as the Sonos.

To be honest, my preferred way to listen to music is on CD, as unfashionable as that might be. You push a button, the music plays, and then it’s over — no ads, no privacy terrors, no algorithms!

Like Ben, I started to listen to music on CDs again too. For a number of reasons:

    1. I have some great old CDs from labels like Deutsche Grammphon that I am never going to download again and which I don’t even want to listen to on Spotify.
    2. I find it satisfying to put on a CD, listen to it, and then it be over. I don’t want to listen to an infinite playlist all the time.
    3. I always worry that some day services like Spotify will simply trim their catalog and I will never be able to listen to that music easily again. For music I love, I want to own it outright.
    4. I worry about how what I listen to on Spotify is constantly fed into their analytic software – what people like to call their algorithm – to determine what I want to listen to. Some times I just want to listen to music in a different direction. I don’t want Spotify to start suggesting new music based on a whim.
    5. I don’t want Spotify or others to know everything about my listening choices. I think we all need a stealth mode for any services we use online.

I still love Spotify, but I don’t want to depend on Spotify to enjoy music.

That’s my two cents. For more on Ben, see: Why Play a Music CD? ‘No Ads, No Privacy Terrors, No Algorithms’ – The New York Times

Quote

The Widows of the Plaza Hotel

This is a great read: The Widows of the Plaza Hotel – The New York Times. 

If you love New York, hotels, stories of odd balls, and people sticking it to Donald Trump, you will want to read that story. I ate it up! 🙂

(Image hotels.com)

Quote

So you want to become famous on Instagram? You might want to read this first

Why? Because as this article shows, become famous on Instagram is a lot harder than you might think:  I Tried to Make My Dog an Instagram Celebrity. I Failed. – The New York Times.

Yes, I know you are not a dog, but the same lessons will apply.

My guess is that the ship has sailed on become famous on Instagram. Same for podcasts and any other social media that has been around for a few years. You need to get in early, work hard, and take advantage of network effects.

If you do decide to become Instagram famous and manage to pull it off, please come here and mock me and I will update this post. 🙂

Quote

If you want to make a podcast

Then consider this: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Into Podcasts – The New York Times.

It doesn’t appeal to me, but podcasts are hot now, and if you want to give it a go, a good guide such as this one can help.

Good luck!

Quote

Some thoughts on the end of Paul Krugman’s blog and blogging generally

I accidentally went to Paul Krugman’s blog today and was surprised to see he ended it some time ago. To quote him:

A message for regular readers of this blog: unless something big breaks later today, this will be my last day blogging AT THIS SITE. The Times is consolidating the process, so future blog-like entries will show up at my regular columnist page. This should broaden the audience, a bit, maybe, and certainly make it easier for the Times to feature relevant posts.

I remember when the Times (and many other places) finally recognized blogging as a way of communicating and started a big section on their site to blogging.

Is blogging dead? Not really. It’s no longer what is what, but people are still blogging. Does it matter? No. Blogging is writing. Communicating via words on the Internet. We have all these tools and media to communicate. For a time, blogging and blogs were a way to share that writing. Now people are doing it other ways.

What matters is the writing. The format matters much less. I still like the blogging format, but what I like more is that so many people can communicate with others.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to Krugman’s blog: Economics and Politics by Paul Krugman – The Conscience of a Liberal – The New York Times

Quote

How to travel back in time in NYC


One way would be to go to this place: Barbetta. The New York Times has a fine story on it, here: The Elegant Relic of Restaurant Row. Even if you don’t intend to go, you’d be rewarded just reading the piece.

Love that photo by Dina Litovsky for The New York Times. The sign is “made of opal glass. A forerunner of neon, it is the last of its kind in the city…”.  Fantastic.

Quote

Two good interviews with Jerry Seinfeld

These two interviews appeared in the New York Times in October and August and I was impressed by both of them, especially the first one below:

Seinfeld is smart and insightful and professional. He knows comedy and stand-up well and he’s thought a lot about it.

Quote

The internet says: follow your passion. But what if you have no specific passion to follow?

You can find many places on the internet where you are encouraged to Follow Your Passion. One such place is here: Why Following Your Passions Is Good for You (and How to Get Started) – The New York Times

Love to cook? Love to write? If those are your passions, then the internet wants you to follow them.

But what if you don’t have specific passions. The NYTimes piece has an answer for that too:

No passions? Cultivate skills instead
While hobbies both enrich our lives and can turn into rewarding careers, those of us who don’t have a particular obsession aren’t hopelessly out of luck. Instead, cultivate skills that will give you a leg up in your field. We all carry a “toolbox” to work in the form of specific abilities that make us better at our jobs. Some experts say leveling up on some of these will improve your job satisfaction more than initial enthusiasm ever will.

