Technology postsTuesday June 04, 2013
Embracing the Tetchy
Did you hear that The Chicago Sun-Times fired its photographers and is training its remaining journalists in iPhone photography? I know. Sad. A friend alerted me to the story but I wasn't a fan of the “Mac Rumors” piece he sent me to. It reads like: 1) Here's this awful thing that's happening for myriad reasons including this product; 2) Hey, this product is GREAT!
But he waved me off. No, he said, read the Comments field. Really? I asked. Generally checking the Comments field is like looking into all the toilets in a public restroom. They might be clean but the odds are against it. Most here weren't bad. One, though, was definitely clogged:
Photographers are pissed! lol
Gotta embrace the tech fellas. Reminds me of how audio engineers hated the move from analog to digital and then talked down about mp3's.
It's a new world we live in. Roll with it or get rolled over.
Apparently this troll (I'm learning the lingo finally) is 36 but still uses LOL. Apparently he has an empathy problem, too.
But he's right. It's a new world we live in. And it's getting newer all the time. And someday, in 10 years, in 20 years, it'll get new all over him, too.
Is Redirection Affecting Andrew Sullivan's Google Juice?
About a week ago I noticed the number of hits on this site dropping off. They were never particularly big but they'd been steadily rising since 2008, and last year they took a great leap (for me) forward.
Now they were dropping again. By as much as a third. I was perplexed. I assumed that maybe the links to my site from more prominent sites had a kind of statute of limitations, and after time they had less value in Google's algorithms, and thus my own PageRank. As a result, all of those keyword searches would go elsewhere and the number of one-time visitors would drop. But by a third? That seemed extreme.
A few days ago, I hit upon a possible answer.
Last summer this site was linked to by Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, twice. Earlier this year, Sullivan, a longtime blogger previously associated with the Atlantic site, and now part of Tina Brown's The Daily Beast, struck out on his own with an ad-free, subscriber model. He was asking $19.99 from readers annually. I signed up quickly. I left a tip.
I think he finally ported over to the new site in late January or early February. All of his content went with him, of course, so any link to his blog when it was with the Daily Beast (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/) would simply redirect to the new site (dish.andrewsullivan.com).
But do such redirects affect PageRank? Apparently they do. And as Sullivan's PageRank went down, so the value of his links to my site went down. And so the numbers for my site went down.
Or maybe they don't affect PageRank. Opinions on this differ. So maybe the answer to my slump is elsewhere.
Thoughts from SEO folks most certainly welcome.
Who knew? The very break-up I urged, Andrew Sullivan leaving “the Carrie Bradshaw of websites,” has apparently impacted me.
I got the following email message about a week after following Russell Crowe on Twitter:
Similar to Russell Crowe? Seth Green?
I guess they are both actors.
Lead Me on Twitter
Jerry Seinfeld, in his 1998 HBO concert film “I'm Telling You for the Last Time,” did a great bit on standing ovations:
“There's always a few people who don't really want to do it. I've seen those people, they're always like [pantomimes sitting, looks glumly left and right], 'Are we doing this now?' [reluctantly stands, slowly applauds].”
Here it is:
That's me with new technology. I'll wait out Laser Discs for DVDs. I'll wait out MySpace for Facebook. I'll look around glumly. “Are we doing this? Really?” Then I'll go. I'm the last man standing. The uncool version.
Which is a roundabout way of letting you know I've finally joined Twitter.
When I first heard about Twitter with its 140 characters and dweeby name, I assumed it would go the way of Laser Discs. Instead it's thrived, and increasing numbers of people have suggested I get an account. “If you're going to have a website,” they say, “you need...”
Unfortunately being last means playing catch up, which is what I'm trying to do now. Twitter calls them followers but to me they're leaders: folks who can show me the way. So if you'd like to be one of my leaders, please follow me on Twitter:
Because apparently we're all doing this.
Which Deleted SPAM Comment is the Best SPAM Comment? You Decide!
Is it this:
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Me, I'm gonna keep on chgugnig.
