Tag Archives: technology

The Singularity is a white person’s problem


Rich white folks worry about the Singularity, but AI is already making problems for the rest of us.

Kate Crawford, The New York Times:

According to some prominent voices in the tech world, artificial intelligence presents a looming existential threat to humanity: Warnings by luminaries like Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom about “the singularity” — when machines become smarter than humans — have attracted millions of dollars and spawned a multitude of conferences.

But this hand-wringing is a distraction from the very real problems with artificial intelligence today, which may already be exacerbating inequality in the workplace, at home and in our legal and judicial systems. Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many “intelligent” systems that shape how we are categorized and advertised to.

Software used to assess the risk of recidivism in criminals is biased against blacks, as is software used by police departments across the US to identify hotspots for crime. Amazon’s same-day delivery service was initially unavailable for ZIP codes in predominantly black neighborhoods, “remarkably similar to those affected by mortgage redlining in the mid-20th century.” And women are less likely than men to be shown ads on Google for highly paid jobs.

Thanks, Cory!

Bruce Schneier: How hackers break passwords, and how to pick good ones

Find a good password management app and let it worry about picking good passwords and remembering them. Schneier recommends Password Safe for Windows, but says he can’t vouch for Password Safe on other platforms because he has not evaluated them. I like 1Password, which supports Mac and iOS, which I am familiar with, and Windows and Android, which I’m not.

Apple said to plan first Pro laptop overhaul in four years

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is preparing the first significant overhaul of its MacBook Pro laptop line in over four years, according to people familiar with the matter, using one of its older products to help reverse two quarters of sliding sales.

The updated notebooks will be thinner, include a touch screen strip for function keys, and will be offered with more powerful and efficient graphics processors for expert users such as video gamers, said the people, who asked not to be named.

I may be getting one of these. Not probably, but possibly. I’ll be pleased if it works out.

Google buys Orbitera: Why you should care

Me, Light Reading:

Google this week acquired Orbitera, which specializes in enabling software sales over the cloud. It’s an acquisition with broader implications than first impressions might suggest.

On the surface, it’s a niche service, with appeal only to software developers. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. In the words of Nan Boden, Google(Nasdaq: GOOG)’s head of global technology partners, writing on the Google Cloud Platform blog Monday to announce the acquisition: “Orbitera provides a commerce platform that makes buying and selling software in the cloud simple, seamless, and scalable for all kinds of businesses, including independent software vendors, service providers and IT channel organizations.”

Translation: It’s not just for application developers. Orbitera makes it easier for service providers and enterprise IT managers to license and deploy apps for their users, both within their own companies and to customers and business partners. It’s a platform for third-party apps and enterprises’ and service providers’ own homegrown software.

The acquisition — the terms of which were not disclosed — is designed to beef up Google’s strategy to help enterprises support multiple clouds.

More at Light Reading.

Small changes to this blog, big deal for me

I made a couple of changes to the blog recently. Readers will find these changes to be minor. But they’re a big deal for me.

Linked List

The first thing I did was install the Daring Fireball Style Linked List plugin for WordPress, by YJ Soon. The plugin is designed for link blogging — which is most of what I post here.

When I put up a post that’s primarily a link to something elsewhere — an article in the news, for instance — the DFLL plugin changes the title of the post so it links to the external article. Normal behavior on WordPress is for the title of the post to link to the post itself.

This solves the problem for me of having to figure out where to put the link when I write a link post. It’s a small decision, but eliminating it speeds up the blogging process and makes the process more pleasant.

Also, readers of this blog can more easily find the link to the external article.

And it means less of a need for me to reformat blog posts for posting to Facebook and Google+.

So it’s a nice little utility.

The DFLL plugin is designed to modify the RSS feed of the blog. To modify the Web pages, I had to learn to install a child theme on WordPress, which is simple — once you figure out how to do it. The author of the DFLL plugin provides pre-cooked child themes for the Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven WordPress themes, but none for Twenty Fifteen, which is the one I used. So now I’m using the Twenty Eleven theme.

At some point, I may want to figure out how to modify WordPress themes more to my liking. I like a lighter theme. Examples: Manton.org, The Loop, 512 Pixels, and Hypertext.net. However, those blogs don’t run as many photos and images as I do, so maybe this blog is just going to be heavier and there’s nothing I can do about it without making unacceptable sacrifices.