It’s easier to improve yourself in an area you are passionate about. But taking pride in your skills and your qualities and working to hone them is worthwhile. If there’s not an area you feel a strong passion for, at least improve in the areas you can.

Passion is a strong word. So is pride. If you can follow your passion, follow your pride and be justly proud of the things you are good at.

Quote

How to get more life out of your old iPhone

Do what this article says:  The New iPhones Look Fine. But My Old One Is Better Than Ever. – The New York Times

Quote

The state of meetings

I’ve had this saved from some time ago but I want to post it for two reasons: The Modern Meeting: Call In, Turn Off, Tune Out – The New York Times.

One reason is just as a placeholder for how work is now in this time period. I will be happy to go back in five or ten years from now and see how much has changed.

The second reason is that no matter what happens in five or ten years from now, people who work in offices will always struggle with meetings. There is no solution to effective meetings: there is only managing your time and how best to be effective in the time you are working and meeting. If you work with people, you will have meetings. Nowadays you have too many meetings and you need to manage them and your time as best as you can.

Once meetings were hard to schedule. There were no digital calendars, no videoconferencing. You had to call or talk to someone and arrange to meet them, they would write it down on a piece of paper, and then physically show up and have the meeting. You likely worked with a limited number of people. And even then, even though they were hard to set up, meetings were a pain. Meetings will always be a pain. If they weren’t occasionally useful, no one would ever have them.

But meetings are occasionally useful. Sometimes they are essential. As long as people work together, there will be meetings. If you are working on many different things with many different people, you will have many meetings. Try to be as effective as you can in them. For those holding the meeting, don’t expect so much of people: get what you can and then end the meeting.

Quote

Everything you need to know for sheet-pan cooking can be found here

Everything you need to know for sheet-pan cooking can be found here at this page: How to Make a Sheet-Pan Dinner – NYT Cooking

It’s a comprehensive review on how make any meal using a sheet-pan. If you are a fan of cooking that is easy like slow cookers then you want to check this out.

How to guides are great for people who like to come up with their own recipes. It’s also great if you are trying to use up various ingredients in your fridge.

The weather is getting cooler. It’s time to start using your oven again. This guide will help with this.

Quote

If you ever wanted to write for The New York Times…

Now you have an opportunity. They have a new column, called Rites of Passage, that is going to appear in their Styles section. What are they looking for?

The editors … want to read your essays about notable life events that sparked change. A “rite of passage” can be big or small, though sometimes it’s the less obvious moments that carry even greater meaning: Making the final payment on your student loan debt and what it represented; finding a first gray hair and deciding not to pluck it; a first crush after a spouse’s death. These essays should be written as personal narratives, so please make sure to tell us how the event unfolded and what it meant to you.

Everyone has such stories. If you want to share yours in the Times, you can get  more information here: How to Submit a ‘Rites of Passage’ Essay – The New York Times

How to get started knitting

This piece in the NYTimes, nyti.ms/2L68a6o, looks like both a gentle and a comprehensive guide to getting started with knitting. It has some non-intuitive advice too (don’t start with a scarf but with a hat). If you are looking for a new hobby, this could be it.

How to be a better writer, Op-Ed or otherwise.

This piece on how to be a better Op-Ed writer is also good advice for people writing essays or any other pieces. Anyone wanting to be a better writer would do well to read it.

What is wrong with minimalism (and how to fix that)

What is wrong with minimalism? If you were to read this piece by Mark Manson on the Disease of More, you would be right in thinking that less is what we need. The less you have, the better off you should be. In which case, approaching minimalism should be the idea.

Yet minimalism taken to an extreme is just another form of More is Better, which seems to be the point of this Guardian article, Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy.  (And the truth is, minimalism can be difficult to achieve, as this article shows.)  So, is minimalism a good idea or not? Should you give up on minimalism?

What both minimalist and anti-minimalists miss in their arguments is what is required to have a good life. What should be pursued is not to have more because more is better, or having less because less is better, but to have just what is essential for you to have a good life.

Of course what is essential depends on who you are. For some, this is a perfect environment:


For others, it’s this:

There is nothing wrong with a minimal environment if that is essential for you to be happy and content. Likewise, having a room jam packed with stimulating items may be essential to you.  You have to decide for yourself, rather than sticking with a simple formula of Less is More or More is More.