An SQL Error a Day
A few months back, attempting to post something, I ran into a massive SQL error that essentially blocked the blog from displaying properly. My guy, Tim, fixed it. He wrote, “Whatever the new post was, it had some glitch in it that acted as a road block; it tried and failed to load that and couldn't move any further.” He added the following about the new post:
It wasn't intelligible at all and had to go ...
Funny. I think that about almost every post.
LinkedIn to the Heavyweight Champ
Perks of the job.
In 2005, I wrote a profile of entertainment attorney Henry Holmes, whose clients included Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Evans, and, in particular, George Foreman. In 1994, Holmes helped clear the way for Foreman's title bout, at the age of 45, with Michael Moore, which Foreman won, as well as “The George Foreman Grill,” for which Holmes convinced his client to forgo an upfront salary for a joint venture that ultimately made Foreman upwards of $100 million. I interviewed Foreman for the piece, by phone, with maybe a follow-up by email. Apparently his email system never deleted me. A few days ago, this arrived in my in box:
I accepted, of course. I have a job at the moment but nothing's forever; and if you're going to have someone in your corner, why not the heavyweight champion of the world?
A Strong Female Lead?
More Netflix nonsense.
Based on “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “The Brothers,” Netflix recommends the following films with A STRONG FEMALE LEAD:
Nice. Two women who are scared and one who is grimy and chained for your pleasure. Seriously, Netflix, there's gotta be a better way you can handle this kind of thing.
Other Netflix movies with strong female leads include “Revenge of the Bridesmaids” (comedy), “Practical Magic” (comedy) and “The Housemaid” (Korean sex abuse). But at least they include “Jane Eyre,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Winter's Bone.” At least they got a few right.
WANTED: Algorithmic Help for Netflix
I was doing research on “The Wizard of Oz” recently when I came across this latest horrific example of Netflix's recommendation algorithm:
If you'd asked me to name a thousand movies that were similar to “The Wizard of Oz,” I wouldn't have named any of these. Who is screwing things up at Netflix? Who was fired, and who was hired, and who is running things into the ground there?
As an experiment, I tried it at IMDb.com. These are the recommendations for their “Wizard of Oz” page:
That's a little more like it.
This showed up in my in-box the other day:
Don't quite get the repetition of “Unbroken” but at least it's correct. And late to the game. I read it earlier this year and recommend it. The others either don't appeal (audio Jackie Kennedy) or only appeal if I want to keep up with the conversations on Andrew Sullivan's blog (“The Rogue”).
But at least Amazon's first row of suggetions made more sense than its second row of suggestions:
“Harry Potter” I haven't seen. “Captain America” made my top 10 for the first eight months of the year (at no. 10). “Fast Five” I dismissed in April. And “Transformers”? I think of that franchise as so stupid and noisy as to be part of the general decline and fall of western civilization.
Someone, in other words, needs to work on their algorithms. Or mine.
When I interviewed Jeff Bezos in October 1996, a lifetime ago, he talked about the things Amazon was working on:
Bezos: We want to set the store up so we can redecorate the store for each individual who walks in...
Me: What do you mean?
Bezos: The whole page would be personally designed for you. So if you said, “I really love literary fiction,” well, here’s a great science-ficton novel that we actually think you'd like based on your preferences in literary fiction. Stuff like that. In case you want to broaden out.
It would all be done automatically. It would have to be. The way it might work is you might come in and we present you with a list of 100 books that are in a particular genre, like literary fiction, let’s say, and you would rate the ones you liked the most and disliked the most, and based on what you liked and disliked the computer would be able to form a profile of your particular tastes, and it might try to match you up with people of similar tastes. You call that your affinity group. What are things you haven’t read that people in your affinity group love? And then it would recommend those things to you.
Still a few bugs in the system.
When Writers of Code Write Copy
Not to tread on the territory of AKC, the Copy Curmudgeon, but I saw this the other day while browsing Netflix's site:
It's less what they recommend than how they recommend it.
Based upon my interest in “Straight Time,” starring Dustin Hoffman, and “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” starring Richard Dreyfuss, Netflix automatically generates the following recommendation: Understated Movies based on a book from the 1970s.