Thanks to Benjamin Brooks for pointing out this nice little plugin, and for responding when I asked him if he is still using it, and it still works well despite no updates in years. (The answers of course were yes and yes.)

The name of the plugin — Daring Fireball-Style Linked List — comes from the blog Daring Fireball, which pioneered this style of blogging.

Hiding categories

I figured out how to hide categories so they don’t display on the website. I’ve been wanting to do this since I relaunched the blog in February, so while this is a small change externally it’s a bit of a triumph for me.

WordPress offers the option of assigning both categories and tags to posts. I have never figured out when to use categories and when to use tags. After doing some reading — for example, here and here — I have come to the conclusion that the reason WordPress supports both categories and tags is that categories came first and now some people like categories and some people like tags and some people like both.

Categories and tags seem redundant and confusing to me but as long as my blog displayed categories and tags I felt obliged to select both in a way that would be useful to readers.

Hiding categories is simple — once you figure out how to do it. You create a child theme, then go into the files content-single.php and content.php, navigate down to the sections for the blog entry footer, and delete everything that looks like a category listing.

On the home page, which is controlled by content.php, that code starts with something like “Posted in”

On single entries, controlled by the “content-single.php” file, the wording is slightly different.

Look to the public web pages of your own blog to find the exact wording, then go into content.php and content-single.php files to make the necessary changes.

And now that’s done and I no longer have to decide on a category for every blog post.

I may stop using tags too, but for now I’m sticking with them. I’m trying out the Strictly Auto Tags plugin to automate the process. I’m not sure how much help it actually is — it doesn’t usually seem to choose the tags I would have chosen. Perhaps I can fiddle with the settings and make it work.

Categories and tags are supposedly important for search engine optimization. SEO isn’t a priority for me on this blog. It’s desirable, but it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to do.

What the rest of the tech industry was doing 25 years ago when the World Wide Web launched

Tim Berners-Lee published “a short summary of the
WorldWideWeb project” on the newsgroup alt.hypertext Aug. 6, 1991.

Mike Murphy at Quartz has more:

The first website, which was literally a website explaining what a website was, went online in November 1992. It was created by Tim Berners-Lee, at the time a researcher at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). But before the site went live, Berners-Lee brought up the project he was working on—hyperlinks, the technology that allows pieces of information to be linked to each other on the internet—on a Usenet page. Usenet was a pre-internet forum when just a couple million people were on the internet; its archives have since been acquired by Google. If you want to find the first rumblings of the modern web online now, you have to trudge through some incompletely archived pages on Google Groups.

Berners-Lee was responding to a question someone asked about whether anyone knew anyone working on the concept of hyperlinks. As one of the people directly working on that exact topic he seemed perfectly situated to respond.

People who go into combat suffer significant hearing loss. But they won’t wear earplugs.

In combat, being unable to hear what’s going on around you can get you dead. So electronics engineers are working on making smart earplugs that muffle noises that can harm you, but let you hear what you need to hear. The 99% Invisible podcast has more: Combat Hearing Loss

[Doctor Eric Fallon, former chief audiologist at Walter Reed Medical Center and now on the staff at 3M,] believes the solution to all of these problems is a device called TCAPS (Tactical Communication and Protective Systems). Designed as either internal earbuds or external earmuffs, TCAPS protect a person’s hearing while still allowing them to hear the world around them through built-in environmental microphones. In some cases, these devices are integrated with radio capability.

TCAPS work thanks to sophisticated technology that detects high-decibel noises then lowers their intensity; they also pick up and amplify soft background noises. The result is a more balanced experience of sound, providing protection for the wearer while facilitating situational awareness.

But TCAPS isn’t battle-ready yet.

How film (the technology, not the art form) works

Film has been essentially unchanged for more than a century. The biggest advance was the addition of sound 90 years ago, followed by color; everything else is incremental upgrades.

Compare that with the churn of audio recording technology during the same period: Wax cylinders, vinyl disks, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and now digital.

Film is, finally, being eclipsed by digital projection, and will likely be dead technology soon. But film is still hanging on.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz calls Apple’s tax strategy ‘a fraud’

Jeanna Smialek and Alex Webb, Bloomberg:

“Here we have the largest corporation in capitalization not only in America, but in the world, bigger than GM was at its peak, and claiming that most of its profits originate from about a few hundred people working in Ireland — that’s a fraud,” Stiglitz said. “A tax law that encourages American firms to keep jobs abroad is wrong, and I think we can get a consensus in America to get that changed.”