What you should have is  what is essential for you to live a good life. The fix for minimalism is essentialism. Preferably a lean essentialism. But again, that is up to you.

Paris travel tips from the New York Times, if you have no time and no money

Paris Hotel
If you want to go to Paris and have little money or little time, then the New York Times has two pages of information that might help:

  1. 36 Hours on the Left Bank, Paris – The New York Times
  2. Hotels in Paris for Under $150 – The New York Times

If you go after reading this, send me a postcard. 🙂

P.S. If you are in the mood for dreaming about going to France, here’s a bonus link from Decanter magazine: Château accommodation in Bordeaux: Living the dream

(Photo, by Ed Alcock, via a link to the page of The New York Times)

An introduction to Richard Thaler, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics

Often times it is hard to appreciate the work of Nobel Prize winners, including those in Economics. Thaler is not one of those people. His work is very approachable for laypeople, and the benefits of his work is obvious.

Here’s one example, of how his work led to better results for people in terms of pensions.

Youtube is a great source of videos on Thaler. If you want to get started understanding what is behind his thinking, you can start there.
In addition, the New York Times covers his award winning here and it is another good introduction. Finally, here is a piece in the Times that Thaler wrote himself, on the power of Nudges. If you do anything, read that.

Good to see him win.

David Hockney: still going, still great

David Hockney

And the NYTimes has an update on where he is in his life and his career, here: David Hockney, Contrarian, Shifts Perspectives – NYTimes.com.

I have always admired Hockney both for the wonderful lushness of his paintings and for  the way he speaks about art. Both of those admirable qualities are on display in the piece in the Times. He’s in his 80s now: I hope he continues to work and speak for some time to come.

(Image linked to in the NYTimes and taken by Nathanael Turner)

Facebook shows why we need augmented intelligence (Artificial and Human Intelligence)

Because if you don’t have augmented intelligence, and if you solely depend on AI like software, you get problems like this, whereby automated software triggers an event that a trained human might have picked up on.

AI and ML (machine learning) can be highly probabilistic and limited to the information it is trained on. Having a human involved makes up for those limits. Just like AI can process much more information quicker than a limited human can.

See the link to the New York Times story to see what I mean.

Food! Recipes! Techniques! :)

I read an awful lot about food on my iPad and my iPhone, and as I do, I save the links on Instapaper.com or getPocket.com. You might not believe it, but I don’t blog all of them. The ones I do post, like the ones you see below, are ones I think people who love to cook or love to eat (or both!) would enjoy. So…enjoy! 🙂

  1. Here’s a good review of one of Mark Bittman’s latest books: The new fast food: Why Mark Bittman is revolutionizing the recipe with How To Cook Everything Fast | National Post
  2. If you want to jazz up the presentation of your food, consider this: How To Plate Food Like A 3-Star Michelin Chef | Co.Design | business + design
  3. Of course what is a good plating without some good sauces. Here’s some you can try: Simple Pan Sauces : The Reluctant Gourmet. Here’s more from the same site: How to Make Reduction Sauces : The Reluctant Gourmet. A great sauce can make a dish.
  4. If you think you need to run a fancy restaurant to win a Michelin star, read this and change your mind: Michelin star for Singapore noodle stall where lunch is half the price of a Big Mac | Life and style | The Guardian.
  5.  If you are struggling with dieting, you might find this useful: Hunger is psychological – and dieting only makes it worse | Aeon Essays
  6. Any good cook should know some fundamentals. The site Food 52 is helpful with articles like this: The 10 Dishes to Know By Heart This Year. I think part of the fundamentals of cooking is knowing how to make a good stock. If you don’t know how, check this out: How to make soup stock – Chatelaine
  7. Some simple but good pasta recipes, here: A niçoise pasta that you can make with whatever’s in the pantry | Metro News and here: Orecchiette with turkey and broccoli in less than 30 minutes | Metro News and here: Macaroni Milanaise Recipe – NYT Cooking
  8. If you feel like more of a challenge, try this: Bouillabaisse – Lucky Peach
  9. If you don’t feel like cooking at all and just want to drink wine and eat cheese, this can help: 13 Helpful Diagrams For People Who Only Care About Cheese
  10. This says “Summer Express”, but you can easily use it all year round: Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less – The New York Times
  11.  This is dead simple. And if you have this, you can make pulled pork sandwiches, enchilladas, etc. Slow-Cooker Pulled-Pork Tacos Recipe | Real Simple

The Real Bias Built in at Facebook <- another bad I.T. story in the New York Times (and my criticism of it)

There is so much wrong in this article, The Real Bias Built In at Facebook – The New York Times, that I decided to take it apart in this blog post. (I’ve read  so many bad  IT stories in the Times that I stopped critiquing them after a while, but this one in particular bugged me enough to write something).