By which it means: Understated 1970s movies based on books. (Only one of the above, “Straight Time,” was based on a book from the 1970s.)
Raise the rates, fire the writers, apparently.
Best at Something: My No. 1 Google Rankings
Several years ago my friend Mike told me he was going to be Best Man at an upcoming wedding. He paused a moment before adding, “It's nice to be best at something.”
In that spirit, here are a few of the Google searches where, according to statcounter.com, I have the No. 1 ranking. I've included links to where those searches lead. Your results may vary. Have at:
- dialog between preacher meacham and doc earn God's presence cowboys and aliens = this review
- HDNet what lead your brother to become a suicide bomber = this blog post
- ivan vasilevich menyaet professiyu vladimer visotski = this blog post
- certified copy, the whole purpose of life is to = this review
- kimane maruge letter from president compensation = this review
- angel toves = another review
- f troop is fuzzy = yet another review
- valid reasons why the yankees suck = this article
- yankee fans batteries mariners = yep, this same article
- average weekly movie attendance = post
- midnight in paris quotes zelda fitzgerald you have a stuned look in your eyes, you look anesthetized, lobotomized = category of posts
- I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life." = here
- girl who played with fire how does lisbeth escape buried alive = here
- Frank Crosetti Ball Four = here
- johnny damon 3000 = here
- Erik Lundegaard = whew
“Dad, 'F Troop' is fuzzy.” A serious man, making the world safe for unserious TV.
What Bing Does Better Than Google
In my review of Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris,” which, to me, is about traveling to a place and time where art and literature matter, I made a passing reference to the fact that even Philip Roth doesn't read fiction anymore. He said so in a recent interview with Jan Dalley, “Life After 'Nemesis,'” in Financial Times. I wanted to provide a link to that interview so I Googled two terms: “Philip Roth” and “stopped reading fiction.” Here are the top results for that search:
- The New York Times artsbeat blog referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
- The Atlantic referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
- Althouse referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
- Salon referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
- Yahoo News referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
- James Russell Ament referencing and linking to the Salon article, which references and links to Dalley's FT article.
- Slate republishing the entire FT article with Dalley's byline.
- ArtsJournal referencing and linking to the Slate article.
- The original article.
Ninth. Above it, you have all the sites feeding off it. In the Google world, in the tech world, there's little respect for original content. To me, this lack of respect filters down and you wind up with some aspect of the shitty culture we have.
As an experiment, I cleared my cache and tried the same search on Yahoo, expecting similar results. Nope. Much better. The original article appeared third.
Then I cleared the cache again and tried it with Bing. The original article appeared first.
Guess I'll be using Bing more often.
Now if we only stop calling it “content” and get back to calling it “writing,” maybe it'll pay again.
From the Archives: Amazon.com Ushers in New Era (1996)
I wrote the following for the now-defunct Downtown Source, a Seattle Times publication, in October 1996...
Amazon.com Ushers in New Era
by Erik Lundegaard
Jeff Bezos, the founder and president of Amazon.Com, the Seattle-based on-line bookseller, wants to quiet the fears of traditional booksellers.
“I still buy about half of my books from physical bookstores,” he admits, “and one of the big reasons is I like being in bookstores. TV didn't put the movies out of business, because people still like to go to the movie theater, they like to mingle with their fellow humans; and that's going to continue to be the case. Good physical bookstores are like the community centers of the late 20th century. They have great authors come in, and you can meet them and shake their hands. You do booksignings and hear readings. You can't duplicate that on-line.”
Bezos has a reason to soothe the competition. His company has moved to progressively bigger offices four times since its inception in July 1995. His staff has ballooned from 33 to over 100 in just four months. And, though he won't disclose monthly sales figures, Bezos says that Amazon.Com is growing at the rate of 34 percent a month. “That annualizes to more than 3000 percent a year,” he adds.