Apple has a corporate structure that allows it to transfer money to low-tax jurisdictions, and one of those is Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent — far below the U.S. top statutory rate of 35 percent. The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, is probing whether Ireland violated the bloc’s state-aid rules by helping Apple lower its Irish tax liability.

 Apple, which declined to comment on Stiglitz’s remarks, has firmly denied using any tax gimmicks, telling an EU tax panel in March that it had paid all of its taxes due in Ireland. Apple employs 5,500 people in Ireland, according to its website.

Stiglitz Calls Apple’s Profit Reporting in Ireland ‘a Fraud’ – Bloomberg

Via Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, who says:

Apple, Google and other tech giants have shown themselves to be capable of resisting government demands when it suits their interests — see, for example, Apple’s brave and admirable stance on being forced to compromise its cryptography — but when it comes to things like paying its fair share of tax to compensate its host nations for the educations provided to its workforce, the roads they drive on, the courts and laws that defend their interests, and the health systems that keep the majority of their workforce dying from TB or yellow fever, the companies’ stance is “We comply with all laws and pay as much tax as they require.”

Informa acquires Light Reading. I work for Informa now.

I’m still digesting this. We just got the news less than two hours ago.

I have an article to write this morning, and earnings calls in the afternoon, so I’ll focus on that. I’ve been through one acquisition before, and too many reorganizations to count. Best thing a person can do in a situation like this is keep doing their job.

Further out, I do see potentially interesting opportunities coming from this.


Robert Kosara, a research scientist at data visualization software company Tableau, has been solving puzzles using the US’s nearly 4,2000 ZIP codes for years, writes Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post. Kosara had a question:

What would it look like if you drew a single line through all Zip codes in the lower 48 in numeric order? Kosara wrote some code and let it rip, and what he ended up with was a map that clearly delineated state boundaries and gave a reasonable approximation of population density to boot. Since it looked as though it were created by scribbling in arbitrary regions of a U.S. map, he dubbed it the ZIPScribble map.

Kosara ran some calculations and discovered that if you started at the lowest-numbered Zip code (00544, Holtsville, NY) and walk through every Zip code in the continental U.S. in numeric order all the way up to the highest-numbered Zip code (99403, Clarkston, WA), the path you’d need to take would be roughly 1,155,268 miles long. Which naturally brought up a second question: What would be the shortest route you could take through all 37,000 of those zip codes?

This type of problem actually has a storied history in computer science. It’s known as the Traveling Salesman Problem: Say a salesman has a bunch of cities in his route — what’s the shortest trip he can take through all of them? This type of computation is used as a benchmark in computer science because it has a lot of applications, from route-finding to the creation of circuit boards, and because it gets complicated really, really quickly. For instance, a network of only 20 points contains roughly 1.2 quintillion(1,200,000,000,000,000,000) possible solutions, only one of which can be the shortest. That’s on the order of magnitude of the number of grains of sand on earth.

What, then, of a traveling salesman problem with more than 37,000 points?

Kosara took a crack at it. He called it the Traveling Presidential Candidate Problem, after a hypothetical presidential candidate who wanted to visit all 37,000 contiguous Zip codes to clinch the nomination.


Sales are declining, which is dire for the market, considering the product niche is new and should be going through its explosive growth phase.

As for me, I’m very happy with my Pebble Time watch. I don’t necessarily think of it as a smartwatch. I think of it as a $100 wristwatch with a built-in timer and alarm clock. It receives iPhone notifications and I can read  those notifications without pulling out my iPhone. The Pebble allows me to keep my phone in silent mode 24×7, reducing annoyance to myself and the people around me. The watch tells me the weather, and when I travel I can use it to check my itinerary more easily than pulling out my phone. So, yeah, I guess it’s a smartwatch.


Twitter is opening account verification to everyone. I suppose I will apply eventually. But for now my snobbery and anti-snobbery are holding me back.

My snobbery is saying, “Now that it’s open to ANYONE, I certainly don’t want it!”

My anti-snobbery (which is really just another species of snobbery) is saying, “I don’t want to sit at the cool kids’ table. They’re all a bunch of jerks. It’s better to eat lunch here by the restrooms.”

And the practical part of me is saying I don’t see much value to that blue checkmark, and I have other things to do with my time than apply.