To illustrate what I mean by what is wrong with this piece, here’s some excerpts in italics followed by my thoughts in non-italics.

  • First off, there is the use of the word “algorithm” everywhere. That alone is a problem. For an example of why that is bad, see section 2.4 of Paul Ford’s great piece on software,What is Code? As Ford explains: ““Algorithm” is a word writers invoke to sound smart about technology. Journalists tend to talk about “Facebook’s algorithm” or a “Google algorithm,” which is usually inaccurate. They mean “software.” Now part of the problem is that Google and Facebook talk about their algorithms, but really they are talking about their software, which will incorporate many algorithms. For example, Google does it here: https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html At least Google talks about algorithms, not algorithm. Either way, talking about algorithms is bad. It’s software, not algorithms, and if you can’t see the difference, that is a good indication you should not be writing think pieces about I.T.
  • Then there is this quote: “Algorithms in human affairs are generally complex computer programs that crunch data and perform computations to optimize outcomes chosen by programmers. Such an algorithm isn’t some pure sifting mechanism, spitting out objective answers in response to scientific calculations. Nor is it a mere reflection of the desires of the programmers. We use these algorithms to explore questions that have no right answer to begin with, so we don’t even have a straightforward way to calibrate or correct them.” What does that even mean? To me, I think it implies any software that is socially oriented (as opposed to say banking software or airline travel software) is imprecise or unpredictable. But at best, that is only slightly true and mainly false. Facebook and Google both want to give you relevant answers. If you start typing in “restaurants” or some other facilities in Google search box, Google will start suggesting answers to you. These answers will very likely to be relevant to you. It is important for Google that this happens, because this is how they make money from advertisers. They have a way of calibrating and correcting this. In fact I am certain they spend a lot of resources making sure you have the correct answer or close to the correct answer. Facebook is the same way. The results you get back are not random. They are designed, built and tested to be relevant to you. The more relevant they are, the more successful these companies are. The responses are generally right ones.
  • If Google shows you these 11 results instead of those 11, or if a hiring algorithm puts this person’s résumé at the top of a file and not that one, who is to definitively say what is correct, and what is wrong?” Actually, Google can say, they just don’t. It’s not in their business interest to explain in detail how their software works. They do explain generally, in order to help people insure their sites stay relevant. (See the link I provided above). But if they provide too much detail, bad sites game their sites and make Google search results worse for everyone. As well, if they provide too much detail, they can make it easier for other search engine sites – yes, they still exist – to compete with them.
  • Without laws of nature to anchor them, algorithms used in such subjective decision making can never be truly neutral, objective or scientific.” This is simply nonsense.
  • Programmers do not, and often cannot, predict what their complex programs will do. “ Also untrue. If this was true, then IBM could not improve Watson to be more accurate. Google could not have their sales reps convince ad buyers that it is worth their money to pay Google to show their ads. Same for Facebook, Twitter, and any web site that is dependent on advertising as a revenue stream.
  • Google’s Internet services are billions of lines of code.” So what? And how is this a measure of complexity?  I’ve seen small amounts of code that was poorly maintained be very hard to understand, and large amounts of code that was well maintained be very simple to understand.
  • Once these algorithms with an enormous number of moving parts are set loose, they then interact with the world, and learn and react. The consequences aren’t easily predictable. Our computational methods are also getting more enigmatic. Machine learning is a rapidly spreading technique that allows computers to independently learn to learn — almost as we do as humans — by churning through the copious disorganized data, including data we generate in digital environments. However, while we now know how to make machines learn, we don’t really know what exact knowledge they have gained. If we did, we wouldn’t need them to learn things themselves: We’d just program the method directly.” This is just a cluster of ideas slammed together, a word sandwich with layers of phrases without saying anything. It makes it sound like AI has been unleashed upon the world and we are helpless to do anything about it. That’s ridiculous. As well, it’s vague enough that it is hard to dispute without talking in detail about how A.I. and machine learning works, but it seems knowledgeable enough that many people think it has greater meaning.
  • With algorithms, we don’t have an engineering breakthrough that’s making life more precise, but billions of semi-savant mini-Frankensteins, often with narrow but deep expertise that we no longer understand, spitting out answers here and there to questions we can’t judge just by numbers, all under the cloak of objectivity and science.” This is just scaremongering.
  • If these algorithms are not scientifically computing answers to questions with objective right answers, what are they doing? Mostly, they “optimize” output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company. On Facebook the goal is to maximize the amount of engagement you have with the site and keep the site ad-friendly.You can easily click on “like,” for example, but there is not yet a “this was a challenging but important story” button. This setup, rather than the hidden personal beliefs of programmers, is where the thorny biases creep into algorithms, and that’s why it’s perfectly plausible for Facebook’s work force to be liberal, and yet for the site to be a powerful conduit for conservative ideas as well as conspiracy theories and hoaxes — along with upbeat stories and weighty debates. Indeed, on Facebook, Donald J. Trump fares better than any other candidate, and anti-vaccination theories like those peddled by Mr. Beck easily go viral. The newsfeed algorithm also values comments and sharing. All this suits content designed to generate either a sense of oversize delight or righteous outrage and go viral, hoaxes and conspiracies as well as baby pictures, happy announcements (that can be liked) and important news and discussions.” This is the one thing in the piece that I agreed with, and it points to the real challenge with Facebook’s software. I think the software IS neutral, in that it is not interested in the content per se as it is how the user is responding or not responding to it. What is NOT neutral is the data it is working off of. Facebook’s software is as susceptible to GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) as any other software. So if you have a lot of people on Facebook sending around cat pictures and stupid things some politicians are saying, people are going to respond to it and Facebook’s software is going to respond to that response.
  • Facebook’s own research shows that the choices its algorithm makes can influence people’s mood and even affect elections by shaping turnout. For example, in August 2014, my analysis found that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm largely buried news of protests over the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., probably because the story was certainly not “like”-able and even hard to comment on. Without likes or comments, the algorithm showed Ferguson posts to fewer people, generating even fewer likes in a spiral of algorithmic silence. The story seemed to break through only after many people expressed outrage on the algorithmically unfiltered Twitter platform, finally forcing the news to national prominence.” Also true. Additionally, Facebook got into trouble for the research they did showing their software can manipulate people by….manipulating people in experiments on them! It was dumb, unethical, and possibly illegal.
  • Software giants would like us to believe their algorithms are objective and neutral, so they can avoid responsibility for their enormous power as gatekeepers while maintaining as large an audience as possible.” Well, not exactly. It’s true that Facebook and Twitter are flirting with the notion of becoming more news organizations, but I don’t think they have decided whether or not they should make the leap or not. Mostly what they are focused on are channels that allow them to gain greater audiences for their ads with few if any restrictions.