It was a similar figure—the 2300 percent Internet growth rate—that drove Mr. Bezos, 32, from a senior position at D.E. Shaw & Co., an investment bank in New York City, and onto the Web. But what to sell there? It wasn't a love of literature that led him to choose books; it was the volume of literature: one and a half million English-language titles in print at any given time; three million titles worldwide.
“When you have a huge number of items,” Bezos says, “that's where computers start to shine, because of their sorting and searching and organizing capabilities.”
Amazon.Com's claim to being “Earth's Biggest Bookstore” is a bit misleading, however. Though they offer 1.1 million titles—in comparison to, say, Elliott Bay's 140,000—the only thing you'll find in their warehouse south of the Kingdome is bestsellers. Other titles come from wholesalers or directly from the publisher—services that traditional bookstores offer as well.
Even so, Amazon.Com's list of books, culled from the Library of Congress, and various publishers and wholesalers, is spectacular. An author search of “Mailer, Norman” brought up three unheard-of titles (special orders for $70 each), while “Salinger, J.D.” elicited not only the familiar titles but Hapworth 16, 1924, a novella that appeared in The New Yorker in 1965—the last published sighting of the reclusive author—and never released in book form. Until now, that is. According to Amazon, a small outfit in Virginia is issuing Hapworth next January.
Amazon's Web site, for all its choking information, is as quirkily fun as its originator, with on-line shopping baskets, author self-interviews, and free giftwrapping. (One can choose between Holstein, Flowers, and “Fish of the Amazon.”) Readers are encouraged to write their own reviews, and each month Amazon's eight-person editorial staff selects a winner. Obscene reviews are deleted. “But if you want to trash a book,” Bezos adds enthusiastically, “that's fine with us. If you want to come in and say 'I thought this was John Grisham's worst book ever; he should be embarrassed for foisting this on us. It's not as good as Time to a Kill. Blah blah blah.' Fine. Because that helps people make purchasing decisions.”
Services are continually added. The two month-old Associates program allows anyone with a Web site to start their own bookstore in conjunction with Amazon.Com. Bezos was simply trying to figure out how Amazon.Com could act as an expert on all 300,000 Library of Congress narrow-niche subject categories. “There's just no way,” Bezos says. “But there are such experts out there, and they already have Web sites, so let them do it; then we will share the revenues with them.”
The effect of all this is already apparent on traditional bookstores. Mr. Bezos predicts that “Physical bookstores are going to compete by becoming better places to be. They'll have better lattes, better sofas, more comfortable environments.” And, he might have added, more Web sites. There are already over one thousand on-line booksellers. They include such traditional booksellers as Powell's, The University Bookstore, and Elliott Bay Book Company.
What the website looked like circa 1996...
Why a Coin Toss Isn't a Treasure Hunt, and Other Missed Opportunities in the New York Times' Tech-Law Article
What do you do with a quote that doesn't quite work?
This is how John Markoff ended his New York Times piece on the sorting capabilities of computers and computer programs, such as e-discovery, replacing expensive teams of lawyers during the discovery phase of a case:
The computers seem to be good at their new jobs. Mr. Herr, the former chemical company lawyer, used e-discovery software to reanalyze work his company’s lawyers did in the 1980s and ’90s. His human colleagues had been only 60 percent accurate, he found.
“Think about how much money had been spent to be slightly better than a coin toss,” he said.
Except ... that analogy is horrible, isn't it? You flip a coin and you get one of two results: heads or tails. You send people searching for something and the results are infinite: they can find zero percent of what they're looking for, 12.1 percent of what they're looking for, 76.7 percent of what they're looking for. They can find 12 related cases and miss none, or miss three, or miss 346. Discovery would be a lot easier if, like a coin toss, it had to wind up one of two ways.
My instinct would be not to use the quote, since it fudges the point of the story, but maybe I'm alone here.
The article, by the way, focuses on technology and the law, but the money quote is about all of us:
David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.
“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”
I tend to disagree with the professor on this—I think technology does create unemployment—and would question his use of subject and object in the second sentence of the second graf (“we” sounds like it includes “me,” i.e., him, while “people” sounds like it doesn't include “me,” i.e., him), but the larger point is scary and needs to be reiterated. What kind of society are we allowing ourselves to create here? Techies thrive, apps are free, the rest of us work at Cinnabon.
Now they're using such software for policing:
The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.
Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.
Meaning the same types of folks who wrote the software for iPhone's autocorrect, which tells you, mostly incorrectly, what you want to write, are creating the software to determine whether or not you're a criminal. You havé the rogge to demain silent.*
*Yes, my Autocorrect is set for French. Years ago, I had the iPhone's language set to French, and, like the far-flung soldier that keeps fighting long after the war, Autocorrect keeps trying to correct my English into French. There's no obvious setting to fix this so I've simply turned my Autocorrect OFF. (Settings —> General —> Keyboard)**
**Once I figured out how to turn Autocorrect OFF, though, which is like two seconds ago, I guessed the solution. Under Settings —> General —> International, the second item is Keyboards, under which there are four: the four languages I've played around with: English, French, Chinese and Danish. Once I deleted everything but English, and turned Autocorrect back ON, it was autocorrecting in English again.***
***Still a bug. Probably corrected in later versions of iPhone.****
****Technology: Making life easier.
Fun with Pandigital Photo Frames
Here's a story.
A few years ago, we received a Pandigital photo frame for Christmas, loaded it with photos and forgot about it. Saturday afternoon, getting ready for a dinner party, we looked at it, thought: "You know, we should really update these photos." So we hooked up the frame to my computer, an iMac, deleted the photos we didn't want, added about 50 more from the last two years—trips to Vietnam, Rehoboth Beach, etc.—and unhooked it.
And that's when the frustrations began. Count 'em off:
- Mac files include a kind of ghost file when viewed on a PC (techies: is it a "Mac resource fork file"?), and this photo frame, a Pandigital photo frame, was apparently made for PCs. It had downloaded all of these ghost files—the original file name preceded by an underscore, and seen as blank pictures with the words "Format Not Supported"—which aren't even visible on the iMac and thus can't be deleted via the iMac. They have to be deleted manually from the photo frame. A Pandigital photo frame.
- Oh, and the earlier photos I thought I'd deleted via the iMac? They were still there. These, too, had to be deleted manually via the photo frame. A Pandigital photo frame.
- There are five button options on the frame: ENTER, EXIT, left arrow, right arrow, SET-UP. None of these buttons are very responsive. One really has to press hard to get anywhere.
- There are two ways to delete a photo. Photos are viewable as thumbnails—six thumbnails per page—and one can navigate to the offending photo, press ENTER to select it, press SET-UP for options, then press the left or right arrows to navigate to the "Delete Photo" option. Press ENTER again. A question: "Are you sure?" Press ENTER again. Now it's gone. That's a lot of button pressing to get rid of one file. Particularly when one needs to delete about 50 such files.
- But that's not even the real problem. The real problem? Once you've deleted the photo, the frame automatically returns you to Page 1, Photo 1. Not a problem at the beginning when you're already on page 1. But by the time you're on page 4 or 5? A bitch. Let's say you wanted to delete photos #23, 25 and 27. To do so, you have to press 23 times to get to photo #23 and press a few more times to delete it; then you're automatically returned to the start and have to press 24 times (photo #25 minus the ghost file you've just deleted) to get back to where you were. And on and on.
- Ah, but there's another way to delete photos: from the thumbnail. Navigate to the offending thumbnail but don't hit ENTER. Instead, hit SET-UP and navigate to "Delete Photo." Of course the step skipped by not hitting ENTER at the thumbnail is added in the deletion process: you get two windows rather than one to confirm the deletion. So it's not an advantage.
- No, the greater advantage to this method is you can remain in SET-UP mode and can then navigate to the next ghost thumbnail to delete it. Or so you think. This is actually the biggest bug of all. Because while it looks like you're deleting, say, the fifth photo on page 3, you're actually deleting the second photo on page 1. Because, even when the viewscreen shows otherwise, it automatically returns you to Page 1, Photo 1. In this manner I managed to delete some of the photos we actually wanted to display.
And that's how I spent my Saturday afternoon.
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