In short, like many of the IT think pieces I have seen the Times, it is filled with wrong headed generalities and overstatements, in addition to some concrete examples buried somewhere in the piece that likely was thing that generated the idea to write the piece in the first place. Terrible.

Facebook Publishes New York Times, BuzzFeed with “Instant Articles”. Let’s note this.

According to Re/code, the New York Times, BuzzFeed and others have received really good terms with Facebook regarding the publishing of “Instant Articles”. For instance:

Facebook’s “Instant Articles” are designed to load, um, instantly on Facebook’s iOS app — which is the heart of Facebook’s pitch.

Facebook lets publishers use their own publishing tools, and then converts stories automatically into a format that works on Facebook’s app. There are also some cool bells and whistles, like a photo and video-panning feature Facebook imported from its all-but-forgotten Paper app. Here’s a demo video:

Facebook will let publishers keep 100 percent of the revenue they sell for “Instant Articles”; if they have unsold inventory Facebook will sell it for them via its own ad network and give publishers 70 percent of that revenue.

Facebook will give “Instant Article” publishers access to performance data on their stuff, provided by Google Analytics and Adobe’s Ominiture.

ComScore, the Web’s most important measurement company, will give “Instant Article” publishers full credit for any traffic those stories generate on Facebook’s app.

Publishers can control much of the look and feel of how Facebook presents their stories; the item BuzzFeed publishes tomorrow won’t be mistaken for National Geographic’s.

Facebook says it won’t alter its algorithm to favor “Instant Articles” over any other kind of content. But given their novelty, and the fact they’re designed to be eye-catching, it seems very likely that these things will get lots of attention at the start.

Very generous. Enticing, even.

I am keen to revisit this in a year from now, to see if Facebook has revised these terms. If Facebook treats these terms like they treat your privacy, in a year or so I expect the revised terms will not be as generous. And if some companies are not careful, they will find they let their own IT teams dwindle and they will have no choice but to stick with Facebook.